film production + social action

Archive for January, 2012

Our Classroom Action Project is HERE!

Today is an exciting day: the official launch of The Last Survivor Classroom Action Project, or LSCAP as it has become known around the RP offices.

We chose to launch LSCAP today to commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day – an international memorial day for the victims of the Holocaust – in order to look back and reflect on the atrocities of the past but also to look forward and do what we can to educate the next generation about genocide prevention.

Last year, we began working with Kim Birbrower of Big Picture Instructional Design, and former Director of Education for the Shoah Foundation Institute, to author The Last Survivor’s official educational resource guide – including classroom discussion material,  lesson plans and community service projects for students to participate in the program outside of the school setting. We couldn’t be more pleased or proud with how the educational resource guide has turned out!

The goal of LSCAP is to expose young people to the issues of genocide prevention through the compelling stories presented in The Last Survivor and follow this exposure with the tools and contacts they need to get involved and take action. Lessons range from “Making Sense of the Past” to “Rebirth, Forgiveness and Change” and culminate in the Social Action and Community Service Projects that have been carefully designed to inspire and motivate students to take action outside the classroom.

For all of us who have worked on the film and outreach campaign, we couldn’t be more excited that we are finally at a place in the film’s life where we can focus our attention on its educational value. This is where we had always envisioned the film’s real impact to lie.

Adding to our excitement is the fact that for a limited time, we are able to offer the film and accompanying programs to members of the educational community at little or no cost – whether it be a teacher workshop, a school event or a community program.

We hope that you will share in our enthusiasm and will visit to learn more!

Humanitarian Hip Hop

By Evan Pheiffer

I recently sat down with Dan Cwirka near NYU to discuss the origins and development of Humanitarian Notes, an NGO that promotes AIDS awareness in Namibia, Liberia and Ghana – through the distribution of socially conscious hip-hop. A novel idea, indeed!

Dan was already well into his second year of service with the Peace Corps when he had his Saul-to-Damascus moment on a rural bus in the Namibian outback. Perturbed, if not downright disgruntled, by the prospect of another eight hour-ride to the tune of blaring dunces, he was struck by a simple realization. He realized that bus drivers enjoyed a complete monopoly on their audiences’ attention – particularly that of the youth. Adolescents devour all that flows from the lips and pens of their favorite artists. Why not capitalize on this by combining good music with a relevant and powerful message?

Dan contacted his friend Clive who owned a major record shop in Windhoek, the nation’s capital, and who already had a foot in the door to much of the city’s musical scene. After several months of meeting artists and managers, Dan and a fellow Peace Corps member, Amy, had succeeded in building a reasonable base: roughly 12-14 contributing artists per album per country, with each artist agreeing to write one new song for Humanitarian Notes’ album. Incidentally, their launch coincided with both World AIDS Day and the Namibian Music Awards – the latter of which donated both TV and radio plugs for them to promote their innovative approach to music and social consciousness. Upon leaving, they left 1,000 CDs not only with radio stations, cabbies and bus-drivers, but also those most at risk of AIDS, such as long-distance truck drivers. After a successful run in Namibia, they expanded to Liberia the following year.

The three albums sponsored by Humanitarian Notes include tracks in Oshiwambo, Demara/Nama and Afrikaans (Namibia), Kpelle and Dan (Liberia); Hausa, a West African hybrid lingua franca, Ewe, Akon and Ga (Ghana), as well as English (all three). From the embryo of AIDS prevention, these collaborative artists have addressed all manners of social issues, from women’s empowerment and continuing education to monogamy and abstinence amongst the youth.

On December 6th Dan held his fifth anniversary party at Nuyorican Poets Café in the East Village. As for further projects, Dan has Durban, South Africa on his mind…

Music, even with a message, is fine and dandy – but what about Humanitarian Notes merits special attention? For one, it substantiates the notion of a vibrant, transnational civil society that bypasses borders and bureaucrats alike in bringing people and developmental solutions together. Sent by the American government to combat the spread of AIDS, these former Peace Corps workers found their efforts unrequited and ineffectual. Once inspired to take an alternate path, however, Dan and Amy began to make considerably better inroads in getting their initial message (awareness and prevention) to a much larger – and more understanding – audience. While the extent to which Humanitarian Notes’ collaborative CDs have made an impact on preventing the spread of AIDS cannot be measured, it is clear that Dan’s efforts have gotten people talking. And singing.

And that is a start that is hard to argue with.

Listen to music from Humanitarian Notes here.


A native of Saint Louis, Missouri, Evan has studied in Washington, New York, London and Paris, worked in Buenos Aires and Calcutta and lived in Salvador da Bahia, Brazil. He has traveled extensively throughout Europe, Latin American, the Indian Continent and the Middle East. A historian by trade, he hopes to write, travel, talk and take pictures for a living.

Featured Project: Dhamma Brothers

We are kicking off our monthly featured project for 2012 with Dhamma Brothers, a documentary film by Jenny Phillips. Phillips, who founded the Freedom Behind Bars Foundation, filmed what happened in an Alabama maximum security prison when Vipassana meditation was introduced to the prisoners. Men who were imprisoned for some of the most heinous crimes had to spent 10 straight days in silent meditation within the prison. Check out the trailer, then watch the film to see what happened before, during and after those 10 days.

Righteous Pictures is working with the director to build out the online community with the goal of driving awareness and increasing the number of prison meditation programs and volunteers within those programs. We have helped her update the website, build and grow the Facebook page, and become familiar with Twitter and YouTube. This Spring, Dhamma Brothers will premiere on Oprah’s OWN network. So follow us on Twitter and Facebook to find out exactly when!

Phillips also wrote a book called Letters from The Dhamma Brothers to accompany the film. The book consists of letters written from the prisoners to Jenny after the 10 day program and filming had ended. The letters provide intimate access to the thoughts, dreams and challenges the Dhamma Brothers possess.