Along with leading everyone in a cheer of “fuck the guy who owns Hahnemann Hospital,” and cheering the mayor for cutting off that landlord’s heartless brand of highway robbery at that the knees, can I just say I’m proud of my alma mater, Temple University, and its Liacouras Center, for stepping up in a time of real need?
Temple might have lost me for a while in its once-continued devotion to the ghost of Bill Cosby, but they won me back with this one. I won’t send you any money, Temple – and I don’t owe you any, so don’t even try it – but I will offer you a laurel and hearty handshake. I mean, you know, an elbow bump.
Is the first real COVID-19 documentary in our midst, and is there a Philadelphia tie in? Yes. Yes. And it just happens to come from a one-time local whose raw and newsy film work was first written about, by me, in the pages of the Philadelphia Weekly in 2019.
Last June, I offered up a cover at PW on Philadelphia director and producer Kevin Ronca, whose hard life of homelessness and addiction on the streets of West Philly was turned around by self-determination and parlayed into a film school scholarship on the West Coast. No sooner than Ronca began directing and editing his own work for episodes of the 2016-2017 series “The Revolution Televised” (his coverage of the Philadelphia National Democratic Convention and its dressy protests was a particularly sharp and aptly gritty), that he met a soul as troubled as he had once been in Stephen McCoy, a Boston millennial who, like Ronca before him, fell into the cycle of addiction of homelessness.
“I won’t send you any money, Temple – and I don’t owe you any, so don’t even try it – but I will offer you a laurel and hearty handshake. I mean, you know, an elbow bump.”
And like Ronca, McCoy managed to hold onto one thing to keep him sane and human – a camcorder. Through video, McCoy captured the squalor of opioid addiction, one needle at a time. Ronca met McCoy, found a kindred spirit in every way, and the former helped edit over 80 hours of the latter’s literally and figuratively raw footage. Ronca also became a producer of “Nightcrawlers,” and took that documentary onto the festival circuit through the auspices of his Write Brain Studios.
Fast forward to the present: Ronca traveled to and returned home from a vacation in China – late January to mid-February – just in time to witness their onset of coronavirus. “I was in the second-most infected region, Guang Dong,” said Ronca. “I was hoping to film a family vacation, but it quickly turned into a pandemic.”
Once home in Diamond Bar, Calif., and self-quarantined, Ronca began hastily putting together his footage for a documentary on the start of COVID-19 with a working title, “The Year of Zi.” Ronca said the zodiac plays a great part in his film, and what he witnessed. “It was supposed to be the Year of the Rat, but it was technically “metal rat,” said Ronca of the zodiac translation, “which forewarns disaster and the collapse of material objects such as metal and gold.”
Along with “The Year of Zi” for screening in May (“while people are stuck at home via Patreon”), Ronca is also hoping to get the documentary into festivals, “even if no one knows where we’re heading.
Hopefully, I’ll get a chance beyond Icepack to follow up on this. We can discuss Ronca’s troubles with Amazon and “Nightcrawlers.” It’s a doozy.
Sticking with the splashy moving image for a moment, is it me or has all the over-the-top goodwill that was initially afforded everywhere man Jason Segal’s all-Philly-filmed AMC series “Dispatches from Elsewhere” all but dissipated? At a time when everyone is staying home, C-19 nesting and watching everything they can get their eyeballs on, is anyone still watching it, after they checked out Philly during the first episode?
If anyone is watching, there’s not much chatter or response. As of March 30, “Dispatches” has not been canceled or renewed for a second season. The Hollywood Reporter writes that the series was “like watching a quartet of mostly cardboard cutouts figuring their way out of the world’s fanciest escape room.” Stay tuned. Or maybe not.
Beat the Plague
What a difference a month makes. Toward February’s end, acclaimed Philly playwright Jacqueline Goldfinger had not only opened her new future-forward dramedy “Babel” at Theater Exile in South Philly but was readying an immediate set of premieres and readings at three additional theaters throughout the states, with several additional productions to mount by summer. It was as if Goldfinger had started a “Babel” franchise, and everybody wanted in.
Then, COVID-19 struck and beat down “Babel” for the moment. “With many of the productions of “Babel” postponed, I’m shifting my writing and education work online,” said Goldfinger in an email.
Not only is she running a Beat-the-Plague Playwriting Workshop with free reservations “to keep those of us who want to write inspired and accountable in isolation.” Goldfinger took part in an online play project “Stranded” (“to quickly write a monologue play that teachers and students can rehearse and perform over online platforms for free”), and she’s also planning to mount her April writers retreat – now, online – for April 24-27 with master class teachers Tammy Ryan, Stephanie Kyung-Sun Walters, and the author. Everything you want to know about how and where to get to the playwright can be found at jacquelinegoldfinger.