Saturday, March 12, 2016

The Fish is the Last to Discover Water

Last night I took my RISD video students hear superstar artist Alfredo Jaar speak at Brown University.  The room was packed with hundreds of students, professors, and artists - and it was dead silent from the moment Jaar began, with the question: "How can I make art when there is so much going wrong in the world?"

The audience hung off his every word as he moved through a very structured presentation detailing his many large-scale works responding to genocide, human rights abuses, and social injustice. In between, he repeatedly showed a series of images of Aylan Kurdi, the 3-year-old Syrian boy who washed up on a Turkish beach - images that moved the world and inspired at least some countries to begin accepting the desperate refugees.  At the end of the talk, Jaar came back to these images to emphasize to us how very much an image can create an impact.  When asked what he thinks of art that does not take on pressing social issues ("art for art's sake"), he responded that he thinks ALL art is political.  All art makes a statement about that artist's view of his or her society.

Jaar often takes years to get to know the context of the culture and society where he is producing a work.  At the same time, he mentioned the privilege one has as an "outsider" to a situation, referring to the proverb "The fish is the last to discover water."

My students and I found Jaar and his work super inspiring. What a great opportunity to hear from this genius first-hand.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Test Run at Harvard

Yesterday my editor Shondra and I made a field trip to show our rough cut of THE CIRCLE to Ross McElwee's Fundamentals of Filmmaking (as in 16mm - they shoot and edit a group documentary on celluloid!) class at Harvard.  We are both big fans of Ross's work, and I also taught with him and edited his film IN PARAGUAY.

This was the first time we have shown the film on a big screen to an audience.  It was wonderful to see that Janet's story is really moving viewers.  The students were really interested to see more in the film by some of the other subjects - like Clarissa Turner, founder of the 
Legacy Lives On survivor support circle, Strong Oak Lefebvre, an indigenous restorative justice leader, and Ismael Fortunato, a young man who struggles with anger after a close friend was murdered and another friend stabbed.

Ismael is a participant in a violence prevention circle that has been running every other week out of Margarita Muñiz Academy.  I have filmed several of their circle gatherings - facilitated by Janet, Clarissa, and another mother-survivor named Charmise - and it has been such a powerful journey.  These mothers can move mountains in people's hearts!

Ross's students are making a documentary about the Bernie Sanders campaign in Massachusetts.  They said they often get privileged access at campaign events when the other reporters see their Aaton!  Shondra and I showed them the photo of our index card wall to talk about how we are finding the structure for our film.  A lot of rearranging of those cards yet to come...

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Imperfect Machines

I'm headed back from the Bay Area after an interesting event with Indelible Lalita at UC Santa Cruz's Center for Documentary Arts and Research.  The gathering was called Imperfect Machines: Screening Bodies, Illness, and Disability and involved three films exploring themes of disability, illness, and intersections between physical and national bodies.

Emily Cohen's Bodies at War: a Colombian Landline Story uses stories of amputation and rehabilitation as a window to look at the legacy of Colombia's decades of civil war.  Beginning with a graphic amputation scene and continuing through physical therapy and prosthesis manufacture, the film traverses a rich social and psychological landscape.

Benjamin Schultz-Figueroa's short The Green and the Blue looks at the artist's mother's complex relationships with her plants, her family, and her pacemaker.  The greenery of her native Puerto Rico inspires her interactions with the world and sets a troubling contrast with the new machinery within her.

I really enjoyed meeting these filmmakers and talking with our moderators Megan Moodie and Nancy Chen.  Thank you UCSC and CDAR director Irene Lusztig for bringing me and the film there!

Saturday, February 6, 2016

First Rough Cut!

We have finally reached a first rough cut of my new documentary film The Circle: Stories of Murder and Justice!  It’s been a long time coming.  I began exploring indigenous peacemaking circle work in 2007 with support from MassHumanities and LEF Moving Image Fund, as an exciting example of traditional culture being “repurposed” to address contemporary social issues.  After observing several amazing programs in Oakland, Chicago, Boston, and Nogales, AZ, I met Janet Connors, was amazed by her story, and began filming with her in December 2012.

Several years and 60 hours of powerful film material later, I was feeling frustrated at constantly juggling this documentary work with freelancing, teaching, and non-profit media production.  So I rented a little house on Cape Cod and my editor Shondra Burke and assistant Anna Graham holed up for a week last December to pull our first (five-hour!) assemblage together.  It was so fun going back to old-school index cards to build our structure.
That really jump-started the process.  We have now shaped our material into our first 90-minute rough cut of the feature film.  We’ve also come up with a long list of short videos we can create to help schools, prisons, and other groups develop their restorative justice programs.

Full steam ahead!

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Website for THE CIRCLE

We just launched a website for my upcoming documentary The Circle: Stories of Murder and Justice.  Check it out!

Friday, January 29, 2016

Learning About Learning

We have just published the fourth of six stories in our iBook series Touching Home in China: in search of missing girlhoodsin which two teen adoptees return to the rural towns in China where their lives began, meet girls growing up there, and learn from them how learning happens in 21st century China.

The interactive book, rich with digital media, invites Westerners into the school-day lives of Chinese girls. From an early age, family and teachers direct children’s total attention toward preparing for China’s life-determining standardized tests. Our interactive graphic explores the foundational Confucian principles that guide learning. Each girl’s score on key national exams determines her next destination. With videos, photo galleries, interactive graphics and narrative text, we follow these girls as they leave their rural towns to live at vocational programs, attend universities in China, or travel alone on a first visit to the United States to enroll in a university. 

Touching Home in China is a transmedia project, anchored by its iBook stories and its storytelling website. Its content is enriched by commentary and news about the circumstances of women and girls that appears on our social media platforms Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube. This project unites two American adoptees with six Chinese girls whom they meet for the first time as teenagers in the rural towns where each of them was born but only the Chinese girls grew up. The Americans are back “home” to learn from these girls what their own lives might have been like as daughters in 21st century China.

A curriculum for middle school to early college students is available on the Touching Home in China website.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

What a Loving and Beautiful World

Photo: Harvard Crimson

We are producing a new set of videos for the Radcliffe Institute (Harvard’s institute for advanced study) and as part of the process I got to document the installation of What a Loving and Beautiful World at the new Johnson-Kulukundis Family Gallery in Byerly Hall.

This amazing melding of technology and art is a work of TeamLab, a collective of several hundred Japanese artists, designers, engineers, and programmers.  They work in a non-hierarchical mode with the collective assuming authorship of each piece.  What a Loving and Beautiful World is one of the best meldings of technology and art I have seen (another example is wonderful microscope imagery on display in the lobby of MIT's Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research).

The TeamLab piece involves large interactive projections on all four walls of the darkened gallery.  At first, Chinese and Japanese characters float across a minimal landscape.  As viewers touch these characters, they transform gracefully into the images they represent.  Those images then interact with each other – the bird flies to the tree, the sun makes the flower grow, etc. – to create a unique experience for every viewer.

Toshityuki Inoko, one of the creators, told me through a translator, “When we are living in the city, feeling our modern lives in the city, we don't necessarily understand that all of our actions somehow affect the world, resonate with the world and affect one another.  By creating an artwork like this, which is highly interactive and which one has agency to make the world of the space, to mold the environment, we like to think that one is made more aware of one's actions in the world as well. This is a work in which we hope people take more agency in the world.”

What a Loving and Beautiful World will be up at Radcliffe through December 19.

To learn more about Radcliffe, check out Investing in Ideas, a video I made for them in 2013.