Saturday, June 27, 2015

The State of "Grace"

Making a film is a lot like having a child. Sure, you love it and nurture it, but you also fight with it and suffer through difficult stretches where you wonder if it will ever amount to anything. Also like being a parent, whatever you do only goes so far: it isn't until you release your charge into the world that you see if it connects with people and enjoys a life of its own, or it moves back into your basement. Same story whether it's a kid or a DVD.  

That's the journey that Dave Iverson has been on for the past several years (the film version, not the kid version). An award winning independent producer and broadcast journalist, Iverson is no stranger to the process. He's produced and reported on over 20 films for PBS, as well as having served as a special correspondent for the PBS NewsHour. His documentary "The Thirty Second Candidate" won a National Emmy Award in 1999, and he was the writer, correspondent and co-producer/director of the 2009 PBS Frontline documentary "My Father, My Brother and Me" which explored how he and his family have battled Parkinson's disease.

But for the past several years his labor of love has been a remarkable documentary about a program wherein New York's legendary Mark Morris Dance Group joined forces with people with Parkinson's disease. Filmed over a year, it focuses on the "Dance for PD" program, and the dancers, instructors, patients and their families who are involved, all culminating with a public performance in Brooklyn in November of 2012. (If you're a regular reader of this space, you might remember an earlier post from that time.)

Well, the baby was born, or the kid graduated, or the youngster got married, pick your analogy. And what a perceptive and intelligent good-looker it turned out to be. "Capturing Grace" is an amazing film that plays its difficult hand with intelligence, with style, with sensitivity, and with, well, grace. After I contributed some small help to its production, Dave was kind enough to invite me to a screening. What I saw on the screen was powerful stuff. It's a story told with skill, wit and beauty, one that leaves you marveling at those involved, some for the their patience, some for their courage, all for their humanity.  

And it's not just me who thinks so. The reviews in places like The New York Times and the Washington Post have been terrific ("a must-see"). As of this writing it has been accepted to 11 major film festivals, and it's won various awards at 6. It's also in the process of having its national close up: the film's broadcast premier on PBS begins this week. As they say, check your local listings, but in the New York area it's on WNET Thirteen on June 26 at 10P, June 28 at 130P, and continues elsewhere into the summer.

I asked Dave what it feels like to have such reception. "I think I've now seen the film with a theater audience something like 30 times. And it's always wondrous. It's been deeply moving to see how the film seems to resonate with people, whether they're connected to the Parkinson's experience or not, and the impact that it seems to have on them. There's nothing quite like having someone come up to you say ‘thank you' and to see in their eyes how deeply felt that sentiment is. I feel so lucky to have had this experience. There's no question that for me the film matters more than anything I've ever done."

You would think that for a filmmaker with such extensive experience as Iverson there would be nothing new in the game. But you would be wrong. "What I learned is how much it matters to believe in something completely and to care about doing it as well as you possibly can. And that if you bring your whole heart into that process, and you're blessed with wonderfully gifted collaborators, then you open up the possibility of doing something that matters. And then when it's complete you have the great good fortune to feel grateful."  

Watch it. See why Dave is grateful. And see what a good looking kid "Grace" turned out to be.


Marc Wollin of Bedford is thrilled to have played a very small part in helping "Grace" move out of the house. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

The Last Word

Those of you who read this space know of my wife's retirement as the president of our local school board. As her almost final act, she will once again perform one of her favorite duties, shaking the hands of all the seniors at graduation. And while she won't give a speech, here is the one I penned for her if needed.

"Welcome. I can't tell you how happy I am to be able to spend a few minutes with you today. And yes, I will be brief. In fact, I've come to terms with the reality that you're focused less on my words of deep, insightful wisdom, my empathetic musings and my rousing call to arms, and more on an ice cream cake featuring your name written in chocolate sauce.

As you graduate, you probably are looking back and wondering if it was all worth it. After all, why study history or math or the right way to conjugate a verb, when there were really critical things to do, like updating your Instagram feed. Well, there's an old saw that those who don't remember history are condemned to repeat it. And so we spend our time looking at the past. We do it in big historical ways, like studying the Greeks or the Industrial Revolution, as well as in little ways, like trying to figure out which is the best route to sneak into the house after hours. In both cases, the goal is to try and avoid the mistakes that have been made before, be it the Trojan Horse or getting grounded.

Yet while we can study the past, we can't really glimpse the future. We aim for the horizon, knowing only like the bear who went over the mountain to see what he could see, there will be another mountain on the other side. You are all trying to do that this very day, looking over the horizon at what might be coming your way. And while there is most certainly an elevation to be scaled, for the first time perhaps in your entire lives, the shape, height and difficulty of that mountain hasn't been defined, not by your teachers, not by your parents, not even by you.

That is both the horrible and exciting truth that you may have just started to realize. The future, your future, will be what you make it. You have to answer to no one but yourself as to whether you've scaled the heights you've wanted to, whether you've tried as hard as you could, whether you took shortcuts of which you are ashamed or proud. The hardest thing that you will have to do for the rest of your life is to look in the mirror, for it reflects the past, shows you the present and offers you the future. If you can look at that image without averting your eyes and smile, you'll have done all right for yourself, whether you are a gardener or a venture capitalist, a doctor or a teacher, a friend or a parent.

Let me end by telling you why I am so happy to be standing here today. It's because while you are looking for and trying to define the future, I have the glorious privilege of seeing it sitting in front of me. What I, and indeed, what all of us here whom you've invited to witness this event are looking at, is you. We can see the future IN you. That is a privilege few are afforded, and it is indeed thrilling.

It's about the art of the possible. Think of your future as an empty sheet of paper. There is no form or substance to what you see, merely the expectation that something will fill it. So find that which fits your hand the best. It might be a pencil or a shovel, a keyboard or a gavel, a brush or even someone else's hand, and start working on that blank space. We don't know what you will produce, but we can't wait to see it.

Life can be difficult and perplexing, stubborn and confounding. But it can also brilliant and clever, astounding and inspirational. Here's to hoping that yours is more of the latter than the former. Or as the old Irish blessing goes, may the best day of your past be the worst day of your future.

Thank you, and good luck on your journey."


Marc Wollin of Bedford wishes all graduates best of luck whatever their next step. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Calculated Savings

Unless you have more money than sense, you generally watch what you spend. Your perception of an object or service is colored by its cost, a balancing act where you weigh the cash in your wallet against being the item's new owner. That's not to say that we always spend our funds wisely: let he or she among us who hasn't bought a sweater or shoes "just because" cast the first credit card.  

Speaking for myself, I constantly have an adding machine going in my head. That means I'm calculating not just the desirability of a given object or service, but what combinations of it with other things will yield the lowest price. Doesn't matter if its dinner or going to work or picking up some toiletries. Is a two-pack of shaving cream cheaper than buying two cans of a different brand? Is ordering movie tickets online and paying a surcharge for the guarantee of a seat worth it, or has the film been out long enough to make that a waste of money? What if I buy a weekly train pass and only go in four days? What if 2 of those trips are off peak? Yes, sometimes it is exhausting just being me.

But sometimes it adds up, literally. They are few pleasures more sublime than getting it right. Perhaps I need to buy socks, but on a hunch hold off and have a coupon show up in my inbox the next day. Conversely, sometimes despite my best efforts, I'm on the losing side of the equation, even if it's for all the right reasons. I might have a quiet week, and so buy just a daily train ticket. Then a client calls on Tuesday, and wants to book me for several extra days, necessitating more trips back and forth. So while my income might double that week from what I was expecting, I'm more annoyed that I can't avail myself of the $11 saving I would have gotten with a weekly chit. Can you say "can't see the forest for the trees?"

Then every so often the stars align. I was heading to New Jersey for a project, when a different client called last minute and asked me to help out on a high profile event that evening and next day. It meant having to come back into the city as soon as I was done with the first project. That was as opposed to the leisurely late morning train I had been planning to take the following day, followed by an early one back out with our boys for a family event. Because of the nature of the project and the late hours, the client kindly offered a hotel for the night. As I threw stuff in a bag before I ran out the door, I quickly consulted the train schedule, seeing when I might get back up to our area before grabbing a late train into town. (It was confirmation of my theory that the jobs themselves are easy compared to logistics of juggling multiple clients and locations.)

As I started my mental calculator, I added up the cost of the trains back and forth vs. going to the city directly and parking for the night, never a cheap proposition. For sure it made more sense to do what I was doing: the differential of training vs. driving was $20 or more. But in a quiet moment once I got to the first location, I revisited my calculus. I had forgotten to factor in the cost of the boys' train tickets, which of course dad would offer to pay for once we were all seated together. I checked a nifty app called Best Parking, which ID'd a garage in the area that offered a seriously discounted rate. And then I redid the math: add in the discounted parking, but subtract my train in and out, as well as their tickets. The swing went from plus $20 to minus $18. It was like winning the lottery.

All went as planned. The garage was easy to find, the three of us connected easily at 4:30, and even better, the roads were clear and we got to the party early. To say I felt like I had bested the system is understating it. Or with apologies to Crazy Horse, it was a good day to drive.


Marc Wollin of Bedford likes to think he is thrifty, not cheap. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Saturday, June 06, 2015

End of Her Era

Dear Susan;

For the last 12 years, you have skipped innumerable dinners with me. We have had a generous number of policy disagreements. I have fielded hundreds of "please can you take a look at this" requests. And more than a handful of times you have asked in your nicest voice if I would help draft (translation: write in its entirety) a speech, column or memo under your byline, though you were quick to give me ghostwriter credit (or so you said).

To truly balance the ledger, however, one needs to consider the context for those actions. In your role over those same dozen years as a member of the Board of Education, and in the last 8 as its President and last 2 as the president of the county association, you have spent untold hours working so that the kids in our community get the best education possible. You have worked tirelessly to support the teachers, administrators and staff as they perform the Herculean task of refocusing their charges' attention from Facebook pages to textbook pages. You have talked with uncountable parents, far more unhappy than happy, usually with patience, but always with a genuine desire to help. You have earned the admiration, sometimes grudgingly so, from those who want nothing but the best for the schools, as well as those who wonder how we can continue to pay for such largesse. And you have shaken the hands of hundreds of graduating seniors, a task which brings the same smile to your face as when you don a tall red and white striped hat and read Dr. Seuss to kindergarteners.

Upon reflection, I'd say the scales balance nicely.

While it's usually credited to Mark Twain, it was his friend and collaborator Charles Dudley Warner who wrote "While everybody talks about the weather, nobody does anything about it." Public education is much the same. It's an easy whipping boy, a critical task requiring large amounts of capital with a million variables, many beyond the control of the people in charge. Why would anyone want to be involved in such a seemingly no-win endeavor? It all but defines the phrase "dammed if you do, dammed if you don't."

And yet you stepped up to the plate, and continued well after our kids had moved on. True, your reasons in the beginning were selfish: to try and have some say in the educational process that directly affected our boys. Still, it was a natural progression from your efforts as a class mom, to serving on various district committees, to finally standing for election. Add to that the fact that you were a graduate of the district, and the daughter of a teacher from the same, and it now seems in hindsight more inevitable than not.

Your first campaign brochure (which I also wrote but which never got used) said it simply: "It's a tough balancing act. On the one hand, we all want the best educational system for our children. On the other, there are a limited amount of resources. Sometimes it means saying yes. Sometimes it means saying no. But now, more than ever, it will require school board members who are will ask tough questions, challenge conventional thinking, and look for ways to maximize the dollars we have available. I'll take that responsibility." You did then, and you still do today. (On a side note, the brochure also included space for hoped-for endorsements, including one I mocked up from your dad: "Vote for my daughter. I might.")

To be fair, not every decision you and your colleagues made worked out. But anyone who thinks that you didn't agonize over the choices, carefully weighed the options and chose the course you sincerely thought was the best would be sorely mistaken. Some might fault you for any number of things, but not caring and not trying to get it right can't possibly be among them.

And now it's time to move on. You indeed took that responsibility, but now it's someone else's chance. Whatever you next turn your attention to will be fortunate indeed to have your gaze upon it. On the occasion of moving to that next challenge, all who benefited from your tenure can only offer thanks for all you have done for all the kids, ours and others, past, present and future.

With admiration, congratulations and much love, your ghostwriter.


You can wish Susan luck in her next adventure at Her husband's column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.