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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.”


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!

THE DARK SIDE

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.

THE LIGHT SIDE

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 IndigenousTweeets.com , 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.

Sources:
The Stream
Global Voices
TheNextWeb
AFP
Fast Company
Anas Gtiesh
nnenna


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

@tsweens

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.


Emphas.is 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 Emphas.is—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 Emphas.is 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 Emphas.is 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: http://emphas.is/

 


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.
Liar

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: http://shop.holstee.com

Over and out,
- Tom
@tsweens


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 thelastsurvivor.com 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 futureatlas.com

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 thelastsurvivor.com


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?


ALIVE in Baghdad/Libya/Iraq/Egypt

by: @ChristieM

While getting my daily dose of Mashable this morning, I learned about a freelance journalist’s use of Kickstarter to help her raise funds to support her stay in Libya to continue reporting on the stories of the revolution on the ground.

Zach Sneiderman, the post’s author, wrote that this journalist has partnered with Small World News, a new media company that helps train and provide tools to citizen journalists, and she is now spending 10 hours every week training Libyans on how to find, film and report their own stories.

So I decided to check out SmallWorldNews.TV. Having lived the last month in an LA to NYC transition, I may have missed a lot in the “tech for change” news. But in case you missed it too, this is a site worth checking out.

SmallWorldNews helps train citizen journalists in Libya, Egypt, Iraq and Bahrain to cover events their from the ground and through their eyes. What originally started as a Speak2Tweet service (years before Speak2Tweet launched), posting the voice recordings and videos from people in Iraq and Iran, has recently expanded to Libya and Egypt. Working with volunteer translators to add English subtitles when possible, SmallWorldNews then posts videos submitted from citizen journalists onto their site for anyone to view. Giving the entire world access to what the revolution looks like on the ground, not just on CNN.

While we in the U.S. just have to deal with the extreme biases of FOX and MSNBC, millions of people around the world are getting their news information from limited, government controlled and censored media outlets. While I doubt that every Libyan is tuned into SmallWorldNews every day, I think that the efforts of this organization will have a much larger impact in the long run. These revolutions will eventually pass and new governments will be constructed, and people will feel empowered to keep a close eye on their new government and keep their people informed. And the rest of us around the world are benefitting, as we will have more options for consuming unfiltered news!

Check out their current projects below. P.S. I’m really interested in the use of mobile phones for citizen journalist report dissemination. If anyone out there has heard of any organizations working on this, please message me on Twitter!

 

 

 

 

 

This post is a part of a weekly series entitled “Online Technology and Social Change,” inspired by Righteous Pictures’ upcoming documentary, “Web.”


Malcolm Gladwell: Social Media Still Not a Big Deal

by: @tsweens

Full article here: http://dlvr.it/LrHGd

Malcolm GladwellAcclaimed social thinker and best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell continues to assert that as far as promoting activism goes, social media is not the powerful tool it’s cracked up to be. Despite recent reports that rebels in both Egypt and Tunisia relied heavily on Facebook and Twitter to communicate, Gladwell believes that the websites offer little more value than that:

I mean, in cases where there are no tools of communication, people still get together. So I don’t see that as being… in looking at history, I don’t see the absence of efficient tools of communication as being a limiting factor on the ability of people to socially organize.

Gladwell goes on to point out that social media tools might actually be detrimental to revolutions in that they offer totalitarian governments the opportunity to “spy” on demonstrators.

I have to say, I’m a Malcolm Gladwell fan. I’ve read The Tipping Point and Blink and enjoyed them both. If we were not in the midst of working on a documentary that surveys the power of the Internet as a collaborative tool, I might have to agree with Gladwell. But right now, I still think I’d have to side with Clay Shirky.


Just Keep Going, You Got Nothing To Lose

Posted by @tsweens:

As a native New Yorker, this video grabbed my attention and kept it. Enanced by a wonderful Yann Tiersen track from one of my favorite films, Amélie. From Luke Rudkowski and WeAreChange.org.

I’m happy to say that I’ve spoken to strangers on the subway more than a handful of times. I dare you to try it next time you ride!


Grab The Last Survivor “Take Action” Trailer

By @ChristieM

Well, my goal of blogging once a week on online tools for social change lasted just one week…fortunately I have something you all should know about, so I am back on the wagon!

Although our official screening campaign for The Last Survivor won’t officially launch until April, some screenings have already begun. So we decided to release our action video player, also known as a “Spark,” today! Special thanks to Call2Action for building this for us.

What is so great about this video player is that it not only plays the trailer on any website, blog or Facebook feed, but without leaving the site you are watching it on you will find actions to help prevent genocide, work with refugees, or bring the film to your community.

Just click on the “share” tab to grab the code for your blog. Click the Facebook icon and the video will drop right into your status update. Your friends will be able to watch the trailer without leaving their Facebook homepage!

Please take a minute and share this amazing film with your friends and family:

Also, check out Call2Action and their many other “sparks!”


Exploring Ethiopia

By @Samuelg44

I have visited Israel many times. 14 to be exact. I love Israeli people and culture and have often considered making Aliyah (hebrew meaning “ascent” – referring to one’s desire to move to a holier existence – to Israel).

I remember the first time I saw an Ethiopian Jew. It was 1989, I was three years old, and my parents brought me with them to the Maccabiah Games in Israel. Naturally, as a naïve 3-year-old, I wondered to myself, “How can these black people be Jewish?” I just didn’t know any better. I later learned that the Jews of Ethiopia were considered one of the lost tribes of Israel and fought desperately to return to the Holy Land to be amongst their Jewish brothers and sisters. Furthermore, their emigration to Israel was not unlike Adam Bashar’s arduous journey from Sudan to Egypt to Israel. This incredible parallel converged for me this past Sunday, March 13th, in New York, at the home of an old friend, Joey Low.

Nine years ago, Joey Low, a long-time friend and generous donor to The Last Survivor film, started an organization called Israel at Heart. Joey is very Zionistic, but more importantly, believes in each individual’s rights to their personal freedoms, with a particular emphasis on freedom of expression. To that end, Israel at Heart endeavors to bolster the reputation and public perception of Israel by sending young ambassadors from Israel around the world to talk about their personal experiences. Many of these ambassadors are young, educated, driven, and remarkable Ethiopian Jews.

However, on Israel at Heart’s most recent mission to the USA, one of Israel’s ambassadors was not from Ethiopia, but rather, Sudan; our close friend, Adam Bashar. For two weeks, Adam lived at Joey’s home in Westchester, along with Dina, Ruth, and Shlomit (three animated and beautiful Ethiopian-Israelis), and traveled around the state speaking to audiences about their experiences in Israel. On Sunday night, 16 ambassadors, who had represented Israel at Heart in Texas, Massachusetts, Georgia and Washington D.C., all reconvened at Joey’s home before returning to Israel.

Christie and I spent Sunday afternoon at Joey’s home, speaking with the ambassadors and American supporters of Israel at Heart who had come to meet them. After lunch, the group assembled in the living room to hear each ambassador discuss his or her experiences in the past two weeks. Each ambassador chose a highlight, and many of them discussed the profound effect they had on audiences ranging from African American high schools, to Muslim community centers, to Jewish Hillel houses and beyond. They felt as if they had built bridges between communities and fostered cross-cultural understanding that wasn’t previously there. Overall, Christie and I left feeling educated about Israeli society and Ethiopian Jewry, and inspired to continue our mission; using The Last Survivor as a way to engage communities in local philanthropic action. Not to mention, we also made some great new friends.

I cannot sum up this blog post without mentioning that Monday evening, we continued to learn more about Ethiopia. Christie and I attended a screening at Tribeca Cinemas hosted by the Joint Distribution Committee, of a short documentary called Making the Crooked Straight. This film highlights the incredible work of Dr. Rick Hodes, a doctor from Long Island who has spent the last 20 years helping the sickest and most destitute people living in Ethiopia. I highly recommend this film, which is airing on HBO and HBO on demand over the next month.

So…it has been an incredible week thus far. I have learned a lot and realized once again that there is no shortage of good causes to support in this world.

Over and out,
Samuel G


Encounters at the End of the World

A penguin in Herzog's Encounters at the End of the WorldSo here’s a funny story: back in January during New York’s snow Armageddon, I was stuck at the San Antonio airport waiting to get home. I was biding time during an extensive delay at an airport bar nursing a beer and started making idle chit-chat with the guy next to me – also trying to get home, also delayed. We got up to the part where I tell him what I do. “Documentaries, huh?” Was his response. “I was interviewed for a documentary a couple of years back, but I got left on the cutting room floor as they say.” He gave me an elbow nudge to let me know he was in on my industry’s lingo.

“Guess I’m not that interesting.”

Turns out he was pretty interesting. Apparently, he was stationed on a construction job of sorts down in Antarctica for some period of time and the filmmaker he was casually referring to was Werner Herzog. And this film he got edited out of was Encounters at the End of the World – perhaps my favorite documentary of the last 10 years and the film that, after 4 years of musing and brainstorming, inspired me to actually go down to Peru and start making Web.

In the opening moments of Encounters at the End of the World – a 2008 documentary about adventure and Antartica – the director, Werner Herzog, makes clear that his interest in Antartica is different from other filmmakers who have journeyed to the ice continent in the past. Specifically, he tells us he is not going there to “make another film about penguins.” Herzog’s questions, he insists are different: “Why is it,” he asks, “that human beings put on masks or feathers to conceal their identity? And why do they settle horses and feel the urge to chase the bad guy?…Why is it that a sophisticated animal like a chimp does not utilize inferior creatures? He could straddle a goat and ride off into the sunset.” At its heart, Encounters questions why some of us feel that innate need for adventure, to leave the world behind and chase our passions. It is also, in the end, a film about penguins.

The Antartica Herzog find is one that has already been explored. The camera moves across the continent, introducing the viewer to those who have come from all over the Earth to this final frontier of ice. And while Herzog is clearly enamored with the eccentricity of his subjects, his larger point, it seems, is that we have run out of space to run. The landscape in Antartica is dominated by bulldozers, ice cream machines, even an ATM.

And the outlook doesn’t get much better from there. The researchers Herzog speaks with along his journey confirm what most of us already know in our gut: the Earth has had about all it can take of us – the ice caps of Antartica are beginning to melt away and our own inhabitance of the Earth is doomed to go with them. And so, delivered with this fatal blow, the film takes on the feel of a time capsule of sorts as Herzog asks the viewer to see our species from the perspective of future “alien researchers coming to see what we were doing at the South Pole.” He takes us on a tour of the ice tunnels that lead us under the South Pole. The tunnels themselves are marked with the seal of the American government, letting the alien researchers know we were here first. And, at the mathematically precise spot that marks the South Pole, is a frozen fish we have left behind to be preserved for eternity by the tunnel’s extreme temperatures. “We have been everywhere on this planet,” the frozen fish says.

But Herzog hasn’t finished with his questions. With no room left to explore, why is it that some of us still insist on leaving everything behind and clinging to the small remnants of the unknown we have left? The answer comes in what will remain among my favorite cinematic moments of all time: a penguin running steadfastly across Antartica’s plains of ice into the mountains. Some sort of wiring in the penguin’s brain has gone haywire, we learn from a researcher. It’s not common but happens from time to time. One day it seems, without warning, a penguin will begin to run inland with no clear direction. The fate of these AWOL penguins is definitive and unforgiving, they will die alone in the mountains.

That is the image we are left with. That penguin, insisting on going against every evolutionary instinct in its body, fleeing his flock and his world, stumbling over his own steps toward certain death. And yet it keeps on running.

I’ll be using this space once a week to write about movies that move me. I’ll usually try stick to films I watched during that specific week to keep things current. But as I start, Encounters seemed rather apt.
-MK


Gawaahi: Video Storytelling in Pakistan

By @ChristieM

Happy 100th Anniversary to International Women’s Day! I’m a little late in my well wishes, but the sentiment is still there.

This is my first blog post for Righteous Pictures and after following Michael Kleiman’s always entertaining “This Week in RP” and Alexandra Bunzl’s inspiring post, “Can Art Change the World?” I”m a little nervous. For RP I hope to blog weekly on Technology and Social Change: How new online and mobile technologies are accelerating positive change around the world. You may also hear me talk about storytelling fairly often as its not the tools themselves that are creating change, its how people are using them to tell their story and allowing all of us the opportunity to see into each other’s worlds.

Being International Women’s Day, I wanted to highlight the launch of a new website, called Gawaahi, by my friend Sana Saleemand her Gawaahi co-founder Naveen Naqvi. I’m highlighting their website today not just because they are women, but because they are giving a voice to women in Pakistan. I had the honor of meeting Sana at the International Youth Conference in Islamabad in December, during which she skillfully schooled the Minister of Information on the government’s education policies.

In their own words, “Gawaahi.com is home to digital stories of Pakistan. Stories of abuse and survival, the testimonies of the survivors of the worst floods in Pakistan’s history, the narratives of Pakistanis celebrating their individual identities are just some examples of what we have for you. Our team finds stories that are under-reported in the mainstream media.

Gawaahi.com serves as a platform for anyone (not just women) in Pakistan to submit their story on their own. Gawaahi also goes out into local communities to seek out stories and gather opinions, usually on video, from the people of Pakistan. Through their blogs posts and videos, they able to put a spotlight on the individuals, stories, and events that are often ignored by traditional media, which faces government and military control and intimidation.

 

One of the videos I watched most recently was of a seventeen year old girl telling her story of how after insulting a man, she was attacked by him with acid. I have heard about acid attacks on women many times before and have always been horrified. But watching this brave young woman stare straight into the camera and unabashedly tell her story, without the dramatic music and setting of a scripted, highly-produced video, effected me more than all the news stories of unnamed women I had read in print.

With an Islamic government and terrorist bombings nearly everyday, many of us have a negative idea of what life in Pakistan is like, and know very little about the actual people there, myself included. Gawaahi offers people in Pakistan a microphone for their voice and the rest of the world an insight into the stories and opinions of Pakistanis that news media rarely covers.

If you do one thing for International Women’s Day, please go to the website and just watch a few videos and learn from these incredible women. I think (and hope!) that like me, you will see a whole new side to Pakistan.


Can Art Change the World?

Every Monday (I should say, hopefully every Monday) I will be exploring the subject of ART AND SOCIAL CHANGE. Specifically, how are artists and storytellers using their artistic mediums to raise awareness and inspire change? Quite fortuitously, just in time for the first installment of this new blog, the 2011 TED Prize winner JR (infamous street artist) just unveiled his TED Prize wish: To use art to turn the world inside out.

JR can say it far better than I, so I encourage everyone to watch the video below of his speech, but I will say just a few words for those of you unfamiliar with the TED prizes or JR’s work.

Since 2005, the TED prize has been awarded annually to an exceptional individual. The lucky recipient receives a $100,000 monetary prize and more significantly, “one wish to change the world,” with the commitment from the TED community to leverage their talent, resources and network in order to help make this wish come true. Previous winners include Bill Clinton and Jamie Oliver, JR is the prize’s youngest winner.

JR has been known to refer to himself as a ‘photograffeur’ (think graffiti + photographer). His mantra that the street is his gallery brings JR to locales that have caught his attention in the media (the slums around Paris, shantytowns in Kenya, borders between Israel and West Bank, etc) and there, he creates ‘Pervasive Art.’ That is to say, art which cannot be ignored and which raises questions. Usually, his ‘public exhibitions’ take supercolossal forms, huge full frame portraits of people making faces that he places [uninvited] on buildings, walls, broken bridges, etc. JR gives a voice to those not heard or not seen. As a woman from Kibera, a neighborhood in Nairobi put it in “Women Are Heroes,” a documentary recently release in France that JR made about his work: “Photos can’t change the environment. But if people see me there, they’ll ask me: ‘Who are you? Where do you come from?’ And then I’m proud.”

In his TED talk, JR posits that art is not supposed to change the world, but rather, to change perceptions. JR’s TED prize wish, a massive humanist art project, speaks to this sentiment exactly, that what we see changes us, changes who we are. And so, JR asks that we each stand up for what we care about by participating in a collaborative, global art project. This massive undertaking attempts in many ways to take the power back from the media.

Anyone can participate in JRs wish by uploading a photo of yourself or a subject you are passionate about to www.insideoutproject.net and JR and his team will send you back a huge poster for you to paste somewhere. Together we can start changing the world, one photograph at a time.

Stay tuned for Part II of this blog as I document the RP team’s endeavor to heed JRs wish!

– Alexandra

Links:

-       You can visit JR’s website here.

-       To participate in JRs wish, visit http://www.insideoutproject.net.

 

 


This Week in RP(LA) 3/7/11

Groundwork Coffee, Venice
So to fill you all in: for the last 6 months or so This Week in RP(LA) has been an internal RP tradition to keep RPNY posted on the many goings-ons over at RPLA’s Cattaraugus HQ – whether they be culinary experiments, company field trips, or actual notes on how things are going with our two films. We all get a good kick out of it so we thought we’d share. Hope you enjoy…

This Week in RP Outings
It’s been a rather cramped couple of weeks here at Cattaraugus HQ. The two Michaels began a “February is A Surprisingly Short Month” push on Web beginning with the widely publicized “Big Edit” over President’s Weekend. The edit, which was carried out in honor of President Washington’s well-documented love affair with all things cinema, most notably the documentary form. (It’s been said that Washington once posted a highlight reel of the Battle of Saratoga on YouLiberate – an early precursor to YouTube. The video was taken down by the site’s administrator because of Washington’s illegal use of the Guns ‘N Roses classic, “Hell’s Bells” in the video’s opening.) In any case, “Big Edit” was an undisputed success and has spilled over into a general editing push that is anticipated to last through March. The unforgiving pace of such an edit has lead to two things: a pervading desire to get out of the confining Cattaraugus HQ for a breath of air each day and a never fading need for caffeine. The captain of his High School bird hunting team, Kleiman quickly suggested the two Michaels kill two birds with one stone and find a destination that could provide the Michaels with respite from the chaos of HQ as well as their afternoon caffeine fix. The answer came in the form of Groundwork Coffee – a coffee bean institution here in Los Angeles. The Michaels are no strangers to Groundwork, having frequented the Santa Monica location since their arrival in the Greater Los Angeles area back in October. Over the course of their patronage the pair of Michaels found Groundwork to satisfy all of the pertinent checks on their never-before-published guide to finding a good iced coffee spot:

* Friendly and knowledgeable baristas
* Iced coffee that has to be professionally diluted with water by said knowledgeable baristas because it’s so fucking strong
* A professional staff that will allow a pair of rather ballsy customers to taste the undiluted coffee upon request
* The ability to buy iced coffee in jugs as opposed to cups

Yes, Groundwork has everything a coffee drinker could want. One could therefore imagine the level of excitement that overwhelmed the Cattaraugus duo on the first day of Big Edit when a Venice Groundwork location was discovered. Set on the relaxed corner of 7th Ave and Rose in Venice, the Groundwork Flagship store is a coffee-lovers heaven. Easily three times the size of the Santa Monica location (which is admittedly cramped), the Venice Groundwork is a self-serve styled coffee shop, offering iced coffee a Michael can pour himself, fresh and innovative biscuits, and an enjoyable atmosphere just minutes from the beach.

This Week in RP Culture
Tensions in the RPLA Kitchen have been high as of late. After months of culinary dominance, the masses began to call into question the non-traditional kitchen styling of RPLA Culinary Director, Michael Kleiman. Most notably, the Director’s ambitious protege, Michael Pertnoy, started the first rumblings of an overthrow as his celebrated eggs over easy demonstrated their versatility – satisfying customers for both breakfast and lunch. Tensions came to a climax three weeks ago as verbal insults became a staple of the RP dining experience

However, in Big Edit’s spirit of collaboration, the two Michael’s eased tensions last week when an unlikely collaboration between master and protege lead to what critic’s are calling a creative re-invention of RPLA’s culinary offerings: The California Morning Sunshine. A perfect combination of the two Michael’s individual talents – Pertnoy’s legendary eggs over easy and Kleiman’s exotic melted swiss cheese and avocado combo – the California Morning Sunshine features an egg perfectly fried over easy atop a slice of whole toast topped with fresh California avacado and melted swiss. A splash of spicy Harbonaro sauce is thrown in between the cheese and the egg for the more daring clientele. And all is topped off with a sprinkling of Paremesan cheese. “It was very organic,” Pertnoy said of the combination. “I had been telling him he can’t make anything other than toasted bread with swiss cheese and avocado and he had been complaining that I only make eggs over easy. So we decided to combine them.” “It was the smartest idea either of us had ever had,” said Kleiman. However, Randal Jennings, a made-up Culver City resident and frequent RPLA patron was underwhelmed by the announcement. “I’ve been making these things for months,” says Jennings, who since November has been ordering Kleiman’s swiss cheese toast and Pertnoy’s eggs separately and then combining them.

This Week in the Web Edit
In between hour long rush hour drives to Venice and paradigm shifting culinary creations in the Cattaraugus kitchen, it’s hard to imagine that anything might actually be accomplished in the Web edit. Wrong again, This Week reader! Reinvigorated by their achievements in the kitchen, and pushed forward by the ungodly amounts of Groundwork coffee they were consuming, the Cattaraugus team did what it does best: edit movies. The Michaels continued down the impossible path to an assembly edit, breaking early Saturday morning with 5/6 Peru sequences fully formed and a 6th sequence just “hours away.” The Peru cut is running an impressive 86 minutes – down from 140 after “Big Edit.” With the help of post-production supervisor, Thomas Sweeney, interviews are expected to finally be brought into the equation next week, during what is already being dubbed “Really Big Edit Week.”

That’s it for This Week, join us next week for a full report on “Really Big Edit Week”, the continued collaboration in the RP kitchen, and a fresh jug of Groundwork coffee.