Tag Archives: documentary
I have had the privilege of representing Opening Our Eyes at two film festivals the past few weeks: the first at the Bare Bones International Film Festival in Muskogee, Oklahoma and the second at the Myrtle Beach International Film Festival in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. And boy, I do have to say that I love that southern charm. I’m not saying that Oklahoma and South Carolina are the same by any means. But at both places, I was surrounded by a sense of small-town pride, extreme friendliness and a big ‘old dose of southern hospitality.
This especially came in handy when I was in Muskogee, as I was completely by myself. The festival had arranged for volunteers to pick filmmakers up at the airport in Tulsa, which is a good hour drive from Muskogee. I arrived late Friday night in the wake of some torrential thunderstorms and severe tornado warnings. But my volunteer, Lara, still showed up on time, with a smile, gave me a big hug and even brought me a little goody bag to welcome me to Oklahoma. Lara ended up driving me into town from my hotel the next morning, too where I was lucky to witness the Azalea Parade, and later, the annual chili and BBQ cook-off. If that wasn’t a good introduction to Oklahoma, I don’t know what was.
After eating several helpings of chili and baked beans (and getting some on my dress, of course), I went to the Roxy Theater and met the directors of the festival, Oscar and Shironbutterfly Ray, as well as some of the other filmmakers. Everyone was very friendly and excited that I had come, and I found myself starting to understand why Bare Bones is known as the “Friendliest Film Festival” by many filmmakers.
After the screening of the film, Lara continued to show her hospitality by taking me to see the blooming azaleas that Muskogee is known for, then out for a dinner of BBQ ribs, and finally a traditional Native American powwow. By the end of my stay, it didn’t matter that I didn’t get any cell phone service in Muskogee – I had been charmed by the “Okies from Muskogee,” and I certainly didn’t feel alone anymore.
Myrtle Beach was a slightly different story. I was not alone (I had Executive Producer Angel Burns at my side) and I had the chance to meet more of the other filmmakers who were attending the festival. In fact, one of the filmmakers who I had briefly met in Oklahoma was in Myrtle Beach as well! – a classic “small-world” moment. But the festival directors and the local people I met were just as friendly and welcoming. Several locals told me that they’ve been coming to the festival for years and are always so excited when the filmmakers come from around the country. We went to a few local establishments for gatherings after the screenings where the owners were more than generous with their food. And everyone called me ma’am! Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the small-town atmosphere, friendly festival-goers and southern charm of both film festivals.
I am proud to announce the awards that Opening Our Eyes has won at both these festivals. At Bare Bones International Film Festival: Best Movie Trailer and Best Humanitarian Documentary. At Myrtle Beach International Film Festival: 2ndrunner up for Best Documentary.
And I am looking forward to our next festival this weekend: the Awareness Festival in LA!
At one of the film festivals I recently attended, I had a wonderful conversation with a young filmmaker. I told him that if I had known that I would still be involved with this film, more than 2 years after I conceived of the idea – I probably never would have started it. He laughed and even though he was probably 20 or 30 years younger than I, he spoke from a place of wisdom beyond his years – no doubt an old soul – at least in spirit. He told me “You never really “finish” a film – you just get to a point where you are ready to let go. “
Am I ready to let go? I ask myself that question daily. I should be screaming an emphatic “yes” for every logical and practical reason. It has consumed me from the very start, in every way imaginable, and on one very real level, I can and need to “let go” and move on. But on another, much deeper level – I’m not ready to move on because this “thing” that I started so long ago, is, and always has been, more than a film. It has become a “shift” – a shift in my point of view, my perspective, beliefs, and values. In fact it as caused a “shift” in just about every area of my life.
This film was never meant to be something that I created for fame and fortune. Any fool knows that making a documentary is hardly a way to make money. It has been a drain financially from the beginning. As far as fame – well I’ve had my moments to shine and I’ve had some wins but I’ve had far more losses and rejections that have kept me humble and I’m grateful for the recognition when it comes. So, why is it that I’m still not quite ready to let go? Every time I begin to feel overwhelmed by frustration and want to close the door on this “thing”, I remind myself of why I started this folly. I felt that there was an absence and longing in our culture for hope. I felt there was a need for a “shift” in attitude. I truly believe that this film and other films like it can make a difference by getting people to think.
Every time I have attended a screening of this film, I can see that for those 76 minutes that I have the attention of the audience – I really have them – I’ve touched them – I’ve gotten them to think. I’m usually buoyed by the audience’s reaction and remarks and I feel hopeful that “change” can happen – change for the betterment of the planet and mankind. There is always one person who comes up to me or writes me and tells me that I’ve “moved” them in some way, and they thank me for making this movie. How do I let go of something that has the power to move people? I don’t think I can.
My goal all along has been to create a positive shift in attitude. I can’t abandon that just when it’s starting to grow. Instead, I am planning to make this website, much more than a website about the film. My vision is that it will become a place where liked minded people can interact with one another and create a greater global shift. I can’t be the lone voice, and I don’t think I have the heart to do that. The virtual world can be a lonely world without interaction – too lonely for me. I thrive on connections and the strength that comes from them. I have a feeling that I’m not the only one that craves connectivity on some level. This website will grow slowly in that direction over the coming months. I am working with a web guru to execute what I envision as far as making the website a “community”. I suspect that building the web interface will be the easy part of the process. Getting people to interact and share with one another will take more doing. I’ll need everyone’s help on that part. That’s the only way it will work – and grow.
There have been some who have questioned the wisdom of my folly and others who’ve dismissed the idea entirely. There are some who tell me to move on – that the journey is over. Literally speaking, the journey is over, in terms of the making of this movie but the journey was just the beginning as far as what this movie was meant to do. I’m not ready to abandon that notion just yet.
I’ve attended two film festivals to date: The San Luis Obispo Film Festival and the Los Angeles Women’s Film Festival. I can’t begin to describe what it feels like to have a film in a festival, especially so late in my career. As I write “late in my career” there is almost a disconnect. That may be others’ perception of me but for some crazy reason, I don’t feel that way at all. In fact, in many ways I feel like it’s just the beginning.
“There’s a time for everything” That’s what Dr. David Mar Naw told Erin and I that rainy day we interviewed him in a bamboo hut in a remote hill tribe village in northern Thailand. It seems like a lifetime ago that we met Dr. David, yet it was but a year and a half ago. Had I known that this project would have consumed my time – and me – the way it did – well, let’s say I might not have started it. Yet I did start it, perhaps because I felt that this was the time in my life to do something like this.
Last night the film screened in Los Angeles and it was close to a full house – a few empty seats here and there. There were a lot of friends and colleagues there last night, and even someone I hadn’t seen in 30 years. And to top it off, Gina Low, one of our subjects was in attendance with lots of her family and supporters of Apeca. I hadn’t seen Gina or Pablo since we left Peru in August of 2010. For me, that is the best part about festivals – sharing my film with friends – new and old. That’s why I made this film – to share – not just the film but also the message behind it of what one person can do to make a difference in the world.
After our film screened, there was one last film that night – “Gloria”, a movie about Gloria Steinem. The film was fascinating, a combination of present day and past interviews of Steinem along with lots of historical footage and photos. Even though Gloria has more than a decade of years ahead of me, I vividly remember that period of time in the “women’s movement”. I attended at least two marches that showed up in the film, as a young college aged woman of the time. That era had a profound effect on my life. I had always questioned “fairness” even as a child and when I came of age as a young woman during that time in history, I had little tolerance for people who told me I couldn’t do something because I was a woman. I vividly remember feeling during that period in time, that as a woman, I had been born at just the right time. A time of change.
It’s never easy to be on the forefront of change and yet it seems to be the pattern of my life. So maybe now, during this time of “change”, this is my time to begin yet again another new chapter of my life. I was interviewed last night and was asked two great questions that were easy for me to answer:
The first was “What got you through it” (meaning the journey).
I answered, “The people, behind these stories, they were incredibly inspirational”.
And the other question, “Did making this film change your life?”
My answer “Yes, in every way imaginable – but I knew that it would.”
“Without leaps of imagination, or dreaming, we lose the excitement of possibilities. Dreaming, after all, is a form of planning.” Gloria Steinem
The last Christmas I spent with my mother was the Christmas of 2003. I didn’t know that would be our last Christmas together. She died very suddenly, less than two months later. I often wonder if I had known that Christmas was to be the last one that I’d spend with my mother, if I would have asked her the questions that I always wanted to ask. One thing I do remember about that Christmas was a moment during the evening when I caught a look in my mother’s face that I had seen before – a distant look where I felt as if she was somewhere else.
After my mother’s death, I learned a great deal about my mother – things I would have loved to have talked to her about. I was a perceptive and curious child, and there were always questions that I wanted to ask her, but I never did. I don’t know why. I could say that there was “never the right time” but I’ve grown to hate that expression or should I say excuse. I guess I was just too afraid.
I would not have been able to take the journey around the world with my daughter Erin and make this film if it hadn’t been for my mother. That’s why the name of the production company is Nola Productions, Nola was my mother’s name. When she died, she left me a bit of money and that helped finance Opening Our Eyes. That and airline miles, hotel points, crowd-funding and lots of help from my friends. But my mother gave me something even more important than money, that made this film happen. She gave me, belief in myself and compassion for others. If it hadn’t have been for my mom, I wouldn’t have had the desire to make a film that delivers the message, that we can all make a difference in how we choose to live our lives. And she always told me to believe in myself and my dreams and that anything was possible.
If you were to ask me (and many have) what was the best part of the trip – I’d would tell you that ii was spending time with my daughter. We not only explored the world together – we got to know each other as people – beyond the mother/daughter relationship. We’ll both remember the amazing places we went to and the extraordinary people that we met, but I think the memories that will linger the longest will be the conversations that we had along the way. We both asked the questions that we had been wanting to ask and shared the stories that we needed to share. Ultimately we “took the time” to get to know one another.
When I tell women about this trip and what I did with my daughter – they always say one of two things – or both – “Oh I would love to do that with my daughter” or “ I wish I had gotten to know my mother better”. I’m grateful that I had this time with my daughter and I know my mom was with us all the way. We couldn’t have done it without her.
Have a Merry Christmas everyone.
Last spring, my daughter and I set out to circle the globe on a 99-day journey, seeking people who were making a difference in the world. A little more than a year later, we have completed a feature documentary about ordinary people on six continents who have not only had a positive impact on others, but they have had life changing experiences themselves.
This journey and the film were inspired by a
young woman that my daughter had gone to high school with, Maggie Doyne, At 19-years old, Maggie opted not to go straight off to college, but instead traveled on what was intended to be a gap year between high school and college. Five years later, at the age of 24, she has built a home in Nepal for 35 orphaned children, where she now resides and had recently finished construction on a primary school for 250 children when we visited her last summer..
Maggie has caught the attention of quite a few high profile people who have helped her in her mission. Last fall she appeared on the cover of the NY Times Magazine illustrating an article by Nicholas Kristof about DIY foreign aid. She’s a remarkable young woman. But what is often overlooked when one mentions Maggie’s accomplishments is that she herself, has changed her life’s path – before barely beginning.
Maggie is just one of eleven people that appear in our film, Opening Our Eyes. As we traveled the world, my daughter and I quickly realized that all of these extraordinary people had one thing in common, beyond doing good for others. They all had disrupted their own lives and had shifted course. They had discovered their purpose and in the process, found their bliss.
Maggie is fortunate that she made this discovery while she was still young. In a less dramatic way, I had my own awakening early in my career. In the late 70’s, I had just finished studying photography at Brooks Institute in Santa Barbara, California and I headed back East to pursue a career as a photojournalist. It was not the best of times to be starting out as a photojournalist, at least in terms of being able to make a decent living. So, I took a bit of a detour and pursued commercial photography instead. While making the rounds with my portfolio in NYC, I went to see legendary photographer Jay Maisel. Jay was known for his blunt demeanor, and when he looked at my perfectly presented photographic portfolio, he tossed it at me and told me it was garbage. He asked me if I had anything else to show him. I took out my dog-eared photos from my first world journey that I had taken before heading to Brooks. As he looked through my “snapshots” he asked me how old I was. I replied that I was 25 years old. He looked me straight in the eye and said, “You’re 25 and you’re already making compromises?” That was a turning point in my life and I never looked back from pursuing my passion.
I suppose Maggie and I are lucky in that we discovered our purpose at such a young age. But in making this film I learned one important thing – it’s never too late to find your bliss.
I gave a TEDx talk in Sao Paulo, Brazil last week, which was an energizing experience on many levels. I also had the opportunity to screen the film for a non-US audience for the first time. This has always been a very “global” project by the very nature that I’ts comprised of 11 stories on six continents. But it was the first time that I received a more “global” perspective and feedback on the film.
One young man from the audience asked a great question that had never been asked before in previous Q & A sessions. He asked me if making this film had changed my life. My answer was “yes, and it continues to change my life in many ways”.
Even though this was the first time anyone has asked me this question,
I think about how my life has changed all the time. Perhaps the biggest change was for me to really recognize what’s important and what’s not. I’ve come to realize that the thing that’s most important to me is for me to live my life doing the right thing. By that I mean, recognizing the fact that while it may seem to get me a little further ahead, by beating out the “other guy” or their agendas – it really doesn’t. Just because someone else “loses” doesn’t necessarily mean that I win.
When I returned to the US after being away for almost four months, I was struck by how we were behaving as a society. It seemed to me like we were spending more time and energy focusing on how to stop “the other guy” than we were on focusing on what we wanted and what we can do. So for me, after spending four months with people who were living their lives according to their own doctrine and happy because of it, I decided to shift my way of thinking. I’m now much more focused on what I can achieve while doing the right thing without the detriment to others. Perhaps if we all thought like that, everybody would win. Nowadays it seems like there are too many losers in our collective society.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been over a year since Erin and I returned from our round the world adventure, and I am very aware and grateful of how the making of this film has changed my life. I’d like to think that it has made me a better person.
I never fully realized the power that is within me to make a difference, until recently. Last summer, my daughter and I spent time with extraordinary people who were providing homes for orphans, feeding the hungry and curing the ill. They were all people we met while making a documentary about the change makers in our world – people who are making our planet a better place.
Our goal was to inspire and motivate others as to what they can do to make a difference in their own communities. Our goal was to cause a shift, in culture and in thought – from “what in it for me?” to “what can I do?” We’ve just begun to submit this documentary to film festivals and show sneak previews to small audiences but I can already tell that this film has affected change and the potential it has to move people to action.
From our first sneak preview at the beautiful State Theater in Traverse City, MI to a recent screening at MIS in Sao Paulo, Brazil, I feel the energy in the room and the collective desire to strive for a better world. I feel the power of film and the power within me as a storyteller and filmmaker. I feel the time for this film is now and that people are hungry for hope.
Many documentaries take the critical point of view and certainly have more conflict. Opening Our Eyes is different from other docs in that it shines a light on what IS being done to create positive change by individuals all over the world. Somehow by showing the small acts, this film makes all of us believe that we can create change as well. It empowers us to believe in the possibilities and gives us the hope we seem to be yearning for these days.
When I first conceived of the idea for this film, inspired by friend and neighbor Maggie Doyne, I was looking for some positive hope myself. I was tired of listening to the hundreds of “experts” on TV talking and all of them needing to be “right” – and nothing was getting any better. That was long before the Arab Spring and the Occupy movements. What I was sensing was the rest of the world was feeling the same way I was and decided to do something about it.
Time will tell if the film continues to create awareness and moves people to action, but at least I’m hopeful again.
We can’t do it without your help.
As I listened to the many speakers of the day, talking about what they were doing in their life and in turn affecting other people’s lives, I couldn’t help but feel the common bond amongst this group. They were all thinking beyond themselves and that in itself was not only energizing but gave me great hope for the future. Most of the speakers were young – and it brought me back to when I was their age, so full of hope and believing that I could change the world. I suppose I am in the minority of people of my generation, because I’ve managed to hold on to those beliefs. If I hadn’t, I never would have embarked on this journey that I started with my daughter, almost two years ago.
Yesterday evening I screened the film for many of the same people that had attended the TEDx conference. While I may be from a different generation and cultural background – we were kindred spirits in our beliefs, and our concern for others and the planet that we live on. It was the first time that I showed the film outside the United States and even though that was part of our dream – to take this film globally – I wasn’t quite sure how it would be received. But during the Q&A, I realized what I had probably known all along – that no matter how different our cultures may be in so many ways – we had the common bonds of what connects all humanity. We all need food and shelter and the obvious needs of life – but there is something more that all humans need – the need to love and be loved. The need to know that someone cares.
I think sometimes we forget that basic human desire, overcome by our drive to be successful – sometimes thinking that someone surely has to lose in order for us to win. Last night someone asked me “Has your life changed since making this film?” I’ve had half a dozen screenings in the US and I think this was the first time that I was asked this question. I didn’t have to think much to answer the question, and I said “yes – I have changed mostly in what I place importance on in my life. The little things that used to bother me a great deal, don’t seem to matter anymore in the big picture of life.”
I’ve been thinking about that a lot this morning and I think that even though my outlook has changed, I still basically remain the same person I have always been – meaning my fundamental character. I think what has really changed is that I’ve recognized the person who I have always been – and stopped living the dogma that others believe in.
The funny thing is, the people who are in my life now, tell me how young and energetic I look and how happy and content I appear. I think what they see is what I am feeling on the inside. I also think that because of that, I am attracting people who are meant to be in my life. I’m no longer concerned about people who I thought I wanted or needed in my life, but might not have felt the same way. I only wish that I had learned this a long time ago. But as many of the wonderful people who appear in our film told us “there is a time for everything.” Thank you to all the beautiful people in Sao Paulo who have made this a very special and memorable experience. Our hearts will remain connected even though the miles may separate us.
I was invited recently to speak at a TEDx event in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Someone in Brazil had seen the trailer for Opening Our Eyes and wanted me to come to this event and talk about the subjects in our film. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, and the commonalities amongst the people in our film; they all think beyond themselves and consider how their actions will or won’t affect others. In return of course, they are all richly rewarded.
There isn’t a day that I don’t think about Ronni Kahn’s words “don’t do it for the money….. or for the recognition…….do it for the sake of doing.” Every one of our subjects lives their lives this way. At a time when the prevailing attitude seems to be “what’s in it for me?” these people have put their egos aside and are “doing for the sake of doing”. That is why so many of our subjects tended to shy away from the camera and the limelight, but were eager to tell their stories in order to help their causes.
Let’s face it, in a culture of “packaging and fizz”, it’s hard to sort through all the noise and pick out authenticity. Even that word itself “authenticity” has been over used and has lost its meaning. But we can all spot “the real deal” when we see it. Just like knowing who your real friends are – you just know.
So, I think the only way to talk about the subjects of our film, in just 18 minutes, is to point out that they are no different than you or me – they are just ordinary people who think beyond themselves. They are doing what they feel is the right thing to do and are staying close to their convictions and beliefs. They believe in the impossible and have a can do attitude. They are “walkin’ the walk”, not just talking. They take one step at a time in pursuing their dreams.
Yesterday as I was packing my gear for an upcoming three week trip to New Zealand, I had a major flashback to when I was getting ready for a 99-day trip around the world. My daughter, Erin and I had embarked on that journey about a year and a half ago. But this time, I was going solo.
I looked at all the gear laid out on the dining room table, just as I did last year, wondering how I would fit it into one small backpack. I will strip it down of course, taking only the gear that I can manage by myself. For the most part, I will be traveling solo this time. It got me thinking about the round-the-world trip that I took last year with Erin.
I’ve spent the better part of my life traveling the world and taking pictures. Most of those years, I was a solo act, on assignment for various magazines and corporations. Last year, when Erin heard that I would be circling the globe, she wanted to come along. Initially, I hadn’t imagined the trip or the project as a collaborative effort – let alone with my daughter. She had recently graduated from Northwestern University in Chicago and had been lucky enough to get a job. But Erin wanted to be part of this project and journey and so it became a combined effort – a mother-daughter team.
That ended up being the best part about the trip– sharing that experience with my daughter. We’ll have that bond for a lifetime. And now, I couldn’t have imagined doing that journey any other way.
Since then, there have been countless hours/days/weeks/months that have gone into the post-production part of the film, leaving the “journey” a collection of water colored memories floating in my head. I’ve remained closely connected to the project because I’ve been very hands-on with the edit. So for me, those memories remain part of my daily psyche. In that regard, the making of the film has been a bit bittersweet as I am reminded daily – that part of the journey is over.
We’ll always have those beautiful memories burned inside our heads. More importantly, we have a film that can be shared with others around the world, in the hopes that it will provoke thought and maybe even move people to action – to make a difference.
Please share this film. That’s the only way it will happen.