The best-selling novel Getting Mother's Body, by Suzan-Lori Parks, holds a chorus of voices from cover to cover. Indeed, the replication of voice -- from simple syntax to each character's unique inner psychology -- is the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright's forte, regardless of which medium she's dabbling in. And this celebrated Renaissance woman dips her hand into many areas: She writes plays that dissect the stereotypes of American culture, teaches at Cal Arts, composes songs and wrote the aforementioned book, which she'll sign (in its trade-paperback version) tonight at 7:30 p.m. at the Tattered Cover Book Store. But it's all part of the same pie, a masterful pastry held together by that intuitive well of voices. Where do those voices come from? "It must be some kind of sickness," the dreadlocked Parks declares, and you don't really know whether she's joking. But as her explanation unravels, you realize that her artistic cosmos encompasses people and places from her Army-brat past, from snippets of blues refrains (she's married to jazz musician and former Muddy Waters sideman Paul Oscher), from stories told and heard over and over again, and from an entire Faulknerian underbelly of American experience -- all laid out without an ounce of glamour. She doesn't attempt to tame them. Rather, she follows their bidding, or, as she puts it, "You do what the story wants you to do." And that, Parks says, is how she came to pen a novel: It just felt right.
Parks, after all, started out writing short stories at Mount Holyoke College under the tutelage of James Baldwin. It was Baldwin who nudged the younger writer, with her fluent gift for dialogue, toward composing plays -- but she sees no reason to stick with one thing. Right now she's gaining inspiration from Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God, a work she's adapting for the screen, along with Toni Morrison's Paradise, for Oprah Winfrey's production company. And she's simultaneously developing a musical, Hoopz, for Disney.
So could there be any discipline left that Parks would still like to conquer? "I'd like to become a better guitar player," she admits. And you just know she will. It's only a matter of time. -- Susan Froyd
Pan African Film Festival exposes the truth
Haiti is just a stone's throw from the United States, but understanding the various historical, social and economic issues surrounding its recent political turmoil has been difficult; for all intents and purposes, the Caribbean nation might as well be on the other side of the globe. Organizers of The Denver Pan African Film Festival hope to bring those issues closer to home; they've chosen Jonathan Demme's The Agronomist as the fest's opening feature, which screens tonight at 7 p.m. at Starz FilmCenter, in the Tivoli building at 900 Auraria Parkway. "With Haiti's bicentennial this year and the adversity that the country is going through, we thought that this film would be very fitting," says Angelia McGowan of the Pan African Arts Society which, along with the Denver Film Society and the Gay and Lesbian Fund for Colorado, is organizing the festival. The Agronomist is a documentary that focuses on Jean Dominique, a Haitian journalist and human-rights activist. "As someone who's been to Haiti," McGowan adds, "I think it's important for Americans to see the inhumanity that people there are subject to."
The event continues until May 2; daily films and speakers will address a spectrum of viewpoints and concerns that ultimately affect everyone on the planet, regardless of skin color or ethnicity. As McGowan explains, "That's always been the goal of the film festival -- to bring the community subject matter and topics that it normally wouldn't see at mainstream theaters."
Tickets are $8.50 per evening; call 303-893-4100 or visit www.panafricanarts.org for more information. -- Jason Heller
The Art of Forgery
Inventing van Gogh, the latest production by Curious Theatre Company, delves into the secretive world of art forgery. At tonight's pre-show discussion, titled "Fakes, Forgeries & Fables," Denver Art Museum chief curator Timothy J. Standring and Curious artistic director Chip Walton will discuss the history of the popular post-impressionist painter and talk about the challenges that museums face in trying to authenticate works. "On a cultural level, there is such an obsession with Vincent van Gogh; people really want to find out more about him," says Walton. "Timothy has knowledge and experience on both of these subjects. I think that this discussion will help people to be engaged with the play on a deeper level."
"Fakes, Forgeries & Fables" begins at 6:30 p.m., prior to tonight's performance of Inventing van Gogh at the Acoma Center, 1080 Acoma Street. Ticket prices, which include admission to a wine-tasting, the play and a post-show talk (also featuring Standring and Walton), range from $35 to $50; reserve yours by calling 303-623-0524.
The production, written by Denver native Steven Dietz, runs through May 22. For more information, go to www.curioustheatre.org. -- Julie Dunn
The Everything Possible Film Festival takes it all in
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With American cinema dominated, now more than ever, by multiplex-packing product, even the world of independent film is becoming less of an art scene and more of an industry. But that's okay; there will always be a new batch of talent rising up to jar the sensibilities of the status quo. And free-thinking moviemakers will be the focus of tonight's Everything Possible Film Festival. "We look for diversity, anything that kind of strays from the narrative," says Patrick Selvage, a curator of the festival and film director of the Boulder-based art collective Everything Possible. "If we do use narrative pieces, they're really strange and offbeat. But we go for the more experimental."
Twelve short features -- each under twenty minutes -- will be shown, representing auteurs from Colorado, Texas, Canada and even China. The genres range from documentary to comedy to the completely indefinable. "Anything goes," says Selvage. "We just want it to be as far away from Hollywood as it can get."
The event's film starts rolling at 8 p.m. at the Bug Theatre, 3654 Navajo Street; admission is $3 at the door. Call 303-477-9984 or go to www.bugtheatre.org for more information. -- Jason Heller