Laura and the Angolan women 061515(12/11/2016)

by Laura P. Valtorta

Margaret Atwood, who has written five dystopian novels, starts from a platform of modern civilization in first-world countries (people working, children being educated, women treated as $.68 citizens) before plunging into a future that looks both grim and strange. In the MaddAdam trilogy, her diving board is present-day corporate control from which she dives into the soup of the future – a world where the environment has collapsed and big companies protect half of the population in sealed communities. She has a platform of values that she respects: love and camaraderie. The healing qualities of hard work such as gardening. But she attacks anyone who can’t think for herself. The books are hilarious.

Franklin Schneider has no such platform. His creative memoir, Canned, how I lost ten jobs in ten years and learned to love unemployment, begins with the premise that life stinks, all of it. He tells the reader why in an entertaining way. The reader may or may not agree, but the quality and funniness of the writing help to deliver his message. Because Schneider rejects everything (except sex and books), his insights are often deeper and more unexpected than those of other writers. He makes the reader question values that western society forces on us as given: family is desirable. Work is always good.

Donna Tartt, in The Secret Friend, starts from the premise that Mississippi life in the 1970s was terrible for everyone because of economic deprivation. Her central character, a young girl, hunts down a supposed killer who has not committed the murder. Nobody understands anybody else in Tartt’s world. The reader can see inside the minds of the main characters, but they hardly ever understand each other. In this way, she attacks some prejudices about the South and reinforces others. She does accept the conventional premise that people need money and ambition to make life work. The book is 95% funny and filled with snakes.

While writing my current novel about the barriers America has built around skin color, I am starting from the traditional notion that family can make a person strong. Friends are important in Doris & Carmen, but Americans, living in compartmentalized worlds, are never free to choose the friends they need. People who can break down the boxes are stronger than others. My main targets are the American legal system, greed, and lawyers.

Humor is what ties these writings together. Nobody wants to depress her readers, and human stupidity is an easy target. Laughter is what makes the message stick.

Fountain inside Emperor 062016from the Tarot Garden in Tuscany by Nikki de Saint Phaelle

by Laura P. Valtorta

Before sitting down to write prose, paint a picture, or conceptualize a film, it’s important to understand the message that the art will deliver, whether it’s the juxtaposition of shapes and colors, or a philosophy about the meaning of life. These days, I’m writing a novel about diversity that I hope to translate into a film. My films are mainly about women’s rights and ordinary people who ought to be famous. Without a message, art is empty.

The films at the 25th annual St. Louis International Film Festival ( are helping me to retain my confidence in the United States. They celebrate diversity of every kind (language, age, skin color, gender identity, and cultural heritage). I was struck by the clear messages in each film, and how they inspired me to think. I’m proud that “The Art House” is being screened here.

The first film that struck me was “A House Without Snakes,” a short about the bush people of Botswana. Is it better to go away to engineering school in the United States or stay on the land that has sustained people for hundreds of thousands of years?

Yesterday I watched Rendezvous, a feature-length comedy/adventure by Amin Matalqa, a Jordanian-American man who grew up in Ohio. The story is straightforward and predictable; a doctor travels to Jordan to retrieve the body of her slain brother who was an archaeologist. She gets caught up in a plot to steal some ancient scrolls. There are plenty of car chases and funny mishaps. What’s unique about this adventure is that the doctor is a Jewish-American woman who falls in love with a Jordanian-American man. The villains are extremists of every sort – including Christian fundamentalists.

Even though I’m trying to pace myself, I saw two features and a block of shorts yesterday. The first feature was After the Storm, by Hirokazu Koreeda: a Japanese comedy about a has-been novelist who becomes addicted to gambling and neglects his family. Koreeda seems particularly worried about Japan’s aging population and the break-up of families. No diversity in sight in this Japan. Looks to me like they need some immigration and new blood.

We can count on art to help us. Recently I’ve been reading Canned: How I lost ten jobs in ten years and learned to love unemployment by Franklin Schneider. This Schneider guy is nuts, but I love him. In his depressing way, he has a lot to say about American society and our consumer-oriented values. This is definitely a message book. One that makes me laugh and ponder the world. That’s what good writing does.



Captain Fantastic


Pupo Sicilianoby Laura P. Valtorta

Captain Fantastic, written and directed by Matt Ross (he played Alby Grant from the compound in Big Love) is a deeply moving story about a family that lives off the grid and gets punished for it in a way. I loved the philosophies of this film, especially when the family eschews religion and anything having to do with consumer society. They learn about literature, biology, and the Bill of Rights. I like what the kids are learning in this particular home-schooling environment.

Viggo Mortensen is perfect as the father because I don’t think the guy is acting in this one. All of the children in this film are convincing.

The roles of the capitalist grandfather (Frank Langella) and the subservient grandmother (Ann Dowd) were both caricatures.

I’ve seen a couple of scenes from this film already – in particular Dances with Wolves, when they share the heart from the recently killed buffalo. The funeral scene on the beach with the family singing should not have been so “produced.”

Otherwise – this film moved me to tears and made me reflect on our insulated society.It also includes much-appreciated full frontal nudity of a man, for a change.


by Laura P. Valtorta

Our trip to the Tarot Garden in Capalbio, Italy, two days ago reinforced the idea that art inspires art. Looking at modern art, and the fantastic sculptures by Niki de Saint Phalle, helps me to write better.

Before visiting the Tarot Garden, it’s important to read the sweet, chaotic, horrible story of Niki’s life. A recent article in The New Yorker allowed us to do that.

The giant tarot sculptures built by Niki and her friends and the people of Capalbio emphasize the sadness and the chaotic nature of life and love. “Death” is one of the most beautiful sculptures. She had abandoned her young children years earlier and spent time in an insane asylum.

The sculptures are ceramic and mirror tiles, reinforced by steel and cement. Niki lived alone inside the Empress for many years while building the 14-acre garden.

The poignancy of this garden comes from knowing about Niki’s sad, messy, creative life and seeing the joy she infused in the gigantic sculptures. On the side of the Impiccato sculpture is a love story in tiles with drawings that illustrate the first meeting, desire, love letters, breaking up, and remaining friends.

Any artist – writer, painter, sculptor, or musician – can benefit from walking through Niki’s garden. It took her seventeen years to create and shows how steadfast her passion for beauty was.


Laura at St. Lawrence Film Festival 2015


by Laura P. Valtorta

There is so much to say about contemporary music that I’d love to write album reviews. The problem is, you have to attend concerts to do that. I only venture to a concert when I’m really, really excited about a band, and then it usually ends in disaster.

In 2015, I was in Austin for South by Southwest, where there was a peripheral parking lot concert by the Malian band – Tinariwen. I am a huge fan of Tinariwen – their music, the beautiful varied colors of their skin, their soulful danceable sound, and the lyrics (which boil down to “Hey, we love the desert. The desert is great. All my friends live in the Sahara”) in some tribal language translated in the liner notes.

At SXSW, the concert was attended by a huge crowd of drunken people. Wait a minute – Tinariwen is a Muslim band. When do I get to enjoy one of the two facets of sharia law that I admire – the ban on alcohol? Apparently not at a concert in Austin. The audio was too loud and ear-splitting. The whole experience made me want to rumble. I actually shoved a couple of men out of my way. My children loved the entire experience.

Last Saturday the indie rock band Alabama Shakes came to Charleston. I love me some Alabama Shakes. Brittany Howard is amazing, and when she screams, I jump up. I love the hairy style of Zac, who plays the bass. I own both their albums and listen to them regularly on the stereo and on Youtube. The story of their rise from Athens, Alabama to the world stage really inspires me.

But a concert? I broke down and purchased three tickets.

The people-watching at the Volvo stadium wasn’t much fun – a bunch of white people purchasing alcohol. Yes, the white people were of various ages – from teen to ancient – but staring at the vast audience gave me snow blindness. I counted 20 black people. This amazed me because Brittany Howard is part African-American.

With Marco and Dante shielding me, I vowed to ignore the drunkenness and enjoy the show. The performance did not disappoint. Brittany came out in a wonderful dress (natural hair!) and did her thing. She played the shit out of that turquoise guitar. She screamed and she sang. “Don’t wanna fight no more,” was a showstopper. “Dunes” killed me. I had a clear view of Zac. I was clapping and swaying.

After the show, I exited the stadium happy and suggested we walk to the car. The evening was limpid. Marco insisted we take the bus. “It will save time.” We had a long drive ahead of us to Columbia.

As soon as I sat on the bus, I put my hand down in a pool of vomit. Sigh.








Chapter (Who knows)




The best part about pitching a reality television series to the Arts and Entertainment Channel was hounding people about it ahead of time – forcing them to listen to my practice pitch.

I pitched at home, in the office, during lunch, over the telephone, and to Clabber at his studio, once he became duly impressed by the fact I was one of only five people pitching. Clabber heard this and stopped in his tracks.

“Wait. How did YOU get to pitch to A&E with only four other people?”

“I don’t know! I entered a contest. They invited me! You’ve got to help me. I’m terrible at pitching.”

We entered the big 25-seat screening room where Clabber premieres most of his films. I set up my Mac computer and recited my pitch.

Clabber listened closely but did not laugh at my jokes. He did not seem impressed.

“You don’t act like you’re excited about this project. You don’t act as though you’re committed.”

Nerves were taking over my body.

Clabbers stood up and demonstrated how I should deliver the lines. He wanted me to make eye contact with people in the audience.

“Make sure you memorize your speech!” Clabber remonstrated. “It’s only two minutes long. Your video is good. And don’t dance!”

At lunch over the next few days, I sat with people, uninvited, and grabbed friends as they entered Immaculate Consumption. “Hey, you! Sit down and listen to my pitch.”

People listened, wide-eyed. They liked the concept of my show: female truck drivers overcome obstacles and keep on trucking. Nobody laughed at my jokes, but they all said they would watch the show if it appeared on television.

Marco helped me the most. He timed my pitch every night several times for about a week before the event. He fake-laughed at my built-in jokes.


In Washington, D.C., I stayed at a hotel called the Windsor Inn that was probably the dumpiest hotel I’ve ever slept in. My room was underground. The so-called “window” looked out into an adjoining hallway. The doorknob and window handles were broken. The television didn’t work.

As I sat at Starbucks the day before my presentation, my nephew sent me a photo to cheer me up. He said it was an illustration of what I should do at the pitch. A dog was sitting at the microphone saying, “Listen up, bitches.” This helped a lot because it made me laugh.

Noon the day of the pitch. We were scheduled to meet at New York University, Washington D.C. campus at 1 p.m. I was sitting at Zoup chain restaurant with my computer, watching the Suits order lunch. I had my presentation ready. My pants were too short, and my socks showed.

When I arrived at the venue, I was the second pitcher to arrive. Soon all five of us were there, sitting around and twitching. Three pitchers were women, two were men. Of the ideas I heard at this point, the one that caught my attention was about the female designers who worked for Tiffany. They did all the work and got none of the credit. The 26-year-old who was pitching that idea had an 18-month-old baby at home. She had flown a long way. She looked fagged out.

Betsy, one of the organizers, came over to announce the order in which we would pitch. I was to go last. Of course! My nerves were already on fire. That meant an extra hour of sitting around and stewing.

We filed down to the auditorium to check out our video presentations.

“How does my video look?” I asked Josh, the organizer.

“YOU don’t have a video,” he snarked.

“Yes, I do! I have a 2-minute promo that I sent in last week. It’s an important part of my presentation.”

“It’s not here. Do you have a copy with you?’

I rushed to my notebook and retrieved a jump drive. Luckily it uploaded quickly.

Things were ready to go, but I thought I would pass out from fear.

Meanwhile, the auditorium was filling up. We pitchers were instructed to sit in certain places. I was glad to be on the aisle, and that I had memorized the route to the bathroom. During the other people’s presentations, I kept having to pee. Twice I got up and headed to the restroom.

I scrutinized my ridiculously short pants in the restroom mirror.

None of the other presentations grabbed me. The 26-year-old with her great idea about Tiffany’s fell down, psychologically, during her pitch. We only had five minutes each, but she stopped talking at one point. She was almost completely unable to communicate her excellent concept.

This pitching game seemed ridiculous. Great ideas were being wasted because of stage fright.

What the hell. I walked to the podium.

“Hello, I’m Laura Valtorta,” I began. “Attorney turned filmmaker.”

I skipped any further introduction and dove into my basic premise. “My project is “Queen of the Road,” a reality television series about commercial truck drivers.”

My first joke was “These drivers lead exciting, dangerous, and difficult lives, and that’s just trying to find a place to park!” The audience (starved for entertainment) roared with laughter.

This positive reaction relaxed me. I smiled into the camera and made my way a few minutes later to the second joke. “Donna the driver warns me she’s very conservative, but her wife, Carol, is much more liberal.” Big laughter.

I played up the last few seconds of my talk with gesturing and gesticulation. They loved my video. My unfashionable pants did not matter. Several audience members came up to speak to me afterwards.

The bad part was, I did not win!

The winner was Ann Marie Dinardo, with her show called “Hostage Heroes.” This will be a narrative re-creation of people taken hostage who talk down the shooter. Ho hum.

After the winner was announced, one of the panel members came out to give us detailed critiques. He grabbed the arms of me and the winner. “It was between these two,” he said. “They knew what their shows would be, from beginning to end.”

For some reason, the panelists did not find my truck drivers compelling characters. Jeesh! If Milica, Donna, Olivia, Jae, and Adabelle are not entertaining women – I don’t know who can be. And fuck “Ice Road Truckers.“ The documentary I make will be one hundred percent different.

Delivering the pitch was fun, and the cocktail party that evening was a blast. I met Morgan Spurlock and a bunch of D.C. film people.

I recommend pitch fests to any screenwriter or filmmaker.



Laura at St. Lawrence Film Festival 2015

Laura_photo_filmmaking_May_2013Summer Films
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

The ending is clear once you’ve read the title, but Me and Earl and the Dying Girl has some fun ways of skipping through the semester toward death. Thomas Mann as Greg, the narrator, has a funny, geeky manner that causes him to mimic a regretful polar bear and doubt every breath he takes. He and his friend Earl (RJ Cyler) make films that parody great works of the cinema, such as “2:48 p.m. Cowboy,” and “A Book of Slips Now.”

Things get more serious when Greg is forced by his mother (Connie Britton) to befriend a high school classmate suffering from leukemia. Greg and Earl decide to make a special film for her.

I want to read the book by Jesse Andres and see how Alfonso Gomez-Rejon could have directed this better. Whether the book is as predictable as the film remains to be seen. Luckily not ALL the adults in this story are complete idiots. Greg’s mother has the right kind of heart. His buff, tattooed history teacher, Mr. Matthews (Jon Bernthal), is a welcome relief from the notion that everyone over 30 hasn’t got a clue.

The best thing in this film is Thomas Mann, the lead actor. Also, the films he makes with Earl are very entertaining and I wish we saw more of them. This film is an homage to independent filmmaking as an art.

The setting, in Pittsburgh, is refreshing. I love Greg’s fears about college. Seven out of ten.

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