The Ultimate Dream Life

I want to own a bookstore in Southeast Asia.

It won’t be just any bookstore. It will be L’Etranger in Luang Prabang.

A city of 55,000 in northern Laos, Luang Prabang is a UNESCO World Heritage Site on the Mekong River. It is one of the most stunningly beautiful cities in the world, especially for those who love classical Buddhist architecture. But until French-Canadian backpacker Isabel Drean wandered into town for a two-day stay in 2001, it didn’t have a bookstore.

Drean perceived a need for a multilingual shop, café and gallery. She returned home to Montreal to secure the funding, and wound up returning to Laos for 10 years to raise a family. Shen she relocated to Los Angeles to pursue a career in filmmaking, her mother continued to run the store — named L’Etranger (The Outsider) after Albert Camus’ renowned 1942 novel.

And now, she’s giving it away.

“Rather than sell the business the traditional way,” she says, “I want to show gratitude and change someone’s life. It’s time for a new chapter. So why not give this chance to someone else?”

Along with the shop, Drean will hand over $10,000 to help with the transition, housing, a motorcycle, foreign-investor status and more. In all, this “dream life” is valued at about $250,000.

“It’s like playing matchmaker for an old friend,” she says. “I’m looking to find someone who will keep the magic alive. It’s not about experience, but really about who they are — what’s their story, their passion, their dream.”

I’ve let Dream know that I’m not just interested, I really want to be the person she chooses. I’m a man of letters, a widely published writer who prefers books to television. I’m a student of Southeast Asian culture and religion. My son was born in Singapore when I was managing editor for a publishing house in the 1980s. My desire to return to Asia has only heightened since cancer took his life last summer: My strongest remaining family tie is with my brother, who lives in Japan.

But that doesn’t mean my friends and followers shouldn’t also have an opportunity to bid for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Here’s what you’ll need to do to enter the “Ultimate Dream Life Abroad” competition:

Go to the website, There you’ll be prompted to submit a two-minute video, or write a 200-word essay, answering the question: “Why me?”

That’s the first of three rounds of competition, which closes on June 6 of this year. The winner of each round will then be flown to Luang Prabang, all expenses paid, to plead their case before Drean and her family, and to convince a panel of judges that they can adjust to doing business in a foreign culture.

“There will be fun challenges they will need to complete,” says the filmmaker, who plans to turn this social experiment into a documentary film.

If you win the competition rather than me, I have just one request: Please carry something I’ve written on the shelves of your new bookstore.


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F-Bombing with Silent Bob

One of the great things about travel is that you meet the most interesting people. Earlier this month, at the Sun Valley Film Festival, we met Kevin Smith.

You may know Smith better as “Silent Bob.” Yet he couldn’t stop talking.

That’s right: The man who is known throughout the cult filphoto(6)m world as Silent Bob — for his pantomime roles in such movies as “Clerks,” “Mallrats,” “Dogma” and “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back,” all of which he also wrote and directed — has found his voice.

It’s not as if he ever lost it. Fans who saw the 1997 movie “Chasing Amy” may recall the three-minute spiel of wisdom and regret that he offered to Ben Affleck in the wake of more than an hour of muteness. But placed in a setting where he could speak directly to dozens of fans at the Sun Valley Film Festival in mid-March, he waxed poetic … if you consider “F-bombs” poetic.

It was 10 in the morning at the Nexstage Theatre. Smith, who had arrived early that same morning — on a private jet from Burbank, Calif., with Hall and Oates’ “Man Eater” on a two-hour loop — was dressed in Boise State University blue and orange, in a XXL-sized hockey jersey bearing the name “Fat Man.”

“The benefit of an early morning Q&A is that it is absolutely the fittest that I will be all day long,” Smith said. “Because the minute I start eating, it’s all fucking over.”

For more than an hour, Smith, 43, talked. He discussed his start in movies, his career evolution and his newest projects.
As a New Jersey convenience and video store clerk, Smith made “Clerks” on a shoestring in the early 1990s, casting himself as “Silent Bob.”

“It’s 164 pages of ‘dick’ jokes set in a convenience store,” he said. “I can’t memorize all this shit. I’ve never been good at memorizing things, and now that I smoke as much as I do, I generally can’t act. So being Silent Bob was good for me, ‘cause I like to fucking watch. I could be a mute witness to the whole thing.”

Released in 1994, “Clerks” won acclaim at the Sundance Film Festival and was released into general distribution by Miramax — which then offered Smith $75,000 to write the sequel, “Mallrats.” “Suddenly, I’m a paid professional,” Smith said. “I hit the fucking lottery of life.” He spent 12 years working for Miramax, “getting paid an obscene amount of money,” he said. But by the mid-2000s, he set out on his own: “I’m all about destroying my career, over and over again.”

He produced documentaries and podcasts, and wrote and directed a movie called “Red State,” signaling a venture to the dark side. “Happy pphoto(7)eople aren’t all that interesting,” Smith said. The gallows humor of “Red State” (2011), starring John Goodman, Melissa Leo and Michael Parks, “is as serious as a heart attack,” Smith said.

“I had to figure out a way to make movies that didn’t necessarily come from my heart,” Smith said. “When it came to film, I just wanted to rip out fatty chunks of my heart, throw it between two platters, and ask, ‘Does anybody get it?’ I love watching fucked-up movies. I didn’t know how to make fucked-up movies when I started.”

His latest movie is “Tusk,” a special-effects “horror thriller” made for $3 million. Starring Haley Joel Osment and Justin Long, it is scheduled to be released later this year. “It’s a movie about a guy who tries to turn another guy into a fucking walrus,” Smith said. “Oddly enough, it becomes the most personal movie and the best movie I’ve ever made. It is absurdity that is played earnestly straight.”

And then he gave advice.

“We have great ideas all the time,” Smith said. “They don’t get executed. But why not you? Nobody’s ever going to hand you things, so just go try. Take one year of your life for yourself, and say, I’m going to try anything I want to try. Take the chance and go for it.

“In the last few years, I’ve just been seizing that more often. When fucking whimsy strikes, I just push it like a shopping cart, or like Sisyphus, right up the fucking hill.”

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David Renaud’s “The Morning After”: You Can Leave Your Hat On

Director David Renaud, right, offers instruction to actors Kincaid Walker and Steve West.

Director David Renaud, right, offers instruction to actors Kincaid Walker and Steve West.

“The Morning After” is an intriguing film — but no more intriguing than David and Mia Faith Renaud, the couple who produced, directed and co-wrote the 14-minute short.

“Morning” is cute and sexy. It is quirky and real. There’s even a musical number dropped into the heart of it. One critic called it “the most feel-good infidelity and STD movie you’ll see all year.” And the only clothing that one of the main characters ever wears is a hat and one sock.

“This film is a sort of homage to the beginning of our relationship,” said Mia. What? Were infidelity and gonorrhea involved?

Um, no. “It’s more like, something unexpected happens, and it changes your life dramatically,” said David. And Mia added: “Everybody needs passion in their life. It makes us do crazy things, but fulfills us in ways that nothing else can.”

Mia Faith Renaud carries her daughter on set.

Mia Faith Renaud carries her daughter on set.

A whirlwind romance that began seven years ago at the DC Shorts film festival in Washington, D.C., was the spark for the Renauds. David, who had a medical practice in Toronto, was showing his first short film, “The Getaway,” a hobby project made with the assistance of his best friend, Canadian actor Sean Clement. It won the festival’s Audience Choice Award.

Mia, an attorney in Washington, was on the festival’s board of directors. Long story short: After 2½ months of flowers and chocolate and all-night phone calls, she had moved to Toronto. They were married the following year, eloping to Las Vegas, and now are the proud parents of children aged 4 and 2.

But that romance is only part of their story. David has been a paraplegic since an automobile accident when he was 19. The study of spinal-cord injuries was what propelled him to medical school at the University of British Columbia. He maintains a general practice today in Southern California, where the couple moved to pursue their passion in film at the UCLA film school — David studying screenwriting, Mia production.

“David doesn’t take setbacks,” said Mia, who continues to practice immigration law with many clients in film and the arts. “He just moves on.”

“The Morning After” is in 15 film festivals in 2013, this weekend including Bend; Carmel, Calif.; and Charlotte, N.C. Starring Kincaid Walker as Mae and Steve West as Frank, it is a multi-layered short film that David said “appeals to romantics. And I hope it’s a movie that any woman can relate to.”

The couple’s next project is one that David refers to as a “film noir date movie,” and one that Mia said may flush out her husband’s fascination with old Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers movies. Romance! Intrigue! I can hardly wait!

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Walter: Lessons from the World’s Oldest People



“As I get older,” said filmmaker Hunter Weeks, “I realize how much elders are important to developing our perspective around what lies ahead, and the significance of big societal moments.

“When I first met Walter Breuning, I could feel a link to a very long time ago. And I loved being able to learn from listening to him.”

Bruening, of Great Falls, Mont., didn’t miss a day of the 20th century. Born in 1896, he was believed to be the world’s oldest man when he died in April 2011, aged 114 years, 6 months, 23 days. By that time, Bruening had spoken at length to Weeks and his wife and co-producer, Sarah Hall Weeks—inspiring the 84-minute documentary “Walter: Lessons from the World’s Oldest People.”

Hunter Weeks

Hunter Weeks

“Walter” made its world premiere on Friday at the IFC Center in New York, beginning a one-week run. Its next appearance is at the 10th annual BendFilm festival, where it will show at 10 a.m. Friday at the Cascades Theatrical Company and at 3 p.m. Saturday at McMenamins Old St. Francis School. Tickets are available online at or from the festival center in the Liberty Theatre on Wall Street.

In making “Walter,” Weeks interviewed a half-dozen “supercentenarians”—that is, people over the age of 110.

“I learned that living a good life boils down to simple pleasures and rolling with the punches,” said Weeks. “I was amazed that each of the people we interviewed didn’t have huge philosophical preachings: They’d simply share examples of basic ways they rolled through this life. They all seemed like extremely positive people and they taught me to think about the broader arc of life.

“Things change all the time, but our fundamental self slowly evolves. I think too often we all get caught up in trying to control this and speed it up. All of the ‘Supers’ were born in a much slower time, and therefore had a different kind of inner peace. I think we can all learn from that.”

Weeks, 36, was raised in Phoenix, Ariz., but now lives in Bozeman, Mont. “I’m sure not having a whole lot of connection to elders in my current stage of life helped drive this desire to spend more time with them,” he said. “Both sets of my grandparents have passed away, and my father died when I was younger.”

There were challenges in making “Walter,” said Weeks—not the least of which were the age of the subject. “We knew we might not have long to capture their stories,” he said. “We had to adjust the story in ways to accommodate their limited amount of time left.”

In order to allow the interview subjects and their families to feel relaxed during film production, Weeks said, the movie was shot with minimal equipment in a cinema verité style. The family of Besse Cooper, who died in December 2012 at the age of 116, “was very sensitive to the media,” Weeks said, “so we spent a lot of time assuring them we wanted to give the truest, most accurate depiction of this special moment in her life.”

Weeks’ previous movie was “Where the Yellowstone Goes,” about a month-long drift-boat trip down the longest undammed river in the contiguous 48 states. His next is another documentary, “Coming Clean,” shot in the Potomac River watershed. He is also in development on a narrative television series about bicycling.

“I try to keep making stories that will teach us about ourselves and give us insight to things that really matter,” he said. “I want people to realize the possibilities that exist for all of us.”

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Sidney Rittenberg: “The Revolutionary”

Imagine an American investing the best years of his life in a history-altering revolution, in a country and culture that might be described as the polar opposite of his own.

This is not fiction. It is fact. And the epic tale of Sidney Rittenberg has been marvelously caught on film in “The Revolutionary” by film journalists Irv Drasnin, Don Sellers and Lucy Ostrander.

Its second showing at the 2012 BendFilm festival is at 10 a.m. today in the Oxford Hotel ballroom. An additional presentation at the Regal Cinemas may take place tomorrow.

Between 1946 and 1980 — beginning when he was just 25 years old — Sidney Rittenberg lived in China as an active and highly visible member of the Chinese Communist Party. Nearly half of those 34 years he spent imprisoned, in solitary confinement, suspected of being an imperialist spy.

Rittenberg today

Now 91 and a resident of Fox Island, Wash., near Tacoma, Rittenberg is now one of the nation’s leading experts in American-Chinese economic relationships. He consults with major corporations and frequently travels to modern China, where he is met with respect.

During a visit to Bend with Ostrander and Sellers, he spoke at length of his experiences — from his Second World War posting in China as a language specialist to his work with Mao Tse-tung, Chou En-lai and other Chinese leaders through the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution.

“Mao was one of history’s great leaders,” Rittenberg said. “He was also one of history’s great criminals.”

Mao signs Sid’s “Little Red Book”

In the late 1940s — at the time of the Long March — Rittenberg lived in the fabled Caves of Yan’an with the fomenters of the Communist revolution. At one time, he worked as a translator for Anna Louis Strong, an American author and labor organizer about whom Ostrander and Sellers produced a short documentary film, “Witness to Revolution,” in 1984.  Ostrander had interviewed Rittenberg about Strong during the making of that film.

Twenty years later, Sellers read a story in The New York Times about Rittenberg’s current work, and they got back in touch. It turned out that Rittenberg, teaching part-time at Pacific Lutheran University, had not seen “Witness to Revolution.”

That led to a reunion in early 2005. Sellers and Ostrander soon read Rittenberg’s book about his life in China, “The Man Who Stayed Behind” (with Amanda Bennett). In conversations over the next five years, together with longtime collaborator Drasnin, a CBS journalist and award-winning filmmaker, they built the 92-minute feature documentary. First shown in private screenings a year ago, it has met with international acclaim.

“We didn’t base the film on Sid’s book, but we used the book as research material,” Ostrander said. “The film was an independent look at his life in China during the Maoist years.

“And it was done under fairly rigorous journalistic guidelines. Irv (Dreslin) does not let his subject matter affect his journalistic ethics. In fact, Sid never saw this film until he saw it with 150 people in its first screening last October.”

Read more about “The Revolutionary” and future screenings at


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Leslie Stevens “Excels in Solitude”

Leslie Stevens

Actress Leslie Stevens heard her late mother speaking through her as she acted in the short film “She, Who Excels in Solitude,” now showing at the BendFilm Festival.

“Don’t you dare let anybody tell you that you can’t do what you want to do, just because you’re a woman,” Stevens said. “That was my mother’s voice.”

“Solitude,” a 20-minute film by writer-director Mako Kamitsuna that grew out of the American Film Institute’s Directing Workshop for Women, made its Pacific Northwest debut this morning. It will be presented again at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at the Regal Old Mill theaters.

Stevens also has a co-starring role in “Black Irish,” a 15-minute film about racial tensions in a working-class neighborhood of Boston. It shows at 8:30 p.m. today at the Tin Pan Theater and 8 p.m. tomorrow at the Regal Old Mill.

“She, Who Excels in Solitude” is a look back at a 1960 NASA study that considered adding female astronauts to the male-dominated Mercury program.

“Female civilian pilots were undergoing secret medical tests in New Mexico to see if they had ‘the right stuff,’” Stevens said. “This film deals with one woman who is a pilot, and one who is a nurse administering the tests. They’re both trying to break the glass ceiling for themselves.

“As the older woman, the pilot, I recognize that the nurse is in danger of abandoning her goals from the pressure of the job. I kind of kidnap her in my plane and convince her not to give up her dreams.”

In “Black Irish,” Stevens said, “I have one scene as the working-class broad who runs human resources in a warehouse. That was a frickin’ hoot, playing that role with bad eyeshadow and a Boston accent.”

Born in Tulsa, raised in St. Louis, Stevens was a child gymnast who became a professional dancer. Only three years ago did she give up dancing to devote full time to acting.

“It was an internal shift,” she said. “You can feel when you direct creative energy and awareness in a new direction. When you allow yourself to be transformed, other things begin to move.”

An upcoming feature film, “The Boarder,” will showcase Stevens’ talents in a leading role — as the actress plays the wife of an African-American pastor in a family that adopts a troubled 11-year-old boy.

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BendFilm: The Maiden and the Princess

Filmmaker Ali Scher, 27, was apologetic as she hurried away from a late lunch to prepare for the showing of her short film, “The Maiden and the Princess.” “I’ve got to get all princessed up,” she said.

“The Maiden and the Princess” was Scher’s thesis production when she graduated from the University of Southern California film school in May 2011.

Starring film veterans David Anders and Julian Sands with newcomers Tallulah Wayman Harris and Lora Plattner, the 18-minute film ( is a parable told in fairy-tale style.

When little Emmy Adams (Harris) kisses a girl instead of a boy on the school playground, she must face the Grand High Council of Fairy Tale Rules and Standards. Headed by Sands (“Boxing Helena,” “A Room with a View”), the council places her in a “hetero-normative” fairy tale to send her down the “right” path in life.

Luckily for Emmy, she meets Hammond, a rogue narrator played by Anders (“Alias” and “Heroes”). “I like Hammond because he is frustrated by the rules, and he breaks them,” Scher said. “He tries to give people the story they need instead of the story they want.

“Hammond is a reflection of me. Emmy’s story isn’t necessarily my story, but it’s a little about me and (my girlfriend) Olivia. School is a confusing time for kids, especially for those of us who are more gender non-specific. Society doesn’t know where to put those girls.”

Scher directed the movie, which she co-wrote with frequent collaborator Joe Swanson.

“My resolve as a filmmaker is to make film for girls to create strong women who don’t think they have to be rock stars or fashion designers,” she said.

“The Maiden and the Princess” shows today at 6 p.m. at the Regal Old Mill
(before “Free Samples,” with Jesse Eisenberg) and Friday at 3:30 p.m. in a shorts block at the Tin Pan Theater.

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