Sunday, January 31, 2010

Good Cause Video Jobs

When you pick your own creative project to do (your next film, book, opera...) you usually go for something you'd really love to do - something that deals with a subject that is especially meaningful to you - something you might be spending the next few years doing, against all odds and possibly without any compensation except for the pleasure the creative process gives you. Of course, some creations are motivated by gaining fame and fortune. But I wonder if I'd put them in the "your OWN creative project" category. 

Sometimes, however, you get lucky and someone hires you to do a job that fits exactly into the category of creative projects you really love to do. Recently I got that lucky when I was hired by Project STAY - "a haven for young people at risk for, and/or living with, HIV/AIDS".

Project STAY hired me to produce a digital story-telling video with several HIV+ youths. The process of making the video was supposed to help the adolescents take charge of their own story and the final video will be used to educate youths, teachers, social workers, doctors, etc. For me it has been an incredible journey of learning, working, creativity, human connections, purpose, a sense of helping and because of all that: immense gratification and gratitude. 

Central Park

In the process of working on this project (and also through an anti-nuclear weapons video I'm currently editing for Federation of American Scientists), I realized that this is exactly the kind of work I want to do, the kinds of jobs I want to get hired for. 

I have my aspirations (and some actual finished results) of doing my "own creative projects" - documentaries, screenplays, fiction writing, narrative fiction films... with a focus on underrepresented people and (not wanting to sound pretentious) the aim to make this world a better place through educating and inspiring change. So it's been a bit of a revelation to me that there are actually paying jobs that fit exactly into what I want to do: use filmmaking to further good causes. Maybe one could define those jobs as: "Good Cause For-Hire Documentaries" (for non-profit organizations that aim to improve people's lives).  As crazy as it might sound to some, I even appreciate that the smaller budgets force/allow me to work directly and intimately with the people involved and on all aspects of the creative process. It probably goes without saying that I also appreciate the advantages of a full budget.

Hudson River

From the first moment on, meeting the social workers and adolescents, going to see an AIDS awareness play and then sitting in on their first writing session to prepare for the video shoot, I knew that I was exactly where I wanted to be and felt so lucky to be allowed into these people's lives and facilitate telling their individual stories of tragedy and survival. This was supposed to be empowering to them and educational to others and help tear down stereotypes. But I had no idea how powerful this experience would be to me, how moving, humbling and inspiring. Not only did I learn more about the facts of youths living with HIV and the importance of educating youths and adults better (talk about it!) or about the rough lives of some of these urban youths (mostly from broken homes). But I also learned about grace, resilience, forgiveness, beauty, hope, life, awareness and, of course, courage.

Having HIV is a stigma. Some of the kids made mistakes. All of them risk being judged. They all showed great courage in working out their stories during the writing workshops and especially in sitting down in front of a camera and sharing their stories with me - not to mention with all the people who will hopefully watch the video in the future.

It was a really neat experience to workshop the stories and ideas for the video in several sessions with the social workers and the youths. In the video we wanted to make sure the youths' identities would be preserved, but at the same time not give the impression that they had any reason to hide in the shadows. So instead of a more typical silhouette approach, I filmed only their mouths during the interviews - keeping them anonymous but not hiding. To illustrate the stories we came up with places, activities and items that seemed fitting. It was a creative challenge and a lot of fun to walk all over the city with small groups or individuals, getting shots for the video and just talking and getting to know each other. The pictures on this page are from that footage (the pictures don't show anyone involved in the project).

125th Street

Last but not least, I also want to express how much admiration I have for Joanna, Aanie and Bari - the amazing social workers. My only regret is that we weren't just doing a regular documentary about the center that would include showing what wonderful work those three women and their colleagues do. Maybe another time, another video...

We've only just wrapped the shoot and not even started post-production. I cannot wait to share what I was invited to see, hear and capture over the last few weeks.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Screening & Review & Response

When it rains, it pours, right? (And I love the rain.) Lately it seems that after it has been quiet around All God's Children for a little while, suddenly several things happen at the same time.

This past weekend the documentary screened for the first time outside of the USA, which makes it the International premiere, when mkPLANET and MK SafetyNet presented it at Queensway Cathedral in Toronto, Canada. Dana Crawford (adult missionary kid and co-founder of mkPLANET) wrote a report on the mkPLANET Blog about the screening, which also includes some great tips on sharing the film with others.

A big thank you to Beverly Shellrude Thompson (film participant, MK, co-founder MK SafetyNet) and Dana Crawford and everyone else who helped organize the screening and to Dr. Lois Kunkel (MK and therapist) and Nancy Mayer (Member of SNAP and therapist) for participating in the Q&A and to everyone for attending the event and supporting the survivors of abuse.

Dana Crawford, Beverly Shellrude Thompson, Lois Kunkel, Nancy Mayer during the Q&A
(photo by Ernie Thompson)

The very next morning we got notice that Bob Felton has published a thoroughly researched article about All God's Children on the blog Piety, Inc. (Independent coverage of the other white-collar crime). The article was also reposted on Bob Felton's blog Civil Commotion.

Bruises heal and fears recede, but the abiding injury is the humiliation and impotence of unanswered degradation, and there is no cure for that but justice. But when a courageous handful of Mamou ‘alumni’ stepped forward to demand justice, they were victimized again. 

The article does a great job capturing the facts of Mamou and the film, assesses the filmmaking style and gives some interesting context to certain Christian concepts. It also includes links to related documents, e.g. the Mamou report and reports from other denominations. Mr. Felton was also able to speak with someone at Christian and Missionary Alliance (the denomination who ran the boarding school and eventually initiated the investigation):

Mark Failing, a spokesperson for C&MA, said “I think it is” when I asked him if All God’s Children is an accurate portrayal of events at Mamou. He adds, though, that no investigation of allegations elsewhere has turned-up like abuse, and speculates that what went wrong at Mamou was a failure of leadership. Beverly Thompson’s answer to that is swift and no-nonsense: “It was not unique.”
MK SafetyNet has on numerous occasions, and again in a recent press release, challenged "the denomination to establish an Independent Investigation into all allegations of abuse at the following schools: Dalat Academy, Quito Alliance, Sentani, Bongolo, Zamboanga, and in their dorms at Ivory Coast Academy." From what I understand, up to this point all the investigations have been internal investigations - except for the one into the abuse allegations at Mamou Alliance Academy.

CMA has recently published a page in response to All God's Children and the discussions that the film has stirred up. The writer (not listed) of the page points out that we included "very little" of Dr. Fetherlin's (CMA) interview and then proceeds to share excerpts from the interview as transcripts and video clips (they had their own camera run along with our interview). Of course, just the same way, they also don't include the entire interview on this page - and specifically leave out parts that are featured in the film.

Just for a fun fact: we have about 70 hours of footage that we edited down to a 70 minute film. A less fun fact: on this response page CMA made available for download the interview request letter Scott originally sent to them when we still thought the documentary would focus on several denominations' boarding schools (now just listed in the titles). Is it just me or does it seem a little petty to publicize this letter (without permission, of course)?

As I've said at almost every screening, we’re grateful that the CMA was so open to participate in the documentary and (I'd like to add now) that they can’t find anything wrong with the finished film, but we wish they would be inspired by the film and their own positive actions depicted, to initiate independent investigations into the other schools and finally allow justice for all the abuse survivors and their families.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Canadian Premiere of "All God's Children"

It's finally happening: All God's Children is going international. Our documentary will have its Canadian Premiere. Actually, since the film has only played in its country of production so far, this is also considered its International Premiere. Beverly Shellrude Thompson, who is one of the adult missionary kids featured, will be attending the event and answer questions after the screening.

Marilyn and Beverly Shellrude in Africa
(photo by the Darr family)

Unfortunately, Scott and I won't be able to attend due to scheduling. I'm currently involved in an amazing digital storytelling project for an organization called Project STAY, which assists youths who are at risk for or living with HIV/Aids. At the same time we're in the very last stages of finishing up All's Well and Fair. And last but not least, in 10 days, I'm leaving for a month in Germany, which will hopefully lead to both of us spending a substantial amount of time overseas. But more about all that later.

Here are the details for this week's free screening of All God's Children in Canada presented by mkPLANET and MKSafetyNet:

Saturday - January 23, 2010 - 7pm
Queensway Cathedral
1536 The Queensway
Toronto, ON M8Z 1T5
(416) 255-0141

After the screening Beverly Shellrude Thompson (film participant, MK, co-founder MK SafetyNet) will be answering questions together with Dr. Lois Kunkel (MK and therapist) and Dana Crawford (MK and co-founder of mkPLANET). Nancy Mayer (Member of SNAP and therapist) will be moderating the Q&A.

A huge thank you to Dana Crawford of mkPLANET, Beverly Shellrude Thompson, everyone at MKSafetyNet and everyone at Queensway Cathedral for making this happen. We wish so much we could be there!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Read: "Vergebung" aka "The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest"

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What a great finish to an excellent series about crime, human relations, politics, culture, society, history, women's studies, strong women and the men who believe in them, media, computers and, of course, Sweden. I was afraid the third book in a series that was planned to have 10, but was cut short by the early death of the talented Stieg Larsson, would end on a cliff hanger like book #2. But I think the ending works for the book as well as the series.

Granted, the beginning felt a little slow (maybe because I read it in German or maybe because there were an overwhelming amount of characters) and if it's been a while since you read "The Girl Who Played With Fire" remembering all the connecting pieces and people can be a challenge. Also I wish more time could have been spent with Lisbeth and with The Section (as they prepare for the trial). But I thoroughly enjoyed the book as much as the other two. Excited to see the movies based on the last 2 books.


Thursday, January 14, 2010

Favorite Songs of 4th 1/4 of 2009

My favorite songs from the last quarter of the year 2009. Uneven but beloved as always - some bands seem to show up way too many times on this disc and over the year (God Help The Girl, Camera Obscura, The xx) while other songs/bands ended up not making it at all (Monsters of Folk, iLiKETRAiNS, Tegan & Sara, more Avett Brothers...). I'm not sure if I'll manage to put together a smaller "Favorites of 2009" Mix - but some of those missed songs might end up sneaking in there.

Until then, here is the cover and the list of songs for the "4th 1/4 of 2009" Mix.

You can click on the links below to watch videos and/or hear the songs. And if you want to get a little present, just let me know...

The picture is from the December blizzard in Brooklyn

Never Forget You by Noisettes

I'll Have To Dance With Cassie by God Help The Girl

Lisztomania by Phoenix

Taller Children by Elizabeth & The Catapult

Home by Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros

Sick Muse by Metric

Sink Or Swim by Bad Lieutenant

Funny Little Frog by God Help The Girl

French Navy by Camera Obscura

I'm A Pilot by Fanfarlo

Swim Until You Can't See Land by Frightened Rabbit

Eid Ma Clack Shaw by Bill Callahan

VCR by The xx

Cornerstone by Arctic Monkeys

I Just Want Your Jeans by God Help The Girl

What are your favorite songs from the last 3 months?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

"Jung Heisst Schön"... yet now we're even older

"Jung Heisst Schön" (translation: "young means beautiful") is a song by my long-time friend and German singer Justin Balk (formerly of Cucumber Men). In 2003 I went on tour with him and the singer Stoppok (and his band) to film a video for the song. It was an amazingly fun "dream come true" experience. The song & video were released in 2004. This, by the way, was before YouTube and at a time when the music video seemed to be nearing extinction.

While the video had been on our website and on MySpace for a long time, I finally got it onto YouTube (and off the never-ending to-do list, which doesn't even yet include adding all GHWP videos to vimeo, etc.). It was a great opportunity to revisit the two videos I made for Justin. In the case of "Jung Heisst Schön", which I always considered to be more questioning than celebrating the cult of youth, it's almost shocking that another 6 years have gone by and that we are um, yeah, even less young than we were then. But really, has that much changed, really? To continue with the song: "Was am Ende übrig bleibt ist ganz okay" ("what's left in the end is quite alright").

The first video we did together, 2003's "Porridge", I shot on a Super 8 camera all over New York City (in addition to a commissioned DV sequence of Justin getting on the subway in the red light district of Hamburg, which "takes him to NYC" - cute, right?). It seems perfectly fitting to watch that one again and get all nostalgic, now that I'm getting ready to leave the city for a while...

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Beware of when you finally reach your goal...

On New Year's Eve, as we were looking into a new year and a new decade and all the goals we'd like to accomplish (and drinking along with Dinner for One and eating Berliner), motorcycle-racing friend Van Asher showed us "Die, Sweet Road Runner, Die" by Seth McFarlane, in which Wile E. Cayote finally accomplishes his life-long ambition and catches Road Runner. Up until now I was so busy pursuing all my goals, I hadn't had time to post it. Now that I'm about to make some bigger leaps, it's a good reminder: beware of when you finally reach your goal...

Another great little wisdom that comes to mind is about your ability (or lack thereof) to be creative when you have become accomplished and are free from the restrictions of your early days. At least that's what I believe "Little Room" by The White Stripes to be about.

Good luck in fulfilling your own ambitions and then dreaming up new goals and desires.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Happy 4th of January!

For a bunch of years we've had a 4th of July BBQ in our backyard - this past year we captured it through time-lapse photography (thanks, Scott Colthorp for helping to make this happen).

Today, on the 4th of January - just in time to celebrate the half-way point to the next 4th of July party (although for us it might be in a Berlin park, near the Baltic Sea) - here is now finally the video of the "4th of July 2009 in Baltic Park, Brooklyn" with some of our favorite up-beat 2009 songs.

The moments, unfortunately missing in the video (due to the camera not being on) are the early afternoon visitors with children and the guys creating a time-lapse clock with body parts (...?) and Scott and I waving at the camera to say good night. Also un-captured remain the dance floor action indoors and the viewing of the fireworks from the roof (although you can detect the moment when everyone has returned from the roof and suddenly fills the yard again).

Thanks to all the willing participants for celebrating with us last year and all the years before (and hopefully not minding when we share your private backyard party self to the world). Looking forward to many more wonderful, celebratory times with you, whenever, wherever!

Happy 4th of January, everyone!