The two weeks went by rather quickly and before I knew it I was sitting at the Air Force Airport Annex with Humberto and Martin, set to head out to Purus for a second month. I was expecting the journey to be a long one as it had been back in November when we were first delayed four hours at the airport, then our plane broke down at the first of four stops and so we were stuck in the city of Atalaya and didn’t make it to Purus for three days. So, it’s safe to say I was surprised when by 9:30 we were in the air, holding on for dear life as our giant Hercules aircraft made its way across the country. You see some funny things when you fly with the Peruvian Air Force. Ever flown on a plane sitting next to a car? Not like a toy car – a real car. As in a Toyota. Apparently someone needed to get their car from Lima to the city of Pucalpa and the Air Force seemed like as good an option as any.
Unlike our first journey, this voyage went rather smoothly. We went from one stop to the next without any breakdowns or delays. I could hardly believe it when by 5:00 that same evening we had touched down in the region of Purus, in the capital city of Puerto Esperanza. We were greeted in Esperanza by the local technology specialist at their education office, Gardel. Gardel helped us collect our things and lead us back to Lucho Lima’s fine hostel.
Puerto Esperanza was exactly as I had remembered it: muddy roads lined by giant puddles of rain water, little shade in which to hide from the brutal afternoon sun, the same two restaurants that feed the whole city. It turned out the City of Puerto Esperanza remembered me too. Every where I went people were saying hello…”You’re back!” They’d say, unable to hide a smile. “Where are you going this time?” “Back to Palestina.” “For how long?” “Another month.” And the same confused smile as if to say, “You crazy, Gringo!”
“You’re famous here,” Martin told me as we sat having a coffee on Saturday morning, me greeting each passerby.
“Just wait until we get to Palestina,” I told him.
There had been one important change in the city of Puerto Esperanza: access to the region had been significantly improved by the announcement of small, 12 passenger planes that flew in and out of the city twice a week on Monday and Thursday. We had arrived in Esperanza on Friday night and Gardel and Lucho Lima had arranged for our transportation to the village of Palestina for early Sunday morning (Miguel and Robert had not come to meet me this time). The flight office was closed for the weekend so there was no way for us to reserve Humberto a flight home for two Thursdays later – I had promised to get him back to Lima no later than Saturday the 3rd as he had an important presentation in Lima on Monday the 5th. So we reached out to a friend – Valduino, the MC of Purus’ local radio station who had become a trusted friend in Esperanza. I gave Valduini the 110 soles he’d need to purchase the flight and instructions to go to the flight office first thing Monday morning to book the ticket for Humberto.
“No problem, Michael. I’ll take care of it.”
Michael, Tom and I spent the weekend at the Independent Film Festival of Boston. True to it’s name, the festival did an incredible job in promoting and showing some amazing independent films. The documentary lineup was particularly impressive, with 22 docs in competition!
Our sold-out screening was yesterday at 2:15PM. And it was a huge success. Mapendo International brought many people to the screening, including Justin, who made the afternoon truly unforgettable. When the film finished, nearly everyone in the audience remained in their seats for the Q&A. Michael, Sasha Channoff and Justin fielded questions from an eager audience.
Personally, I had the support of friends and family who came up from New York just to see the film. Each of them came over to me after the film to individually thank me for providing them with such a profoundly moving experience. Once again, THE LAST SURVIVOR proves its ability to evoke strong emotional reactions from people. Many of the attendees at the screening left with pamphlets given out by Mapendo volunteers — and I have no doubt that they will all be moved to some sort of action.
The screening/Q&A ended with Justin teaching us all how to sing “Mambo Sawa Sawa.” The audience erupted in song, dance, and cheer as Justin lit up the room with his usual angelic spirit.
Boston was another great success. In two weeks we are off to LA for the Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival. I imagine the momentum will continue to build out West just as it did back here on the East coast.
Reporting back from New York. Over and out -
The syllabus of any respectable film school’s Purus class probably starts with a lesson that by now is ingrained in the head of every student whose ever passed through its walls: “Whatever You Do, Don’t Get Cocky.” Having not gone to film school myself, I never learned that lesson. It was tempting to be cocky. After all, the first time I went to the jungle things were in a word, hard. The weeks leading up to my departure were one big mess of worry, desperation, and bad news. Cinematographers cancelled on me, power generators were not delivered from factories, and congressmen were shot. And now, things were going without a hitch. It was as if the jungle had been conspiring before that first outing to keep me away and now, after having proved myself during that first month-long trial, it had deemed me worthy of admittance. And like any prestigious club, once you’re given the Jungle’s seal of approval, you can come and go whenever you’d like – you’re expected even. And so, I felt good – damn good actually. I told myself that things were going so smoothly because I had obviously grown quite a bit from my experiences, I was learning, maturing, mastering my profession. I was getting very cocky.
Me, my crew of two, and Roddy the technician were booked on an Air Force cargo flight set to leave Lima on Thursday morning, March 4th. By Tuesday night, I had everything packed up and was all set to leave. The sound recordist had arrived from Buenos Aires and we had gotten along very well. Cesar had packed an entire extra suitcase of canned goods to help us fight Dionisia’s cooking experiments of turtle and cow stomach. We were set. On Tuesday night, I lay in bed and thought about what was left to be done on my final day in Lima.
I had to buy batteries.
That was it. I searched my head for other things I had to do and in doing so thought again about how simple everything had been. Yes, all that stood between me and a second round with the Amazon in Purus was a box of nine volt batteries. That’s when the nightmarish thought entered my head that would keep me up the entire night: “Something terrible is going to happen tomorrow.”
The call came at about 1:00 PM the next day. I was with Martin, the sound recordist, on our way to get the box of batteries that was the lone item on my “To Do List.”
“Michael, it’s Roddy. Listen, Michael, I don’t have very good news.” It seemed that the Air Force had re-routed all of its civic cargo flights to Chile where they would be delivering needed aid to Earthquake victims. The flights to Purus would be postponed indefinitely.
Now, what exactly is the correct reaction here? Are you supposed to get mad at that? No, you can’t get mad about that – that would be inhumane. Frustrated? Perhaps you can be frustrated on the inside, but it’s certainly not appropriate to express that frustration outwardly, is it? Compassion and empathy seem like good, stable emotions for a situation like this. “Oh, well of course, they need the flights more than we do.” That seems like a reasonable response, though not a very productive one. These are the questions that I would like to ask a film school professor. That and, When you are told that the flights that are the only means of accessing the region that is the key to your entire film, have been re-routed indefinitely to Chile, what the hell are you supposed to do?
Now, again I haven’t taken the official Purus course, but here is how, I would imagine the book would go:
1. Asses the situation. What are your options?
-I could give blood. I had given blood a few times in my life, once in the aftermath of 9/11 and a second time at some high school blood drive. The second time did not go so well – the blood didn’t come out easily. They had to stick me with a needle 5 or 6 times just to say in the end, “Thanks anyhow.” I decided not to give blood.
-”We could go to Chile.” That was Cesar’s reaction and I won’t lie, I entertained it for more than a few seconds. But Chile would have been an entirely different film and would have meant the end of everything I’d been doing here in Peru. It felt like giving up.
The only option was to wait and keep myself as up to date on good information as is possible in Peru. I called the Air Force flight office about 3 times a day – often getting different answers with each call. Things got worse when a few days later I got a call from an unknown number on my cell phone.
“Michael!!! It’s Robert from Palestina. Where are you?” Robert and Miguel, two of my friends from the village had heard I was coming at the beginning of March – I’m not really sure who would have told them (I certainly didn’t), which only strengthens my belief that the jungle knows everything about those who intend on passing through its depths. Robert and Miguel had gone to Puerto Esperanza to meet me and take me back to Palestina with them. I was flattered, but devastated as I felt by not showing up I’d let them down and, to make matters worse, couldn’t give them a straight answer about when I’d be coming.
“I’ll be there as soon as I can. I’m not sure when the flights are leaving. I’ll be there soon.”
“Michael, can you bring me a pair of Nike sneakers?” Miguel asked.
“Yes,” I told him. I went on to apologize one last time. “I promise I’ll be there as soon as the flights leave.”
“Yeah. Don’t you leave without my Nikes!” Were Miguel’s final words.
In the end, it turned out that the round of flights had been all out cancelled. There would be nothing departing for the region for another 15 days. March 19th was set as the new departure date.
2. Asses the Damage.
At the end of the day, the damage caused by the two week postponement was not all that grave – or at least didn’t appear to be. There were two big hits:
Cesar would no longer be able to come. He had booked other work for the end of March going into the beginning of April so could not come on the 19th, nor could he meet me there at the midway point on the 4th. Roddy, couldn’t come either. He had to go out to the mountains for other work and Bari Gloria would be on an assignment in the north of the country. Bari assured me that the local specialist in Purus, Gardel, would be able to handle anything that might come up. Bari had, after all left the Internet OK and the only major work that was needed was the installation of the two solar powered batteries, which was really no big deal at all. I was in good hands, he promised. I had my doubts.
But Humberto could still come along for the first two weeks and Martin was very flexible and could stay on with me for the full month. I’d be able to handle the camera work myself the second half. The important thing was that we were leaving.
I never went to film school. It’s definitely not a decision I’d ever say I regret per se, but I’ve certainly, on more than one occasion, found myself reflecting on the choice in the context of a lingering “what if?” I imagine that had I made a different decision after college and decided to invest three more years of my life getting a degree in production from a directing or producing program, I would have arrived on the first day of registration, opened the course offerings booklet and found in bold letters under required courses: How To Get You and Your Crew Into And Out of the Region of Purus in Peru. I imagine it would be a two semester course. Semester one: Getting In. Semester two: Getting Out.
You may remember the region of Purus where I lived last November. Referred to as the “Capital of Isolation,” the only way to access the region is via Peruvian Air Force cargo flights that depart from Lima every 15 days. The flights drop you in the “city” of Puerto Esperanza from where you can take an 8-hour boat ride down river to the village of Palestina on the Brazilian border. There are no roads in Purus. I had lived in Palestina in November and spent most of my time with an adorable ten-year old girl named Lidia and her family. The month was in the end a success, but was not without its fair share of challenges and setbacks. Most notably, the Solar Powered Internet system that had been the reason I had chosen the village of Palestina in the first place – offering me an opportunity to film students in one of the most remote parts of the world using the Internet for the first time – was not working. Upon my return to Lima in December, the Ministry of Education here had promised they would send one of their technicians out to Purus in February to repair the Internet and, for good measure, they promised to send a technician along with me when I returned for a second time in March.
The three months in between trips to Purus flew by and before I knew it, it was time to get things together and prepare for my return to Palestina. Things went delightfully smoothly. Both of my cinematographers, Cesar and Humberto, agreed to come along for two weeks each – Cesar the first two, Humberto the second two – and, with Humberto’s help I found a sound recordist from Buenos Aires who was willing to fly himself up to Lima and come along for the full month. The technician from the Ministry, Bari Gloria, returned from his own trip to Purus in mid-February and happily informed me that the Internet was left “OK.” (Peruvians very much like using the term “OK.” They don’t use it as we use it – back home, I interpret okay as “so-so.” So if you asked someone how they are and they responded, “OK,” you’d probably follow up with, “What’s wrong? A Peruvian “OK” is much more enthusiastic, in the vein of “Great!” or “Fantastic!”). A second technician, Roddy Guillen, a plump and friendly fellow who had accompanied me on an expedition to the mountains back in February was all set to come along with me as the on-site technician should anything go wrong. (I imagine that phrases such as “should anything go wrong” are not used in the textbooks that they give out in the Purus Class in fIlm school. They probably use the phrase “when things go wrong” instead.) To top it all off, I had received a small grant from the U.S. Embassy here to help me with the expenses and I had convinced One Laptop per Child to buy a pair of Solar Powered Batteries that would allow the Solar-Powered Internet System in Palestina to function 24 hours a day. “The Capital of Isolation” was about to have 24-hour wireless internet access and I would be there to film the consequences. Things were looking OK.
On Thursday, we said “goodbye” to Dallas and “hello” to Atlanta.
I must say, as I recap our 5 days at the Dallas International Film Festival, I cannot imagine how the week could have gone any better than it did. We sold out both of our screenings, attended some incredible events, met interesting people, and moved THE LAST SURVIVOR one step closer to being seen by mass audiences around the globe. And as icing on the cake, during Friday’s award ceremony we were announced as winners of the DIFF Special Jury Prize!!!
From Dallas, director Michael Pertnoy made the trip to Atlanta, Georgia where the film is already garnering significant buzz around town. The Atlanta premier of THE LAST SURVIVOR is today at 2:20 PM at the Midtown Art Cinema. I look forward to keeping you updated on all of the happenings in Atlanta and beyond.
Over and out-
Monday was a day we’ll never forget. Day 3 of the Festival – but for us – it felt like it had really just begun.
We began the day by going to the festival’s press office and were interviewed by the Dallas Film Festival and Red Carpet Crash. The surreal nature of the day’s events began here, where the reverence with which the interviewers treated us and our film was truly humbling.
Moving forward, the evening began at the Hotel Palomar, where Michael, Thomas and I met 6 of the 12 volunteers from SaveDarfur and STAND, who had come to join us for the screening. These young adults, seniors from Plano high school, were unbelievable. Enthusiastic and intelligent, they met the opportunity to volunteer with the perfect mix of excitement and maturity. The film was made for young people like them, and their involvement means so much to us.
From the hotel, we went downtown to the Magnolia Theatre to walk the red carpet. I’ve gotta say, this was a thrilling moment! Michael was a superstar, fielding questions from many local reporters and students with the eloquence and calming presence that we have all gotten so used to. Thomas, Jeff and I also had the opportunity to share our unique experiences with the crowd – and from the get go – the positive energy was in the air and we knew this would be a special evening.
Check out Michael’s interview with Red Carpet Crash (starts at 5:08)!: DIFF’10: Red Carpet Day 5
From the red carpet, we drove back to the Angelika Theatre for the 7:15 screening. The film was sold out and as the lights went down, I got quite emotional as I realized that we are in the process of actualizing our dream. When the movie was over, I turned around to see that nearly the entire crowd remained in their seats for the Q&A.
The audience was eager to hear about the process of making the film and the characters themselves. It lasted over 30 minutes, which is almost unheard of at a festival, and is testament to the ability the film has to touch people on a deep, emotional level. The vibes in the theatre were almost tangible. Every time someone new sees THE LAST SURVIVOR we are struck by the connection the viewers feel to Hedi, Jacqueline, Justin and Adam. It reminds me how lucky I am to have met and spent time with these four inspiring Survivors. As audience members came up to us after the film to share their thoughts and emotions, we once again realized the power the film has to inspire ACTion.
Part of the success of our sold out screening is a tribute to our amazing partners here at the festival; the Dallas Holocaust Museum, 3 Stars Jewish Cinema and the JCC of Dallas. Each organization aided tremendously in spreading the word to the community.
All in all, I sit here writing this blog post with an irreversible smile on my face. Let’s ensure that THE LAST SURVIVOR continues to see the light of day, as we here in Dallas are once again witness to its incredible capacity to affect both hearts and minds.
We woke up yesterday morning to a rave review posted on the DIFF website by Bridgette Poe. We cannot thank the Dallas community enough for embracing us so whole heartedly.
Another eventful day for the Righteous Team at DIFF. We started the day at a panel discussion on adapting books to film, then hit the town to promote the film, passing out flyers, putting up posters, and talking to local Dallas folks about the film.
As we move into the 12th day of Genocide Prevention Month, our friends at the Save Darfur Coalition have been keeping us up to date on the news coming out of Sudan:
“After months of speculation and intrigue, polls opened across Sudan on Sunday morning. Many Sudanese turned out to exercise their right to vote (for the first time in 24 years), despite the opposition boycotts and precarious security situation…As expected, there have been reports of significant confusion about the multiple ballots. Numerous other logistical challenges have presented themselves, not atypical for an election in a developing nation. There have been no major reports of significant or organized violence thus far.”
Stay tuned with us as new developments continue to unfold.
Yesterday was also Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, worldwide and we joined the local Dallas community in honoring this special day at a large synagogue in the Dallas suburbs. The tribute was quite moving – beginning with a procession of the remaining Holocaust survivors in Dallas – and ending with the vital message of promoting activism within the community.
Sam, Thomas and I are all donning bracelets with the word “Upstander” on them, the central theme of the evening’s event, which focused on those who stood up to do good in the face of evil. The theme really hit home for the RP team, as THE LAST SURVIVOR profiles four survivor advocates who epitomize what it means to be an Upstander!
It is with this in mind that we launch the first installation of our upcoming new media series called the Survivor Project, featuring Holocaust Survivor, Joe Sachs. As we continue the days of Remembrance and commemoration, Joe’s leadership and activism continues to inspire us all.
That’s all for now . . . Press junket in an hour…Red Carpet walk in 5… T-Minus 6 hours to The Last Survivor screening!
Over and out,
Michael, Tom and I arrived yesterday afternoon here in Dallas, and it has been non-stop action ever since. Our first screening sold out nearly a week ago, and our second screening has only 10 tickets remaining. There is lots of buzz around The Last Survivor!!
Students from Plano High School’s STAND chapter have volunteered to assist us throughout the week and tonight we will be attending an event for Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) at the Dallas Holocaust Museum, another sponsor and advocate for the film. The support we have gotten from the activist community here is amazing – people just want to rally around the cause and help out in whatever way they can!
Yesterday was spent preparing press and outreach materials, and today we will finally get out of the Hotel Palomar and see some other films. Dallas is beautiful; the people are nice and hospitable, the weather is warm and sunny, and the overall atmosphere is very encouraging.
I look forward to reporting back with more news from the festival. Tomorrow night we walk the red carpet!
Over and out from Dallas-
In a week’s time, we will be venturing to Dallas, Texas to partake in the Dallas International Film Festival. Dallas will be one of the first of many stops on a long and hopefully fruitful festival run. Over the past week, The Last Survivor has accrued more fans and supporters here in Florida. As I sat in a packed Synagogue and screened the sneak preview of our film, I looked around at the faces of the many people in attendance. Young, middle-aged, and old, they were all in awe of what they were viewing.
This reminded me of the important work that we are doing – spreading the message of hope – in a subject matter that so often feels devoid of that crucial light at the end of the tunnel. When the sneak preview was over and the lights went up, hands went up as well; people are eager to learn about past and current Genocides, and we are providing the necessary tools to begin conversations.
As the sun sets here in Aventura, Florida, and a beautiful holiday weekend comes to an end, I am grateful that I can help propagate the message that The Last Survivor carries with it. This is only the beginning of what will be an incredible life long journey.
Happy Holidays to all. Dallas: here we come.