There's this subculture of eco-pirates that has sprouted up in population centers across the nation - scavengers, dumpster-divers, makers of various found flotsam into sculpture. Cecily Anderson is of the river rat variety, except she's cuter, more a beaver or otter type - tousled pixie brown hair, freckles, a plaid shirt and tattered cut-off shorts setting off her toned, tanned legs that end in toenails painted indigo.
She's part of a pack that makes river craft out of trash. They're neo-Huck Finnians, if you will, adventurers finding last traces of solitude on waterways. For three years they have taken their summer vacations on the Susquehanna River as it winds down into Pennsylvania's bosom, snaking its way through the Endless Mountains. They float and paddle the Lusty Jamcracker, playing bluegrass music on the cedarboard deck secured onto pontoons improvised from plastic barrels, sheltered by a painted canvas tent. Sometimes on the course of their trip they'll be joined by other seadogs on improvised rafts, a ragtag flotilla adrift down the muddy waterway.
Cecily's voice and smile soften as she describes the friends she and her crew made in places called Towanda and Wyalusing, 200 miles to the north of her home in Philadelphia. This year may be the last year they can make the trip. "This is where the most drilling violations have been, they're just clustered along the river," she says. "It's really sad over the past year to read all the news about fracking."
The river they've explored happens to be in the middle of a natural gas boom that started just as they took their first excursions. So, for 2011, the artists decided to document the five-week trip for director Meryl O'Connor's MFA thesis at UCLA, called The River Twice, to be premiered at a film festival in spring 2012.
Falling in love with the river brought Anderson to working as an artist and organizer around the natural gas issue. She came to Philadelphia when she was hired as a graphic designer after finishing NYU. She co-founded the designer collaborative Anagram, which specifically works with non-profits, activists, and local businesses. She produced sketches, paintings and sculpture that reflected her penchant for a warm, natural aesthetic, contrasting with the jagged performance and visual art she creates around trash.
She never thought she'd be an activist, but seeing the gas boom and its effects in the Endless Mountains propelled her to warning Philadelphia about fracking, by organizing photo petitions, fundraisers and shows like Frack is Whack and the River to River March. With The River Twice the river rats are going global, by way of Hollywood. Sort of.
The documentary, budgeted at around $19,000, seeks to explore more than an ecological issue; it's about a portion of American history that winds back to the Iroquois who negotiated with William Penn to settle the Pennsylvania colony. "We've just met these amazing people out there, super awesome characters who have great stories about their family on the river," Anderson says.
"Most people have his Huck Finn adventure longing to be traveling in this really free way, and river travel is still the best way to do that, because you're pretty divorced from needing fossil fuels," she says.
Soft- and slow-spoken, the young woman has accomplished much, although starting a fire from sticks may be the most important.
Neighborhood Film Company
Ricky Staub, 29
Anders Lindwall, 25
A building tucked into the corner of 20th and Sansom Streets is an structure of brick and texture, where three arches open to an alabaster Virgin presiding in a dark little grotto. Once a residence run by Catholic nuns for working women, the renovated building is now Kate's Place, a low-income apartment building founded by Sister Mary Scullion of Project H.O.M.E. It's also where two filmmakers have chosen to launch their production company and find their crew.
"We are partnered with Project H.O.M.E. homeless advocacy," says Ricky Staub. He and fellow filmmaker Anders Lindwall are starting Neighborhood Film Company, which will employ residents from Project H.O.M.E. The goal is to have a movie shot within four years, Staub says.
Under the non-profit banner of the project, as yet untitled, Project H.O.M.E. will provide grants and training equipment, and offer two years of courses to Project H.O.M.E.'s aspiring filmmakers, at the end of which, Staub says, "They can be hired by companies like ours to work on different web promos that we do, or commercials that we shoot, or music videos."
"The goal is to have Ricky working with a team of writers within two years," Lindwall says. With 29-year-old Staub on production and writing, and 25-year-old Lindwall on the visual side, they're bringing a few years' experience (from what Lindwall jokingly calls "this giant career which I toss away") to a very nascent and ambitious project: a feature film.
"Part of it, we're documenting the project, but we don't want to be shooting a documentary about homelessness," Lindwall says. They mean to find their crew and story ideas amongst their neighbors at Kate's Place.
"You walk into any room at Kate's Place and it's not a problem of telling stories from the heart, because all their stories are incredible," says Staub. Film making, he says, "is just a matter of equipment."
With video-conferencing and instant communications technology, there's no need to be in L.A. to do business with Hollywood. In fact, Staub says, a lot of urban scenes in movies are shot in Philadelphia. He first came here when working as the producer's assistant on the M. Night Shyamalan flop, The Last Airbender.
It's the shallowness of places like L.A. that made Philly appealing. "I was in a place where I didn't really understand why I was in my job. I could look at the world and look at people suffering and be like, 'Wow, that sucks for you, but I'm going to go and have this great life, working on these movies.' It started to weigh on my soul," Staub says.
Lindwall, who met Staub at film school at Azusa Pacific University in California, was volunteering at the time, teaching a film class for Sister Mary.
"We were sitting on our trundle bed," Staub laughs, "going, 'How great would it be to work with individuals who were recovering or struggling with homelessness or addiction, and teach them a craft like filmmaking, and rather than doing a piece on it, actually equip them to tell stories?"
So they sent an email to Sister Mary and poured their guts, saying, "We don't know what we're doing with our lives and you seem to have a taste of something." And through the woman they call "a bad-ass nun," they've taken the first steps toward changing the culture of film.
Damian Miller, 31
The student settled into the dentist's chair as if getting ready for a nap.
And he was, in a way. Before the technician begins fiddling with needles and drills, the dentist's hypnotherapist, 31-year-old Damian Miller, begins to suggest away the fear. He gazes, in a friendly way, into his patient's eyes and speaks to him softly. Fawzan al-Fawzan's eyes close. Miller touches the student's jaw - hopefully it's gone numb. Then the dentist's team administers anesthesia.
A soft-spoken man with steady blue eyes that probe more than pierce, Miller has just established the Philadelphia Hypnotherapy Clinic (Wolf Building, 12th and Vine). He hopes to bridge the rift between mind and medicine by becoming the region's first full-time medical hypnotherapist.
People get addicted to painkillers, rely on insulin, or have severe allergies they temper with drugs. These are problems hypnotherapy helps, says Miller, who was inspired by a teacher to follow his unusual career path.
He explains: "A science teacher of mine took me rappelling when I was 14 years old. A girl in the group was terrified of heights, but after he did some magic with her she went right off the cliff."
At 15, he started hypnotizing his friends. He says, "I never stopped learning and for every paper in school I ended up trying to write about it and research it."
He was certified through Bucks County Community College and apprenticed at a hypnotherapy dentist's clinic in Oklahoma City. His training took him under the tutelage of a stage hypnotist in Bristol, England, a city he says reminded him of Philadelphia. Now he builds his reputation at Dr. Barry Dubin's Dentistry for Life (Medical Arts Building, 16th and Market). In his private practice he works mostly with smokers who want to quit. But he says hypnotherapy can also be applied to anxiety and heart problems, or overeating and diabetes.
Miller recounts one case involving a man with an allergy to apples.
"Whenever the man had an apple his mouth would swell up," Miller says. When the tongue swells, it could close off breathing. So the man stopped eating apples. Miller took him back to his childhood.
"We came upon the day he had his first allergic reaction. It was a normal day. We were watching some cartoons. He told me something was going on in the house, that his mom and dad aren't getting along so well. They're arguing in the kitchen," says Miller.
The child knew his parents were divorcing soon; they started throwing things; something flew out into the living room. It was probably the scariest moment of the six-year-old's life.
"Your nervous system is on red alert when you're highly emotional," says Miller. "Every thought we have has a physiological response."
The man can now eat apples, without any ill effect.
Trance doesn't just mean voodoo or Hindu mystics dancing around a fire. Meditation is a trance where people practice mindfulness, and a preliminary study out of UC Davis suggests it can prolong life. Psychiatrists lead their patients into trance to complement therapy. Miller takes patients into a sleep-like trance so dentists and doctors can easily do their work.
Miller envisages a medical community with on-staff hypnotherapists. A heart surgery patient would benefit from deep relaxation before going into surgery, for instance. His practice is the first step to opening minds about this aspect of medicine.
And opening minds is just what he's good at.
Cecily Anderson by Steve Zak
Neighborhood Films, Damian Miller by Ada Kulesza