Archive | Article RSS feed for this section

Formagio Kitchen on the move

8 Feb

Cost and coronavirus complications change plan, forcing a hybrid Formaggio-Fresh Pond Market

By Tom MeekThursday, February 4, 2021

Fresh Pond Market’s 6,000 square feet at 358 Huron Ave. is being transformed into a new Formaggio. (Photo: Formaggio)

Formaggio Kitchen announced last week that it would close down its original store at 244 Huron Ave. and relocate fully to the old Fresh Pond Market locale at 358 Huron Ave., though when rescuing the closing grocery store in 2019 owners said they planned to keep both businesses.  

“Incredibly disappointed,” one poster wrote on the site Nextdoor, saying Huron Village residents expected Formaggio to run the market as it had been, as well as keeping its specialty offerings and famous cheese cave where they’ve been since 1978.

While that was the intent, the coronavirus pandemic, economic challenges and other unforeseen factors – most having to do with the reconstruction of the circa 1922 market – have forced a change, Formaggio co-owner Ihsan Gurdal said Tuesday.

A sign on the new Formaggio location shows the same product categories as at the original location up the road. (Photo: Tom Meek)

“When we tore down the walls we found structural problems. The fire department had us put in a sprinkler system. And then when Covid hit, the city shut down construction for five months – and then after, it was really hard to get people to come back,” Gurdal says. Fresh Pond Market was initially expected to reopen last spring. Now the goal for opening is March 1.

Even in the fall of 2019, the Gurdals were finding that renovation of the 6,000-square-foot space needed a gut rehab costing “more than we wanted” – that even “scared” the couple to think about. The property was listed in the millions of dollars; in addition to rehab costs, the pandemic meant months of paying rent with no progress on the work.

After 42 years, it will be a bittersweet departure from 244 Huron Ave., Gurdal said. From that address he and his wife and co-owner, Valerie, have launched three other Formaggio locations, one in the South End, one in New York City and the last where Edible Arrangements was on Hampshire Street, just outside Kendall Square. Cognizant of the neighborhood’s expectations, the owners say they look to have a blend of classic specialty food shop that has become the mini-empire’s signature, as well as the bodega-plus offerings Fresh Pond Market brought to the area for nearly 100 years. “We’ll sell dishwasher liquid, Band-Aids and other essentials,” Ihsan Gurdal says. “We’re going to listen to neighbors and their desires. We’ve been having conversation with those who provided to Fresh Pond Market.”

The Najarian brothers held off selling their family-owned market until they were satisfied they’d found the right buyer, an independent owner who would keep it a market as neighbors were used to, including a full-service butchery.

Butchery gear is ready for eventual use at the new Formaggio location. (Photo: Formaggio)

“The new place is twice as big as our current place,” he noted. “In the old place we were all on top of each other – the butcher shop staff, the bakers and then there was catering.”

That world-renowned Formaggio cheese caves also will move down the street. The subterranean expanse – a series of multi-climate chambers accommodating the environmental needs of varying European varieties – will be bigger and perhaps allow Formaggio to age its cheese organically, keeping it longer and providing customers with new and even more nuanced offerings. Customers should expect to find $10 to $15 organic wines and not just higher-end labels that have been standard at Formaggio, though not more commercial and lower-quality brands such as a Yellow Tail. “Balance” is how Gurdal describes the undertaking. “We’ll flex and bend and go with what works.” 

As to the location he’s leaving behind, Ihsan Gurdal hoped it might become something that would enliven the neighborhood, such as a restaurant or flower shop.

Holiday Hunger and Restaurants in peril

9 Dec

Holiday hunger and dark kitchens have solution with funds for Project Restore Us food initiative

By Tom Meek
Monday, December 7, 2020

Project Restore Us food is prepared for delivery in November in repurposed space at Mae Asian Eatery in The Port neighborhood. (Photo: UFCW Local 1445 via Facebook)

Winter and subfreezing temperatures are here as restaurants continue to struggle to make ends meet and families struggle to put food on the table. Eateries such as Colette, Miracle of Science and The Asgard have chosen to hibernate until warmer times – and perhaps a coronavirus vaccine – while others have taken a leap of faith to launch (Source and Smoke Shop in Harvard Square) or reopen (the Newtowne Grill Express, for takeout). Others, such as Pagu and Mae Asian Eatery, both in the Massachusetts Avenue neck between Central Square and MIT, feel that being “safe and responsible” means no indoor dining, in the words of Pagu owner and chef Tracy Chang. As a result, they have found other ways to leverage their resources, keeping their businesses afloat while feeding the community.

To that end, they’re involved in Project Restore Us, a regional initiative allowing restaurants to tap their food supply channels to provide sustenance to those in need while keeping workers employed and the lights on.

The program, which operates off grants and sponsorships, assembles customized boxes of goods for delivery to food-insecure communities through a volunteer network. But with the holidays here, Project Restore Us has a sudden dearth of funds that the team is scrambling to augment, cofounder Marena Lin said.

Food boxes prepared for delivery by Project Restore Us in November lean heavily on healthy produce. (Photo: UFCW Local 1445 via Facebook)

The project has delivered more than 160,000 pounds of food to more than 900 families, the founders say. Lin estimated that $2 million would sustain 2,000 families for three months and provide 25,000 hours of work for restaurant workers.

But the most recent fundraising goal is $15,000 – a month’s worth of support for local restaurants and food for another 101 families.

That’s broken down into bite-size chunks of tax-deductible giving. For instance, $45 means 35 pounds of groceries to a working family in Cambridge, Somerville, Medford, Everett, Chelsea or East Boston, and “each $1 donation buys one meal and pays restaurant workers,” according to the project. Donations are accepted here through Apple Pay, credit card or PayPal.

Along with Chang and Lin, a Harvard scholar whose academic work has focused on climate change and food security, the principals of Project Restore Us include Irene Li, of Boston’s Mei Mei restaurant, and Lily Huang, director of Mass Jobs with Justice.

There are other charitable food distribution networks, including the Boston Food Bank, that supply area food pantries. But those programs often provide random boxes of food that are not necessarily “nutritious or culturally appropriate” and don’t provide the opportunity for restaurants and their workers to partake in the process, Chang said. Restore Us customizes boxes based on outreach to the communities, and advice from partners in those communities.

This isn’t the first time Chang has engaged her Asian-Spanish themed restaurant for charitable causes. Early in in the pandemic her slimmed-down kitchen staff joined the volunteer effort Off Their Plate, which was set up to feed frontline medical workers with good, safe and high-quality meals when their facilities’ cafeterias got shut down. Chang and Lin say such hybrid efforts offer fiscal security to potentially marginalized workers, including undocumented or immigrant workers feeding families back home; they might otherwise have few economic options.

Also in the fight against holiday hunger: The Sheraton Commander Hotel’s Nubar Restaurant is contributing to the Cambridge Community Foundation’s Cambridge Covid-19 Emergency Fund. If you place an order this month, proceeds from add-ons such as a bottle of wine or desert go to the relief fund.

Racism hits local restaurant

23 Nov

Urban Hearth’s outdoor John Lewis mural vandalized Monday in ‘obvious hate crime’

By Tom Meek
Tuesday, November 17, 2020

It’s been tough for restaurants recently with shortened hours, colder temperatures and perhaps another shutdown looming. Adding to the woes for Urban Hearth, the young nouvelle can-do north of Porter Square on Massachusetts Avenue, was an act of vandalism Monday that owner and chef Erin Miller described as “an obvious hate crime.”

“I’m absolutely gutted,” Miller said. The eatery’s cozy sidewalk pavilion, which I visited for a meal in August, had been since adorned by a mural enshrining recently passed civil rights icon and longtime Georgian lawmaker John Lewis, the subject of the 2020 documentary “Good Trouble.” The full-length alfresco design by local artist Rocky Cotard, commissioned by Miller and finished in early October, was marred by black spray paint in the middle of the night. To get to the images, the vandals had to get past dense pilings of furniture.

“Do not turn away from this … It is a violation of all that is decent, good and hopeful in our world,”Miller said online.

Miller said the police were beginning an investigation; it was unclear if there were cameras nearby that might have video helpful in the matter.

On Wednesday, police said several businesses in the 2200-2300 block of Massachusetts Avenue had been vandalized late Monday or early Tuesday, suggesting the vandalism was not exclusively targeted at the mural. Detectives are following up and looking for video evidence, said Jeremy Warnick, director of communications and media relations for Cambridge police.

While the Hearth has shut down the patio temporarily, the restaurant remains open for takeout.

I am Greta

25 Oct

‘I Am Greta’: Young environmentalist speaks; Whether we listen lies beyond director’s lens

By Tom Meek
Friday, October 23, 2020

The documentary “I Am Greta,” about teen environmentalist Greta Thunberg and the lengths she goes to spotlight the climate crisis, is a testament to commitment and passion. It’s also a film that feels like it only scratches the surface about its subject, her family and, more so, her cause.

The film centers on Thunberg’s Atlantic crossing in a carbon neutral yacht to give a speech to the United Nations’ climate summit in New York. She won’t fly “because of the enormous climate impact of aviation.” Filmmaker Nathan Grossman tags along, but first sets us up with some of Thunberg’s grassroots activism, including sitting on streets with signs calling out global plunder by carbon-consuming corporations and world powers. We also get a smattering of barbs from Trump, other globally positioned strongmen and climate change deniers – whose pockets Thunberg would say are lined by big carbon – disparaging the young activist. One talking head even digs in on Thunberg’s Asperger’s, tagging it as a flaw and dismissing her as a young girl with a weakness. Thunberg says the neurological condition allows her to “see through the static,” and seems to handle the pressure pretty well. She’s also a kid, and there are plenty of scenes with her and her father (the mother remains largely offscreen), who accompanies her to most of her speaking engagements. Grossman has quite intimate access to their interactions, even when Thunberg, in a dour mood, won’t get out of bed at her dad’s behest.

What will probably most enlighten the audience is Thunberg’s fiery eloquence. Half of it’s in her native Swedish, but when Thunberg gets up before the UN speaking in English, it’s sharp, well-honed rat-a-tat rhetoric: “I want you to panic, I want you to act as if the house is on fire” and “humanity sees nature as bottomless bag of candy” and some generation shaming (“You’ve stolen my dreams and my future, how dare you!”). It’s there finally that the film does something to take up Thunberg’s cause, serving up the hard reflection of one generation putting the next in jeopardy.

Grossman’s style for the most is Frederick Wiseman-like, fly-on-the-wall. It’s captivating to let Thunberg be herself and us observe quietly, but from an insight and understanding perspective there remains a frustrating remove. It’s Thunberg in the end in the end who punches through. She’s heard, but did the world listen?

Bountiful Kitchen

22 Oct

Bountiful Kitchen, sprung from a pandemic, nurtured into a healthy meal delivery service

By Tom Meek
Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Julian Cohen and executive chef Keenan Goodwin prepare meals for Bountiful Kitchen at Foundation Kitchen in Somerville. (Photo: Tom Meek)

Covid’s done much to fracture the restaurant business. There’s been a slew of permanent closings (Cuchi Cuchi, Flat Top Johnny’s, Bergamot and Inman Square’s Bukowski Tavern, among many) and with winter hibernations coming and Covid-19 infection rates on the uptick, silver linings are slim. But they do exist. During the spring, the Day reported on early business pivots by Pagu and Season to Taste as well as the launch of Bountiful Kitchen, a home delivery meal service. In April, Bountiful founder Julian Cohen was cooking out of a home kitchen and delivering hot meals to a boutique clientele in his Porter Square neighborhood, but taken the business to the next level, expanding his menu and delivery routes to include all of Cambridge, Somerville, Arlington and select Boston neighborhoods. He’s also hired executive chef Keenan Goodwin, formerly of Fat Hen in Somerville, and moved to a formal commercial kitchen facility at the Foundation Kitchen on Washington Street, on the way to Sullivan Square.

Foundation Kitchen is a rentable shared space – a food startup incubator. Husband and wife owners Ciaran Nagle and Tara Novak have two locations (the bigger facility is in Union Square) and a third in the works for Charlestown that will have a food and drink hall. The facilities gives people who want to enter the food business an easy leg up without having the huge financial burden of a storefront, a long-term lease and sunk equipment costs, Nagle said.

Bountiful Kitchen’s BBQ Turkey Breast with Old Bay Potato Salad. (Photo: Julian Cohen)

That makes sense for a scrappy business such as Bountiful. Cohen, a former barista and food preparer at Hi-Rise Bread Co., started the service on a whim after being laid off, while Goodwin was left out of the rotation when a slimmer Fat Hen reopened.

They’ve since evolved the menu at Bountiful toward a more symphonic complement of foods and flavors, Cohen said, as opposed to the early scramble, when things were assembled based on what was on hand. There’s now more collaboration and planning between owner and chef, and the two try to source all their foods locally.

Recent and current Bountiful Kitchen offerings in the $15 to $25 range include beef bolognese, crab-stuffed squash, brown sugar crusted salmon, lemon grass and coconut chicken stew, yellowfin tuna loins and roasted pork loin. There’s always a vegetarian option and sides, such as butternut squash soup and parmesan roasted Brussels sprouts. Like other delivery/to-go food services these days such as Hi-Rise and Pagu, Bountiful has pantry offerings; it also has wine pairings, which come through a partnership with The Wine Press. The wine comes with your meal. Delivery happens between 6 to 7 p.m. and the menu rotates daily.

Cohen and Goodwin do more than 120 meals a week – up from around 80 when Cohen launched – and plan to keep expanding. If you’re not on their delivery heat map, you and some neighbors can fill out a form to be added; Cohen said he is deeply customer driven. Most of his weekly queue are regulars who keep coming back.

“The food’s always cooked to perfection,” said Rachel Joffe, a Bountiful regular. “Delivery is pleasant, they give you advance notice, and the delivery persons are nice. They have accommodated my need/request to have the food delivered on the early side, and I appreciate their flexibility.”

Bountiful Kitchen has a weekly newsletter to let subscribers know each week’s offerings. The menu is also updated on a website with easy ordering.

The Powerful Coe

1 Oct

Catching up with Charles Coe, an enduring voice where streetscape changes but race issues linger

By Tom Meek
Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Poet Charles Coe is the subject a film screening Wednesday as part of the 22nd Roxbury Film Festival’s opening night lineup. (Photo: Gordon Webster)

As noted in Sunday’s Film Ahead column, the 22nd Roxbury Film Festival kicks off virtually Wednesday, with “The Sit-In: Harry Belafonte Hosts the Tonight Show” by Yoruba Richen, about Johnny Carson stepping aside to let Belafonte host in the wake of race riots in the late ’60s, and the short “Betye Saar: Taking Care of Business” by Christine Turner.

What’s Cambridge-centric about the opening night lineup is the inclusion of another short: Roberto Mighty’s “Charles Coe: Man of Letters,” about the longtime Cambridge resident, poet and musician. If you’ve ever been to a Cambridge or Boston area poetry reading you’ve probably heard Coe deliver one of his truths in his signature baritone voice. Or you may have seen his recent photographic exhibit at the Boston Public Library, “What You Don’t Know about Me” (2018), or as part of Rashin Fahandej’s “A Father’s Lullaby” exhibit at the ICA last year.

Though Coe did not write poetry seriously until the 1990s and published his first collection, “Picnic on the Moon,” in 1999, to date he’s published three collections of poems, been a Boston artist in residence and earned an honorary doctorate – not bad for a guy who never got a bachelor’s degree.

“You know, I swear I was just buying notebooks and pencils with my mom for school,” Coe says, “and the I blinked and I’m turning 68.”

Coe, born in Indianapolis, dropped out of college and played bass in a rock cover band (Motown and Top 40) in Nashville, Tennessee, before making his way to Boston in the mid 1970s.


The trailer for Roberto Mighty’s “Charles Coe: Man of Letters”:Video Player00:0001:35


Before a nearly 20-year career at the Mass Cultural Council, Coe worked as a musician around the city and in the food industry. “I worked at a place called The Hungry Persian on Brattle Street,” Coe said.

It and every other eatery he named are no more. Being in the Hub for so long, Coe has seen a lot come and go.

And remain the same.

As a black man he’s experienced his fair share of infamous Boston racism, as captured in his poem “For the Ancient Boston Bar with Neon Shamrocks in the Windows, Recently Departed,” about an Irish bar where he was not welcomed. Coe said he was experiencing “great grief and dismay” anew over what is happening across the country. “Didn’t we fight those battles?” he asks incredulously. To Coe racism is like tuberculosis: “You think it’s contained and controlled, but you just need the right conditions for it to flare up. And that creature in the Oval Office is doing everything he can to set it off.”

Continue reading

Wheel Good People

3 Sep

Wheel good people: Riders can see solutions from astride bicycle seats, and really deliver

By Tom Meek

The Agassiz Baldwin Community’s Phoebe Sinclair talks Friday with volunteer riders in the Cambridge Bike Delivery Program. (Photo: Raina Fox)

Efforts to address challenges such as Covid-19 and racial division and to better the community are zooming along on two wheels, undeterred by the death of bicyclist Darryl Willis in Harvard Square on Aug. 18. One effort, the Cambridge Bike Delivery Program, was set up at the onset of the pandemic to address the needs of at-risk elders and others with limited means; another, the Cambridge Bike Give Back Program, was launched in response to George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis on Memorial Day and subsequent Black Lives Matter activities.

The Cambridge Bike Delivery concept grew organically among members of the Cambridge Bike Safety Group – an amalgam of local cyclists without any real hierarchy, assembled with the mission of advocating for safe streets in Cambridge – to make home deliveries of meds and groceries to seniors from Skenderian Apothecary, Inman Pharmacy, Pemberton Farms Marketplace and other stores without a delivery services. The logistics “proved to be tougher than anticipated,” organizer Rebecca Neuman said. “We had over 300 cyclists, but it was hard to line people up on dates and times.” Outreach to the elderly became something of a challenge as well, and the effort waned. But Neuman struck up conversations with staff at the Agassiz Baldwin Community Center and Margaret Fuller House, in The Port neighborhood. The Margaret Fuller House runs its own food pantry program, while the Agassiz Baldwin Community Center has just become an outpost for the Cambridge Community Center food pantry. Both programs needed volunteers to deliver food to the vulnerable, so Neuman set up a signup portal to coordinate riders with deliveries on the days the food pantries got shipments.

A rider sets out Aug. 25 with a delivery for the Cambridge Bike Delivery Program. (Photo: Tom Meek)

For each provider there are a dozen to several dozen deliveries on any given pantry day, coming three to four times a week. Neuman, who puts in a few hours each week to keep it all flowing, tries to keep the matches surgical and lean. The loads for the Margaret Fuller House are about 10 to 20 pounds of vegetables per delivery, bulky and heavy loads for which most riders employ a tagalong trailer or large food delivery bag, coordinator and director of finance and operations Cory Haynes said. The hauls from Cambridge Community Services range from frozen foods to baby diapers; one delivery rider recalled having to deliver an ice cream cake during high, humid 80-degree weather.

For the Agassiz Baldwin Community Center and Margaret Fuller House, the venture has been a natural and helpful fit that should carry on post-coronavirus, and Neuman is looking for other ways to use the volunteer army of riders – possibly reenabling curbside composting, which was suspended by the city during the coronavirus lockdown. (Though the mention of odor and stench trailing behind a hard-pedaling cyclist had Neuman and Haynes scrunching up their noses over a Zoom call.)

Bike Give Back

Lonnell Wells, right, put together his Cambridge Bike Give Back program after consulting with friends in the community. (Photo: Lonnell Wells)

The Cambridge Bike Give Back program was started just over a month ago by Lonnell Wells and a collection of friends he calls his “community.” Wells, distraught after Floyd’s murder, looked inward and talked deeply with them about what could be done to fix the country. The giveback program is “Plan B,” Wells said – “something to do for the kid who doesn’t have the bike to ride with their friends, the ex-con who just got a job who doesn’t have the money to ride the T, and a way for people to exercise when you can’t go to the gym.” The process is simple: Wells has taken to social media to ask for “broken old bikes” that he and his team piece together and give to those in need; jubilant photos from pickups and drop-offs are easy to find on social media. At the time of our sit-down, Wells estimated the program had collected more than 30 broken bikes and given back 17.

Wells grew up in The Port – “Area 4,” as he still fondly calls it – and graduated from Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, but now lives in Chelsea, has a 10-year-old son and works as a chef at Boston University. He refers to his post-work scavenging expeditions to gather bike carcasses as “demon time.” For the bike assemblies, Wells host parties, for which he does what he does: cooks. Partial to Southern food, Wells likes to make collard greens and sticky chicken, which is thrown back in the skillet with hot sauce just before serving.

Wells did not go into details about Plan A. “Not enough time,” he said at our meeting. But he expressed gratitude to the bike community at large, which he described as supportive of his project. Bike groups are also active in Black Lives Matter organizing: There have been three 800-person Ride for Black Lives through Greater Boston, organized in part by Crimson BikesBoston Bike PartyBikes Not Bombs and Spoke House, at a time organizers would not risk more casual rides. U.S. Rep. Ayanna Pressley kicked off the ride this past Sunday; there are also weekly MIT-to-Arlington Black Lives Matter rides on Sundays.

The project and scope of the Give Back venture is sure to grow. On Sunday, the program hosts a barbecue at Greene-Rose Heritage Park on Harvard Street near the Fletcher Maynard School. The flyer lists family-friendly scavenger hunts, voter registration and free food.

Is it safe to see a film in a theater?

2 Sep

Kendall Square Cinemas has reopened quietly, with fare such as ‘Tenet’ for up to 25 in theater

By Tom Meek
Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Two weeks ago, I penned a column about movie screens staying dark in Cambridge and Somerville because of the pandemic, even as AMC, ShowPlace Icon and other theater chains opened in and around Boston. Friday that all changed: the Landmark theater in Kendall Square had something of a stealth opening.

“Face masks at all times, limited seating and no concessions at this time, per state guidelines,” theater manager Howie Sandler said in an email. “Also we are cleaning throughout the day, and after each show we wipe down chairs. We have signs up all over the place stipulating masks and social distancing, and we have markers on the floor leading you to buy tickets.” (State guidelines actually allow prepackaged foods.)

The limited seating measures including every other row being blocked off in the bigger theaters, “and we ask folks to leave two chairs between them and another party. Smaller theaters have seats blocked off in each row to spread people out,” Sandler said. A maximum 25 people are allowed in the larger theaters, and 16 to 24 people in Kendall Square Cinemas’ three smaller ones.

For now, The Brattle Theatre in Harvard Square remains closed to public screenings but is available for private rentals – most of which have been to couples, according to the “Brattle Film Podcast.” Apple Cinemas in Fresh Pond also remains closed, like the Somerville Theatre in Davis Square and Harvard Film Archive.

The Kendall Square theater is playing traditional arthouse fare such as “The Personal History of David Copperfield” and “Tesla,” but also Charlie Kaufman’s latest “I’m Thinking of Ending Things,” which caught me by surprise, as my press kit says it’s coming to Netflix on Sept. 4. What’s also interesting is that this week Landmark will open “Tenet,” the latest big-screen extravaganza from Christopher Nolan (“Dunkirk,” “Inception”). It’s a shift for Landmark, though its sister theater Embassy Cinema in Waltham plays more mainstream box office fare.

Nolan’s film has been a sore point for critics; many say they won’t go to a theater yet and prefer to get screener links. No links were given out for “Tenet,” so if you didn’t go to theater-staged press screening, you did not see it. Some media outlets (including The Washington Post) won’t run reviews for theater-only releases; others (including The Boston Globe) that get screener links for theater-only releases will post a safety caveat. I’m still struggling with the “Do I review a film in the confines of my house and recommend it to you when you can only see it in the theater” conundrum. I missed the “Tenet” press screening due to a personal conflict, so if you see a review here from me, you’ll know I went to the theater just as you would. I have to say Sandler’s precautions at Kendall sound thorough – but it’s still an indoor space.

In response to this whole Covid-19, get-back-to-normal limbo, studios take different approaches. “Bill & Ted Face the Music” was released simultaneously theatrically and through online streaming (for $20). The live-action “Mulan” from Disney will be released this weekend on the conglomerate’s streaming platform Disney+ for $30.

A Most Beautiful Thing

29 Jul

Pulling together: Boston filmmaker tells story of first Black rowing team

Boston filmmaker Mary Mazzio’s documentary “A Most Beautiful Thing,” which recounts the travails of the first Black high school crew team in the country, was supposed to open in theaters back in March but the COVID-19 swell altered that and still holds a lingering effect on the film’s release. AMC, the theater chain that Mazzio has an arrangement with, has yet to get back up and running and so Mazzio, with her finger on the pulse of social issues and more topographically, in light of the George Floyd slaying and subsequent Black Lives Matter protests, is pushing ahead with the film’s release on Xfinity Friday, July 31, and releasing on other major streaming platforms at staggered future dates — Sept. 1 on Peacock and Oct. 14 on Amazon Prime.

Mazzio, a former Olympic rower, notched her unique arrangement with AMC when the theater was exploring means to address complaints that most films exhibited carried unflattering stereotypes of people of color and underrepresented communities, and as a result was actively seeking more positive and aspirational material. “Positively diverse,” is how Mazzio said (then) CEO Gerry Lopez described it. It was a natural fit as AMC snapped up several of Mazzio projects like “Ten9Eight: Shoot for the Moon” (2009) that detailed a business plan competition with teen entrants from high-crime, inner city communities like Harlem, Compton, Chicago and Baltimore, and “Underwater Dreams” (2014), which chronicled teens of undocumented parents who come together and go head-to-head against MIT in an underwater robotics competition.

Continue reading

Peaceful Protests in Cambridge

7 Jun

 

Protesters gather Sunday in Porter Square after a renewed spate of nationwide deaths of people of color at the hands of police. (Photo: Tom Meek)

Around 200 residents assembled along Massachusetts Avenue in Porter Square on Sunday to protest police brutality and ask for justice in the Memorial Day death of George Floyd in Minneapolis – and in countless other blue-on-black incidents nationwide. The video of police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on the neck of Floyd has sparked protests across the country, many turning violent as people join with uncertain motives and police respond.

Update from June 3, 2020: Police officers estimate that the protest “maxed out with about 100 participants,” according to Jeremy Warnick, director of communications and media relations for Cambridge police.

Curfews have been imposed in 40 cities; the National Guard has been called to 15. Social media is pulsing with videos of looting and police violence.

Not in Cambridge, though.

Chants of “Hey, hey, ho, ho, these racist cops have got to go,” and “No justice, no peace,” filled the area as cars drove by, honking in support. Signs demanding justice and the end of police brutality joined a sea of “Black Lives Matter” placards.

The protest, organized by North Cambridge attorney Gerry McDonough through social media, was peaceful and without incident. McDonough, launching an activist group Stand Out Against Racism, or Soar, said the day’s event was one of many to come. At the rally portion of the event, he announced a day of action slated for Saturday, when smaller groups in neighborhoods would stage similar protests.

Luis Cotto, Mercedes Soto and Ángel Cotto pause after creating a chalk memorial on the steps of City Hall. (Photo: Luis Cotto via Instagram)

Other signs of protest popped up around the city, from a “BLM” tag for the Black Lives Matter movement spray painted on a building at Kirkland and Beacon streets to the names of people of color slain by police chalked on the steps of City Hall. The names stretched back at least as far as Amadou Diallo, killed in New York in 1999.  

One of the concerns of protests and demonstrations in the time of the Covid-19 pandemic is public safety and social distancing. All demonstrators present wore masks, but a 6-foot rule was rarely achieved.

Mayor Sumbul Siddiqui said Saturday that she was planning an online vigil. “Facilitating a community healing process will be one of our most important jobs as elected officials, so we can collectively address the pain of this pandemic, the pain of this moment and the generational pain many of us carry in our bodies every day,” she said via social media.

Plans for the vigil, made public over the weekend, have it taking place from 5 to 5:30 p.m. Monday on cable Channel 22 and via Facebook Live. Details are here.

“Like many of you, I am navigating waves of anger and sadness as I think about [Floyd’s] life, his family and community – and about this country’s history of criminalizing blackness. George Floyd’s death should not have happened. May he rest in power,” Siddiqui said.

Work with City Manager Louis A. DePasquale and police commissioner Branville G. Bard Jr. is ongoing on “how best to keep our community safe from violence,” she said. “We must also work to keep people safe from discrimination and safe from displacement.”

Bard commented briefly on Floyd’s death as well. “Make no mistake about it, George Floyd’s death was the result of depraved indifference.” Bard said online Wednesday before expanding on his thoughts after the protest. Speaking to fellow law enforcement officials via tweet, he said, “I hope we realize that it will take more than words to correct this! Action, and only action will help to reverse this.”