The Great Outdoors Beneath Your Feet

The Great Outdoors Beneath Your Feet

~ ZZ Troutski


You’ve climbed mountains, cast your line in the crystal clear ponds and streams, hunted in the wilderness that this extraordinary country has to offer, and more. But there’s another local right beneath your feet that can become the experience of a lifetime. It’s also one of the best places to go in order to get out from under the blazing heat of the summer sun.


Cathedral Caverns

Cathedral Caverns

Although above-ground is lovely and there are many excursions, journeys and adventures one can take with the family – below-ground there’s an entire world filled with some of the most stunning formations you’ll ever see. Not to mention, the history of some of these caverns is extraordinary.


Cathedral Caverns State Park, located in Alabama, is a sight you’ll never forget. Originally named Bats Cave, this was an attraction developed by Jay Gurley. It was declared a historic landmark in the 1970s because the owners – the Kennamer family – actually settled in the cave and used it as a home.


If you’re a horror fan, it was in 1983 that this cave was used as principal photography for ‘Secrets of the Phantom Caverns’; and then in 1995, Cathedral Caverns did a complete genre turnaround and was the actual cave set for Disney’s film ‘Tom and Huck.’ A true archaeological wonder, excavations have actually proven that Cathedral Caverns was home to Native Americans as early as 7000 BCE.


Another below-round sight you can enjoy is located in Arizona. The Colossal Cave system near Vail offers 3.5 miles of mapped-out passageways you can explore. And if you’re looking for a cool place, this is definitely it. The temperature remains at an average of seventy degrees year-round, and being that it’s an ancient ‘dry’ cave, the formations you see inside have been frozen in time. Literally. Seeing as that everything is completely dry, they no longer grow.


The Ursa Minor Cave, a fraction of Sequoia National Park, is also a location that many people rave about. Naturally formed, the cave was discovered recently – in 2006 – by four professional cave explorers from the Cave Research Foundation. They actually stumbled across a small-sized hole on a cliff face in the Sierra Nevada mountains, and after widening the hole, they discovered one of the most stunning caves known to man.


Getting its name from a large bear skeleton that was found inside the cave, Ursa Minor has been in a ton of magazines, calling out to explorers, researchers, and scientists to come find new species that could very well be growing in the darkness.


Mark Twain Cave is, of course, found in the prolific writer’s hometown of Hannibal, Missouri. This is the oldest operating ‘show’ cave in the state;

Mark Twain Cav

Mark Twain Cave

tours have been given to people since 1886. This is a truly cool National Landmark that played a pivotal role in Twain’s most memorable story, ‘The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.’


In a slightly more horrific piece of history, the Cave also played home to Hannibal physician, Dr. Joseph Nash McDowell, who purchased it and used it as a laboratory for experiments on human corpses – including Twain’s daughter.


Even the notable gunslinger, Jesse James, was part of the history of this cave. In September, 1879, after a train robbery in the nearby town of Saverton, the outlaw used the cave as a hideout; he even signed and dated one of the cave’s walls that tourists can get a look at all year long.


Carlsbad Caverns in southeastern New Mexico still reigns supreme in the cavern-lovers category. Here, visitors can hike or ride on an elevator into the depths of the mammoth structure.


The sights are stunning and the rooms are many: Big Room, New Mexico Room, Kings Palace, Queens Chamber, Papoose Room and Green Lake Room, just to name a few. And the cave’s memorable formations also have names; from the Totem Pole to the Witch’s Finger to the Temple of the Sun.


So if you’re slightly bored with all those above-ground sports and activities, take a dip into history and witness some of the most thrilling sights Mother Nature has ever created.



For movies opening May 30, 2014


Kam’s Kapsules:

Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun

by Kam Williams

For movies opening May 30, 2014


Maleficent (PG for action, violence and frightening images) Angelina Jolie plays the title character in this reimagining of Sleepy Beauty from the perspective of the classic fairy tale’s infamous villain, an embittered shrew driven by revenge to put a curse on the king’s (Sharlto Copley) young daughter (Elle Fanning). Cast includes Sam Riley, Imelda Staunton and Juno Temple.

A Million Ways to Die in the West (R for violence, drug use, crude humor, graphic sexuality and pervasive profanity) Seth MacFarlance wrote, directed and stars in this irreverent Western, set in Arizona in 1882, as a cowardly shepherd who finally summons up some courage when his girlfriend’s (Charlize Theron) gun-slinging husband (Liam Neeson) suddenly shows up in town bent on vengeance. With Amanda Seyfried, Neil Patrick Harris, Sarah Silverman and Giovanni Ribisi.


Delivery (Unrated) Demon seed horror flick about a couple (Laurel Vail and Danny Barclay) expecting their first child who decide to document the pregnancy for a reality-TV show, only to discover that the newborn’s been possessed by an evil spirit. With Rob Cobuzio, Colter Allison and Rebecca Brooks.

Emoticon 😉 (Unrated) Romance drama about the Digital Age dating frustrations of an Anthropology student (Livia De Paolis) who’s writing her thesis on modern methods of communication. Supporting cast includes Michael Cristofer, Carol Kane, Daphne Rubin-Vega and Sonia Braga.

Filth (R for violence, profanity, drug use, frontal nudity and graphic sexuality) Screen adaptation of the Irvine Welsh novel of the same name about a bigoted, drug-addicted, cross-dressing, bipolar police officer‘s (James McAvoy) efforts to secure a promotion and to reconcile with his estranged wife (Shauna Macdonald) and daughter (Megan Finn). With Jamie Bell, Eddie Marsan, Jim Broadbent and Imogen Poots.

The Grand Seduction (PG-13 for drug references and suggestive material) English-language remake of Seducing Doctor Lewis, the 2003 French farce about a tiny fishing village’s attempt to convince a visiting physician (Taylor Kitsch) to relocate there from the big city. Co-starring Brendan Gleeson, Liana Balaban and Anna Hopkins.

The Hornet’s Nest (R for pervasive profanity) Afghan War documentary chronicling veteran journalist Mike Boettcher and son Carlos’ nightmare when their covering U.S. troops on the front lines turned into a hair-raising fight for survival.

Korengal (Unrated) Sequel to the Oscar-nominated documentary Restrepo, directed by Sebastian Junger (A Perfect Storm), serves up another slice of the War in Afghanistan from the point of view of a decimated platoon of American soldiers stationed in a very vulnerable valley surrounded by Taliban fighters on a suicide mission.

The Life and Crimes of Doris Payne (Unrated) “Diamond in the Rough” biopic chronicling the exploits of an infamous, African-American jewel thief from humble roots who fleeced upscale retailers like Cartier and Tiffany of millions in gems over the course of a checkered career which spanned 60+ years.

Lucky Them (R for profanity, sexuality and drug use) Toni Collette stars in this tale of redemption as a music critic assigned by her magazine to interview her reclusive, retired rock star ex-boyfriend (Johnny Depp) who hasn’t been seen in public for over a decade. With Oliver Platt, Thomas Haden Church and Amy Seimetz.

Night Moves (R for nudity and profanity) Eco-thriller revolving around a trio of radical environmentalists (Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning and Peter Sarsgaard) determined to protect the planet by any means necessary who conspire to detonate a hydroelectric dam. With Alia Shawkat, Clara Mamet and Logan Miller.

Venus in Fur (Unrated) Roman Polanski screen adaptation of the David Ives play of the same name about a director (Mathieu Amalric) who finds himself seduced by an aspiring starlet (Emmanuelle Seigner) auditioning for the lead role in his highly-erotic, upcoming production. (In French and German with subtitles)

We Are the Best! (Unrated) Coming-of-age drama, set in Stockholm in 1982, where we find three 13 year-old girls (Mira Barkhammar, Mira Grosin and Liv LeMoyne) without instruments forming a punk rock band even though their friends and family say the genre is dying. With Alvin Strollo, Mattias Wiberg and Jonathan Salomonsson. (In Swedish with subtitles)

Everything in Life Comes Back at You…Even in the NFL

Everything in Life Comes Back at You…Even in the NFL

~ Amy Lignor


You name it the NFL has seen its share of controversies. From player safety to controversial calls to the most recent Saints (2012) issue when it came to ‘bounties’.  And although the NBA took away the headlines for just a bit, it didn’t take long for the NFL to be back in the spotlight.
images (3)This time around, you can definitely say there is a controversy: considering the age of the people involved and the intelligence they supposedly had, versus the ‘suspected’ negligence of doctors and trainers. There are those who have already sided with one or the other when it comes to the NFL being sued over the long-term health of players…again!

First it was the NFL agreeing to pay $765 million to players on behalf of issues that came from concussions received during players’ careers. Although, it is important to note that a federal judge has not even agreed to the settlement yet, saying it’s still too small. Now, this new lawsuit comes from a group of retired NFL heroes who state that they were given powerful painkillers, as well as other drugs, that would at the time keep them in their ‘must-win games’, but would harm them physically in the long run.

Everyone has heard about steroids, and that is basically in any sport. Performance-enhancing drugs have been taken by athletes who, in the end, have actually lost their medals and trophies because they admitted to using. However, in this case, the players are stating that drugs were given to them by team doctors in order to make sure that any of their injuries were taken care of ASAP so they could head back on the field and bring home the win. This was all illegal, claims the lawsuit; drugs given with no regard to obtaining prescriptions for the player, or even offering them information on various side effects that may occur when they got older.

Can you imagine having a broken bone, but being told by one you respect and believe in that it was basically just a ‘sprain’, or a lesser injury; then being fed pills in order to make sure you did not actually feel the extent of the pain, and then sent back out on the field without a care in the world? Of course, the bone was still broken, and any football would continue to injure it even more. There is even one plaintiff who stated that he was given anti-inflammatory drugs, without being told an operation was necessary. The only upside they supposedly offered the player was that he didn’t have to attend practices so long as he played in the actual game. Add that to the addiction claims, and this is a one-two punch for the NFL.

Very familiar names are stated: Three of the players who became famous for their “Super Bowl Shuffle” back in 1985 – QB Jim McMahon, defensive end Richard Dent, and offensive lineman Keith Van Horne of the Chicago Bears – are among the five named. But even though this is a small amount, 500+ former players have signed on, seeking class-action status for the case.

Everything from narcotic painkillers to sleeping medication, as well as Percocet was fed to the players. McMahon, who perhaps is the most popular name speaking about this case at the moment, stated that he suffered a broken neck and ankle during his time with the NFL. Even though we are speaking about two horrific breaks, McMahon did not take ‘time off’ or sit on the bench to heal. He actually received medication and was sent back onto the field ASAP by team doctors and trainers. McMahon claims that none of these ‘medical men’ ever actually told him about the specifications of his injuries. And when speaking about addiction, McMahon also states that he was up to 100+ Percocet tablets per month because of his injuries and his ‘easy’ supply from the team.

Another frightening tale comes from offensive lineman Jeremy Newberry. Retiring in 2009, the drugs he took from trainers caused him high blood pressure, kidney failure and extremely violent headaches since his exit from the NFL. A story that could become a Wes Craven movie has Newberry and other 49ers teammates heading to the locker room for their Toradol injections just a few minutes before each kickoff in order to numb any pain they might be feeling.

But this is not a Wes Craven movie – this is real life. Yes, these men were certainly of the age and intelligence – even as rookies – to know what drugs were. They were able to understand and even crave the ability to go back out on the gridiron in order to help their team win. Yes, they wanted to win and football was their life. However…if, perhaps, the actual information was given to them by the people giving the drugs regarding the side effects that could come about, perhaps these young men would have had the chance to at least make a rational decision and just say “no.”

Either way, the damage is completely and utterly done. And the NFL is looking at yet another piece of their past that has caught up to them with a vengeance.




Oscar-Nominated Adaptation of Afghan War Memoir Arrives on DVD

105575_galLone Survivor

DVD Review by Kam Williams


Oscar-Nominated Adaptation of Afghan War Memoir Arrives on DVD


On June 28, 2005, a team of Navy SEALs based in Afghanistan were issued orders in accordance with Operation Red Wings to locate and terminate a Taliban leader whose militia had been targeting coalition troops in the Kush Mountains of Kunar Province. The four were then dropped by helicopter line into rugged terrain outside the tiny village suspected of harboring Al-Qaida sympathizers.

Soon, the soldiers crossed paths with several shepherds and, against their better judgment, allowed the seemingly innocuous civilians to continue on their way in accordance with the U.S. military’s rules of engagement. Unfortunately, about an hour later, the SEALs found themselves ambushed by over a hundred Taliban fighters who had apparently been tipped off as to their whereabouts.

The ensuing, epic battle is the subject of Lone Survivor, a gruesome war flick based on Marcus Luttrell’s (Mark Wahlberg) memoir of the high attrition-rate, harrowing ordeal. Adapted and directed by Peter Berg (Battleship), the picture was nominated for Academy Awards in the Best Sound and Best Sound Mixing categories.

Given this movie’s spoiler of a title, there isn’t any suspense about how the disastrous misadventure is going to end. Consequently, the viewing experience amounts to little more than squirming in your seat while watching members of Luttrell’s unit perish, as well as over a dozen of the reinforcements sent to try to rescue them.

A practically-pornographic tribute to fearless, fallen heroes strictly for patriots with a strong stomach for gratuitous violence, however accurate.


Good (2 stars)

Rated R for graphic violence and pervasive profanity

Running time: 122 minutes

Distributor: Universal Studios Home Entertainment

Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack Extras: Will of the Warrior; Recreating the Firefight; Learning the Basics; The Pashtun Code of Life; Bringing the Story to Light; and The Fallen Heroes of Operation Red Wings.


To see a trailer for Lone Survivor, visit:


To order a copy of the Lone Survivor Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack, visit:


Gabby Recovering from Abuse, Hopes to Walk Again


by Demise Carey-Costa

Everywhere, around the world dogs and cats are subjected to horrible suffering, abuse and neglect. They live trapped in these atrocious situations wondering why won’t anyone come for me?Gabby

Gabby, a 5 year old German Shepherd spent the first five years of her life in miserable conditions. It is theorized that she spent most of her life in a small crate and was used as a breeding dog. When her owners tired of her she was taken to a high kill shelter in Miami Dade, Florida and disposed of like trash. She was going to be euthanized when a good Samaritan intervened and saved her. Sindi Parker of Almost Home Dog Rescue and Rehab in Montepelier, VT had Gabby transported to her rescue.

But dear Gabby was not out of the woods yet. Due to years of abuse and neglect and confinement to a small cage she cannot walk like most other dogs. She has hip dysplasio and her front legs/ankles are so deformed she has to walk on her ankles and legs. It is very difficult for her to stand and every step she takes is a challenge. Simple steps that are taken for granted are daunting for Gabby. When she sees other dogs playing and running she wants so much to be like them. She will not be able to without the assistance of a quad wheelchair which will help her get around and relieve her painful situation. Without this wheelchair, Gabby has no quality of life.

“Almost Home Dog Rescue and Rehab” is home to many special needs dogs (including seniors, disabled dogs, blind dogs and former bait dogs) where if they cannot be adopted, they are loved and cared for -for life! Currently, they are caring for thirty dogs with an array of medical and behavioural issues, so they really need funds. Your donation will directly go to fund Gabby’s quad wheelchair so she can live the life she deserves after all the suffering she endured.

Please visit their website at:

To keep up with Gabby, please visit and LIKE her Facebook page to show your support for this brave soul:…

Gabby may have had a rought start to her life but a lot of people love and support her. Won’t you be a hero for Gabby?

This story was first published on and is reposted here with the author’s permission.


The Hybrid Escalates

The Hybrid Escalates

~ Carmen Schwartz

As everyone knows, car companies got on board with the ‘green’ initiative quite a long time ago. In fact, even the big names in luxury, like Mercedes-Benz, made sure they worked with their customers to give them exactly what they wanted: luxury, class, and a way to save the world that images (6)their children were inheriting.  Now there are many car companies out there who have enveloped the realm of hybrids, each doing their part to be among the biggest ‘change’ in automotive industry since, well…the wheel was invented.


There have been skeptics along the way. Heck, there are still skeptics out there who think hybrids are not ‘real’ cars (same as the people who claim eBooks are not ‘real books); but the notion to save this planet, and help the next generation by alleviating the amount of utter waste and damage that humans create on a daily basis, is still one of the biggest and most beloved ‘movements’ in 2014.


Although you will see a ‘bad’ headline every once in a while, such as cars being recalled because of airbag issues – you will also see headlines regarding recalls of all types of cars for all types of reasons. So, that excuse cannot be used when speaking about a ‘real’ car versus what a hybrid warrants.


Hybrid vehicles do save the world energy; that is a fact. It was mainly the price tag that once stopped the consumer from coming on board with images (7)purchasing a hybrid; affordability was just not something the hybrid offered to anyone whose money was tight.  But times have definitely changed. In the first half of 2014, hybrids have come on the scene catering to everyone’s pocket book so they can afford to have one in the driveway. Everything from mid-size sedans to trucks are now available, allowing something for everyone out there when it comes to load capacity and family needs.


The ‘best’ category of 2014 offers some very familiar names. So if you are looking, here are some extremely great hybrids on the car lots of America that offer everything from price to efficiency so you can make the right decision.

When it comes to subcompact cars, the 2014 Toyota Prius C at $19,890 has remained the absolute leader. With an efficiency-cost rating of 2.51, the subcompact Toyota still claims this top-rated hybrid spot of 2014.

When it comes to the compact car, it is the 2014 Honda Civic Hybrid at $25,425, you want to look out for. Although the Honda Insight was low-cost with an efficiency-cost rating of 2.15, the Insight was actually discontinued, leaving the Honda Civic Hybrid as the best compact left on the market.

The mid-size hatchback of choice is the 2014 Toyota Prius at $25,010. Toyota seems to be the ‘experts’ at making the hybrids that rate the highest. In fact, with an efficiency-cost rating of 2.00, the 2014 Toyota Prius stands far above the rest, with the closest contender being the Ford C-Max Hybrid at 1.65.

If a mid-size sedan is what’s necessary for the family, Toyota is then left behind, and Ford takes the stage. The 2014 Ford Fusion Hybrid is $27,095, with an efficiency-cost rating of 1.73.

And we must at least list one…

When luxury is wanted, the best luxury mid-size sedan comes from Lincoln. The 2014 MKZ Hybrid is priced at $37,085, and literally dominates the luxurious side of life. In fact, the big names of both BMW and Mercedes-Benz come in behind it, but no amount of class, comfort, or beauty is taken away from the lucky owner!

There are many other categories, of course. From hatchback to SUV, there are companies out there supplying the best hybrid possible for you and your family.

Whether it be luxury or price point you’re looking for, it is a great thing to see that the world of ‘hybrids’ is expanding around the globe each and every day…making sure that, in turn, they will be a huge part of saving it!



Talented French Tech Duo Releases Ethereal EP of Mesmerizing Electronic Music


EP by Jim Cassady & Pablo

Review by Kam Williams


Talented French Tech Duo Releases Ethereal EP of Mesmerizing Electronic Music


Sounding like a compelling cross of the Kraftwerk and Bryan Ferry, a couple of young Frenchmen based in Berlin, Jim Cassady & Pablo, have collaborated to produce an album of mesmerizing electronic music. Recently released on the European label Humble Musique, the ethereal EP contains a quartet of instrumentals augmented by just enough human backing vocals to ground the otherwise otherworldy tracks with a sultry, softening human touch.


The smooth grooves are definitely danceable, yet reflect the complexity of the talented combo’s eclectic influences, ranging from Mozart to Monk toJIM&PABLO-10 Coltrane to Hendrix. Keyboardist Jim’s job is to endlessly explore pleasant melodies while also maintaining the rhythm. Improvisation is the ostensibly the passion of Pablo, a self-taught guitarist who breaks all the rules he’s better off having never learned.


Since beauty is not only in the eye of the beholder, but in the ear of the behearer, may I simply suggest you click on the links below to check out these talented, hi-tech troubadours. I hope that you enjoy them as much as I do, so that they might soon be venturing to these shores to stage their first concert in the  U.S.


Appreciate Jim Cassady & Pablo now and avoid the rush!


To hear a sample of Jim Cassady & Pablo’s music, visit:

To see a live performance by Jim Cassady & Pablo, visit:

To order a copy of singles from Panathenee or the entire EP, visit:


Take Me to St. Louis? Maybe Someday

Take Me to St. Louis? Maybe Someday

~ Amy Lignor

Ah…the NFL. Between the bad—lawsuits from ex-players regarding drugs being supplied to them without actual information being given regarding the side effects of said drugs later in life; and the good—the players who are already being raved about from the draft that have made many hometown fans already excited and waiting for the first preseason game to begin ASAP; the NFL has most definitely kept its track record of delivering just about every headline humanly possible.

One of the latest, of course, came from the subject of stadiums. This subject touches on everything from ‘how to build a new stadium’ to ‘bringing the Super Bowl to cities that deserve it, yet have not had the capacity to host it’.

images (4)Well…once the draft was over and things quieted down, it was the city of Minnesota picked on Tuesday to host Super Bowl LII in 2018. This did not go over very well with Indianapolis and, the actual favorite, New Orleans.

But, the Minneapolis/St. Paul area most definitely had their own edge, considering the fact that a brand new Vikings’ stadium is going to be in place when the Super Bowl comes to town. Expected to open for the 2016 NFL season, $1 billion is being spent for both the fans and the city. And, thankfully, for the players who do not wish to play the biggest game of the year during another polar vortex, Minnesota is even going to make sure that a retractable roof is in place to keep the excitement and thrills in, and the flu season out.

The NFL who has always proven that they like revenue and profits far more than anything else, has been giving the ‘gift’ of the biggest sports event of the year to the cities that work their behinds off to put up that new stadium that seats many, is a huge draw for the out-of-towners, and will bring in the cash. In fact, it is this season’s Super Bowl that will be played in Phoenix, mostly because they just opened their new stadium. In addition, the 49ers of San Francisco will be on tap to host the 2016 Super Bowl in a brand new Levi’s Stadium. Although many football lovers feel that Candlestick Park is history that should still be a part of the NFL.

It will certainly be nice for Minneapolis to see the ‘big game’ once again. In fact, they have not hosted since 1992 when Washington and Buffalo went head-to-head in the Metrodome.

download (1)Now, yes, it is quite difficult to have a Super Bowl in these coldest of cold places. After all, people just had to deal with a travel nightmare after a mega-snowstorm hit New York/New Jersey almost directly after the Seahawks slapped around the Broncos, so Minneapolis will have to be very careful as far as outdoor activities, what they can provide to fans, as well as travel services in case they receive normal Minnesota weather when the Super Bowl arrives.

Some stadiums are literally looking like the unwanted cousin when it comes to ever seeing a Super Bowl in their hometown ever again. One is Miami. Although it is certainly a great town for weather, Sun Life Stadium is literally a wreck. Even the NFL stated that they would not return there for the ‘big game’ unless issues are fixed. But the money available does not yet allow Sun Life to add a partial stadium roof, so it looks like Miami may just have to rely on their Dolphins to actually GET to the Super Bowl so they can at least watch on TV.

The Bills in Buffalo have issues and St. Louis, believe it or not, has a lease that stipulates the venue must rank among the top eight NFL stadiums in quality by 2015 or the Rams can move elsewhere. Renovations don’t seem to be in the cards anytime soon.

We shall see if the teams that have hosted the fewest Super Bowls in history will ever rise to the top of the list again. All they need is to find that billion dollars hiding somewhere and they should be good to go!

Amma’s Good Karma

Amma AsanteAmma Asante

The “Belle” Interview

with Kam Williams

Amma’s Good Karma

Writer/director Amma Asante made an unusual entry into filmmaking. As a child, she attended the Barbara Speake stage school in London, where she trained as a student in dance and drama.

She began a television career as a child actress, appearing as a regular in the popular British school drama “Grange Hill.” She fronted the ‘Just Say No” campaign of the 1980s and was one of nine “Grange Hill” children to take it to the Reagan White House. Amma went on to gain credits in other British television series including “Desmond’s” and “Birds of a Feather,” and was a Children’s Channel presenter for a year.

In her late teens, Amma left the world of acting and made the move to screenwriting with a development deal from Chrysalis. Two series of the urban drama “Brothers and Sisters” followed which she wrote and produced for the BBC.

Amma’s made her feature film directorial debut in 2004 with A Way of Life which won her 17 international awards including The BFI London Film Festival’s inaugural Alfred Dunhill UK Film Talent Award, created to recognize the achievements of a new or emerging British writer/director who has shown great skill and imagination in bringing originality and verve to filmmaking. Additionally Asante collected The Times ‘Breakthrough Artist of the Year’ at the prestigious South Bank Show Awards for writing and directing the film.

At the BAFTA Film Awards in February 2005, Asante received the BAFTA Carl Foreman Award for Special Achievement by a Writer/Director in a Debut Film. On the same night, she scored a double triumph at the 2005 Miami International Film Festival, winning the award for ‘Best Dramatic Feature in World Cinema’ and the FIPRESCI (International Federation of Film Critics) prize for ‘Best Feature Film.’

Amma was born in London in 1969 and is married to Soren Kragh Pedersen, the Europol Chief of Media and Public Relations. Here, she talks about her new film, Belle, a fact-based, historical drama starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw about the daughter of an African slave and a British ship captain who was raised in England as an aristocrat.

Kam Williams: Hi Amma. I’m honored to have this opportunity.

Amma Asante: Thank you very much, Kam. It’s my pleasure.

KW: I told my readers I’d be speaking with you, so I’ll be mixing in their questions with some of my own.

AA: Okay, cool.

KW: Children’s book author Irene Smalls asks: Where did you find this story and what motivated you to turn it into a movie?

AA: Well, the story comes from the painting that emerges at the end of the film.

[ ] My producer [Damian Jones] sent me a postcard of the picture. I knew immediately that this was an unusual painting and that there was something very special about it, because I had recently been to an art exhibition in Amsterdam that was looking at the history of people of color in art from the 14th Century. What I learned from the show, without knowing that this postcard was ever going to fall into my lap, was that people of color were generally used as accessories in paintings. We were there to express the status of the main subject of the canvas. We’d always be positioned lower than and looking up in awe at the protagonist and never looking out at the painter. But in this postcard, everything was the opposite. There was Dido Belle staring out at the painter, positioned slightly higher than Elizabeth [her white cousin] whose arm was reaching out to Dido, and thereby drawing your eyes towards Dido. So, I saw an opportunity to create a story that would be a combination of race, politics, art and history. And it went from there, with lots and lots of research.

KW: I don’t agree with the assumption of Irene’s next question. Why did you focus on the love story instead of the historical significance?

AA: I disagree with her as well. I think the historical significance was to bring the two people in the love story together. What I tried to do was to use the legal case of the Zong Massacre and the painting itself as tools to explore Dido Elizabeth Belle’s journey. They feed into her being able to find her voice and into her coming to a place where she experiences self-love. So, I would say that that’s at the center of the film, the love story between Dido and herself. Everything else kind of sits around that idea of a young woman coming into her own.

KW: Irene was also wondering whether there might be a sequel in the works.

AA: [Chuckles] No, there isn’t. I feel like this painting fell into my lap because this story needed to be told by me. I believe I was blessed to have the opportunity to be able put this story together and bring it to the screen. But I feel that my role is completed now, and I’d have to leave a sequel to someone else.

KW: Editor/Legist Patricia Turnier says: I was very impressed that this elaborate costume drama/historical biopic was just your second feature film.

AA: Thank you, Patricia. I knew that I wanted my second film to be big and lush and important, and that I wanted it to make a statement. That’s why it took those eight years to get from my first to my second feature. I always knew I had it in me. I just had to persuade the financiers as well. I think feature films are about the confidence you have in bringing your vision to fruition.

KW: When I interviewed Gugu, she gave me the idea that you definitely had a vision of what you were trying to achieve, and also that she felt very comfortable in your hands.

AA: Oh, that’s nice of her to say. It was important to me for the cast to feel safe in my hands. I was very open to collaborating with them, but they also knew that I had a very, very strong vision for this story that I wanted to tell.

KW: She goes on to say: Given that I speak French, I am curious to know where the French last name of Dido Elizabeth Belle comes from?

AA: Dido was born to a West African woman who was sold into slavery. I named the film Belle to honor both Dido and her mother, Maria. But we don’t know how she came to have the surname Belle.

KW: Patricia says: I saw the movie in Quebec in English but I hope the movie will be translated soon into French and other languages to allow the Francophony and other cultures to discover it.
AA: Absolutely! The film has been translated ad is being released in France in a few months’ time.

KW: Patricia also asks: Why do you think that the story of Belle remained unknown, despite the painting of her?
AA: That’s a very interesting question. I’m 44 years-old now, and I grew up not knowing anything about it. But young girls and boys in England today are being taught about Dido Belle. You can read about elements of her life in various books that have been published. What there wasn’t until our film was the quintessential story that pieced together Dido’s life. Since the film does contain some elements of fiction, Damian and I decided to commission Paula Byrne to write an absolutely historically-accurate version of Dido’s life in book form, also called “Belle.”

KW: Harriet Pakula-Teweles asks: How do you feel about the compliment that “The movie Belle has a woman’s touch and is a woman’s movie.”

AA: I like that compliment! And I thank whoever gave it. What I wanted to do was put a woman of color, front and center, in this movie combining a lot of themes that were relevant to both men and women. I actively wanted her to carry the weight of this movie because I’m a woman. And I actively wanted to explore many of the issues that affected her as a woman of color. That was very important to me. And although these issues affect some women of color, I don’t think they’re only of interest to women of color. They’re of universal interest. In addition, I’m a girl, and I celebrate being a girl, and it was really important to me to celebrate the beauty that I could create in a movie like this, aesthetically, in terms of the costumes and the production design. I wanted something big and lush and beautiful and unashamedly feminine. So, I take that as a big compliment, Harriet.

KW: The Uduak Oduok question: Who is your favorite clothes designer?

AA: Oh my God! You’d be forcing me to really nail my flag to the mast. But I have a few. Chanel! I love and adore Chanel. I’m a huge Christian Dior fan. And I’m also a huge Yves St. Laurent fan.

KW: Three classics!

AA: I’m just a classic gal!

KW: Editor Lisa Loving asks: What is your take on the blossoming genre of films about the African Diaspora during the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade? Do you expect to see more films about this aspect of history made?

AA: I think we will because, every so many years, a filmmaker returns to the subject. Interestingly, I also sense that a wider feed is coming through in these stories. I cried watching The Butler, because I understood that with all these wonderful films like Mandela, 12 Years a Slave and Half of a Yellow Sun that a beautiful tapestry of our history was in the process of being woven all over the world. I found that very inspiring and started to weep because I realized that Belle would be a part of that tapestry. What I hope is that this wider pattern that’s emerging isn’t just a fad but evidence that we’ve turned a corner as filmmakers of color and that we’re moving forward in our confidence and in the film industry not being afraid of our telling these stories and in giving us the opportunity to bring our vision to the screen.

KW: Lisa also asks: Did you find Tarantino’s Django Unchained gratuitously violent?

AA: I don’t think it’s for me to comment on how other directors choose to bring their visions to fruition. You can watch Belle to see what I think my film needed to communicate its message about slavery. For me, I found it unnecessary to show any great violence. However, Quentin Tarantino did find it necessary for his film, and I have to respect his decision as one filmmaker respecting another. I’ll leave it at that.

KW: The Harriet Pakula-Teweles question: With so many classic films being redone, is there a remake you’d like to direct?

AA: Well, there is. And I just bought the rights to the project two days ago. It’s a remake of a fabulous French film. I can’t give it away, but stay tuned.

KW: The Ling-Ju Yen question: What is your earliest childhood memory?

AA: My earliest childhood memory I actually injected into Belle. It’s of me sitting on my dad’s lap. I remember him saying to me, “You don’t understand what I’m saying to you right now, but know that you are loved.” That’s where that line comes from in the movie where Dido’s biological father leans down to say the same thing to her. Belle is also dedicated to my father who died unexpectedly during the making of the film. It’s a movie that means a lot to me because I made it not only for little girls around the world who grew up to see themselves reflected in a film like this, but also for my father because it was the kind of picture he would love, even if his daughter had nothing to do with it. So, my earliest memory of him is in the movie.

KW: My condolences, Amma. Is it true that your father was an accountant, your mother was a housekeeper, and that they also opened a deli?

AA: Yes, that’s correct. After my parents arrived in England, it took them a decade to get a foothold. It meant that they had to work non-stop. My mother would do two cleaning jobs in the morning before opening her deli, and then do two more cleaning jobs in the evening. Her whole day, from 4:30 AM until 9 PM was spent working, as was my father’s, between the office and the shop.

KW: You became a TV star as a teenager. How did you avoid the problems that destroy the lives of so many child actors?

AA: Again, I would honestly have to credit my parents, Kwame and Comfort, who ensured that my feet as well as my siblings stayed firmly on the ground. So, I was very well-rooted. I also learned the value of money from a very young age. I thank God for that.

KW: What is your favorite dish to cook?

AA: Jollof rice, a very popular Ghanain dish I learned from my mother. It’s a mixture of rice and vegetables that you can make with either chicken or beef. It’s great because it was designed to give a child or an adult all the nutrients they need in one dish. And it is my absolute favorite!

KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?

AA: I see the woman I knew I wanted to be as a child. When I was a young girl, I had a vision of the woman I wanted to be. And I often reached out to women of color in America for inspiration. My mother would regularly buy Essence and Ebony. I would look at those magazines filled with images of professional, intelligent women of color who knew who they were, who enjoyed who they were, and who were surrounded by other people who enjoyed who they were. When I look in the mirror, I’m really glad that that’s what I see today, but it took awhile to get here.

KW: Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?

AA: I would have to say “No.” But before Belle, I would have answered “Yes.” The great thing about this movie is that I’ve put so much of myself on the table, and put so much of my guts into the movie that I’ve really worn my heart on my sleeve, and everybody has really gotten access to my heart and my head. Many of the questions from your readers have been great. But I would like to turn the question around and ask you: Is there any question you have for me that you might be too shy to ask?

KW: Funny you should ask. I do have a few I’d decided against. Here’s one: Would you mind saying something controversial that would get this interview tweeted?

AA: [LOL] Yes, I would mind.

KW: Another one I was planning to pass on was the Sanaa Lathan question: What excites you?

AA: I really can answer that one. Sitting in the back row of a full audience watching one of my movies, and hearing them cry and hearing them laugh in the right moments, particularly when they laugh at a line I’ve stolen from one of my family members and put in the film. That excites me a great deal. And that’s an honest answer.

KW: I also hesitated to ask you the Melissa Harris-Perry question: How did your first big heartbreak impact who you are as a person?

AA: My first big heartbreak has made me an irrepressible romantic. I was lucky enough to date my first love for five years. We had a very romantic, very dramatic teenage love affair. And it has impacted me because I have married a man who is simply the grownup version of my first love. So, I believe my first love was just preparing me for the man I’m married to today. And it has also impacted the way I write, because there will always be a love story in every movie I write. Always! I think having a positive first love experience before the heartbreak made me a more confident in who I am, a more confident female today. That might be controversial.

KW: If you could have one wish instantly granted, what would that be for?

AA: A child. I’ve been trying for a child with my husband for a long time, for over eight years. And if I could have one wish instantly granted, it would be to be pregnant with a healthy baby.

KW: I know his name is Soren. What type of name is that? Swedish?

AA: Close. He’s Danish.

KW: The Kerry Washington question: If you were an animal, what animal would you be?

AA: A panther! Dangerous and beautiful.

KW: The Judyth Piazza question: What key quality do you believe all successful people share?

AA: The ability to inspire, to transfer our passion to other people and to bring them along with us in pursuit of our vision. I have to be able to inspire investors, actors and crews on a daily basis. What I recognize in other successful people is a similar ability to make their passion infectious.

KW: Thanks again for the time, Amma, and best of luck with Belle.

AA: Thank you, Kam. It’s been great to talk to you.

A Step Back Through History for the Lovers of The Great Outdoors

A Step Back Through History for the Lovers of The Great Outdoors

 ~ ZZ Troutski

Wrigley_field_720Sportsmen and women love the outdoors. They love the thrill of the hunt, or the silence of the water while looking to catch the perfect bass for dinner; they love the hiking and exploration that the mountains provide, as well as the mountain biking and plain, old walking that leads them to places and locations they’ve never seen before.


However, there are a few locations that have most definitely been seen before – whether at home or in the outside world – that have a history of serving the sports world. Each one has its very own past, and not one should ever be lost from the firm ground of America.


Recently, with headlines speaking about actual treasured locations that are now being lost after centuries due to a present-day battle, more people want to find a way to make sure that their prized-locales will never see the age of destruction.


When it comes to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, we’re talking about a location that is truly among the top ones where sports people are concerned. Built way back in 1909, the Speedway was the first auto racing track built in North America, which became a much-needed place to test the development of consumer automobiles, along with auto racing, itself. The most famous race in the world is held at the IMS; the Indianapolis 500 – and can literally never be destroyed.


Back in 1914 Wrigley Field opened, and it has been a staple of the American people ever since. Home of the Chicago Cubs in 1916, even though Babe Ruth called it a ‘dump’ when he and the rest of the Yankees played there during the 1932 World Series, all Americans truly find this site beautiful. Although the ‘old-fashioned’ charm of the stadium was changed a bit when correct stadium seating was put in so people could better enjoy themselves, Wrigley Field still offers the ivy-covered brick wall that’s a staple in all pictures of the past. Wrigley is pure history.


For the football fans out there only one field – no matter what team you route for – is a true staple when it comes to the United States. Lambeau Field in Green Bay will not win any awards for being the most beautiful, comfortable or warmest ever – this is true. But only the Green Bay Packers can claim the first and deepest connection to its local neighborhoods. This is the only team owned by a corporation where every single citizen of Green Bay is a shareholder.


Lambeau Field was built in 1957, and it is truly a source of pride. And seeing as that the street it sits on is Lombardi Avenue and the one and only trophy every NFL team vies for yearly is named after Lombardi – then Lambeau Field deserves the right to stay exactly where it is.


To list another for baseball may seem mean to the other sports, but if you have Wrigley you need to have Fenway; the oldest park in MLB history. Home to the Boston Red Sox since 1912, Fenway’s strange dimensions were actually determined by the city block where the stadium would be built. (A rather strange-shaped block, to say the least.) And even though the sight of Fenway may be more than a bit different than with other ballparks, Fenway is true and utter American history.


No one should ever harm Churchill Downs considering the history, background and the famous Kentucky Derby running that occurs there every year. This is the place of thoroughbreds, as well as anther track dedicated to the horseracing industry: Saratoga.


Saratoga opened in 1863, making it the oldest organized sporting venue of any kind in the United States. The oldest wins!


So as you enjoy the Great Outdoors, remember that there are some locations that are simply being lost around the globe; treasures that will never be seen again and can never be brought back to life once they are gone. Hopefully, we in the U.S. will make sure that our treasures – no matter what they may be – are protected for many generations to enjoy.