Tag Archives: helping others
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 been using technology and social media a lot lately to get the word out about Opening Our Eyes. In doing so I have started to reconnect with a lot of folks from my past. I wrote a post recently on my professional blog, Journeys of a Hybrid, about using technology to reconnect with people from the past. I’ve never been one to actively seek out people from my past. I’ve never been to a high school reunion – and there have been quite a few. But now, it’s a lot easier to find and be found by people.
What I’m finding out is that when I do reconnect with people I haven’t seen in many, years, I find that the ones I “clicked with” back then,I still click with, now. Some have showed up at screenings and some at professional events – but each time we reconnected it was like resuming a conversation that had begun years ago – without missing a beat.
One old friend I reconnected with, said something to me that got my attention. We hadn’t seen each other in decades. He told me that he had wondered over the years, what had happened to me, but that somehow he knew that I was probably doing what it was that I was meant to do – and that I was living my life fully. He said he remembered my “spirit.” When he “found” me on Facebook and heard about the movie, he was prompted to reconnect.
As much as it is fun to go down memory lane every now and then, I am finding that using social media to connect with “new” friends is a powerful tool to connect with “friends” who are kindred spirits. I am in the process of working with a web designer to build this website into more than just my blog and information about the film. My vision and long term goal is to use the website to build a “community” – a community of like minded people who are interested in “making a difference.” I want to build a gathering place for people to interact with one another. I want to take it beyond just my voice. The film can set the stage for inspiration but the virtual “community” will give people a place to connect, share and learn from one another.
Changes on the website will take place slowly over the coming months – everything always seems to take longer than what I think it will take – but eventually it the site will morph into a place for people to interact with one another. I think these days – it’s more interesting to use technology in an interactive way rather than just present a one-way conversation via a blog post.
It will only be successful if the community grows and shares. I hope that everyone who reads this post will contribute to the dialog as it unfolds, and gets others to engage so that we can all create a shift – toward bringing about a world that’s less self centered. The best part is that with the technology at hand these days and social media, we can connect our past “friends” with our future “friends” and make this world a better place together.
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
This day, that is supposedly about “love” has actually lost the meaning of that word in all the hype and commerce that has attached itself to it. In fact, I’d have to say that this particular day does more in the way of making people feel unloved than loved.
I suppose my feelings about Valentines Day started very early on when I was still in grade school. Every year, no matter which school I was attending, ( I moved a lot when I was younger) the teacher would set aside some time for the students to make and trade valentines. First we needed to make a box where our classmates could deposit their tokens of affection. Being the creative type, I would take an ordinary shoebox and turn it into a work of art. My classmates and I would either buy or make our valentines and then place them into each other’s elaborate or not so elaborate containers.
The day would finally arrive and we would all open up our boxes and dump our valentines out onto our desks. Sadly, most years my box contained only a handful of cards, even though I always had at least 50 kids in my classroom! That’s the way it was back then. But I was the perpetual “new kid” because my family moved a lot. And so, that took it’s toll on Valentines Day because I usually wasn’t on my classmates’ radar.
I look at the day now as an adult and I see that it still causes a lot of misplaced expectations on our loved ones, and worse yet, makes some of us feel like a total unloved misfit, if we don’t have a significant other or aren’t on the receiving end of someone’s affections. All this angst created by a day that has turned love into commerce.
I decided to write about this today because I’m reflecting on pivotal moments in my life when I really felt true love – unconditional love. One day in particular was the day after my daughter was born. I held her in my arms and I felt a love that I had never known before. I know that any parent reading this understands what I mean. Love should always be unconditional. We only truly “love” someone, when we love in that way – unconditionally. That only happens when we are able to think beyond ourselves. When we love someone, regardless of what they’ve said or done in anger or sadness, we begin to know what love really is. But we have to see past ourselves to get to that place.
Ronni Kahn, one of the subjects in our film said: “Do something for the sake of doing – not for the money – not for the recognition – but just for the sake of doing”. I think she was defining what true love really is. If we can abandon our expectations of what we want or expect in return from our loved ones – then that’s when we really care about that person and really love them. It’s hard to do, because you have to let go of your ego and how you feel. But when you truly love someone, you forgive their frailties and missteps and love them for who they are.
Forget the flowers, candy and cards today. Reach out to someone who needs some love or maybe just needs a bit of attention. Think beyond yourself. When you do that, you will understand the real meaning of the word “love”.
Over a year ago, in October 2010, just a month after we had returned from our three-month journey to make the film, I wrote a blog about my new job that I had started just a few weeks before:
“I started a new job this month at the Center for Cultural Interchange – a nonprofit organization that facilitates cultural exchange programs for young people, mainly for high school students. I work in the Academic Year Programs department, which works with inbound foreign high school students coming to study and live in the U.S. You might think: “Wow! That job sounds perfect for you and makes so much sense, given your experience this summer.” And I would reply: “You’re right!” I’m very excited to be working there, and I feel fortunate that I am able to work in a field that I actually care about. I believe that it’s so important for everyone to have some kind of experience abroad, especially for young people, for it is through cultural exchange that we can learn to understand and respect others and ourselves. That is certainly something that I learned this summer.”
If you told me the same thing now, I would reply in the exact same way. In fact, I would have even more great things to say because I have learned so much about CCI (Center for Cultural Interchange) and all of its fantastic programs over the past 15 months. In addition to the Academic Year Program, which brings hundreds of international high school students to the U.S. each year to live with host families, attend school and participate in great cultural exchanges, CCI also brings university students to work, travel and have an internship in the U.S. through the Work Programs department. The Short-Term Programs department also offers a myriad of options for young people to participate in language clubs, direct school exchanges or stay with American host families for shorter periods of time.
Just as it’s important to bring international students here, so they can experience life in the U.S., it’s equally important to provide those opportunities to American students and send them abroad to learn about other cultures. CCI’s Greenheart Travel department provides such an opportunity, with programs for American citizens to teach abroad, volunteer abroad and attend high school abroad. Maggie Doyne is a perfect example of how someone could benefit from such a program – from her experience traveling and volunteering after high school, she was inspired to make a difference in Nepal and started the Kopila Valley Children’s Home.
Volunteering and giving back to one’s community is an important part of CCI’s mission as well through its Greenheart initiative. CCI is known as the “Greenheart of Cultural Exchange” because each of its programs offers all of its participants grants and support to do environmental and social volunteering while abroad. CCI encourages participants to collaborate with their new host community and work on projects to make positive change in a sustainable way. These experiences not only enhance the participant’s program, but also help make a difference in communities around the world.
We are very proud to announce CCI and Greenheart as a sponsor of Opening Our Eyes. We feel that their mission is perfectly aligned with the project and we look forward to future collaboration in promoting the importance of cultural exchange and how one person can make a positive difference in the world.
I was catching up with a filmmaker friend yesterday and he told me that he was going to be working on a pro bono piece for a non-profit charity in his area. I was delighted to hear that because it was just one small sign that maybe – just maybe this idea of “making a difference” is catching on.
To be honest, there may have been a time in my life where I would have been protective of my creative ideas to a fault – but not any more and certainly not in terms of the focus of this film. What would be the point anyway? First of all this film was meant to motivate others to “do something” – anything really that could make our world a better place. And secondly – it really has no bearing on what I am doing – meaning whether or not I will succeed or fail if they do. I realize that someone does not need to lose in order for me to win and vice versa. In fact I’m of the mind that we are all more powerful when we partner and collaborate with one another toward the same end – especially when it comes to sustaining our planet.
It has amused me from time to time when I have seen people click the “unlike” or “dislike” button on this blog or other stories that I have posted on my Facebook Fan Page. Why on earth would someone dislike a story about a 14-year-old girl’s efforts in tutoring others at her school? I wonder sometimes why someone even wants to use their energy in such a negative way and if that in fact brings them pleasure – especially when it is affixed to something that is positive. Quite honestly I don’t check analytics much because I try not to let others negativity or negative opinions of who I am or what I am doing – determine my worth. Most times it’s merely a reflection of who they are or what they are dealing with in their own life. And so I do my best to understand.
But the simple fact is I’m just another human being – no better or worse than anyone else. I’m no saint – that’s for sure. I’m a passionate person and that is sure to rub people the wrong way. In fact there are times when I wish I could take a vacation from myself. I am only human, with my own frailties. While it may sometimes seem like I’m fearless and that everything always goes my way – I can assure you that there have been many sleepless nights where I lie awake playing out all kinds of scenarios in my head that are fraught with peril.
And so these days, I try to accept who I am, and be mindful of how I may affect some people and try to look for the beauty in others instead of the bad. There have been plenty of times I may have chosen to see only the negative side of things and have hurt others in the process but that has only brought more pain in my own life. So if I come across as an obnoxious goody goody at times – it’s because I try to be more compassionate of my fellow man. Do I always succeed? No, I am not perfect. I try to learn from past mistakes and do better the next time.
So please steal this idea – of seeing the good in people – and try to be a better person yourself. Think beyond yourself and your own inner circle of family and friends and go out and make a positive difference in someone else’s life. Imagine if more of us thought like that? And it just might bring more gratification in your own life – than hitting the “dislike” button.
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.
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.