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Sunday, July 26, 2009

In the Loop Sizzles, Hurt Locker Keeps Your Eyes on the Guys, Historical Movie Reception and 50th Anniversary of the Nixon-Khrushchev Encounter

On the movie front, I can recommend three new films. The Hurt Locker (4 nnnn out of 5 - based on how sold on it I am) is a captivating look at a bomb-defusing squad in Iraq. It's hard to take your eyes off this film or its two leads. In the Loop (nnnn=) is a sometimes hilarious, inner-circle examination of a high-up British committee's interactions with each other and with American hearings on going to war in the Middle East. I can't understand The Washington Post's negative review, though that's not the first time I've said that. Yoo Hoo Mrs. Goldberg (nnn=) by Washingtonian Aviva Kempner tells the story of Gertrude Berg, perhaps the first lady of TV sitcoms. It is another straightforward, extremely well-done documentary from Kempner, whose last film was about Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg. There are many good stories and subplots here, and some wonderful footage from the 1950s, including an Edward R. Murrow interview with Berg and an interview with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. See it you can; it's nice to support folks like Kempner. I also caught the opening night film of the Washington DC African Diaspora Film Series, Glorious Exit (nnnn=), a documentary about a Swiss Nigerian Los Angeles actor who must return to Nigeria to bury the father he has hardly met. Director Kevin Merz, the protagonist's half-brother, did an incredible job here. I'll let you know if I see it around again.

Events for the week:
Monday: Screen on the Green - Dog Day Afternoon
Tuesday: Pink LIne Project's Voting Party, 6-8pm, 1405 Florida Ave.
Wednesday: Alfred Hitchcock's Dial M for Murder in downtown Bethesda (Bike & Brunch will have a group there.)
Thursday: Turn Left at the End of the World, a special movie/reception at DCJCC. The free tickets are all reserved, but my guess is that if you come an hour early or so, you will get in.
Friday: 7:30 P.M. Daniel Silva reads from and signs his new Gabriel Allon thriller, The Defector, at Barnes & Noble-Bethesda, 4801 Bethesda Ave.
Saturday: Gallery opening at the Watergate Gallery, 4-7pm

Let's talk history. First an upcoming event. On Tuesday, Aug. 4, at the DC Jewish Community Center on 16th and Q, come to the film FOUR SEASONS LODGE and stay for a reception. The documentary centers on "Holocaust survivors [who] live life to the fullest each summer at a special Catskills retreat [that is] about to shut down." New York Times journalist Andrew Jacobs directed the film with beautiful cinematography by a team of filmmakers including Albert Maysles," the legendary documentarian. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased at or most likely on the night of the show as well.

This past Thursday at George Washington University, I attended an event called Face-off to Facebook: From the Nixon-Khrushchev Kitchen Debate to Public Diplomacy in the 21st Century. The all-day discussions, commemorating the 1959 US National Exhibition at Moscow's Sokolniki Park, included Khrushchev's son, Sergei, a professor at Brown, his granddaughter Nina, a professor at the New School, William Safire, the longtime New York Times columnist and former Nixon speechwriter and William Burns, the current Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs and former Ambassador to Russia. In the audience were around 50 "Guides" from that famed 1959 event, where Nixon and Khrushchev got into a shouting match in the "new kitchen" area of the exhibition.

Safire recounted his part in that debate, as a pr flack for a kitchen company. He said he was able to get Times reporter Harrison Salisbury past the ropes to where he could write down the quotes but could not get the AP cameraman in. So the cameraman threw his camera to Safire who snapped a now-famous photo of Nixon speaking to Khrushchev with a finger in his chest. On the panel, Sergei Khrushchev quickly dismissed that, saying he has a similar photo with his father's finger in Nixon's chest. Safire said that he got the favor back from Salisbury, who changed the title in his article from the Sokolniki Summit to the Kitchen Conference, benefiting Safire's client.

We also saw a new documentary film about the kitchen debate. Thousands of Russians swarmed the event, checking out American fashions, models, music, dancing and homes. Some of the guides in the audience were also featured in the film. The film also showed some flamboyant speechmaking from Khrushchev, telling Nixon that Russia would be moving past the US, accentuating this with a long waving of his hand to signify bye-bye. Sergei Khrushchev recalled all the KGB at the Fair, saying that at one point they left his mother outside by mistake. Safire asked Khrushchev about a later Nixon visit in 1966, trying to clear up a long mystery. Apparently, Safire said, Nixon left a restaurant, dodging KGB agents by going out through a window in the bathroom - his purpose being to meet with the already deposed Khrushchev. And that he got to his house, but Khrushchev wasn't there so Nixon left a note for him. "Did Khrushchev ever read that note," Safire asked. Sergei Krushchev dismissed all the spy-story stuff, hinting that the KGB would not be fooled so easily. He said his father did read the note and wanted to meet with NIxon, but by the time it was handed it to him, Nixon was conveniently on his way back home.

Secretary Burns's lunchtime talk presented quite a contrast from his boss, Hilary Clinton. He was extremely low-key, took questions in the most reassuring, calm way, and left the audience with a very secure feeling. Later on, George Clack from the State Department pushed their Democracy Video Challenge on You Tube of all places. Ivan Sigal talked about his inititaive. Clay Shirky, a professor at NYU, was impressive in the final Public Diplomacy in the Digital World discussion. His new book, Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations, sounds like an important read.

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