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 have been going to a lot of film festivals this past month and we’ve done quite well, winning Best Documentary at the Orlando Film Festival and Festival Theme Award at the Ojai Film Festival (theme was “Enriching the Human Spirit Through Film”). While I am truly honored that the film has done so well at festivals, I need to remind myself that I did not make this film to garner accolades.
Erin and I made this film to create awareness and inspire and motivate others, as to what they can do to make our world a better place. That will only happen if we utilize the power of film and get it seen. Whether it is seen at film festivals, broadcast or online, our goal is to reach people everywhere. Our hope is that we can create a “shift” and get people to realize the power they have as an individual in making the world – the world they want to live in.
When I talk to people in the audience at film festivals, I can see that happening. I hear it in their questions and comments. I see it in their eyes. But I always wish there were more people in the audience and more audiences to show it to and I get impatient waiting for it to “grow”. I have faith that it will because I know we aren’t the only ones who are thinking about the future of our planet or looking for a little “more” in their own lives.
I’m encouraged by the people in our film like Maggie Doyne, Letha Sandison and Gina Low who stay committed to their cause. I wish there were more people like them and maybe, just maybe someone will see our film and do something because of it. That is how I can make a difference – by using my craft to create awareness. So, please forgive me if I post too much on Facebook or send out too many emails about upcoming festivals. The film will only have the power to make a difference – if someone sees it.
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.
“Speak a Foreign Language Fluently in 3 Months” was one of the workshops I attended this past weekend at the World Domination Summit. That workshop title probably smacks of a snake oil salesman’s pitch to most of you, and what the heck is a world domination summit anyway? Prior to leaving for this conference, I must say it was kind of tricky explaining to people what it was, but everyone was intrigued by the title.
Essentially, it was a weekend gathering of like-minded people who wanted to live remarkable lives in a conventional world. There were people of all ages, from all over the world and from all sorts of career paths. But we had one thing in common and that was we were open to possibilities and courageous enough to be vulnerable. Wow – that seems like an oxymoron “courageous enough to be vulnerable” but actually it’s not at all. One must be vulnerable in order to love, feel joy, hope, empathy, curiosity, and gratitude or be creative. One must be brave to be vulnerable.
It was a “community” of kindred spirits who were inspirational. Some were living remarkable lives and some had come because they had decided to makes changes in their live-s because they were not happy. One woman I met told me that she felt like she was living the lives of two different people – the person she was at her job and the person she really was – who was dying to get out. She told me that she was inspired by my courage and what I have done in my life and that she will remember me. The truth is I don’t perceive myself as courageous at all and in fact I’m terrified of doing most of the things that I do. I have a friend who made a life changing decision to move to another country where he didn’t have a job, nor spoke the language – now that took courage. I’m sure it had to be terrifying – I don’t think I could have done it. No doubt he was helped by friends and it became easier over time as he became part of the “community”.
That is what a community should be – people who connect in ways that help others realize their dreams. It can come from sharing thoughts on forums and blogs online but the real magic happens when they come together in a very “real” way.
You’re probably wondering about the workshop I took “Speak a Foreign Language Fluently in 3 Months”. It was given by a likable and very entertaining Irishman, Benny Lewis, who has managed to learn several languages. He said don’t learn a language from a book and don’t focus on the grammar. He said the best way is to be confident and “just” start speaking the language you want to learn with someone who speaks it. And these days you don’t need to go to Greece to learn Greek – one can find someone who speaks Greek on Couchsurfing.org or ITalkI.com and start having skype conversations with them. So I’m going to take his advice and depart from my Rosetta Stone and start skyping with someone in Spanish. That’s a scary thought to me – trying to talk to someone in a language I don’t know and humiliating myself in the process – but it’s a fear I’m willing to face.
Speaker Chris Brogan made a comment that resonated with me when he said:“the opposite of fear is not courage or bravery. The opposite of fear is surrender and giving up”. I will keep that in mind when I’m afraid to tackle the unknown – that to be fearful is being vulnerable and one has to experience that to be able to find joy.
I ran into someone over the weekend who I had not seen in many years. We had been good friends, but we had drifted apart, over some disagreements, that neither of us could even remember. I’m sure those disagreements seemed important at the time, but now they just seemed trivial. We both realized that we had let our egos get in the way of our friendship and instead of trying to heal the hurts that had severed our friendship – we put more angst, anger and sadness in its place.
I started thinking about the kids that I met at the Oasis Youth Network
in Sydney, Australia, when Erin and I were there, shooting this segment of Opening Our Eyes. One young man was telling his story of growing up in a broken home, with parents who were drug addicts and gamblers. He talked about stealing money for his lunch when he was a kid, and never having clean clothes to wear to school. He talked about getting into a life of drugs and crime and eventually being sent to jail, away from his children and everything that was good in his life. And then he talked about how Oasis had given him his life back and how Paul Moulds in particular had given him a “second chance”.
When we interviewed Paul Moulds for our film, he made a comment that still resonates with me to this day, almost two years later. In talking about kids who grew up in homes like the one this young man described, or worse yet, kids who were homeless and trying to scrape out some kind of life on the streets, he said: “we try to help these young people by training them and finding them a job – but who is going to be willing to hire them when they have no address, no education and no record of employment?” He went on to say that no matter, how much pain some of these kids had grown up with or how many wrong decisions they had made in their lives, that he still believed in giving them second chances. I remember thinking at the time that the world needed more people like Paul – people who believed in giving others, a second chance.
We all say and do stupid things in our lives and in the process, we end up hurting ourselves and the people we truly care about. We’ve given into our “precious egos” when we behave like that. Ultimately, many of us come to realize that we only bring more pain in our lives, by continuing to hold onto the hurts from the past, instead of letting go of our egos, and giving someone who may have done us wrong – a second chance. I think sometimes in our efforts to protect ourselves from being hurt by others, we bring more pain to our lives by shutting the door on second chances.
Jackson Browne writes, “It seems easier sometimes to change the past”. Unfortunately, we can’t change the past, but we don’t need to keep holding onto it. While it’s not easy to give someone a second chance, it feels so much better to leave the door open to possibilities. Imagine what the world would be like if we all thought like Paul Moulds, and thought that everyone deserves a second chance.
Chris Guillebeau wrote in his blog today “When I became an optimist after years of seeing the glass half-full, it was largely a practical choice. I just realized I was tired (literally) of putting my energy toward negative thoughts. It was draining and decapacitating. I vowed to put my energy toward positive thoughts, and ignore anything else as much as possible.” I can’t wait to meet Chris next week at his World Domination Summit in Portland, OR. In fact I can’t wait to meet all the people who attend this conference and think the same way Chris does.
Chris went on to say “Embrace the WOW. When someone does something interesting, appreciate it for what it is. Stop judging or discounting their achievements.” That sentence really resonated with me because there are days when I feel that no matter how much I have accomplished in my career and in my life, there are people who try to marginalize my achievements.
When I start to feel frustrated by people like that, I remind myself of what Ronni Kahn of Oz Harvest told me on a July day in Sydney, Australia “Don’t do something for the recognition – do it for the sake of doing.” Ronni was one of the many inspirational people my daughter Erin and I interviewed, on our trip around the world in the summer of 2010, during the making of our documentary, Opening Our Eyes.
I think back on all the travel logistics I needed to coordinate – our itinerary would have made one of the best travel agents panic – let alone figuring out how to do it using airline miles and hotel rewards. I also needed to think about the gear we would need to shoot both stills and video, that would fit into 2 backpacks. And I needed to make sure we had the necessary visas and vaccinations.
When we got back, I had over 5000 images and 150 hours of film to edit. Within two very long, bleak winter months in early 2011, I managed to lay down an initial rough cut of 3 hours of interviews. While I was doing the rough edit, I was also running a crowd funding campaign on Kickstarter to get funds to pay for a professional editor. I knew that would ultimately make all the difference in the world as far as how the film was cut – and it did.
It will be a year, next month since we screened our first “sneak preview” at the State Theatre in Traverse City, MI. Since that time, we’ve been honored at film festivals receiving awards for Best Documentary, Best Humanitarian Documentary and Best Trailer. But that stuff is for the ego and while it was sweet to receive those awards, the biggest reward for me, was the “journey” itself. I don’t mean just the trip itself, but all that I learned along the way. That’s the part that’s hard to explain, especially to the people who seem to “judge and discount” the achievements of others.
Like Chris Guillebeau, I made a decision some years ago to put my energy toward positive thoughts, and ignore everything else as much as possible. I need to remind myself of that every day and walk away from the things and the people who don’t bring value to my life. Life’s too short for that. When I keep that in mind, I stay on purpose and that’s when the good stuff happens.
“The highest reward for a person’s toil is not what they get for it, but what they become by it.” - John Ruskin
I had a friend who once told me that if he should die in his room – alone – he didn’t think anyone would even notice. At first, I thought – how sad – and then I thought that really wasn’t true at all. Everyone, even my friend has a past and with that comes people who know you or who used to know you – and on some level – there will be someone who cares.
Perhaps, what he meant was that people wouldn’t notice – but again, I would have to dispute that because it’s pretty easy with social media, emails and every other means of “instant” communication, to get people to notice you.
Getting noticed brings up an important point – and that is – when we do anything for the sake of recognition – and people don’t respond the way we had hoped – we sometimes feel that we have failed. But did we? If we did something purely for the sake of recognition and we don’t get it – then perhaps we did fail, but not necessarily. Most of the time, people who do take notice, simply don’t take the time to let you know.
I try not to fall into the trap of doing something purely for the sake of recognition because it’s a sure fire way to get myself in a funk if I don’t get the accolades I’m looking for. When I’m driven to do something simply because I feel I “have to”, that’s when the unsolicited recognition seems to come. Somehow, the things that resonate with people the most – are the very things that are generated from something that’s deep inside us. That’s when people “notice” – they don’t just “see it” – they “feel it”.
Life is too short to spend it seeking approval from others. My husband is quick to tell me “it’s none of your business what other people think of you”. He’s so right about that and it took me a long time to figure that out.
If you spend your life worrying about pleasing others, you may end up forgetting who you are. They say friends come and go. I’m not so sure about that. Even if someone isn’t present in your life anymore, they still exist in your past. They were meant to be there for some reason, even if they brought you pain, they were meant to play their part in your life. I think sometimes we stress too much about the negatives in life and somehow think the best way to live is to avoid things or people that make us uncomfortable, but in doing so we end up bringing in the emptiness and loneliness we were afraid of.
When I started this project two years ago, I didn’t realize how many people out there really do care. That in itself was worth the journey.