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.

“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!

Amanda’s Top 20 Albums of 2012, Pt 1: #20-11

So, here’s the deal. I had an extremely difficult time trying to decide what should go on this list, and what order it should be in. I started by just making a list (in no particular order) of the albums I really loved throughout the year. That list ended up having 25 albums on it. I managed to cut down to 30, and then got stuck. So I decided I would do my top 20 list, and then have 10 honorable mentions.

But even figuring out what order the top 20 should be in proved ridiculously difficult. I’ve been listening and relistening to the albums for the last three days, and have moved bands up and down the list several times each. So, you may completely disagree with what is and is not on the list, and that’s fine. But if the argument comes down to agreeing that “yes album x and album y should both be on the list” but arguing that “album y should never ever ever be ABOVE album x” – well, there is a good chance I probably agree with you to some extend or another and spent the last three days agonizing over it. And my music tastes are so varied, so eclectic (my mother says my playlists are proof I must be schizophrenic or have multiple personality disorder or something), and that makes it VERY hard to compare bands and albums in any fair or useful way. So… just don’t bite my head off about it, okay?

Like last year, I am going to go in reverse order, and split this into two posts, 20-11, and then 10-1. And then I might tack on the honorable mentions to the end of the second post, or give it its on post, I’m not sure yet. In any case, here we go.

Amanda’s Top 20 Albums of 2012, Part 1 – #20-11:

#20: Battle Born – The Killers I really really REALLY love The Killers. And I was so painfully excited for this album to come out. And while it managed to squeak its way onto this list, and has some very good songs on it, it just doesn’t come close to matching the brilliance or the delightfully melancholic tone of Hot Fuss or Day & Age (which are my two favorite Killers albums). My favorite song: “The Way It Was”

#19: Old Ideas – Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen is in pretty good shape in Old Ideas. He is, as always, an acquired taste for some people, but I love him. The songs in Old Ideas are beautiful and poetic as always, though they don’t hit me with the some power and emotional resonance as his older albums I’m Your Man and The Future.

My favorite song: “The Darkness”

#18: Mirage Rock – Band of Horses

Band of Horses is an indie-rock band (and let me warn you now: there are a lot of those on this list; sorry, I listen to SOME mainstream, but that happens less and less these days). But Band of Horses has a folksy almost-but-not-quite-country undercurrent to them – despite the fact that they use a lot of reverb. They always remind me a bit of the band America. I liked Everything All the Time better, but Mirage Rock is still an excellent album.

My favorite song: “Dumpster World”

#17: Night Visions – Imagine Dragons Ah, what can I say about this one? It’s just so much fun. I seem to have a thing for Las Vegas-based bands (that’s where The Killers are from too). I just really love the synth and the dance vibe in this album. Also, the album cover is fantastic.

My favorite song: definitely “Radioactive” (If this song doesn’t make you want to get up and dance, I worry about you.)

#16: Grandfather Child – Grandfather Child Let me introduce you to Grandfather Child and their self-named sophomore album. I bet most of you have never heard of them, as they are a local Houston band. And you can thank my brother for introducing them to ME so that I could introduce them to you. They’re a rock band with a healthy mix of country, rhythm and blues, and even gospel. And they are ABSOLUTELY EXCELLENT.

My favorite song: “I Would Like to Thank the Universe / Planet Earth”

#15: Nocturne – Wild Nothing
Okay, first: I love that the album cover comes in like four different color combinations. It’s so cool! Second, this whole album is fantastic. The whole thing has a wonderful atmospheric dreamy quality (which is fitting since they’re generally considered dream-pop), and it also has a wonderful complicated layered sort of sound, without being overdone.

My favorite song: I’m not quite sure, honestly, maybe “This Chain Won’t Break”

#14: Holy Weather – Civil Twilight
Oh man, I love this album. It’s hard to explain to myself why its so far down the list, except that there were SO MANY albums to love this year. They’re alternative rock, and some people compare them to Muse, but I think they’re a bit less rock and far more laid back than Muse is. Great smooth vocals and fantastic instrumentals that are complex without being overwrought (plus wonderful lyrics), make this band AWESOME.

My favorite song: either “River” or “Every Walk That I’ve Ever Taken Has Been In Your Direction”

#13: Handwritten – The Gaslight Anthem

The Gaslight Anthem is a strange cross between a punk rock band and an Americana band. Honestly, that doesn’t make much sense in my head, but it makes perfect sense when you list to them. I really loved their 2008 album: ’59 Sound, but was slightly less impressed with their 2010 release American Slang. Handwritten, on the other hand, is marvelous. It’s good strong American rock. And I love it!

My favorite song: There’s a lot on this album. Probably either “Mulholland Drive” or “Biloxi Parish” or “National Anthem”

#12: Hero’s Dose – Infantree

I’ll be honest, I know very little about this band. I came across this album completely by accident on Spotify and FELL IN LOVE WITH IT. But I know next to nothing about the band. Even googling them doesn’t turn up much. Their own website, while providing plenty of music and photos, offers absolutely NO context, description, discussion of where they came from, etc. I know they’re from California, that’s about it. These guys are synthy, pop-ish, trippy, versatile, (maybe a bit 70s-ish?) and AWESOME. Just check them out. SERIOUSLY.

My favorite song: “Skinny Bones Jones” or “Fibber”

#11: Idler Wheel… – Fiona Apple

Okay, I guess I should give the full title just once, even though it’s ridiculously long as usual, so here it is (don’t say I didn’t warn you), *takes a deep breath*:The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do. I think Fiona Apple is one of the artists you either love or hate. I happen to love her, and this album (with a typical Fiona Apple longer-than-some-novels title) is powerful, raw, and a bit well… insane (in a good way, of course).

My favorite song: “Werewolf”

Okay, folks. That’s it for now. Wow, that was really long… It took me forever to do all that, and now it’s midnight. Good grief. You can expect the second half of the list either some time Wednesday evening or Thursday morning (probably at midnight again). At that time I will also provide a link to a Spotify playlist with all the albums in order like I did last year. However, if you want to check any of these out they shouldn’t be hard to find online somewhere.

In the mean time, please feel free to sound off with agreements, arguments, complaints, predictions, etc. about the list so far. And good night!

Distant Worlds; or Geek’s Night at the Symphony

 

On Saturday night, my mother, my brother, and I attended the Houston Symphony’s performance of “Distant Worlds: Music from Final Fantasy.”  The performance was conducted by Arnie Roth, one of the collaborators and producers of the Final Fantasy music.  Amazingly, Nobuo Uematsu, the composer of almost every Final Fantasy song ever written, was in attendance to watch the performance and answer questions at the end.

It was a spectacular performance and an extremely enjoyable evening.  Arnie Roth was an energetic and entertaining conductor who, despite forgetting the song order at one point, was a true enthusiast of Uematsu’s music.  This was my first experience with the Houston Symphony, and they proved to be clear and powerful performers, despite the somewhat small size of the symphony as a whole.  And the Houston Chorus was especially (and surprisingly) good.  There are some very very fine voices in the chorus.  The arrangements of the music were, for the most part, exactly as someone familiar with the Final Fantasy music would expect them to.

They opened with Prelude, of course, and then moved seamlessly into Liberi Fatali (VIII) – one of my personal favorites, and a particularly good show piece for the chorus.  A few of the other highlights were To Zanarkand (X), Man With the Machine Gun (VIII), and Bombing Mission (VII).  Two weaker songs, in my opinion, were:  Distant Worlds, from FF XI, which was marred somewhat by soloist, Cassandra Black, who appeared very hesitant and weak-voiced during the song, and Dear Friends (V), for which the guitar soloist, while competent, was continually drowned out by the rest of the symphony and made his entrances with considerable hesitance as well.   I was thankful to see Cassandra Black re-emerge later in the concert to sing the part of Maria in the Opera from FF VI and prove that she was in fact a very fine soprano when singing opera, which must obviously be her natural habitat (of sorts), unlike the more pop-ish Distant Worlds.

Perhaps the biggest treat of the concert was the inclusion of three “firsts” for Final Fantasy fans.  While FF XIII has been out for a few months, we were witness to the first orchestral arrangement of the music from that game, which included The Promise and Fang’s Theme (a extra-special treat for me, as Fang is one of my favorite characters).  We were also the first to hear the new orchestral arrangement of J-E-N-O-V-A from FF VII.  As the original song as entirely electronic, I was curious to hear what they would do with an orchestral arrangement.  And it was fantastic.  It was true to the general sound and feel of the original song, while being entirely fit for orchestra instruments, and the Houston Symphony performed it admirably.  The last big treat was a sneak-peek of both video and music from the upcoming game, Final Fantasy XIV.  The video looks promisingly intricate, and the music (though we received only a small sampling) seems to be on par with the rest of Uematsu’s amazing work.

However, even these treats could not quite compare to the second encore.  It came as a surprise to no one that there would be a second encore, because one particular song that everyone was anxiously expecting had not yet been performed.  It was a huge surprise, however, when Nobuo Uematsu himself came on stage to sing with the chorus for this particular song.  This song was, of course, One-Winged Angel, theme song of perhaps the most iconic character in Final Fantasy – Sephiroth.

Only one thing really marred the experience, though it was an expected drawback.  And that was the number of anime geeks who arrived as if they thought they were attending an anime convention.  Now, I am a geek, and I have no problems admitting it.  But I firmly believe it is possible to be a geek without being completely socially-inept, devoid of common courtesy, or an idiot.  Being fanatically obsessed with Final Fantasy does not excuse people from being shameless, rude, or inappropriate.  And they were not, in fact, attending a comic-con, but the Houston SYMPHONY.  And they should have behaved in a way fitting to the setting.  In other words, not running around in costumes and clown make-up (yes, some were actually in clown makeup) acting like spoiled, obnoxious children who have no social skills whatsoever (this is true for 16 year old kids all the way up to particularly scary geeks in their late 40s).  My brother is particularly short-tempered with such people, and I was half-afraid he would actually hit someone a few times.  But thankfully, once of the concert started, we were able to ignore them for the most part.  Except for the one seated next to me, who very obviously needed a shower.

Despite that single annoyance, the concert was beautiful, powerful, and exciting.  Everything I have come to expect from the great Nobuo Uematsu and anyone who works with him.