film production + social action

Archive for May, 2011

Justin Bieber and Schools4All

By @ChristieM

Last night my family and I celebrated my sister’s graduation from high school. We had all the makings of a proper graduation party: cake, gifts, paper graduation hats…and a life size cut out of Justin Bieber. My sister, like a few million other girls in the world, is a die-hard Justin Bieber fan. So the cards of graduation money were tossed aside, and her boyfriend pushed out of the way when the 6 foot tall Biebs cut-out came around the corner.

Her enthusiasm reminded me that today  is the Justin Bieber led, Pencils of Promise Blogging Day of Action! PoP founder Adam Braun is a much loved friend of Righteous Pictures and we are so thrilled to hear that he and Pencils of Promise have already built THIRTY schools around the world. To continue their great work, they have recently teamed up with the Biebs for their Schools4All initiative, which enables individuals and communities to fundraise locally to build schools globally. And we think you should join them.

Why should you do this? PoP gets it. They know that you can’t just go in, throw up four walls, and say you have built a school. They work with local leaders and education officials by listening to their needs, they hire locally for the construction and engage the community in maintaining their school, and they help train teachers to ensure long term success.

We are so proud to join Adam, Justin and the hundreds of other bloggers using our typing skillz for good! If you want Justin Bieber to come to your community, or you just want to help build schools to help provide children in need with an education, please start a fundraiser for your community or donate to one that has already been created at

P.S. “Hide the Bieber” has now become a game in my parents house. So far I have successfully freaked out my stepdad by hiding Bieber in the laundry room, and delighted my sister by hiding Bieber under her bed covers. Currently seeking creative places to hide him next. Any suggestions?

NBA’s new PR campaign: “Think B4 You Speak”

by @tsweens

Maybe as a response to Kobe’s mid-game gay slur, maybe as a response to Suns CEO, Rick Welts, coming out, the NBA has launched a new PR campaign. “Think B4 You Speak” aims to “raise awareness about the prevalence and consequences of anti-LGBT bias and behavior in Americas schools. Ultimately, the goal is to reduce and prevent the use of homophobic language in an effort to create a more positive environment for LGBT teens.”

Here’s their first PSA:

Survivor: Joel

By Tim Gauss

In November 2010 – the Humanitarian Appeal established a coalition of organizations that worked together in launching a proposal for $7.4 billion that would be used as part of an international relief plan over 2011.

With World Refugee Day approaching (June 20th), I wanted to focus on the lives of refugees directly affected by the relief effort—stories that would otherwise go unheard. Take for example, Joel Wiza, a father unwilling to accept his fate as another nameless statistic. Joel is a Zimbabwean refugee living with other displaced families on a farm with his wife and three children.  These survivors have lost everything—their homes, property and former livelihoods. The conditions of their living quarters only perpetuate disease and famine as each family is cramped into single rooms with poor waste disposal and little privacy. In fact, Joel compares himself to “an animal in the bush.”

The only mercy this father has ever known is when he receives $2 for a day’s work— enough money to allow him to feed his children and buy something nice for his wife.

Zimbabwe, like so many other countries, is suffering.I implore you to take just 5 minutes and listen to Joel’s story:

Tim Gauss spends part of his days wondering how to combine his two loves, sunflower seeds and funky socks. The rest of the time he works on social outreach, designs media, and blogs about activism for Righteous Pictures. You can follow him on Twitter @Shinister_

The Challenge of Adaptation

By @samuelg44

Water for Elephants book cover

For as far back as I can remember I have wanted to make movies. Many of my all-time favorites were best-selling novels subsequently adapted to film. Successful adaptations range from classics like Gone with the Wind and Forrest Gump to the more recent successes like No Country for Old Men and The Social Network. Its why I endeavor to find literary properties that are unknown “diamonds in the rough” and ripe for film adaptation.

I just came home from seeing Water for Elephants, which has me re-thinking my personal strategy as it pertains to adaptations. I read the best-selling novel in 2008 while studying abroad in London. To say I loved it would be an understatement; I laughed and cried and flew through the book in just a couple of hours. It’s the definition of a “page turner.” However, the film version (which wasn’t all that bad by the way) provides the perfect example of an adaptation that falls short of immortalizing the original material the way it should or could have. Seabiscuit is another film I enjoyed immensely, but didn’t hold a candle to the book and garnered the same frustration from me. These examples beg the question: must every piece of literature be exploited by Hollywood?

It didn’t take much resonating on the question for me to come up with the answer. Yes. Absolutely. Positively. I cannot tell you how many friends, after seeing the trailer for Water for Elephants, went out, bought the book and read it before the highly anticipated blockbuster flic was released. Yes, they were disappointed as I was by the film, but they had nothing but love for the book. I tend to forget that a symbiotic relationship exists between filmmakers and novelists.

So…adapt away Hollywood. Just do your best to make more Forrest Gumps than Lazy Shlumps.

Samuel Goldberg is a producer for Righteous Pictures and his blog posts cover film industry news and reactions to screenings of The Last Survivor. You can follow him on Twitter @samuelg44

The Rice Experience

By Michael Pertnoy

As Genocide Prevention Month fades into recent memory and we conclude the Days of Remembrance, our nation’s annual commemoration of the Holocaust, I can’t help but feel so thankful for the opportunity I’ve had to meet so many passionate and inspiring individuals around this country.

A few weeks ago Justin and I had the pleasure of visiting Pine Creek High School in Colorado Springs where the teachers and students opened our eyes and touched our hearts in an incredible way. A few weeks ago I wrote about how overwhelming it can be at times to grasp the horror that is genocide — the gravity and enormity of the crime is so incomprehensible with the death figures reaching into the tens of millions in the 20th century alone.  What does a million people look like?  10 million? 50 million?  As these figures grow larger, it becomes tougher to quantify and easier to forget that these are not merely numbers but actual people – real human beings whose lives have been taken away from us.

But when we visited Pine Creek, that indefinable and intangible dimension of genocide was forever changed.

Over the next couple of weeks I will be co-authoring a multi-part blog series in collaboration with some of the incredible students and teachers I met in Colorado Springs. Their commitment to this important cause is unyielding; their determination to fight the injustice, intolerance and hatred we see in the world around us has given me a renewed sense of optimism and purpose; and as we begin to envision a future without genocide and mass atrocities, the Pink Creek community exemplifies the fact that  there is a lot we can learn from one another.

It all began with The Rice Experience and my new friend, Mrs. Rickard.  A teacher by profession and fearless anti-genocide warrior by choice, Mrs. Rickard conceived of The Rice Experience back in 2007.  She was searching for a way to explain to her students the massive number of people who have suffered and perished due to acts of genocide, violence, disease, and torture in the past 100 years.

In Mrs. Rickard’s own words:

I have been teaching about genocide for more than 10 years. I have shared facts, played videos of bodies piled high, read stories of children being gunned down, and then it all changed when Justin Semahoro Kimenyerwa shared his story. My world was suddenly shaken of old conceptions I had entertained. This was a young man who had walked through the footage in the films, lived the stories I was reading, and was a living witness to the statistics we recount without thinking.  I have been presenting the numbers for years now in piles of rice, each individual grain representing one life that has been lost to genocide. I believe that understanding what millions truly means is important so that we can begin to realize the influence of one person. As we counted grains in a ¼ cup of rice we soon realized that it would take 24 ten-pound bags of rice just to represent the six million Jews that perished in The Holocaust. To show the atrocities of all the recent genocides, it takes over 600 pounds of rice. Each time I pour the millions of grains out for this lesson I am brought to tears. Our hatred for those we see as different has ended the potential of so many incredible people. How is it that we do not see each other as brothers and sisters, as one human family?

Mrs. Rickard, creator of The Rice Experience

Me, Michael Pertnoy, talking about how important this experience is.

Justin Semahoro talks about his personal experience

I have always visualized the individual g rains as actual people, actual lives, individual hopes and dreams, individual personalities, but now here sat Justin. If no one had stepped in to save his life, if no one had seen him as their brother, his life would have been just one more grain upon the floor. Just hours before, Justin and I had sat on a couch exchanging stories, sharing tears and laughter, and more importantly realizing that even though we had only known each other a few short hours, we were family. We so often focus on the things society has taught are dividing factors, and yet here was someone that laughed at the same things I did, felt pain just as deeply as I did, and loved with all of his heart.

The power of hate for Tutsi had almost taken this man’s life. He had watched others die before his eyes, and now we sat with millions of grains of rice on the floor, and I knew the word survivor had more meaning that any definition can hold. One grain of rice like Hitler can cause The Holocaust, but one grain of rice can also be the person who saves a life, a life like that of Justin. We all have influence; it is just a matter of where we choose to direct our actions minute to minute. There will always be those who will add to the piles of hate, but to honor the survivors who live on, I choose to use my one grain of influence to stand for justice, hope, and reach out to make a difference in the lives of others. How we use our influence matters, let us build a world where we recognize the value and connectedness of this human family.

I have vivid memories of looking around the classroom as Mrs. Rickard and the other teachers continued pouring bags and bags of rice on the floor.  The emotion in the room was palpable. Students were crying, shaking their heads in disbelief.   There was so much rice on that floor. I remember thinking to myself that the worst was behind us – how could this experience get any more emotional.

And then it happened . . .

Mrs. Rickard stood over the piles of rice and said, “And if you still think that genocide doesn’t affect your life…if you still think it’s far away, I want you all to know that one of your fellow classmates here at Pine Creek . . . her family is also in this pile.”

There was a long pause, a moment which seemed to last for an eternity. It’s a moment that I will not soon forget.

“Your fellow Pine Creek classmate, Sahza…her family was killed in the genocide in Bosnia…”

The room went completely silent as everyone processed that the crime of genocide had in fact reached their small town in Colorado  – it was no longer a far away concept, no longer happening only to people thousands of miles away.

Stay tuned for the next installment of this multi-part blog series where Sahza will be sharing some of her experiences.

Each grain of rice represents one person killed in a genocide.

The Last Survivor: Where Are They Now?

By @samuelg44

Hedi Fried with Directors Michael Kleiman (left) and Michael Pertnoy (right) in 2010

Tuesday night I attended a screening of The Last Survivor at the JCC of Manhattan on 76th and Amsterdam Avenue. One thing I love about attending screenings of our film, other than witnessing it’s consistently profound effect on an audience, is that each one is totally unique. This is not only a reflection of a well-made film, but also a reinforcement that the work we are doing is something people are actively searching for; at a screening of The Last Survivor, they find it.

That night, during the Q&A, a particular question and the response director Michael Kleiman gave put a big smile on my face. Yitzi Zablocki, the organizer of tonight’s event and head of the JCC film department, asked Kleiman, “What is going on in the lives of these survivors today?” Kleiman proceeded to answer:

- Justin’s brother and sister, along with their 27 adopted children, are likely to be resettled to St. Louis with Justin by the end of this year.

- Adam is in his 3rd year at IDC University in Herzliya, is a model student, and has become the perfect spokesperson for African refugees in Israel.

- Hedi continues to travel, inspiring others to join her mission of raising awareness and connecting survivors from around the world.

- Jacqueline got married last summer and recently took her first trip back home to visit Rwanda.

Can one imagine a more incredible update than that? Each of the survivors profiled in our film has continued doing incredible work and have only grown and thrived since allowing us to document their lives. I couldn’t help but make the clear connection that the success in their personal lives is intricately linked to the phenomenal human rights work they are engaged in.

On a personal level, I can certainly say the same for myself. Justin, Jacqueline, Hedi and Adam have all taught me that life isn’t only about perseverance, but it is about flourishing, growing and reaching out to affect others in a meaningful way.

Over and out-
Sam G

Grey Matter: Rwanda’s First Feature Length Narrative Film

By Kate Goodman

Last week at the Tribeca Film Festival, I had the privilege of seeing the film Grey Matter (Matière Grise). Written and directed by Kivu Ruhorahoza, Grey Matter is actually the first feature length narrative film made in Rwanda by a Rwandan filmmaker. After reading the small synopsis provided by the film festival, I was still unsure of what kind of movie Grey Matter would be and what kind of story it would tell. I was pleasantly surprised to see a visually striking, incredibly thoughtful, and profound film. (Grey Matter received a Special Jury Mention at Tribeca for “for its audacious and experimental approach, this film speaks of recent horrors and genocide with great originality.” The Jury “wanted to give a special commendation to this filmmaker for his courage and vision.”) While watching the film, I kept coming back to Jacqueline’s story in The Last Survivor. “The burden of surviving,” as Jacqueline described her feelings following the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, and how Rwandans’ manage their burden is the heart of Grey Matter.

The film contains three separate, yet intertwining, stories each with very different main subjects. The film opens on Balthazar, a young filmmaker attempting to find funding for his newest project, but who is met with roadblocks at every turn. He tries to petition the government for a grant, but is turned down because his film focuses too much on the past. Balthazar’s government contact explains that the government would rather look forward, to positive projects like government’s new AIDS awareness programs or their efforts to combat domestic violence, instead of backwards to the genocide. Kivu Ruhorahoza explained in a Q&A after the screening that Balthazar is a representation of himself and his own struggle to get his film made. Kivu finally found financial support in an Australian production company and finished his film there.

The second vignette is Balthazar’s film, which portrays a man locked in a mental institution, simply known as “the Madman.” The Madman relives the genocide in his room, conveyed by his interactions with a literal cockroach he captured in a glass jar (cockroach was a commonly used epithet during the genocide used to dehumanize Tutsi’s). The Madman, clearly a murderer during the genocide, represents the section of the Rwandan population that was not only complacent to, but also actively took part in the genocide. Kivu uses this section of the film, through the Madman’s delusions, to illustrate what Rwanda was like leading up to and during the genocide. He hears the now infamous radio broadcasts encouraging citizens to “hunt the cockroaches” and sees hands come through his barred window to applaud his rape of the captured cockroach. (Kivu makes his position on the international communities’ role in the genocide evident when the segment ends with the first pair of white hands to come through the Madman’s window giving him the keys to his room and let him loose.)

The final and longest section of the film portrays Yvan and Justine, brother and sister Survivors, years after the genocide trying to rebuild their lives. Yvan, portrayed by Ramadhan “Shami” Bizimana who won Best Actor in a Narrative Feature Film at Tribeca, suffers from intense Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, constantly wears a motorcycle helmet decorated in American paraphernalia, and cannot leave their bleak home. Justine (who Kivu explains in this interview with the director represents strong Rwandan women) holds what remains of their family together by selling herself to pay for her brother’s medical bills. In the Q&A, Kivu explained that he began writing this particular story in the immediate aftermath of the genocide as a way of dealing with his own survivor’s guilt. Sent away to stay with his ailing grandmother, Kivu was not present during the genocide while the rest of his family remained in Kigali and suffered the genocide first hand. Getting this film made and out for the world to see has been his mission ever since.

Grey Matter offers a rare narrative insight into the “burden of surviving” for multiple sectors of the Rwandan population. Kivu transformed his catharsis into a poignant representation of how genocide so deeply impacts individuals and how survivors manage to move on. During the screening, I also wondered how this film, being the first feature length fictional film from Rwanda, will impact not only the Rwandan people, but also Rwandan culture. Following the film, Kivu spoke briefly about the state of filmmaking in Rwanda today. New institutions are being formed to sponsor more filmmaking endeavours, from documentaries to short and feature length narrative film. Speaking as a huge film fanatic and someone who deeply understands how film both reflects and impacts a national culture, I hope that more films will continue to be made as Rwandans rebuild and grapple with the “burden of surviving.”

Grey Matter Trailer:

Yom Hashoah: A Day to Remember our Past and Look Towards Our Future

By Alexandra Bunzl

This past Sunday, May 1st, was Yom Hashoah, (Holocaust Remembrance Day) the day to remember and honor the lives that were lost during the Holocaust. While in Israel the day is formally observed with a national moment of silence, throughout the rest of the world, the day is observed more informally. For me, while Yom Hashoah is certainly a day to honor our tragic past, it is also a day that begs us to look towards the future and to ask ourselves if we have learned the lessons of the past and if not, what must be done to allow the all too famous saying of “never again” to finally ring true.

Below are two great videos that each honor Yom Hashoah. This first video is an interview with Deborah Lipstadt, Emory University professor of modern Jewish history and Holocaust studies, posted by PBS. On this Yom Hashoah, which also falls on the 50th anniversary of the trial in Jerusalem of Adolph Eichmann, Lipstadt eloquently elaborates on the importance of memory, remembering, and the power of the individual. In many ways, her message resonates perfectly with the goal of The Last Survivor Outreach Campaign as we endeavor to translate the issue of genocide awareness, prevention and response to mass atrocities from elusive and abstract notions to palpable and local actions.

The second video is a mini-documentary of sorts on holocaust survivor Joe Sachs. Michael Pertnoy, one of the Directors of The Last Survivor, met Joe back in 2002 when he traveled to Poland on the March of the Living. Joe was among the Survivors who joined them on the journey. And, while Joe’s personal story unfortunately did not make it into the final cut of The Last Survivor, the Michaels decided to create this video as the first installation of the Survivor Project, an effort to share Survivor Stories and their vision for the future.

Watch the full episode. See more Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.

Excerpt: “When you begin to hear the story from people, when it becomes personalized, when you hear it in the first person singular, ‘This is my story and this is what happened to me,’ genocide takes on a new meaning. You begin to realize that it didn’t happen to just a group of nameless people, but it happened to individuals, and what happened is their memory, and then the memory gets transmitted to the next generation…That’s the importance of memory—that you take this memory, integrate them into ourselves, internalize them, and act on that in our lives.”

SURVIVOR: Joe Sachs from Righteous Pictures on Vimeo.

Excerpt: “I look at it this way, if Hitler would get up now and see that I have a family, four generations, past beyond me, he would drop dead again. To me as a survivor, as a holocaust survivor, it is so very important to see that the younger generation gets the significance of what has happened and how these things happen and how we can prevent the acts of violence and genocide in general.”