Last Update About WorldFest Incident

Ladies and Gentlemen, at this point (Friday, April 26th), there have been several articles published online about the WorldFest incident. It has received a surprising amount of attention, and I’m glad of that.

However, it is time to put the matter to rest, at least for me.  As I’ve said, I was not at the film festival, nor was I witness to any of this; my role has merely been as blogger and word-spreader.  I’ve said all that I can say on the matter, and I believe that my brother has said all that he can say on the matter.  People either believe him or they don’t, and there’s nothing more that can be said about that.

At this point, it is up to the Muslim student to decide whether she wants to continue to fight this situation or not, and I am not privy to or a part of that decision.

My university has expressed some concern about the possibilities of this situation escalating.  I don’t know about anyone else involved, but I know that prospect makes me nervous, particularly as my only hopes for the initial blog post were that a few people might read it and be as upset as I was, and perhaps an apology would be issued.  Well, an apology WAS issued, but unfortunately, the situation did not end there, and still threatens to escalate.

And quite frankly, folks, I’m a PhD student and college English teacher in the middle of finals, and my attentions are required elsewhere.  I have enough on my plate just trying to grade my students’ papers and write my own.

So, if something else major happens I will let you all know.  But for the moment, my role in this is done, and I need to get back to the work I’m paid for.

Thank you for all your interest and support in this past week,

Amanda

Update About the WorldFest Incident, Including Recent News Articles

Edit (4/26): The newest, (I think) the most clear and useful, and (I hope) the last article about this incident, from whatculture.com’s contributor Aeryk Pierson, who was a third-party witness to the incident.

Edit (4/25): One last Houston Chronicle article, that was posted online on Wednesday (4/24).

Edit (8pm): Just as I was writing this post, a sort-of apology was posted on the World Fest Facebook page.  Please feel free to read the post on their Facebook page, but I will also quote it at the bottom of this post so it is easier to find.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I would like to give an update on the WorldFest incident and what has been happening in the last two days.  I thought the initial post was becoming too heavy with edits and updates. On the other hand, I’m worried that people will not see this update because the news stories have so far linked to my initial post.

In any case, just to fill everyone in who may (or may not) care:

As of 7:00pm on Tuesday, three separate online news sources have covered the story:

Houston Press, The Houston Chronicle, and Culture Map Houston.

These articles attempt to portray both sides of the story: my brother’s and Hunter Todd’s, and for the most part they have been fair.  The Houston Press article ran mostly based upon my blog and my brother’s facebook post. They attempted to contact Hunter Todd without success, but later added his response when he contact them.  The Houston Chronicle article interviewed Hunter Todd, but only ran with the information  from Mike’s facebook post. Mike later contacted the Chronicle because they had a few facts wrong, which they have now changed, but they did not add any additional comments from Mike. The Culture Map article did interview BOTH Hunter Todd and Mike.  I think Hunter Todd’s responses in each article speak for themselves.  I found it terrifying that Hunter Todd does not deny searching the Muslim student’s bag, and even explains that he did so BECAUSE she was wearing a hijab and demands: “What am I supposed to do?  Allow a terrorist to blow up 200 people?” (quoted in the Houston Chronicle article). THAT, my friends, is the DEFINITION of profiling.

I am concerned about a few things, however. Hunter Todd is resorting to character attacks on my brother, calling him a liar – particularly in regards to Mike’s claim that Hunter Todd tried to take his phone.  AND YET, at least one University of Houston student and one other WorldFest attendant (who commented on my initial blog) have CONFIRMED that Hunter Todd did in fact try to take Mike’s phone.  Unfortunately, neither the Houston Chronicle article nor the Culture Map article have included this information (and the Houston Press article only briefly mentions it), despite the fact that both witnesses said they were willing to go on record to corroborate the story. Thus, the news stories make it LOOK as if it is merely a case of he said/he said, with no proof on other side — when in fact TWO witnesses CAN and are WILLING to confirm at least parts of my brother’s version of events.

On TOP of this: from what I understand, The School of Communications at University of Houston have written a formal letter in defense of both the Muslim student and my brother.  Apparently, Hunter Todd has given a response.  I do not know what either letter contained, however, because the School of Communications has so far made neither their letter nor the response public.  This is unfortunate, as the fact that no one is aware that the University has become involved makes it even easier for Hunter Todd to attack Mike’s character with impunity, because the news articles present Mike as if he is a lone unsupported voice.  I fervently hope that the School of Communications, and preferably the whole University, will publicly support both the Muslim student and my brother and help to defend them both from accusations of lying.

And let me add this: Obviously, I was not at the event and I did not witness this incident. I am only involved so far as spreading the word is concerned. But I believe and trust my brother.  Besides which, what POSSIBLE motive could he have for lying about ANY of this?  I hope you all who have showed an interest and concern about this will continue to support us, and particularly my brother, as this situation moves forward, because I fear it is going to get worse before it gets better, and I do not want my brother to run under the bus because he was trying to do the right thing.

Thank You.

PS: on a side note, some of the comments on the Houston Chronicle article are absolutely HORRIFYING, and just go to show how far and how deep these ignorant, racist, Islamaphobic attitudes run. It makes me horribly sad.

The “apology” post from the World Fest Houston Facebook page:

WorldFest sincerely regrets any actions that were misconstrued or deemed offensive due to the recent situation during the organization’s master class at the Westchase Marriott this past weekend. WorldFest organizers acted on instinct for the safety of all based on the recent events in Boston. The emergency alarm and evacuation of the hotel resulted in great concern for the organization which felt its actions were justified to protect the well-being of all participants. WorldFest apologizes for responding in a way that may have seemed insulting but ultimately, everyone’s safety was the primary concern.

WorldFest plans to increase security in 2014 so festival staff can focus solely on enriching Houston’s film culture. WorldFest strives to provide a safe environment for persons of every background to collaborate with and learn from international film and filmmakers through cultural exchange, dialogue and master classes. As always, the festival and all of its events are open to the general public. We hope every culture, religion and nationality will be represented in the 47th annual WorldFest-Houston, April 2014.

Hunter Todd
WorldFest Founder and Chief Executive Officer

I hope you’ll forgive me for giving my own opinion of this post (I suppose I should just let you come to your own conclusions, but it is my blog, so I guess I’m entitled to share my opinion). This is the worst kind of false apology, one I’ve seen many times under a variety of circumstances, in which the person apologizes but insisted it was all a big misunderstanding, and thus not REALLY his/her fault, and implying that it is really the victim’s fault for “misconstruing” and therefore over-reacting. Furthermore, this “apology” such as it is only apologizes for what he claims was a legitimate security concern (which is ludicrous), and does not even admit to the secondary problem: that Hunter Todd did, in fact, have physical contact with my brother and tried to take his phone.  I hope the public will see this frantic face-saving move for the B.S. it is.

SIGNAL BOOST: Racial Profiling and Harassment at WorldFest Film Festival in Houston

UPDATE (4/23): For more updates, please see this post. Thank you.

UPDATE (4/22): Houston Press wrote an online article covering this incident, including speaking with another student (who remained anonymous) who corroborated the story. They also attempted to contact WorldFest for a statement, which was initially ignored. However, after the story broke, Hunter Todd wrote in response to the Houston Press article, which has now been added to that article. Here is a link to the full article: “W[t]F? WorldFest Founder/CEO Hunter Todd Searches Fest Attendee’s Bag ‘Because She Is a Muslim’.”

EDIT (4/21): I have been informed (and by that I mean berated) that my use of the words “racism” and “racial profiling” in connection with this is “fraudulent” because Islam is not, in fact, a race. I am actually aware of this, however I wasn’t sure what other terms would work, and assumed that “racial profiling” at least got the main issue across. Furthermore, I do not know the Muslim student personally, but I believe that the harassment was motivated entirely on her physical appearance as Middle Eastern (I don’t know if she wore a hijab or any other visual markers as Muslim or not), which WOULD in fact place it in the realm of racial profiling. However, if anyone has a preferred term, and would like to inform me, I am all ears.

Original Post (4/20): I apologize for my long absence, but I am breaking radio silence in order to spread the word about a serious matter, and ask you all a favor.

I would like to ask you all to spread the word on an incident of racial profiling and harassment here in Houston.  My brother is a film student at the University of Houston, and was attending the WorldFest International Film Festival in Houston today – a Film Festival, I might add, that is supposed to be inclusive, and aimed toward fostering discussion between students and professionals in the film industry – when he witnessed the founder/director of the Festival demand to search the bag of the only Muslim student in attendance (and ONLY her bag).

As he does not have a blog, he has asked me to share the explanation he wrote on his facebook page.  Please read this and spread the word:

From Mike Rudd’s Facebook Page:

“I had a very revealing time at WorldFest Houston today with the founder and director Hunter Todd proving what an ignorant and aggressive person he really is.

Before the morning seminar at WorldFest this morning, everyone was gathered in the seminar room for the lectures start when the hotel’s fire alarm went off. The founder and director of WorldFest, Hunter Todd, told everyone to stay in the room before he went to a girl, a Muslim UH student and classmate of mine, and demanded to search her bag. She tried to show him her pass to prove she was supposed to be there, but he demanded to search every single pocket of her bag anyway. I’d like to add he did so with a great deal of rudeness and attitude. She complied and showed him the her bag, after this he walked off and didn’t ask to search any of the dozens of other bags in the room.

At this point I called a professor of mine and told him about the incident and asked if it would be appropriate for me to say something in her defense. I then went to Hunter Todd and asked him if he did in fact demand to search her bag and if so why. He told me, “because she is a Muslim and a suspicious character, now sit down.” I told him I would not sit down and that this was unacceptable and racial profiling. I offered to take it outside to discuss with him and he then said, “no you’re one of the people I despise the most and you’re an obnoxious little bastard, now sit down or I’ll have you thrown out. In response I said he should feel free to throw me out, at which point I pulled out my cell phone to call someone about the situation. At this point he lunged towards me grabbed me with both hands and tried to take my phone from me. I separated myself from him told him not to touch me and left the room to avoid further escalation.

Later, I called WorldFest to file an official complaint about a racial incident involving there founder and director. I was placed on hold for several minutes when a woman named Kathleen picked up. I told her I was calling to file a complaint about a racial incident involving their founder and director and asked her what her position was at WorldFest. Ignoring this, she asked my name. I told her I would not give my name until she told me what position she held. More rudely she said “you called us now tell me your name”. I told her that in this situation I would not give her my name or any info when I did not know who I was talking with. This is when she yells loudly in the the phone “TELL ME YOUR NAME RIGHT NOW!” Not willing to give into to this I told her that if that was going to be how it was I would go straight to the press and that I was hanging up. She began to yell something else at me as I hung up the phone.

All of this because at an INTERNATIONAL film festival, an ignorant and aggressive man, Hunter Todd, decided it was okay to target a student for being Muslim.  The saddest part of all is that the girl felt it was wrong, but that it was just the way it goes. Worse still, was that to her point not a single other person in the room of the dozens in attendance said or did anything in her defense.”

My brother has currently contacted several news stations who said they would look into it, though we do not know for certain that they will take any serious interest in the story.  His professor, who is known among local Houston television people, is also contacting people. My brother has TRIED to file a complaint with the police on account of Hunter Todd’s physical contact and attempt to literally take the phone from his hand, but the officer Mike spoke to said there was nothing to be done. My brother is planning to contact a different officer who may be more willing to take this seriously.

We are also considering the option of contacting the ACLU, though that would probably have to come more directly from the Muslim student, rather than from my brother who only witnessed the initial harassment.

In the meantime, we would appreciate it if you could spread the word about this atrocious behavior. Reblog this post. Link to it in other places. EMBARRASS THIS ORGANIZATION AND THIS MAN.  Remind people that there is NO EXCUSE WHATSOEVER for racial profiling, racism, or harassment.

Here is WorldFest’s Facebook Page and Twitter Profile. Tell them what you think about this unacceptable behavior.

Thank you.

I Can Confirm: Jukebox the Ghost are AWESOME Live.

Last friday I had the immense pleasure of seeing Jukebox the Ghost in concert at the House of Blues. And can I just say: hot damn! They were awesome! I cannot really express how much enjoyed the concert.

The House of Blues, for those who are unfamiliar with it, has a number of smaller rooms with a club-like feel: stage up front, bar in the back, and an open floor in between. From the stage to the bar the room was probably only 30-40 feet long. And, because Jukebox the Ghost is not a hugely well-known band, there were probably only about 100 or so people attending. But I really loved the feel of the small venue, the intimacy of seeing the band even from the back, the sound of absolutely every single person in the audience singing along. I definitely love small venues.

Lighthouse and the Whaler

Lighthouse and the Whaler

There were two openers. Lighthouse and the Whaler and Matt Pond. Lighthouse and the Whaler has potential – some of their songs were definitely catchy – but they lack the musical depth of a really good folk band and the keyboard player was mediocre. It also didn’t help that the sound guy (who I think was provided by House of Blues) did not do a good job mixing for the openers AT ALL. The drums drowned out several parts, there was feedback from the mics a number of times, and a bad echo on more than one occasion.

Matt Pond

Matt Pond

Matt Pond, the second opener, I actually rather enjoyed. He and his band (I think he’s a solo artist with just a touring band, but I’m not sure) suffered from some of the same problems as the first band: the sound guy wasn’t great (though he was slowing getting a better balance), a keyboardist who seemed only half-there, and a lack of musicality. But the songs were well-written and Matt Pond himself was a strong performer with more energy than the lead singer of Lighthouse and the Whaler.

Jukebox the Ghost

Jukebox the Ghost

But of course things REALLY got moving when Jukebox the Ghost took the stage. By this point the sound guy had done a more careful sound check, and figured out what the hell he was doing. Ben Thornewill (vocals and piano), Tommy Seigel (vocals and guitar), and Jesse Kristin (drums) took the stage to the distorted sound of the MGM intro music, and the audience went wild: screaming, clapping, whistling, jumping up and down (myself included). And they were so full of energy, so personable, talking with the audience and sharing funny anecdotes between sets, and performing their asses off for an audience that some bands might have deemed to small to worry about. They sounded absolutely fantastic live, and everyone sang along so loudly you have to wonder if people outside could hear us.

Tommy Seigel

Tommy Seigel

Ben Thornewll

Ben Thornewll

And I’ll tell you what. I came into it knowing that Ben Thornewill was a good pianist – it’s obvious just from the piano parts in their songs. But MY GOD! He started playing a bit of classical music (I think I heard some Chopin but I’m not sure), and I was BLOWN AWAY. Ben Thornewill is a PHENOMENAL pianist. I already liked him. But now I think I’m a little in love.

Even though it was a small venue, I am short, and I was standing behind some pretty tall guys, so I didn’t get many photos (and the ones I did get are rather blurry, sorry) – I was also too busy dancing and jumping like an idiot to bother with the camera phone – but I did get a video of them doing a cover of Queen’s “Somebody to Love” which was a TON of fun. (This is also my first ever youtube upload! Amazing!)

For those who are curious, here’s the full set list – I thin I may have the order wrong in places, but I think I got all the songs anyway (based on memory and some comparable set lists from earlier shows).

Full Set List (House of Blues Houston, 22 Feb 2013):

  1. Oh, Emily
  2. At Last
  3. Say When
  4. Victoria
  5. Dead
  6. Empire
  7. Under My Skin
  8. A La La
  9. Man in the Moon
  10. Static to the Heart
  11. Don’t Let Me Fall Behind
  12. Schizophrenia
  13. Adulthood
  14. So Let Us Create
  15. Where Are All the Scientists Now?
  16. A Matter of Time
  17. Somebody to Love (Queen cover)
  18. My Heart’s the Same
  19. Lighting Myself on Fire
  20. Hold It In
  21. Somebody
  22. The Sun (Interlude)
  23. The Stars
  24. The Spiritual

Encore

  1. Summer Sun
  2. Good Day

Seriously, Folks. This concert kicked so much ass, and they are such an AWESOME band, and they really should be much more well-known than they are. Please look them up some time and spread the love!

Here’s their first album (but all three are easily found on Spotify):

Quick Update

Hello, folks!

So. I’ve had a busy couple weeks! Flew to Kansas City for a wedding. My oldest friend – we’ve been  friends since two weeks before freshman year of high school, when we met in band camp! – was getting married and I was a bridesmaid. The wedding was on Valentine’s day, everything went smoothly, and the ceremony was short and sweet (my favorite kind! especially after all the long Catholic weddings I’ve been to). Then, while my newly married friend left for a weekend with her husband, I got to hang out with another old high school friend, who went above and beyond the call of duty to keep me entertained, take me to a party, and give me more encouragement and pep-talks than I’ve had in quite awhile. It was so kind of her and I had an absolute BLAST.

Of course, then I had to come home and get back to work. And since I got back I’ve collected papers from students, and written THREE papers of my own. (And I have one presentation and one more paper to do in the next week and a half).

I’ve been crazy-busy and horribly stressed out.

BUT I also went to a concert this past friday (yes, another one). I went to see Jukebox the Ghost at House of Blues, and it was FANTASTIC. I plan to write more about it tomorrow, after I’ve had a chance to upload my photos off my mother’s phone (I borrowed it because mine can’t take pictures), and on to my computer.

So you can expect more about that later.

In the meantime, I better get back to work! Bye!

“Make It Rain” by Chris Spisak

Hello folks! I wanted to take just a few moments of your time to pitch an Indiegogo project that is trying to raise money right now. It’s for a short film called “Make It Rain” by Chris Spisak, a local Houston filmmaker. I’m a big fan of supporting local artists and indie filmmakers. Also, my brother knows the filmmaker, which is a good enough reason for me.

Here’s the pitch for the film:

MAKE IT RAIN (2013)

Written and Directed by Chris Spisak
Starring Dave MaldonadoCandice BarleyJohn McClainJohn LopezA story about basketball, youthful innocence, and the power of hope, Make It Rain tells the story of a young boy’s efforts to help his family overcome the effects of a devastating drought which result in a magical night he won’t soon forget.The film is currently raising funds for a summer 2013 shoot.  To learn more about how you can be a part of the Make It Rain team and gain exclusive access to the making of the film and receive other fantastic perks, visit our fundraising page here!

Once more, here is the link to the Indiegogo page, including their salespitch video: “Make It Rain” 

If that doesn’t give you enough to go off of, and you’d like to know a bit more about Chris Spisak before you decide if you’re going to back him or not, you can check out his previous short films (which have been presented at several film festivals in Texas) on his website here: Two 21 Entertainment.I’d appreciate it if you could take a look. And even if you can’t afford to donate right now (though even a few dollars helps), please consider spreading the word.

Thanks!

10 Signs You May Be Ready for Grad School

from PhD Comics by Jorge Cham

10) You find yourself hanging out in your professor’s office for no other reason than the stimulating conversation.

9) You take certain classes because you’re “looking for a challenge” or found the other classes to be “far too easy.”

8) You can’t decide if you should be proud or insulted when your professor doesn’t notice that you B.S’d your way through that whole essay.

7) You spend more on books each month than some people do on food. (And the books may be reproducing on their own because you’re pretty sure you didn’t have stacks leading down the hallway last week).

6) You walk into Office Depot because you love to stare at all the pens and pencils and dry erase markers and notepads… and you keep buying them for no reason whatsoever – except perhaps that they smell good.

5) You have a bad habit of volunteering/applying for more things (jobs, clubs, committees, projects, etc) than a reasonably well-stocked militia could reasonably be expected to deal with.

4) You then proceed to scream and rant and cry about your insane schedule which has become so full you discover you’re actually signed up to do 2-3 things at once and haven’t scheduled yourself time to sleep or eat for at least the next 6 months. …And then you proceed to sign up for more.

3) You’ve decided that sleep is something you can worry about when you’re dead, and food is best enjoyed in sporadic bursts of first forgetting to eat for a couple days, and then eating an entire large pizza in one sitting. (Also tums and ibuprofen are you’re first and last meal every day).

2) You have a large persistent streak of masochism that refuses to be eradicated despite the friends who beg you to stop working yourself into the ground, the parents who remind you do occasionally have to eat, the accumulating therapy bills, and the enormous bar tab that should be a sign you may be a bit stressed…

And the top sign that you are ready for grad school…

1) The idea of joining the “real world” — with a 9-5 job, a 401k, buying a house, paying off your already-enormous students loans, and all that other “normal adult stuff” — is so terrifying or abhorrent to you that even 3-10 more years of collegiate torture (and even more student loans) (and possibly an ulcer or two) seems like heaven in comparison.

also from PhD Comics by Jorge Cham