We had friends over this past weekend, and we started talking about technology and the impact it’s had on our career, photography and life in general. I was talking about traveling and how much different it is now in regards to ease of communication and staying connected.
When I backpacked around the world, as a solo 19-year-old woman in the early 70’s, I pretty much left most communication with my family and friends behind. In a year’s time, I probably only called home 3 times and it was a lengthy and expensive process, going to a call center and waiting until an operator could put your call through to the other side of the world. And there wasn’t any Internet or email or cells phones and texting. When I left home for that yearlong sabbatical, I was really going out on a limb as far as disconnecting from the world I knew.
I’m always asked, “Were you scared?” I suppose I was afraid at times, when I thought about what I was doing and what could go wrong. But most of the time, I was too much in awe of what I was experiencing. I was very tuned in though, to my surroundings and I quickly developed a sixth sense about people, determining if they were good or bad. Those instincts stay with me to this day and have managed to keep me safe in my travels.
I could not have imagined what the future would bring to my life in terms of technology. The world we live in now is far different than it was some 40 years ago. We are more aware – of other cultures, world politics and global news. You would think that would help in bridging the gap of understanding between different cultures. I think it has in many ways, but we have a long way to go.
Our fears keep most of us from “daring” to do something different, especially if our life seems to be working. Usually, it takes a big change in our lives for us to muster up the courage to face the unknown. And when we do venture outside our norm, we are almost always glad we did and wonder why we had hesitated for so long.
I’ve been lucky. I had parents who encouraged me to take some risks. When I was hesitant about doing something, my dad used to say to me “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” and when I couldn’t come up with any really horrible potential scenario, I’d take the plunge and face my fears.
I wonder, what’s in store for me now? The future hasn’t been written yet and the choices are mine to make. Is it scary? Only if I imagine it that way. The story isn’t over yet.
I’ve been to dozens of screenings over the past year, at film festivals, schools and community gatherings around the country and everyone always asks the same thing: “What can I do? How can I get involved?” And that’s exactly what Erin and I hoped for when we created the film, that people would be inspired and moved to take action.
So, we have changed the Opening Our Eyes website so that we can help answer that question instead of being a dead end. I wanted the film to be a jumping off point for people to take action, but that would only happen if we could direct that energy into tangible ways.
We’ve set up a “take action” page, with three different sections on ways that you can help make a positive difference in your community or on a more global scale. You can “become the power of one” and find out how Maggie Doyne used her babysitting earnings to make a difference or find explore volunteer travel opportunities. You can “multiply the power of one” and donate to our subjects’ causes or find out about volunteering for them or you can host a screening of the film and “showcase the power of one.”
Every time I start to step away from this project, something happens to pull me back into it. So I suppose that this journey isn’t over. I continue to be amazed by the collective power we all have in making change happen and making our world the world we want to live in. I still remember what one of our subjects, Robbin Moulds told us one rainy day in Sydney, Australia. She said, “At 211 degrees water is hot. At 212 degrees it boils. That’s a one degree difference.”
I challenge you all – what’s a one degree difference you can make?
The best part about creating the documentary, Opening Our Eyes, was getting to be around some of the most amazing, inspirational people I’ve ever met in my life. So many things that these folks said during their interviews, still run through my mind on a daily basis.
One thing in particular was something that Maggie Doyne said when she was talking about what she built in Nepal “It’s not perfect. If I had waited for things to be perfect, none of this would have happened.”
I work and live with a perfectionist, my husband and my business partner. We are opposites in every way. I am one to take my “big idea” and jump right into it. I’m also one who wants to complete something and follow through right away, regardless if it’s “perfect” or not. For example: I could have/should have gotten this film professionally color graded before I sent it out to festivals and distributors. But, I didn’t have the funds to do that, so rather than let the film “get old” until I could get more funding (which may not have happened), I pushed it out to the universe, and good things have happened.
It’s good to be detail oriented and to strive for perfection, but not if you use it to give yourself reasons to stop yourself from moving forward. Many times, when I tell my husband my latest “big idea”, his first instincts are to tell me dozens of reasons I shouldn’t act on it until……………everything is perfect. His intentions are good – he wants to protect me from failure, but if I let it, his words might also end up protecting me from success.
We both recognize our differences now as our individual strengths and that when we listen, learn and balance those opinions and differences so that they can work together instead of opposed to each other, great things can happen. But that takes practice and also not having to be right all the time. There is no one “right” and that’s the beauty of collaboration and working in harmony.
“She’s from the mainland isn’t she?” the woman said as she got into my friend’s truck. I laughed and she said “I knew you weren’t from here when you said, “hi, I’m Gail and extended your hand” – “ we don’t do that here.” My good friend PF Bentley was driving me to the tiny island airport and he had stopped to pick up a couple of friends for a meeting they were going to attend after getting me on my way.
Last week, after getting an email from PF alerting me about incredible airfares to Hawaii ($425 roundtrip from Newark to Honolulu), I made an impulse decision, bought a ticket and here I was on the island of Molokai, heading home after 4 days on the island. Some might say, that’s an awful long way to go for such a short time and I suppose that may be true. However it was 4 days that gave me a well needed break, and more importantly a time to step back from the noise of my life and ask myself “have I gotten off purpose?”
The fact is I had gotten way off purpose over the last few months. I had begun doing things other people wanted me to do and in the process I forgot who I was. When that happens, everything seems to turn sour and in the process I seem to do more “pushing” my dreams out there, and getting nowhere. Instead I should do what it is I am meant to do, regardless if people accept it or understand it and then things will fall into place as they should.
Over a decade ago, PF had taught me how to tell a story and how to translate that to “film”. If it weren’t for PF, our film, Opening Our Eyes would not have been possible. Thirteen years ago, he stirred something inside of me and I went from a state of stale complacency to an awakened spirit. The spirit had always been inside of me, but I had begun not to listen to it.
It’s been a short but glorious 4 days. PF and his beautiful wife Amy soothed my soul with humor, color, art, wonderful food and love. Amy is one of the most creative people I have ever met and a true inspiration in many ways. She taught me the ukulele and we played and sang and laughed. PF taught me new technical skills – color grading and mixing sound, but he also showed me his island home and once again he awakened my spirit. Mahalo (thank you) Amy for bringing color to my life and thank you PF for once again getting my train back on track.
When Erin and I set out to make a film about ordinary individuals who were doing extraordinary things to make our world a better place, we didn’t know we would be meeting the real heroes of our world.
Each one of the people in our film is doing something that is not only courageous, but some would say, they are doing the impossible.
I suppose we could have chosen more high profile people or celebrities, but we opted to shine a light on the folks most people haven’t even heard of. That was a deliberate decision because we wanted to show what the individual is capable of.
As I watch the footage of Hurricane Sandy’s aftermath, I’m reminded of the power of the individual. I heard story after story about regular people who had put aside their own comfort and safety to go to the aid of others who were less fortunate. These stories will fade in our memories as time goes by, but my hope is that people will take notice and think about their own actions.
It’s easy to get caught up in the hype and glitz of the world we live in, paying homage to the notables, and the large entities that have the power and money to make the biggest splash in the news. And we talk ourselves out of the little actions that we could take, telling ourselves that we could never measure up. How sad. Maybe that’s the downside of the culture we live in.
I can only hope that more people will take notice of the ordinary people and the efforts they make – not for money – not for recognition – but simply because it’s the right thing to do.
We created this film to move people to action. The actions don’t have to be huge. They could be helping a child with their homework, walking a neighbor’s dog who isn’t able to do that for herself or just listening to someone who needs a person to talk to. We don’t have to be a celebrity, have a big name or have lots of money. We just have to realize that sometimes it’s the little things we do that count and all those little things add up to make our world a better place.
Imagine if everyone did one small thing to make a difference.
I’m looking out at the beautiful coastline of Carmel-by-the-Sea, California and enjoying the “now. I’m here to attend the Carmel Art & Film Festival and after spending a couple of days in movie theaters,
I needed to take a break from the darkness and experience the environment I’m in.
The last few months, I’ve been busy and bogged down by lots of detail work and planning for the future and in the process, forgetting to be present in the here and now. It’s far too easy sometimes for me to get caught up with the “big picture” and forget to take notice of where I am or even who I am. When that happens, I know I need to get out of my “norm” in order to take notice of who I really am.
As I walked through the village of Carmel my first evening in town, my visual sense was on overdrive as I passed by gallery after gallery. I was overwhelmed by the energy I got from seeing the colors, shapes and textures of the paintings and sculpture, through the shop windows. Art is everywhere in this small town.
Carmel has a vibe all of its own and this film festival reflected that in every way. Last night was a filmmaker dinner and party on the beach. It was a very memorable evening, sitting around fire pits on the beach, drinking wine, watching the sun go down and having wonderful conversations with other filmmakers and artists. I looked up at one point just to look at the millions of stars in the dark clear sky and I knew exactly where I was. These days many small towns have lost what is unique about them, swapping their identities for strip malls and corporate brands. It’s no wonder; we can hold onto our own identities or even think about who we really are in our homogenized culture.
I think we all forget sometimes to stop and really be present in the place or situation we are in – instead of always thinking ahead – or worse yet lamenting the past. We get sidetracked sometimes by lots of things and people who have different priorities and agendas for you, and before we know it, we end up letting all that “stuff” take us away from our own purpose. When that happens, we aren’t happy and when we become unhappy, we make other people unhappy.
I feel grateful today. Not only am I proud to be part of this amazing film festival but also I’m grateful that this beautiful little spot on Earth has fed my soul with inspiration.
It’s been a while since I have written – I’ve been going at full mach speed the last couple of weeks. After not having been to a film festival
since last March, we’ve recently had a rush of acceptances so I’ve been busy preparing for them, and now I’m on the road attending them. I’ve also been traveling and speaking for my trade association, ASMP – first to students at Brooks Institute, my alma mater, and then at DV West in Los Angeles.
Being on the road isn’t easy. I’ve been gone for two weeks and I miss my husband and my home. The getting from place to place is what wears me down. But when I get to do what I came for, and that is to talk to people and more importantly listen to what they have to say, my weariness disappears. I get a lot of energy from the feedback I get about the film, but also from finding out about what others are involved in. I’m finding the niche for this film and in the process I’m starting to connect with kindred spirits.
Making connections, I realize is one of my main objectives. Those connections are starting a small ripple. Audiences have gotten larger and that means more people are leaving the theaters and thinking about what they can do to make a difference in the lives of others – or even their own. They tell me the film inspired them. When they tell me that, I feel good about myself. Not so much because it puffs up my ego (although I’ll admit that also feels good) but because I realize this is what I do to make a difference – create awareness with film.
So, even though I’m totally exhausted from two weeks on the road – it’s an exhaustion that feels good. I’m doing what I want to be doing – at least for right now.
I’ll be posting the screening dates as I get them from the festivals. Please check to see if we’ll be in your area and spread the word to your friends.
It’s not easy to hold onto your ideals, let alone your dreams as you get older. I suppose I should consider myself lucky in that regard, that I have managed to stay true to my ideals and I’m still foolish enough to believe in my dreams. I wish more people my age had. Maybe we’d have a better world.
Dreaming is usually left up to the young, who can’t even imagine that their dreams wouldn’t come true. Somehow when you get older, you give up on some of your dreams. It seems like in our culture, we buy into the notion that with the responsibilities that come with age, there is no room for our dreams. I must tell you though, that I’ve always felt that if I couldn’t hold on to my own dreams – how could I ever teach my daughter how important that is, for a life well lived.
When my daughter Erin and I set out around the world together two years ago, it was to film the stories of people who were doing extraordinary things. These were all ordinary individuals who believed in the impossible. The film was inspired by Erin’s high school friend, Maggie Doyne, who opted not to head straight off to college after graduation. Maggie traveled and wound up in Nepal helping children, orphaned by ten years of civil war. Seven years later, Maggie lives with her 40 children, in a home she built in Nepal, has built a primary school and is now raising money to build a high school.
Maggie is 25 years old with wisdom beyond her years and a youthful spirit to believe that anything is possible. She reminds me of myself when I was her age, although I pale in comparison to what she has done at such a young age. I too traveled when I was just starting out in life. I left college after two years and circled the globe to satisfy my curiosity. When I returned, I went back to school to study photography, graduated and set out to make my living at commercial photography. My heart was in photojournalism and documentary photography, but everybody told me that I couldn’t make a living doing that kind of work – and I believed them.
Early on, I was looking for assistant work in NYC and I went to see legendary NY photographer, Jay Maisel. I brought my perfectly executed commercial photography portfolio with me to get Jay’s advice. For some reason, I also brought some “snapshots” that I had taken on my trip around the world, before I had gone to photography school. Jay looked at my portfolio and tossed it back to me saying “this is crap”. After seeing the shock on my face, he said, “this isn’t what you want to do, is it?” I showed him my snapshots and he said, “this is what you want to do – why aren’t you doing it?” I proceeded to tell him all the reasons that people had told me, and I was telling myself, why I wasn’t following the path I was passionate about. He looked at me and he asked, “How old are you?” I replied 25. And he said, “You’re 25 and you’re already making compromises?”
There have been many days since then, when I have wanted to throw my hands up and give up on my ideals and dreams and then I remember that day with Maisel and I think about people like Maggie – and I manage to hold on.
This blog is two-fold. First, a brief announcement about some exciting news we received recently – we have been accepted into the Naperville Independent Film Festival! Naperville is a suburb outside of Chicago, so it is especially exciting for me to be able to go to a film festival that’s local enough to drive to and bring friends. Even more exciting is that we have been nominated for the Best Documentary award AND we were notified that there will representatives from a distribution company at the festival! We’re looking forward to attending in September.
I also wanted to share a message from CCI and Greenheart’s President, Emanuel Kuntzelman. CCI and Greenheart is an official sponsor of Opening Our Eyes; it is also the organization where I work. It is a cultural exchange organization that facilitates many different exchange programs, one of which brings high school students to the U.S. and places them with volunteer host families and high schools for the academic year.
We are currently in the home stretch of looking for host families willing to provide homes for the students arriving to start school this fall. Emanuel sent the message below to our field staff, which works to place these students with families and schools. However, I felt that his ultimate message about the power of the individual in changing lives really resonated with Opening Our Eyes’s message:
Steve Jobs once said that “People with passion can change the world for the better.” At CCI we have lots of passionate people ready to do just that. In these final weeks of searching for host families, I would like to remind all of us why we are putting in the extra effort.
You are not just a sole person in your community, but an extraordinary member of an amazing team. You are a change maker, one of hundreds at CCI and Greenheart, that are creating a world that will be more peaceful and understanding through your hard work. The phone calls and networking and extra hours of searching for host families add up to more than just meeting a goal; you are making a real difference in not only the life of an exchange student, but the lives of the host family, their friends, the family of the exchange student and the ripple effect goes on. This is the expanding power of one. One more placement by one more person adds up to many changed lives for years to come.
Thank you in advance for tapping into the power of one–your own, individual effort–to make this happen and help get all of our students placed. When all of our students arrive later this summer, the most important number of all will still be “one”: the one sense of accomplishment that each of us will have in knowing that we did our part to use our passion to change the world, one placement at a time.
Here’s to all of you–the fantastic powers of one adding up to far more than the sum of individuals.
With energy, gratitude, and best wishes for the weeks ahead,
Emanuel Kuntzelman, President
Center for Cultural Interchange and Greenheart
If you are interested in hosting an exchange student for this coming academic year, or you know someone who would be interested, please visit CCI’s website to learn more. You can also call the CCI office at 1-800-634-4771 if you have any questions.
Another year gone by – faster than the last. It’s a soft day, as I look out at a choppy sea and a sky that’s an ominous blue/black, keeping the crowds away from the beach. It’s OK with me, I love this sort of weather, a welcome relief from the usual sweltering day that has defined many July 21sts over the years . It’s the kind of day, it’s easy to get lost in thought and think about past birthdays.
I wish I could remember all of my birthdays, but there have been too many and too many years between them. There have been many memorable ones, that stand out in the recesses of my mind. Here are a couple of them – in no particular order.
2005– I spent the day sitting on the edge of a cliff in
Machu Picchu, Peru with my husband and my daughter. It was cold and rainy and yet I was so awed by the sight before me, I barely noticed the rain. No words could ever describe the magnificence of the moment – not then or now. It is a memory that has been indelibly burned into my mind’s eye.
1962 – Going to the “air cooled” movie theater to cool off. We saw Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation – a touching, funny family story with Jimmy Stewart, Maureen O’Hara, Fabion and others that somehow made an impression on me and has stayed with me all these years.
1969 – That was a big year for me. I had just graduated from high school and turned 18 years old that summer. They were supposed to land on the moon for the first time on my birthday, but they were a few hours early, marking July 20th as that historic day, instead of my birthday. I was quite annoyed, but forgot all about it a few weeks later when I went to The Atlantic City Pops Festival and then Woodstock later in August. What a summer.
2010 – Spending the day with Ronni Kahn of OzHarvest when Erin and I were making our journey around the world. It was one of the most wonderful birthdays I have ever spent. Ronni was truly inspirational and made a lasting impression on me. Whenever, I stray off my purpose, I jump back to that day in my mind and I quickly get re-centered.
2011 – Last year’s birthday and a big one in many ways. It was one of those milestone birthdays that ends in a 0, but for me it was the day we had our first “sneak preview” of our film at the beautiful State Theatre in Traverse City, .Michigan. I will never forget the feeling when I heard the first musical notes of Alive in the World as the red velvet curtain was raised on the screen. It was a typical hot humid day when we left the theater – in fact that day it broke 100. We headed out to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Seashore along Lake Michigan and when we returned to town and were walking by the theater, the usher who had helped us earlier that day said “It broke 100 today – that means that movies are free all day tomorrow”. The end to a perfect day.