Friday, October 30, 2009

The Messenger

It was Sophie’s Choice at Thursday night’s closing of The Impact Film Festival, a Washington, DC-based non-profit organization created as a platform for  documentary and narrative filmmaking. Having to choose between the simultaneous screenings of The Most Dangerous Man in America: Daniel Ellsberg and the Pentagon Papers and The Messenger starring Woody Harrelson was a challenging call.

Ellsberg was the surprise high level Pentagon defector on Vietnam whose massive  pages concluded the war was based on lies.  After having leaked some 7,000 pages to The New York Times, it generated headlines around the world.  Watergate, Nixon’s resignation and the end of the Vietnam war followed; a must for anyone too young to remember.

The Messenger, starring Woody Harrelson, played across town at the E Street Cinema to a capacity audience.  It’s a powerful story of two men assigned to the Army's Casualty Notification service who display themselves outwardly as steely heroes while revealing their inner fragility with compassion and dignity. Ben Foster (an Ed norton look a like) and Harrelson may be set for Oscar nominations in this portrait of grief, friendship and survival.  

Some odd questions at the Q & A  moderated by Lois Romano.  Seemed like we weren’t at the same screening when she asked why Montgomery’s character didn’t get the girl. Huh? This was clarified later at the after party at Posh where the director Oren Moverman responded in kind: “Well yes, he did”.  As regards a kitchen scene she wondered why the twosome didn’t have sex, huh?  The sexual attraction was intense but why they didn’t was rather obvious. As Moverman put it: “I hope I handled that well.”  He did.  After a brief interaction with guests, he moved in with Hunter Biden’s circle of friends with periodic accessibility.

“Forget the politics. Seeing this film as a film is a must. It is a superb directorial debut that builds an ensemble display of acting that takes your breath away. The nine minutes in the kitchen scene is worthy of adding to your pantheon of cinema bests. Tight shots, in your face, human sadness and, best of all ...reality, ” said Richard Rymland.  And, he should know, he is married to film producer Catherine Wyler (yes, that Wyler).

The whole experience was like walking into other peoples lives; in these cases, you would never want to.

Harrelson, a devoted peace activist, was a curious choice for the part.  “I had to get into a psychological space I had never been in before. I may not agree with the war, but I have compassion for the warriors.”

Above photo: Woody Harrelson and Jonathan Capehart.  Photo credit: Janet Donovan

Monday, October 26, 2009

Baby Love

Baby Love

MSNBC's Norah O'Donnell wafted into the Mandarin Oriental Saturday in a floor-length plum gown to honor the memory of family friend Joan Hisaoka at the Second Annual "Make a Difference" Gala to benefit the Smith Farm Center for Healing and the Arts greeting guests with her husband, restaurant founder Geoff Tracy of Chef Geoff's and Lia's. O'Donnell was the event's headliner.

The Center, which includes the Joan Hisaoka Healing Arts Gallery, blends new and old techniques to transform the experience of illness -- including stress reduction and inner quiet, art-making, supportive listening, and healthy lifestyle choices.

O'Donnell and Tracy said they want to help victims as well as help people avoid cancer in the first place, which was the impetus for their cookbook Baby Love, featuring healthy recipies for infants, to be published by St. Martin's next year. Tracy takes pride in the baby food he's created for their twins, including purées with flax and broccoli. But don't, repeat don't, infer that Chef Geoff's is getting crunchy or exotic. "I don't want to be known as a health-food restaurant," he said. "That would put me straight out of business." (Especially the flax and broccoli, we might add.) "A cup cake is perfectly good," he added. "But have it once in a while."

Honoree Grace Bender, receiving the Hope and Healing Award at the event, is a cancer survivor herself. "We're living in a world when stress, the environment and chemicals in our food are big factors," she said. "It's doing something to our system." She turned her struggle with breast cancer into activism. "I'm a health care advocate," she said emphatically. Bender isn't just talk. She launched, a personal health care and medication organizer to help people track tests, manage medications, and coordinate doctors.

Bender was a friend and supporter of the Nina Hyde Breast Cancer Center at Georgetown University when she read an article in Washington Life about Komen Race for the Cure founder Nancy Brinker, another hit by breast cancer. The article motivated her to get an MRI, which led to a double mastectomy that saved her life.

The experience seems to have strengthened, not weakened her. "I'm going to become a blogger," she said. "I'm going to spend the rest of my life teaching people to be advocates for themselves and their loved ones."

The event felt like a family affair. Wendy Gordon, who became president of Hisaoka Communications, came to support the cause. Hisaoka's brother Bob chaired the fundrasier. Old friends were drafted to help out including Joan's old friend Chris Spielmann who works as a noted architectural and commercial photographer during the week. He stepped in as a volunteer to make sure the red carpet shots came out ok. "Of course I said yes," he said. Even though Joan wouldn't have wanted him to do it for free. Eric Ziebold of CityZen did the dinner with the help of Robert Weidmaier, RJ Cooper and Jeff Buben.

By HOP contributor Beth Solomon, photo by Chris Spielmann

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Oktoberfest Rolicks Old Angler's Inn for Diabetes Benefit

Dr. Fran Cogen has a dream. As the nation braces for a tsunami of childhood obesity and related diseases, the pediatrician and diabetes expert is racing to establish a holistic care center at Childrens National Medical Center to treat a growing number of young victims.

"It's like being hit with a sledgehammer when a child gets diagnosed with a chronic, life-threatening illness like diabetes," she said. "They need survival skills, they need education." And they need therapy. Cogen's latest effort is to establish a new Pediatric Diabetes Care Complex at Childrens so that area victims and their families can get the help they need.

That's why Teatro Goldoni's Enzo Fargione and area chefs joined the Washington Nationals and good-guy Ted Leonsis in a rousing Oktoberfest celebration Saturday at Old Angler's Inn in Potomac -- to raise the final $500,000 necessary to build the $2 million complex. In 2007, the Washington Nationals Dream Foundation committed $1.25 million in cash and $750,000 in assets.

Fargione's daughter Chiara was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age three. "She didn't know anything, and all of a sudden she had to adjust to insulin and syringes. Her mother was wonderful. We're not married anymore, but we're good friends," he said. "I think it's nice."

Chiara's mother, Potomac native Maury Byrne, smiled with her daughter as they sashayed under a sea of tents between the oom pah pah band, the bratwurst stands, and luxurious food stations provided by Teatro, the Peacock Cafe, D'Acqua, and Jeff Black of Blacksalt and the Black Restaurant Group.

"Enzo was instrumental in getting this together," Byrne said, tossing a compliment back to her ex. They met when Byrne was 22, and Enzo was a sous-chef at Galileo. Both worked across the D.C. restaurant landscape. Not long after they married, daughter Chiara was born. "Then she got sick," Byrne said.

Now 19, the Montgomery College student still needs the care that only Childrens provides. "We're there twice a week," Byrne says. "It can be a three-hour exercise."

Old Angler's Inn owners Sara and Mark Reges and Jeff Black, the parents of diabetic kids, were joined by event chairs Susan and Tom Faries, Mimi and Bob Schwartz, Marla and Robert Tanenbaum, and Judy Weisman to support the planned 6,500 sq. ft. complex.

"Schools are not doing enough" to educate and prevent the obesity that leads to what used to be called "adult-onset" or Type 2 diabetes, Dr. Cogen said. "School lunches should be consistent with moderate food choices," she said. "The fructose in corn syrup," a staple of school cafeterias, "is a disaster." Once obesity leads to diabetes, the illness cannot be reversed.

But there's hope. Dr. Cogen points to Supersize Me, Fast Food Nation, and recent documentary Food Inc. as good sources of the facts. And she won't stop fighting this 21st Century scourge. "This is my life," she said. That's a positive diagnosis.

Posted to HOP by "The Mole" a.k.a Beth Solomon, HOP correspondent

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Hook Nets Democrats in Sustainable Catch

Who says Monday nights are quiet? Not in Georgetown. Spotted: baby Senator Al Franken, having dinner with grown-up political consultant Mandy Grunwald, at Hook -- the secret gem of Georgetown dining. Both politicos had appetizers and seafood entrees, no alcohol. No alcohol? Maybe abstinence is a side effect of the health care reform debate.

But kudos to Sen. Franken for sitting down with one of the brightest lights in political consulting. Don't think Hillary wins elections all by herself -- Mandy Grunwald is a longtime, media-savvy, brilliant FOH.

Hook teems with high-power Democrats partly because of its mission -- to serve outstanding cuisine while sustaining the planet. Other Democratic honchos frequent the seafood haunt, which prides itself on serving sustainable catch using cruelty-free products. Rahm Emanuel and Madeleine Albright are regulars.

"They get the fine dining without the $300 price point," of Citronelle or 1789, explains Wendy Gordon of Hisaoka Communications.

But Democrats, don't get too comfortable. Bush heavyweight C. Boyden Gray also came in to dine with a friend, sitting within earshot of Democratic tables. Hook regular Gen. David Petraeus could keep the peace if these waters get rough.

Submitted to HOP by "The Mole" a.k.a Beth Solomon

Monday, October 19, 2009

Tina Brown Outshines Klieg Lights at Newseum

Like Washington's recent weather, the skies produce a constant drizzle over the print media industry -- is it dead, is it dying, is it still alive? Those were the questions drawing a standing-room only crowd to the packed Knight TV studio at the Newseum Saturday, where news junkies craned their necks to see magazine visionary Tina Brown, who, having turned around The New Yorker and Vanity Fair, can speak more credibly about print journalism than almost anyone.

The prognosis? "It's been a brutal 12 months in the magazine business," she admitted. "I believe self-help and service magazines will be exclusively online" in the near future. Weekly news magazines? Mostly gone in five years.

CNN's Frank Sesno, also a professor of public policy and communication at The George Washington University School of Media and Public Affairs, offered the latest newsprint obituary. "105 newspapers have closed as of June this year," he said. "What do you make of that?"

"I think that's overplayed," said Newseum president Ken Paulson, formerly editor of USA Today. "Most newspapers are profitable." But not exactly thriving. The Washington Post recently reported further declines in ad revenue at the paper, following similarly grim statistics industry-wide. (

Some blame the flight of readers to the web. "But it's not just the internet hurting newspapers," Brown said, "It's corporate greed. Hollowing out content, cutting and cutting until there's nothing left" has eviscerated the reporting and writing that made print media big.

About a year ago, Brown came up with her own solution. Her sparkling site -- full of good writing, in-depth reporting and serious analysis -- drew nearly 4 million unique visitors in September, with 35 million page views. "It's very impressive" for a startup, said Paulson. More important, he said: The Daily Beast "has credibility."

Get there fast. Brown is now moving into online books and other ventures. "Books are the new magazines," she announced, because readers want an incisive, quick take on the news or to read a book on the plane. 50,000 words on a Kindle, she says.

The inimitable Brown and Paulson are the latest headliners in "The Future of News," a Ford Foundation-backed 10-part Newseum public TV series hosted by Sesno exploring news and communication in the digital age. Next up: Investigative Journalism: How Will it Survive? with Bob Woodward and Bull Buzenberg Oct. 24.

The series leaves room for nostalgia. "Remember Deadline U.S.A.?" Sesno asked, "One of my favorite movies" in which Humphrey Bogart playes a crusading editor who tries to save his newspaper from being sold to commercial interests.

"HR would come in and say, you can't drink, smoke or swear," and he'd be gone, Paulson retorted.

But real journalism continues to burn brightly as a worthy pursuit, even today. "It's still the best profession," Paulson said sincerely. "The Future of News," produced by the Newseum's Susan Brooks-Kelly with the help of Paul Sparrow, Vice President of Broadcasting, is drawing big crowds to the tapings.

Make no mistake, the dream is still alive. The show's on-air reporter Sonya Gavankar aspires to be a cross between CNN's Christiane Amanpour and NPR's Terry Gross. "I wanted to be a war correspondent," she said. Covering the future of journalism, she's close.

Submitted to HOP by "The Mole" a.k.a Beth Solomon
Pictured above: Tina Brown and Ken Paulson
Photo credit: Bruce Guthrie

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Redskins PR Advice: Ask the Players

Redskins owner Dan Snyder could use some positive press these days, so it wouldn't hurt to take a peek at his athletes’ PR playbook.

Tuesday night, running back Clinton Portis had Capitol Hill buzzing at an event in support of Becky's Fund, the Juleanna Glover backed domestic violence prevention juggernaut.

Becky's Fund has generated considerable buzz itself: attorney/founder Becky Lee was a second runner-up on CBS's grueling reality show "Survivor." She lasted 39 days on a deserted slab of land in the Cook Islands. Even better: Becky used the prize money to create an eponymous group to push for stronger laws against domestic violence and other crimes against women. (

Portis’ presence drew throngs of people to the rooftop of The Liaison on New Jersey Ave. – as well as local TV cameras and a flotilla of scribes.

The "Walk This Way" fashion show featured Eric Finn men's' clothes worn by John Walsh of America’s Most Wanted and Scott Frederick of Valhalla Partners.

But Portis was the star. “I’m a football fan, and I also wanted to support this cause,” said Gloria Brooks of The People’s Choice LLC. “I know too many women who have had to face this.” Jewel Smith of Amgen echoed the sentiment. Gayela Bynum of Michelle’s Angels added drama to the crowd with her Hollywood looks, introducing her friend Matthew Davis, whose “Best of DC” coffee-table tome was raising funds at the silent auction. Jewelry designer Christine Haynes literally added sparkle.

Monday night at Morton’s in Georgetown, other Redskins offered their time to mingle with fans and show the human face of the ‘Skins. Rookie linebacker Brian Orakpo, who at 23 just graduated from UT Austin in the spring, perched by the front window nibbling shrimp cocktail while nursing a chardonnay. His refined appetite belied some stunning facts: Orakpo bench presses 515 pounds and squats 600. Despite his 263 pounds on a 6’3” frame, he runs a 40-yard-dash in under five seconds.

What’s the difference between college ball and the pros, besides Morton’s, he was asked? “Everyone is big in the NFL,” he said. “Everyone is big and fast.” But Orakpo doesn’t seem stressed. “I’m living for the moment,” he said. “I still feel like I’m 16.”

Also mingling were Chris Samuels, Marko Mitchell, Colt Brennan, Jeremy Jarmon, Kevin Barnes, Stephon Heyer, Lorenzo Alexander, Reed Doughty, Edwin Williams, JD Solnitsky, Andre Woodson, William Robinson and Fred Smoot.

Receiver Devin Thomas, 22, said in his second year in Washington, he feels more comfortable with the routine and his teammates. The Ann Arbor native who graduated from Michigan State says he likes living near the training center at Ashburn, and is a regular at restaurants nearby. “I don’t cook,” he said. So if it’s pasta, it’s Olive Garden. “That’s a favorite,” he said. Lunchtime is usually Quiznos – a 12-inch sub. Ruth’s Chris for dinner. And, oh yes, Morton’s, Thomas adds quickly.

Food is serious business for these young hulks. “I don’t do protein powder or other fake stuff ,” Thomas said. He can afford to eat right. The 2008 second-round draft pick signed a four-year, $4.8 million contract.

Whatever the numbers, these are polite, even (can we say this?) sweet young men you can’t help but like. The Redskins’ Nancy Hubacher, Vice President of Sales & Marketing, is smart to get them circulating, in this case with an assist by Morton’s Kate Scafidi and Casey Hogan. Linda Roth, never far away from a good restaurant PR hit, has been involved in the Redskins meet-and-greets at Morton’s for years.

Dan Snyder, invite Nancy for a strategy lunch at…

Pictured above: Redskins Devin Thomas and Brian Orakpo - Photo by Jeff Malet

Item submitted to HOP by "The Mole" a.k.a. Beth Solomon

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Hollywood on the Potomac by Christine Dalargy for Media Bistro:

Name Game: Who's the Real "Hollywood on the Potomac"
By Christine on Oct 01, 2009 03:06 PM

When the book "Hollywood on the Potomac" was recently released in Washington, long-time DC publicist Janet Donovan bit her tongue. But she's talking now to FBDC...

Donovan writes about celebrities and happenings around town on her blog "Hollywood on the Potomac" and for a Washington Life column by the same title-- she even owns the Trademark rights. So she was a bit surprised, to say the least, when Jason Killian Meath's photo book was published with that name.

Tell us about how you came up with "Hollywood on the Potomac."

When I first came to Washington some of my friends would show up on movie sets as extras to make some money. Occasionally I went with them. I think I even showed up in something with Burt Lancaster but probably ended up on the cutting room floor. Because I live in Georgetown, many films have been shot here including right outside of my old house on O Street. The amount of work that goes into these shoots is staggering and it was fun interacting with the crews. I have always had a great respect for the movie industry. Imagine life without Sesame Street for children, old Betty Davis movies for folks in retirement living, Disney family night at the cinema...

Around 2000 I started thinking maybe there is Hollywood on the Potomac and started following it. Now, of course, it is a mega attraction for the industry, not only in the film business but lobbying for various causes. Ironically, all of my children ended up in this creative world. My oldest son became a film producer, my youngest went to USC Film school and is now on staff there, my daughter went to journalism school at NYU and is Senior Product Director Interactive One LLC, a Radio One Company.

What makes you "Hollywood on the Potomac?"

I got there first. I also took it to the conventions a few elections ago where I did a daily column for CQ and covered the stars in Boston and New York.

Donovan photograph by Patrick Ryan and with Matt Drudge.

Continued after the jump...

How are you going to defend and protect your trademark from now on?

My lawyer has a "cease and desist" letter ready to go whenever I say so. It's really quite thorough and we have already passed around a few. Because I own so many of the "Hollywood on the Potomac" domain names, people are now using something else as the domain with Hollywood on the Potomac directly under it. That is a direct violation. I do, with permission, a monthly column for Washington Life called Hollywood on the Potomac. I also write a blog which I intend to enhance at some point, but as for now, I need to keep my day job as a publicist.

Any books titled "Hollywood on the Potomac" or some variation in your future?

No. I gave the author of this book a pass on the trademark and also sure would not like to be confused with it.