film production + social action

Archive for April, 2011

The Light and Dark Side of the Internet: April 2011

By @ChristieM

This blog is a part of RP’s new media and technology for social change series, in anticipation of our new film WEB.

In the last few weeks I have read numerous stories about how social media is being used against protesters in the Middle East and Africa, so I thought it would be interesting to share these examples of the dark side of the Internet, just in case you missed them. But being the eternal optimist, there have also been some amazing uses of new and social media that are worth sharing. So here is your roundup of the dark and light sides of the Internet!


Uganda: Earlier this month the Uganda government asked the regional Internet Service Providers to block access to Facebook and Twitter, as protesters started employing the hashtag #walktowork as part of their protest against the riding food and fuel prices. Godfrey Mutabazi, the executive director of the Ugandan Communications Commission, said to Reuters that the blame for the violence in Uganda lies squarely in the laps of Twitter and Facebook as a vehicle for allowing mass law-breaking. Ridiculous.

Syria: I can almost (ALMOST!) respect the government for getting creative with their retaliation. First, the Syrian intelligence agency set up fake accounts on Twitter (known as Twitter Eggs) that threatened and insulted anyone criticizing the government, or tweeting in support of the protests. THEN various spam accounts were created to automatically send out Syria loving and random topic tweets every few minutes with the hastag #syria, so to dilute the conversation about the protests. You can view these accounts here.

Ivory Coast: Earlier this year, the country was in deep political turmoil as Laurent Gbagbo refused to abdicate his position as president after losing the election. Displaced persons  across the country used the Twitter hastag #civ2010 to locate family members, get news updates and seek humanitarian aid and clean water. But then others started using the hastag to spread messages of hate and it essentially turned into a forum for various hate groups to verbally abuse each other online, again diluting the tweet stream. A new twitter hashtag (#civsocial) was created by the community to replace #civ2010.

Cameroon: President Paul Biya tried to get ahead of the game and prevent protests that might be inspired by neighboring countries, by shutting off mobile Twitter. Which only drew more attention to the tool! As blogger Dibussi Tande noted “…even though Twitter played a prominent role in informing the world of what was happening in Cameroon, over  95% of the tweets which the international media relied on for updates did not originate from within Cameroon. It was information obtained via mobile phones, regular SMS and email which ended up on Twitter and not real-time tweets from activists on the ground. Thus, banning the Twitter short code does little to change the balance of power online.

U.A.E: The United Arab Emirates are getting even more ahead of the game. Their Telecommunications Regulatory Authority released plans to limit access to the BlackBerry Enterprise Server system to large-scale organizations, meaning smaller businesses and organizations would need to rely on a less-secure system that is easier for authorities to monitor in the hopes of preventing an uprising. This is also very likely to also be applied to all smart phones.


Rwanda: On May 5th, Rwandan President Paul Kagame  will be the first African leader to be interviewed on YouTube, through their WorldView program which launched in January of this year. Although, since December of last year he has been a twitter machine! So you could probably ask him anything on twitter and he will likely respond.

Saudi Arabia: With protests and revolutions happening in countries all across the Middle East and Africa, women in Saudi Arabia  are taking this opportunity to get their voices heard and try to gain the right to vote. A statement was released in March, followed by a Facebook page and a twitter hashtag, #saudiwomenrevolution. Unfortunately the media is paying very little attention. Until today I could find only a few stories about the group of women who attempted to register to vote last week. Their applications were denied.

Chile and Hungry: Hungarian doctor, Bertalan Mesko (@berci), and Chilean Nurse, Cristina Bizama (@cristi_enf), have both successfully used Twitter to help to save lives. Cristina tweeted that there was no way to transport ready organs to patients in need, and as word got out, the Health Minister jumped in to help make it happen. Dr. Mesko is using his twitter account to crowdsource medical opinions and information. For me, this just proves that everything on Grey’s Anatomy is true.

World: I recently learned about the website , which was created by a computer professor at St. Louis University. IndigenousTweets was created to not only monitor the number of languages on twitter (currently 71) but also to help protect these native languages and keep cultures alive. One of my favorite examples of how the Internet is being used to protect the uniqueness of culture.

The Stream
Global Voices
Fast Company
Anas Gtiesh

Becoming a Man at 83

By Kate Goodman

Today, I received an email from a woman in Atlanta expressing her regret for missing our screening of The Last Survivor last week. She explained that she had been visiting her family in North Carolina for Passover and another unique special occasion. This past Saturday, her 83 year-old uncle, Morris Glass, finally became a man.

At the age of 13, when most other Jews have their bar mitzvah, Morris was living in a Jewish ghetto in Poland controlled by the Nazi’s. Morris, like many of his peers living in the ghetto, was unable to experience his religious right of passage into adulthood. Soon after his thirteenth birthday passed, Morris and his family were sent to Auschwitz, where he was forever separated from his mother and sisters. From there, Morris and his father were sent to a series of camps within the Dachau camp system in Southern Germany. After his father’s death in the camps, Morris managed to escape to safety in a nearby hospital.

Decades after losing almost his entire family, Morris celebrated his survival by finally having his Bar Mitzvah. In a video interview with CNN, Morris explains how he dedicated his life to genocide prevention by telling his own story of survival. Morris even published a book illustrating his own experiences of the Holocaust.

Like Justin, Jaqueline, Hedi and Adam’s stories, Morris’ celebration of his survival demonstrates the amazing resiliency of the human spirit and the necessity for social change.

Additional source.

The Mistakes That REALLY REALLY Matter

By Tim Gauss

Malcolm Gladwell

As Malcolm Gladwell – author of books such as The Tipping Point and Blink – finds himself at the forefront of numerous social media discussions, let us step back for a moment and focus on one of Gladwell’s erstwhile arguments. The idea that “incompetence is the kind of failure that results from not knowing enough about a problem. Expert failure –are the problems that result from knowing a lot about a problem.”

Last week I was afforded the opportunity to attend a lecture in which Gladwell established a series of examples and conditions under which the idea of miscalibration – a situation where there is a gap between how much we know and how much we think we know – can lead to catastrophic consequences. In essence, there are perils associated with the notion of overconfidence, even in a system where a person is fully equipped with all necessary tools to acquire what is perceived to be perfect information.

While this particular lecture was geared towards a visceral understanding of the financial crisis of 2007, I believe that if we extrapolate these basic ideals and apply them to current social injustices, we may find a degree to which overconfidence in shrewd business tactics, parallels miscalibrations of entire governments.  In particular, I would like to establish a continuation of Bree’s Blog on the current involvement of France in Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast).  Or what Achille Mbembe, a Cameroon-born historian has stated in the New York Times, “a continuity in the management of Francafrique – this system of reciprocal corruption, which, since the end of colonial occupation, ties France to its African henchmen.”

Ivory Coast has found itself in a recent state of chaotic civil war. With political parties committing mass atrocities, France has positioned itself as the peacekeeper, using military force in arresting presidential candidate Laurent Gbagbo and his supporters in Abidjan.

French president Nicolas Sarkozy has been anything but shy about his foreign policy in dealing with Ivory Coast as well as pushing—with resilient fervor—for intervention in Libya. Although he has acted under mandate from the United Nations Security Council, Sarkozy has received criticism for his crude strategies in what some believe seems to mirror a French colonial past filled with dictated politics and reaped fiscal recompenses especially in African territories.

What is interesting however, is not Sarkozy’s actions in using military force to make possible the arrest of the defeated Gbagbo. Nor is it the atrocities Laurent Gbagbo has committed during his regime and against opponents with a refusal to agree to hold democratic elections.  Rather, it is whether or not Sarkozy’s decisions were made with objectivity and humbleness in the face of all intel gathered. At the same time, we must examine how these actions will be viewed – largely by Ivory Coast civilians – and any potential ramifications that may develop as a result.

Cue Gladwell’s nagging voice of reason and warning: “mistakes of overconfidence are made by experts. Made by people running countries and governments and companies and armies. And those kinds of mistakes, REALLY REALLY matter.”

Has France acted with brash disregard for foreign diplomacy? I don’t have the answer and only time will tell as critics are lined up at both ends of the spectrum.   What remains important – in all cases dealing with foreign invasion, genocide, financial ventures and all other social injustices – is whether or not those we put our trust in as experts or leaders, have instilled within them, some sort of humility that places overconfidence in check.

Eric Whitacre: A virtual choir 2,000 voices strong


Another inspirational video from TED. American Composer, Eric Whitacre, shares the story behind his “Virtual Choir” project.

Props to the editor and audio engineer on the finished piece!

They Could Be Us

By Bree Barton

This week, I had the privilege of seeing The Last Survivor as a part of the Fight On For Darfur program at USC. It has been almost a year to the day since I saw the film in its entirety—at its festival debut in Dallas for the Dallas International Film Festival, April 2010.

When I saw the film a year ago, I was deeply moved. The film gripped me on many levels, both aesthetically and emotionally. I remember a patchwork of images and moments that spoke to me, to such an extent that I was moved to speak as well . . . hence why I approached one of the film’s two directors, Michael Pertnoy, afterwards to offer my services as a writer.

And here I am.

Seeing the film a year later, I remembered all the reasons it moved me. The artistry is evident; it’s gorgeously shot, exquisitely edited, and the four survivors’ stories are woven together like an elegant silk tapestry, each flowing seamlessly into the next. But of course the beauty of this film is in the stories it tells, and the lives it so poignantly captures. A year later, after learning more about Justin, Jacqueline, Hedi, and Adam—in fact I can proudly say I am now Facebook friends with two of them—I felt more connected to their stories, more personally involved. After the honor of writing about them, and detailing so many other stories for the RP blog, this issue feels nearer to me now than it did when I sat in a dark auditorium twelve months ago.

Mariet, aged 30, a refugee from Ivory Coast, now in LiberiaThe first time I saw The Last Survivor, I cried at the injustice of the tragedies suffered by four strangers. The second time I saw it, I cried because it felt like those strangers had become my friends.

And therein lies the beauty of the film. Not to mention the work the RP team is doing in general. Because it is in this very sense of connection, this sense of “Hey—those people are just like me,” that the seeds of genocide prevention must be sown.

This idea seems all the more relevant as I’ve been reading about the Ivory Coast. On April 11th, former Ivorian President Gbagbo was finally arrested after four months of chaotic violence and civil war. Both France and the UN were involved in the arrest, and today, one week later, it appears that the country is inching slowly toward peace. But the scars are fresh: a massacre in Duekoue that killed 800 people; a drive-by shooting of peaceful women protestors; and over a million people who, fleeing the violence, are now displaced.

It is this last issue—the return of these displaced persons to their homes—that seems so relevant to me. Mark Hackett of Operation Broken Silence has been chronicling the series of events in his astute and thoughtful blog. Mark writes, “Another concern is the civilian population itself, particularly the one million who fled Abidjan alone. The jumble of neighborhoods which took sides in the conflict will soon, once again, be living next to one another. Some elements within these communities are also responsible for violence against opposing neighborhoods. Implementing justice in these areas, if it ever is implemented, will be no easy task.”

I cannot help but think of Jacqueline, who speaks in The Last Survivor about her neighbors—the very neighbors whose children she had played with, the very neighbors whose children her mother had fed dozens of times, and the very neighbors who, when the genocide started in Rwanda, rounded up Jacqueline’s entire family, took them to the river, and slaughtered them with machetes.

It is a frightening thing, what neighbors can be capable of. And how boundaries disintegrate the moment that people look at their fellow men and women and say, “No. They are not like us.”

The wounds in the Ivory Coast run deep, and as Hackett points out, no one is innocent. “Revenge killings could skyrocket,” he writes, “as troops loyal to either side could strike at civilian components of the original ‘other side.’”

Sides. Divisions. Loyalties. They all hinge on one thing: differences. Walls put up. Lines drawn. People defined by what and who they are not. And as long as these supposed differences continue to be inculcated, people will fail to see the ways in which we are exactly the same.

And so I think, more than ever, that a film like The Last Survivor has a vital place in the world. Because what directors Michael Pertnoy and Michael Kleiman have so beautifully depicted is the fact that these four brave, wonderful, extraordinary people are, in so many ways, people just like us. They could be us, and we could be them. And the day we accept that, the day we truly come to terms with what that means . . . the idea of “the last survivor” will move from hopeful theory into potent truth. on the Story

By Tim Gauss

This post is part of RP’s art and media for social change blog series.

Just how far can innovative social media and art be used to increase global awareness of social injustices that otherwise go largely unnoticed? One answer may lie in—a funding platform encouraging photojournalists to pitch their stories and create an open dialogue with potential investors—everyday people who simply believe in the cause without looking for financial profit.  In return, these socially conscience supporters receive something more valuable—the shared experience and insight into the creative experience of the photojournalist.

Let us take for example a project proposed by Turkey based photographer Carolyn Drake – recipient of a Fulbright fellowship, the Lange Taylor Documentary Prize, and a Guggenheim fellowship. Carolyn began an in-depth photo-essay surrounding China’s “Go West” policy and the effects on the Uyghurs – a group of Turkic-speaking Muslims in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous region that takes up one fifth of China’s land mass.

As a means to ascertain more control and utilize natural resources, the Chinese government has established it’s own “manifest destiny;” encouraging loyal Han Chinese to push westward. This in turn forces the Uyghurs to the fringes of their own territory – a place where cultural and religious rights are severely restricted and oppressed.

Birthed in the shadow of the Tibetan struggle for independence from China, the story of the Uyghurs is one worth shedding light on. In her own words, Carolyn “aims to challenge the politically slanted storylines by working toward a compassionate story of the Uyghurs told from inside their world.”

In a recent blog post, Carolyn has also offered a series of “rewards” dependent on the amount donated. These include signed postcards, MP3’s, hand sewn hats, pieces of Hotan jade, archival prints and even the chance to meet with Carolyn for a private workshop or lecture.

Although in its infancy, it appears as though it has established itself as an invaluable funding tool and people are taking notice. Recently, iconic street artist Shepard Fairey has collaborated with the Pine Ridge Billboard Project in creating limited edition prints that raise awareness for the Sioux Nation reservation camp injustices.

What truly sets apart is the fact that it allows for a deeper connection to the project by using a traditional social media tool to make supporters feel like they are more than casual observers.

Get involved in the story:


Please Vote For Me – Elementary School Politics in China

By: @RighteousPix

Please vote for meI’ll admit to the fact that I’m a recovering politics junkie.  In the heat of major political campaigns, one of my favorite pastimes is to flip back and forth, sometimes at intervals of less than a minute, between election coverage on MSNBC and FOX.  It’s a sensation much like moving between each team’s huddle during the Superbowl.  There’s something about the mix of shear horse-race/excitement, the high stakes/this outcome will affect the whole world aspect, and the malleable and fuzzy ethics of it all of that just never fails.  I can’t get enough.  Needless to say I find documentaries about political campaigns fascinating.  In fact, during the 2008 Presidential Election and then again during the 2010 midterms I had a thought: it’d be fun to make an intense political-campaign doc about a high stakes election taking place in an elementary school.  Perhaps in doing so, one could learn how deeply ingrained the often embarrassing if not frightening rhetoric our national campaigns tend to take on is embedded in our cultural.  It turns out someone beat me to it.  Not only that, they added an incredibly creative and deeply provocative spin to it: what would happen if that elementary school election were set in Communist China?

Weijun Chen’s efficient and thought-provoking documentary, Please Vote For Me, follows one Chinese elementary school class’s experiment with democracy.  To teach students in the communist nation what democracy is, the teacher decides that this year the highly coveted position of class monitor (usually anointed by the teacher) will be decided by a class-wide election.  The teacher chooses three candidates – the incumbent and two challengers – and allows her class to decide amongst them.  What ensues is a riveting 60-minute lesson on Chinese culture, human nature, and the universal nature of politics.

The film opens with a series of shots of the school children in perfect rows in the schoolyard singing their national anthem.  The wide shots displaying the uniformity demanded of the children are reminiscent of Triumph of the Will and other Nazi propaganda pieces.  The point is clear: in China, school is not a place that emphasizes the individual.

After a few quick interviews in which children offer simple and rather dead-on understanding of what democracy is (in an idealistic sense), Chen jumps right into the story.  The class of children is elated by the news of the election, none more than the three candidates.  They each excitedly share the news with their parents.  The parents’ reaction to the announcement offers an interesting glimpse into Chinese culture and the universal parental desire to help their children gain.  The incumbent’s father, a well-off leader of the police force offers to help his child win his constituent’s hearts by using his own connections.  He suggests taking the class on a trip on the city’s new monorail sponsored by the candidate himself.  One of the challenger’s parents suggests buying gifts for the classmates to win over their support.  The lone girl candidate’s single mother laments her own inability to help.  She fears her status as a single mother will hurt her child’s chance of winning – if only her daughter had the support of two parents with time to put in her political future would be far brighter.

Things heat up as the candidates engage in sabotage.  During a talent show between the three candidates, one of the boy candidates conspires with his advisers to have a slew of classmates scream out “Terrible!” and “Out of tune!” after the young girl’s singing performance.  The mostly tragic, somewhat comic result is a classroom of kids in tears – the girl’s supporters tears of embarrassment and outrage, the other candidates’ supporters those of guilt.  Regular strategy sessions are held between the candidates and their parents discussing techniques to trip up opponents in premeditated “Gotcha moments” during the debates.  Despite its lofty ideals, the lowliness of democratic politics it appears is universal.  Politics is an internationally recognized full-contact sport.

Scattered throughout these universal moments are those far more anthropological in nature – an intimate look inside the homes of working class families in one city in China.  The contrast of this experiment in democracy and the culture’s strict and rigid norms are on full display during one of the debates: the incumbent is called out for being violent with the children to keep order in the classroom.  His defense: “Don’t your parents hit you sometimes too?  It’s necessary to keep things in order.”  The class seems to agree with the analogy.

I’ll fast forward and allow you to learn the election’s results on your own, adding only that the film ends as it began – perfectly straight lines of children in perfect posture, singing their national anthem as they raise the Chinese flag.  It is a reminder that what we have just seen was merely an experiment, a small window through which the children were allowed to peak at Western-styled democracy.  And the audience is left to ponder the sad and striking reality of the view.

The Holstee Manifesto

The Holstee Manifesto. Between Twitter, Tumblr, and the rest of the blogosphere, this has been posted over 60,000 times. Words to live by…

“Holstee began as a dream Mike, Dave and Fabian had to create a lifestyle for themselves – a lifestyle which reflects their manifesto. Holstee designs and curates with the hopes that each product and its inherent story inspires others to follow their dream. A closely knit community of fans has been growing around Holstee products, curated items, the music they listen to, and experiences they share.”

Check ‘em out:

Over and out,
- Tom

Mambo Sawa Sawa — Things are Already Better

By: @RighteousPix

Last Thursday, as the International community commemorated the 17th anniversary of the Tutsi Genocide in Rwanda, we screened The Last Survivor at the University of Miami. The film was being shown as the final installment of a three-part series on diversity presented by the Hillel on-campus, and the composition of the audience certainly reflected the theme. The University of Miami is home to one of the most diverse student populations in the entire country, and students from all across the campus joined together to present The Last Survivor. Co-Sponsors included the University of Miami Citizens Board, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Invisible Children, African Students Union, United Black Students, Haitian Students Organization, Young Democrats, College Republicans, Masa Israel, the Council of International Students and Organizations, Ethics Society, Amnesty International, the Baptist Campus Ministry, and the University of Miami Hillel. I was even told that some of the UM football players were giving out flyers on the campus’s main walkway. It was truly remarkable to hear of this massive on-campus collaboration because when we started making this film almost four years ago, we began with the hope that the film could be used to bring people together and spark important conversations. On April 7th, it most certainly did.

Often, when we think about an issue as massive in scale as genocide, it’s overwhelming to grasp the enormity of the problem. How can ONE person begin to tackle such a global issue? I’ve heard so many people say, “What can I do? How can I really help? I’m over here and they’re over there.” It’s one of the toughest hurdles to overcome in this line of work. That’s why Thursday night’s screening so was important. As the film drew to a close, Justin, a few students, and I made our way up to the stage to begin a very important dialogue about the idea of diversity and how it relates the central themes in the film.

Justin started the conversation by recounting some of his previous experiences as a refugee in Africa. Despite having nothing to eat and nowhere to sleep or live at times, Justin recalled always feeling a sense of community as he sought refuge in several African nations.  “It didn’t matter where you went or who you were: if you met someone new you had a conversation with them. You asked them who they were and where they were from. You made an effort to get to know them and share something with them. It didn’t matter their color, race or background—we were all human beings.” But Justin was surprised when he came to this country, the exact opposite was true. No one wanted to speak to him; no one wanted to get to know him. When he first moved into his new apartment, Justin often tried to say hello to the man living across the hall. He was never greeted in return. For a year he lived in his apartment and never had a real conversation with the man living five feet from his front door.

Justin urged the student audience to get to know the people living in their community—to get to know the other students on campus. He encouraged them to learn about where their classmates are from and talk about the lessons they have learned throughout their life. “You never know what you might learn from the people around you,” he said. “And you can’t imagine how much you might have in common.”

The idea seems simple. But remember that genocide is rooted in prejudice, intolerance, and fear of someone who may appear to be different from you. How often do we look around at our fellow classmates, co-workers, and random people on the street and think to ourselves, “We don’t have anything in common”? How do YOU treat people who appear to be different from you?

In the film, Jacqueline talks about how genocide is something that happens in a process. “People do not get up one day and want to kill their neighbors. People do not get up and want to kill their countryman. A genocide is something that happens in a process, and because of that there are opportunities for us to intervene…”  Jacqueline teaches us that the crime of genocide is preventable, but that we must identify the early warning signs. She told us that in Rwanda, machetes were imported over two years before the genocide actually began. The Hutu extremists were using the public radio to dehumanize and demonize the Tustis, calling them cockroaches and less than human.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because we’ve heard it before. In the 1930s and ‘40s, the Nazis began their campaign of dehumanization very early. Jews were called rats, accused of spreading disease across Europe. They were forced to wear the yellow Jude stars, pulled from their homes, forced to live in ghettos. Similarly, we learned from Adam that prior to Bashir’s genocidal campaign in Sudan, all of the Darfuri students were forbidden from going to school, stripped of any chance of furthering their lives and amibitions. All of these horrible crimes followed a pattern that signaled overt discrimination and impending violence. In these cases, it ultimately led to genocide.

Each of these conflicts have their origins in the simple idea that someone decided that someone else is different than they are—that they don’t deserve to be called a human being.

And so I’m brought back to Justin’s story, to his tragic history of loss and destruction. He and so many others he loved were told that they were less than human; that they didn’t deserve to live, simply because of the way they were born. And yet, throughout his life, Justin’s greatest hope has been to expand his human family. His own personal experiences haven’t prevented him from trying to reach out and connect with people who might appear to be different from him. His determination to reach a better place in his life has been bolstered by his insistence on inviting new people and new experiences in. Justin has a lot to teach us, and his lessons begin in our own towns, our own schools, our own communities.

The evening came to a close with Justin asking the audience to rise and join him in what has become one of his infamous calling cards: the singing of Mambo Sawa Sawa. This traditional Swahili song, with its hopeful lyrics and catchy melody, speaks to the faith that has allowed Justin to not only endure despite the most horrific of circumstances, but to thrive and move forward. “Things are already better!” the song declares. It is a song about hope, it is a song about community coming together to move forward.

What Justin has shared with us, and what we will forever be grateful for, is his faith that within each of us is the power to overcome, the power to recognize ourselves in one another, and the power to make things better.  Once we each recognize this power, things are already better.

Mambo Sawa Sawa.

Learn more about Justin’s Story here and visit to find a screening near you.

Libya and Sudan: Looking Backwards and Moving Forward

By Bree Barton

As tensions mount in North Africa, all eyes are on Libya. What began as a relatively organized opposition in February quickly spread in size and intensity, and Colonel Muammar el-Qaddafi’s responded with deadly violence. Almost overnight, Libya has become the world’s newest hotbed of political unrest and humanitarian concern.

The good news is that the world is getting wiser. In the early 1990s, brewing ethnic tensions in Rwanda pointed to an imminent massacre, but the international community failed to heed the call to action. As a result, 800,000 innocent people were murdered over a mere 100 days in 1994.

Image by BRQ Network

Nearly two decades later, it’s a different story. Events in Libya have spurred a swift international response. The U.N. Security Council invoked Chapter VII and issued Resolution 1973, calling for “all necessary measures” to ward off a massacre. As Qaddafi ’s tanks moved toward Benghazi, French warplanes arrived at the eleventh hour to implement a no-fly zone. According to the NYTimes, “On March 19, American and European forces began a broad campaign of strikes against Colonel Qaddafi and his government, unleashing warplanes and missiles in a military intervention on a scale not seen in the Arab world since the Iraq war.”

The Obama administration has been deeply involved. I have a Libyan friend myself; I sent him a Facebook message to make sure he and his family were all right. He responded, “My family is fine. Thank you, America and Obama—you are very kind to help us.”

And yet, in the wake of U.S. involvement in Libya, some activists have expressed frustration and disappointment. It’s great that the administration has suddenly made Libya a priority, they say. But why have they never done the same for Sudan?

The traumas and tragedies of Sudan, which have been unfolding for the last twenty years (long before “Darfur” became a catchword on college campuses), need not be recounted here. Millions have been killed against a backdrop of war and mass atrocities, and countless more maimed, lost, and displaced. The country teeters on the brink of civil war yet again, despite the excellent work of many humanitarian agencies and the international community at large.

So why have we not rushed to Sudan’s aid in the same way we have for Libya? Or, to pick one particular issue that has raised questions and eyebrows, why has the U.N. not instigated a no-fly zone in Sudan?

As is often the case, this issue is not as black-and-white as it appears. The backlash to the comparisons between Libya and Sudan are perhaps even more spirited than the comparisons themselves. The parallel between these two very different countries is a false one, for precisely that reason: they’re two very different countries. Each international political crisis is devastatingly idiosyncratic and complex, and to apply a “One size fits all” solution is a surefire recipe for disaster.

Image by

Take, for example, the intricate implications of implementing a no-fly zone in Darfur. As Allyson Neville-Morgan points out in her blog, Peace of the Blogosphere, the airports being used to conduct aerial attacks in Sudan are the same ones being used to provide humanitarian assistance. A no-fly zone would effectively knock out the international community’s ability to provide food, medicine, and aid workers to Darfuris—all of which are imperative to their survival.

Of course, many Darfuri refugees and activists would have liked to see a no-fly zone back in 2005—and indeed, many called for one. Why didn’t we implement a no-fly zone before so many lives were lost, before the system of humanitarian aid became literally life-or-death?

But looking in the rearview mirror is only helpful if we use that knowledge to create change in the present. Instead of pointing fingers and rehashing old complaints, let’s concentrate on the work ahead of us. We can take great comfort in knowing that the anti-genocide movement has been extremely instrumental in the way the international community has responded to Libya. Bit by bit, we’re getting better at rapid crisis response.

As Americans, we can be proud that we have an administration less likely to stick its head in the sand than previous administrations. They’re taking their Responsibility to Protect (R2P) seriously, with a newly created international coalition to prove it. And we continue to work toward getting the U.S. to join the ICC—the sooner we can become an active part of shaping international law (and punishing its offenders), the better.

Yes, there’s still much work to be done. But right now, with Libya on the front pages, the world is paying attention. That’s no small feat. It’s a step in the right direction for all the people who have dedicated their lives to bringing peace to Sudan, and Burma, and Congo, and anywhere else where the future remains to be written. Together, let’s pick up the pen.

Last Survivor Screening in Houston

According to my own calculations (which have a habit of being wildly inaccurate), Thursday’s screening of The Last Survivor at the Houston Holocaust Museum marked the 1,631st time I’ve watched the film in its entirety. Let it be known that is too many times to watch anything. Once the theater goes dark and the familiar images are illuminated on the screen, my own self-conscious thoughts turn to figuring out whether the audience is enjoying the film. I overanalyze every sneeze, change of position, every chuckle and tearful wipe of the eye. I’ve tried to distract myself with attempts at learning Swedish and Swahili through the film’s subtitles, but they are in vein. And so, for these reasons, I’m considering limiting my presence at future screenings to the introductions and the post-screening discussions. For as many times as I’ve seen the film, I will never tire of speaking with an audience afterwards and hearing what thoughts, questions and ideas the film has conjured in their minds.

Thursday night’s post-screening discussion was no different. Once the lights went up and I could decipher the audience’s thoughts and reactions via explicit comments and questions rather than subtle coughs, I was pleased to learn Hédi, Jacqueline, Adam and Justin’s remarkable stories of survival and transcendence had once again inspired a new group of viewers to reflect on the horrific crime of genocide and how they might begin to work to end it’s tragic tenure on our Earth. While I enjoyed the entirety of the discussion with a wonderfully diverse audience, there were two instances that gave the evening a true sense of purpose.

The first was a simple question, the last of the evening: “So why did you come to Houston, Michael? What do you want us to do?” The opportunity to answer questions like that was the very reason Michael and I set out to make this film 4 years ago. The question gave me an opportunity to share with the audience the simple actions we can all do – whether we have just one fleeting minute or a little bit of time every week – to fight genocide and assist those who have survived its horror. It also gave me a chance to offer a wise piece of advise Mapendo International’s Founder, Sasha Chanoff, had passed on to Michael and I when we had asked a similar question ourselves. What can our generation do, we had asked Sasha, to prevent genocide in the future? “Get to know your neighbors,” Sasha had suggested. Whether we realize it or not, our neighbors come from all over the world. They offer us an incredible range of experiences, perspectives and stories from which we can expand our own understanding of the world around us. By spending just a little bit of time each week getting to know one another, we can create a truly diverse global community bounded by the deep commonalities we all share as human beings. A community that recognizes that the unique differences between us are worthy of celebration, not condemnation.

The second key moment of the evening came as I was walking out the door. A young audience member pulled me aside and introduced himself. He thanked me for the film and told me he couldn’t believe what he had seen. “You hear about all these things out there – lack of food, education, poverty – but I never knew that people were just being killed like this. How can we let that happen?” The film was the first this young man had ever heard of Darfur and Congo, let alone Rwanda, Bosnia, Cambodia and the other horrors of our past. Having immersed myself in a network of survivors as well as anti-genocide activists and scholars over the last several years, it’s easy to forget that there are still many good people of the world who simply do not know these atrocities are occurring. At the end of the day, awareness remains the first and crucial step toward action.

To find a screening of The Last Survivor near you, or host your own screening, please visit

Social Media and Political Change: A Discussion with Clay Shirky and Anne-Marie Slaughter

by @ChristieM

Like most people out there, I rarely ever watch live streams after they have happen, or a completely unedited panel discussion as they are usually long, wordy, and – let’s be honest – boring.

But this one is worth your time.

The video below is an hour long Foreign Affairs discussion on the role of social media and technology in fostering political change, with Clay Shirky, Professor of New Media at New York University and the author of Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age, and Anne-Marie Slaughter, former Director of Policy Planning for the State Department. Every piece of this was worth listening to.

Since we at Righteous Pictures spent some time this week brainstorming for our upcoming doc, WEB, this was a great discussion to get my brain juices flowing.

Please watch the video yourself, but if you don’t have an hour, below are the highlights.


Clay Shirky says that the power of the Internet (and mobile phones) empowers and mobilizes people in three ways:
1. It makes massive amounts of information quickly available
2. It provides amateur’s access to communication tools for speaking out
3. It allows groups to coordinate their activities rapidly.

We overestimate the Internet’s ability to give us access  to endless information, and we underestimate it’s ability to connect humans to each other.

The key to supporting Internet freedom is not in reducing censorship of information, its about allowing for better group coordination by using these tools.

Social Media is NOT something that can be easily weaponized. (Umm could Al-Qaeda please get on Foursquare already??)

Anne-Marie Slaughter says that online tools and connective technologies allow people to
1. Synchronize opinions
2. Coordinate meet-ups
3. Document and share their results

Coordinating with weak ties through your Facebook “friends” does not create political change. It is using these tools to mobilize your strongest ties, the people who trust you, and in turn get them to mobilize their strongest ties.

The Internet Freedom Speech was the most important speech Anne-Marie says she worked on. In this speech the U.S. stated that everyone in the world should have:
1. The freedom to connect to the Internet itself
2. The freedom to connect to any information they want
3. The freedom to connect to PEOPLE.

Calling the events in the Middle East a “twitter revolution” is unhelpful and demeaning. It was the people behind these tools that facilitated change.

You cannot be a modern, working country without cell phones. And once you add cell phones, you are essentially handing people access to information, connection and freedom.

The amplification of Libyan voices made the events impossible to ignore, BUT it wasn’t until there was physical threat that other countries intervened. Pictures, videos and testimonials posted online just helped facilitate that. Unfortunately, crimes against humanity are being committed in areas where there isn’t as much connectivity and we may not know about them until it too late. It is a tragic effect of the digital divide.

Which begs the question…as information technology spreads, are we will likely to see more atrocities, and if so will we do MORE interventions?

According to Anne-Marie, the answer is yes. Libya has set a precedent in some senses. Clay chimed in saying that we should wait to see how it turns out to see if a precedent for intervening has been set.

While connective technologies have allowed individuals and groups with no formal affiliation or organization to coordinate and support one mission, such as overthrowing the Egyptian government, it creates a new problem. The leaders of the revolution are not of one ideology. So in the 21st century we are seeing what happens when a government is overthrown and there is no new government (which in the past has been the leaders of the revolution) ready to step in.

I think the most important thing we all need to remember is that the Internet has allowed for the creation of TOOLS. And it is the HUMAN use of these tools that has sparked the revolutions. As Clay said, it was the educated, underemployed, angry, repressed in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya that used these TOOLS to pursue deeply held political goals. Not Twitter, and not Facebook.

What do you think?