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.
It’s been a long time coming, but we’ve finally launched the redesign of the Opening Our Eyes website – or at least phase one. There will be a phase two which will make the site more interactive – but that will be down the road.
Here are a few cool changes that our fabulous designers have made:
• Total redesign from the “home” page and throughout.
• A list of upcoming screening and speaking dates.
• More photos everywhere, including on our “subjects” page
• Podcasts and behind the scenes videos uploaded
• A “store” with links to our book and ePubs
• A sign up button for news and updates
Of course the site will still contain our ongoing blog as well as the trailer for the film.
Please check out these new areas of our website and let us know what you like – or what you would like to see in the future.
In the meantime, we’ll keep you posted on any future film festivals that the film has been invited to.
Last Friday marked a milestone in my life and this project. It was two years ago, on May 25, 2010 that my daughter, Erin and I departed on our journey around the world. Our quest was to set foot on six continents, seeking the change makers – people who were making our world a better place. It seems like it was a lifetime ago.
Last week, I was almost too exhausted to remember the anniversary of our departure – I was still depleted from my month long sojourn in China – teaching. While I loved the “teaching” part of the trip, it had its challenges in other ways. It pushed me out of my norm in many ways. It is taking me a bit longer to bounce back this time after a long trip, but I’m not fighting my body’s natural instincts to rest.
So much has changed since that spring day in 2010 when Erin and I boarded a flight bound for Kampala, Uganda for the first leg of our 99-day journey around the world. There have been a lot of ups and downs and hits and misses since then. If I dwelled on the misses, I would only get myself down. I remember Maggie Doyne talking about her own trials and tribulations and how she tried to focus on the good and the positive. I try to adopt Maggie’s attitude but it’s not always easy, as I’m sure it’s not for Maggie.
When I do take time to look back over the last two years of my life, I’m amazed at what has transpired – the people I’ve met, the places I’ve been to, and the opportunities I have been given and able to share with my family. I’m so grateful – mostly for having the courage to live life. But I’ve had plenty of help and encouragement from friends and family. I could not have done half of what I did in the past two years without the support of my friends in the way of emails, phone calls, blog comments and Facebook posts. It was especially meaningful to hear from friends when I was on the road – like a lifeline connection.
I stay in contact with many of the subjects from the film even though we are all scattered on different continents. These days it’s not hard to stay in touch with friends via emails, Skype and social media and I love having friends all over the world.
I think I will enjoy being home for a while and all the little things that come with it.
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.
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.
I saw the movie “I Am” last night. I had been wanting to see it for some time because someone had told me that it carried the same message as Opening Our Eyes. In fact, in one of the interviews in the film, a subject states numerous times the phrase “the power of one” – the power each one of us has in their actions and their thoughts.
The documentary, written and narrated by Tom Shadyac, Hollywood director known for movies like Ace Ventura and Liar Liar, questions “what’s wrong with our world?” Are aggression and competition really the natural order or is there a better way? Are we happier when we win? Are we happier when we have more? Does it make us feel better to beat out the other guy?
The film goes on to show that what humans really need is to connect with other humans and be loved. Everything on our planet is connected through energy and the human mind plays a powerful force in either working toward a collective goal of harmony or selfish isolation. And that each one of us has a huge impact through our small actions that make our world what it is and how we interact with one another.
No doubt many will see this film as an idealistic quest for utopia. They’ll cry – it’s an unattainable dream because there will always be the opportunists who will seize control for their own gain. Perhaps they may be right, but does that mean that we should stop caring for our fellow man and striving for a better future for our planet? I spent the most rewarding summer of my life last year, around people who were living a fulfilling life by making a difference in the lives of others. They lived rich lives of peace and contentment.
Some of us go to a church, synagogue, mosque or some other place of worship for an hour or two each week and feel good doing it. But then we spend the rest of our week, interacting with people in all sorts of ways contrary to the preachings that we had taken to heart just a few days prior. Sometimes, I think religions do more harm than good as far as “connecting” humans, by creating congregations that are too insular at the exclusion and detriment of others. Ultimately, this never breeds good will and will never lead to utopia.
In the film, the question is asked “who is responsible for what’s wrong with world?” One person replies “I am.” I can echo that and say I am responsible too. Every little thing I do can make a difference one way or another in someone else’s life. I try to remind myself of that daily in my dealings with people. I have found that when I love fully, without any expectations in return, I am at peace and only then can I be loved.
I tend to be a person who is always looking ahead, rather than looking back, but sometimes you can gain a lot of perspective by looking back and that can be critical for moving forward. Chris Guillebeau writes an annual review in his blog The Art of Non-Conformity and he suggests we do the same. It’s a yearly assessment of how you feel your past year has been – noting both your accomplishments as well as your low points. It helps you mentally prepare for how you want to live your life in the coming year.
Sometimes looking forward can seem overwhelming. But when I look back at what I’ve accomplished, I get the confidence I need to move ahead. With that said, here’s a recap of 2011 for Opening Our Eyes:
- Completed the film – That in itself was a triumph of accomplishment, but it took its toll. Doing the rough edit consumed most of my winter. I needed to cull through over 150 hours of footage, transcode it, add metadata, sort out the chaff, look at the b-roll and cut down the interviews to a 3 hour timeline. It was grueling for me – 14 hour days – 7 days a week for almost 2 months but somehow I got through it When spring arrived I handed the entire project to my editor, Erik Freeland who did a masterful job of editing the film. We worked together, discussing the particular stories within the film and Erik brought those stories alive with how he cut them together. The first cut of the film was finished in July.
- We were extremely fortunate to have gotten permission to use one of Jackson Browne’s song, Alive in the World for festival and community screenings. Our executive producer, Angel Burns who came on board this year, made that happen – making another dream come true. Jackson’s music and his social activism has always been an inspiration to me. I was able to personally thank him after seeing him in concert this fall.
- Another beautiful person came into in my life, randomly. Her name is Joyelle Brandt, she’s a singer, songwriter and an amazing artist. Joyelle wrote a song called “One“. She wrote to me on Facebook and told me about her song and how it delivered the same message as our film and that she would be happy to let us use the song in the film. We did – it opens up the film and it’s like Joyelle wrote it specifically for the film. We can’t thank you enough, Joyelle.
- Music is such a critical component of every film – it is the emotional component and defines the moods and the pacing of the movie. Dominic Brook a hip hop artist from Australian not only appears in the film during the Oasis story, but sets the tone with his music throughout that segment. Dominic is a kindred spirit in wanting to make a difference. He started Musicians Making a Difference and has helped a lot of young people find themselves through music.
- We were also fortunate to have digital artist Allan Davey come into our lives and design our beautiful “one sheet” as well as our DVD packaging. Allan’s poster told the story of the film beautifully and really raised the bar as far as our “look.” We could never thank him enough for his talents.
- Crowdfunding – About this time last year we were winding down our Kickstarter campaign. We had about a week to go and I remember stressing if we would reach our goal of $7500. With Kickstarter, if you don’t reach your goal – you get nothing so it was a very stressful time. We ended up making our goal on Jan. 5, 2011. Actually, we exceeded our goal and raised a little over $10,000. I was able to pay my editor (who deserved much more) and give a bit to the subjects in the film. Thanks to all our supporters we were able to finish the post production of our film, and that is huge.
- We aren’t doing as well with our second campaign on IndieGoGo. We still have a few days to go but we only realized 20% of our goal. With IndieGoGo, you get whatever you have raised, regardless if you make your goal. Maybe, our goal was unrealistic. Maybe it’s harder to raise money for outreach, PR and distribution, but that’s probably the most critical part in filmmaking – to get the film seen. But every dollar helps us defray the costs of pushing this out there and we are very grateful to all of our continued supporters.
- Apart from the crowdfunding, the San Francisco Film Society is now our fiscal sponsor, so that means that we can accept tax deductible donations via their 501c3 status. That will also allow us to be eligible for some grants. Does anyone know a good grantwriter who would like to come onboard?
- Festivals – We have been invited to the San Luis Obispo Film Festival in early March and Cal Poly is our sponsor. I’m looking forward to the festival and hope that our whole team will be able to be there as well. I did not get into Sundance or Slamdance. Sundance had over 11,000 submissions and will be showing only 11 documentaries. But I have printed out my “rejection email” as a reminder that I tried. I will proudly join the other 99% who tried but didn’t make the cut.
I hope there will be more invitations. We shall see, but regardless of festival invitations, the power of this film will be in community screenings.
- Sneak Previews – My dream came true when I saw this film on the “big screen” at the State Theater in Traverse City, Michigan. It truly was a fantasy come true, to stand there with Erin and watch as they hand placed each letter of our names on the marquee that hot July night. What made it even more special was to watch the film in such a beautiful venue with a lot of my family and friends in the audience. My family made that one of the most memorable days of my life. It was a day of sharing and connecting where all the circles came together. I’ve had a couple other private screenings, and some have been with Erin which is great. It’s always interesting to get live feedback. Last month I showed the film to young Brazilians in Sao Paulo. It was the first time that I got feedback from a non-American audience. It was very well received and it confirmed in my mind that not only this film has a global reach, but that it really resonated with this “20 something” demographic. That gives me great hope for the future.
I’ve had quite a few speaking engagements this year but I think the one that stands out is the TEDx talk I did this month in Sao Paulo, Brazil. It was an honor to be invited and I met some amazing young Brazilians who are doing some interesting things in their lives. They are looking at the world through a different lens and to listen to them throughout the day was incredibly energizing.
- PACA – I had a great time speaking at the Picture Archive Council of America. I talked about the making of this film with a small crew and budget. I talked about the possibilities for distribution in this day and age. The ASPP American Society of Picture Professionals, sponsored my talk and they may bring this talk to their chapters in 2012.
- Grateful for our followers
Without the support of our family, friends and virtual friends from all over the world – this would never have been possible. Every time any one of you has commented or written an email – it has given us the energy and encouragement that we needed to keep going. You have no idea how meaningful all of your comments have been. They’ve certainly helped me through some of the toughest times.
Going forward in 2012 – well that’s a whole other blog post. But I do know that I need to devote more time to my business. There are so many things I wish to do and only so many hours in the day. But it helped to sort it out in my head, and in writing this recap. I realize that even though it seems like there’s so much to do – look how much we’ve done.
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.