Tag Archives: Sandy Lefkowitz

Quad-Town, Bipartisan Effort Aims For Accurate Census

Among other things, the decennial national census is used to apportion seats in the US House of Representatives.

After the 2000 count, Connecticut lost one of our seats. We’d been at 6 since 1930; now we’re down to 5.

The census is also used to allocate funds for programs like Head Start, food stamps and other social service projects. As well, it provides the most accurate picture of exactly who lives where — information that’s important for businesses, scientists, sociologists and many others to know.

The census begins next year. And — if a coalition of civic-minded volunteers in lower Fairfield County has its way — it will provide a very accurate count of at least this small slice of America.

“Norwalk to Bridgeport” is a non-partisan effort. Several Westporters are involved, as are men and women in Fairfield, and the 2 cities bracketing them.

The other day, one of them talked about their work.

Deb Howland-Murray graduated from Staples in 1968. She moved away after college, but has lived here for the last 34 years. An illustrator, portrait artist and diversity educator, she’s active in a variety of arts groups.

She’s politically active. But, she says, Norwalk to Bridgeport transcends party lines. She and co-chair Sandy Lefkowitz helped organize this group to bring local citizens of many stripes together, in a cause that affects everyone.

The goal is simple: spread the word, so as many people in the area answer census questions as possible.

To do so, they’ve done things like organize a September 17 training session in Bridgeport. Attendees will learn how to make presentations about the census. Then they’ll go out into their communities — to churches, schools, civic clubs, etc. — and do just that.

Deb Howland-Murray

Norwalk to Bridgeport is also compiling lists of local organizations they can reach out to, to pass the census word. They’re creating a calendar of events, so they can attend and pass out information there.

The US Census Bureau has printed materials. But, Deb says, it’s not quite user-friendly. She and her fellow volunteers are creating a 1-page handout, with graphics.

Bridgeport and Norwalk already have “Complete Count” committees — local groups working to ensure an accurate census. Westport and Fairfield do not.

“There’s a lot of suspicion about the census,” Deb says, noting the recent controversy about asking a citizenship question next year. “What’s going on in Washington is happening there. Here, we just want to provide accurate information. All we want is get people counted. We don’t care about their politics.”

Historically, she says, “the more diverse the community, the lower the participation. That hurts those communities. They need funding that comes from accurate counts. We need accurate representation. The census affects everyone.”

Downtown Movie Theater One Step Closer To Reality

At 8 a.m. this morning, Sandy Lefkowitz (director of the Westport Cinema Initiative) and Phillip Teuscher (owner of 142 Main Street) planned to sign a letter of intent, to use what’s now a parking lot behind Tavern on Main as the site of a downtown movie theater.

The agreement paves the way for planning to begin. Eventually, the cinema effort will come before the Planning and Zoning Commission, and other town bodies.

Don’t pop the champagne pass the popcorn yet. But a huge hurdle to a new theater seems to be overcome today.

Tavern on Main is on left. 142 Main Street (the building with Great Stuff and other stores) is on the right. Access to the parking lot behind the restaurant is between the two structures.

Calling All Artists

The number of Staples graduates who go on to careers in the arts is astonishing. From Eric von Schmidt and Christopher Lloyd, through Brian Keane and Bradley Jones on through Ari Edelson, Daryl Wein, Gina Rattan — and the hundreds more whose parents will respond wrathfully because I did not name them — Westporters make their marks as actors, artists, musicians, choreographers, stage managers, cinematographers, sound engineers, and in countless other ways.

But they’re not the subject of this post.

Thousands of other Westport students were exposed to music, visual arts, theater and literature, then moved on to careers in law, medicine, technology, blogging, insider trading, and god knows what else.

Yet they still remain involved in the arts.

They act in community theater. Serve on symphony boards. Sing with a church choir. Etc., etc., etc.

Many towns have community theater groups, where non-professional actors continue to take the stage. This scene is from a recent Westport Community Theater production of “The Seafarer.”

Every October, the Westport Arts Advisory Committee honors notable and rising young “artists” (in the broad sense of the word). The brochure — detailing new and past awardees — makes for fascinating reading.

In 2013 — for the 20th anniversary of the awards — the WAAC wants to include as many “non-professionals” as they can find.

That information — recounting the impact the arts had on these bankers, engineers, CEOs and whatnot long after Staples — could be even more intriguing than the usual stuff.

First, though, the committee must find them.

If you — or someone you know — is still involved in the arts, in a non-make-your-living-at-it way, email Ann Chernow at ctfinearts@sbcglobal.net, or Sandy Lefkowitz at homehome@optonline.net.

And, just for fun, click “Comments” and let “06880” readers know too. We shouldn’t have to wait 17 months to hear about the arts’ influence on non-artists’ lives.

The Next Picture Show

Westport, we keep saying, is a community closely connected to the arts.  We point with pride to our filmmakers and film lovers.

We’ve also watched our community go from 5 movie theaters in the 1990s, to 0 in 2011.

Fairfield has theaters.  Norwalk has many.  Even Bethel has a movie theater.

Now — just like a John Ford western — a cavalry rides to our rescue.

This one is called the Westport Cinema Initiative.  Despite its unglamorous name, its goals are grand:  Bring a state-of-the-art, independent 2-screen movie theater to town.

The Initiative has already incorporated as a not-for-profit 501 (c) 3.  There’s a board of directors, a movie-ish logo, a Facebook page and a Twitter account.

Most importantly, starting Saturday, March 26, there will be screenings at venues around town.  The 1st event is a 4-show extravaganza:  the original “Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory” (9:30 a.m.); the Academy Award-nominated documentary “Waste Land (1 p.m.); “Big Night” (7:30 p.m.), and a 10 p.m. showing of the cult classic “Texas Chainsaw Massacre.”

The Cinema Initiative hopes those films — and additional ones, at the Levitt Pavilion or other locations — will create an audience, and help an actual theater become reality.

The biggest challenge, of course, is money.

“Most independent art cinemas have been initiated by a philanthropist,” says Cinema Initiative director Sandy Lefkowitz.  She cites Stamford’s Avon Theater (2 screens) and the Jacob Burns Film Center in Pleasantville, NY as examples.

Both started as existing buildings — and that’s another area of concern.

Board member Doug Tirola and Lefkowitz recently attended a conference in Utah.  They learned that many community theaters started in storefronts.  Others shared space with an organization like a museum.  Every theater — of the 200 represented — had a dedicated space.

“We don’t have that here,” Lefkowitz says.  Some locations that have been suggested — like the Playhouse and library — are not suitable.

But, she adds, “we get the feeling that merchants and townspeople want this.  Wherever there’s a theater, there’s a stronger sense of community.  There’s more going out for dinner, for drinks — more togetherness.”

Creating a theater “is doable,” Lefkowitz believes.  “But it will take a while.”

Angels will help bring "Chainsaw" -- and other cult films to Westport. Along with indie films, art films, and foreign films.

Instead of waiting to find a spot, then raise money, the Cinema Initiative is conducting a pilot run.  Last month they emailed people who already expressed interest in a theater.  The Initiative asked for angels:  50 people who could contribute $1,000 each, to cover this year’s budget.

Within 20 minutes, they’d raised $8,000.  It’s now over $22,000.

“Avatar” cost $280 million to produce.  “Cleopatra” cost $44 million — that’s $300 million, in today’s money.

A Westport movie theater would be expensive — in land, construction and operating costs.

But think of what it costs us now to not have one.

(Tickets for each March 26 film –$10 for adults, $5 for children — are available at the Westport Country Playhouse box office; phone 203-227-4177.  For information on helping the Cinema Initiative — or becoming an angel — click here, email sandy@westportcinema.org, or call 203-434-2908.)

Westport Bridges Film Gap

Sometimes a big event changes someone’s life.  For 2 Bridgeport teenagers it was attending Sundance last year, meeting directors and actors, and returning home with confidence that they too can make films.

Sometimes a little event is life-changing.  Another group of Bridgeport students needed a police officer and his car for their PSA on graffiti.  One morning spent with a real cop opened their eyes to a whole different world.

None of those experiences — and many more — would be possible without the help of Sandy Lefkowitz, and a committed group of Westporters.

Sandy Lefkowitz

Sandy is a longtime educator.  When she was coordinator of the Westport Youth Film Festival, she created filmmaking curricula.  The Westport Sunrise Rotary asked her to help with their project involving youth from disadvantaged areas.

Sandy worked with Sarah Litty — an art teacher at Bridgeport charter school  Bridge Academy — to develop a 35-week, seniors-only Art of Filmmaking course.  An after-school club for all students soon followed.

Help came from many sources.  Sunrise Rotary, the Fairfield County Community Foundation, MSG Varsity and others donated money.  Award-winning screenwriter Patrick McCullough — a Staples grad  — was hired.

Now armed with Macs, cameras and other equipment, the Bridgeport students leaped in.  They studied scriptwriting, storyboard creation, film shooting and editing.

They learned well.  The more they accomplished, the more opportunities they earned.  After Sundance, Sandy took students to the Berkshire International Film Festival.  Two were chosen for a prestigious Wesleyan program.

They walked through every door that opened.  Perhaps not confidently at first — but by the time walked back out they felt independent, and aware of all they can do.

Their filmmaking has impacted all of Bridge Academy.  Their peers see them as successful, while teachers in other subjects incorporate their talents into lesson plans.

An English class, for example, used film in a project on the civil rights movement.  Before beginning, students learned how to conduct an interview.

Junior girls in another class made a film on nutrition.  Sandy took them to an organic meat farm, and a hospital to meet a nutritionist.  “They’re using resources outside their community, to bring something back to their community,” she notes.

Another resource is Westporter Anita Schorr.  The Holocaust survivor met Bridge students at a Westport Country Playhouse production of “The Diary of Anne Frank.”  They invited her to their school, and filmed her presentation.  Now they’re creating a documentary on her experiences, with hopes of distributing it to classrooms nationwide.

The Academy’s film program has been a true bridge — between students and the rest of the school and city, and between Bridgeport and Westport.  Two Bridge students now sit on the WYFF board.  Others are collaborating with WYFF (and Westport writer/director Doug Tirola) on a promotional film about the arts.

“They see themselves as colleagues,” Sandy says proudly.

And — one day — they may be back at Sundance, debuting a film to an international audience.

(The Art of Filmmaking and Westport Youth Film Festival are programs of the Westport Arts Center, and receive funding from WAC’s fundraising efforts.)