Tag Archives: cultures

TEDx, Kindred Spirits and Spreading Good Ideas

by Gail Mooney
December 6 2011

I’ve had an amazing week. I’ve been in Sao Paulo, Brazil for the last few days to do a TEDx talk and to screen Opening Our Eyes. It has been a remarkable time, in many ways.

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.

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Going it Alone

by Gail Mooney
November 9 2011

A week or so ago I left for New Zealand – a long haul from the US. I was headed to the SATW (Society of American Travel Writers) convention in Wellington. As I boarded the first leg from EWR to LAX, I felt like I was missing something. I kept doing a mental checklist in my mind – cameras, passport, wallet etc. etc. but something didn’t feel right – it felt like something was missing. I realized that what was missing was my daughter Erin.

It felt odd to be heading to this amazing destination without her. She had been like my right arm on our 99-day journey around the world last summer and I felt oddly alone. I have spent the better part of my life, traveling to all four corners of the globe as a solo act so to suddenly feel alone, after all those years of independent travel was unexpected.

Today it really hit me, just how profound that experience had been. Not only had it been the ultimate travel experience that I was fortunate enough to have shared with my daughter – but I realized that it had changed my life in many ways. Perhaps the biggest change in my life had been a change in my attitude – in more ways than one.

An hour ago, I was the recipient of the Bronze award for Travel Photographer of the Year by SATW. I was humbled and very appreciative to be receiving this award. A year ago, I probably would have felt differently. In fact, I may have looked at it with some misgivings to NOT having won the Gold award as opposed to being appreciative of winning the Bronze.

After spending a summer with remarkable people who were doing extraordinary things that were making a positive difference in the world, I have a totally different outlook. One of our subjects Ronni Kahn of Oz Harvest in Sydney, Australia remarked “Don’t do it for the money or for the recognition – but just do it for the sake of doing.” A simple thought really, but one that comes with deep consequences.

We live in a culture in America where we often overlook that life’s real rewards aren’t necessarily in winning, but being content with the journey and the rewards that come with that. It took me a lifetime to figure that out. I know now that beating out someone else for the top prize isn’t what makes me a winner and in fact that someone else doesn’t have to lose in order for me to win. As much as I feel grateful for the recognition from my peers – my biggest reward was really a journey well traveled.

One doesn’t need to leave their country or even their home town to realize a journey well traveled – they simply just need to live their life the best way they know how and that’s different for each and every one of us.

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Flashback

by Gail Mooney
October 26 2011

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.

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A Look Back at Why

by Gail Mooney
October 1 2011

Sam Carr, Lula, MS

I was preparing a print today to send off to the YPA for their upcoming auction and fundraiser. It was a portrait of blues drummer Sam Carr and it had recently been on exhibit in the Senate building Rotunda. The photograph was part of a personal project that I had embarked on over ten years ago: The Delta Bluesmen. The project consisted of environmental still portraits of the musicians as well as interviews of them that I had captured on video. This resulted in a short documentary and multimedia exhibition.

I thought that it would be nice to include the DVD of the documentary as part of what I was offering for auction.  While making sure that the DVD played OK, I got sucked into watching the full 20-minute piece.  It had been a long time since I had watched this film and it struck me that all but one of the seven musicians in the film had died.

At the time, I came up with the idea for that project, I really didn’t know why I wanted to shoot a project on these blues musicians – I just knew that I had to.  It’s not like I was a super avid blues fan.  I did love the music but I wasn’t one of those fans who could recite the “who’s who” in the blues world.  I was interested more in the cultural background of these men and their music. What gave birth to that music in that part of our country at that time in history?

I listened to the interviews of these men telling their stories about growing up as poor black men in the South during the 20’s and 30’s in America. Sam Carr talked about a time when a lot of the poor folks, up and left to get the good jobs in the North. I couldn’t help but feel the irony as I listened to Sam’s story and reflect back on our trip to Detroit this past winter. We were there to shoot our last and our only North American story for Opening Our Eyes. Those jobs that those poor folks headed North for – are gone. So are the neighborhoods they once called home – now just derelict ruins and vacant lots.  I wondered what the future would hold for the city of Detroit and for the growing numbers of unemployed in our country.

One thing did hit me though as I watched this film that I created so many years ago, and that that I had archived these stories for generations to come.  That made me feel good and proud and that in my own small way I had helped to preserve that legacy. That’s more meaningful to me than just about anything else I can think of doing in my life. I believe that this is my purpose – to tell the stories of our time.  That’s why I had to make The Delta Bluesmen – even though I had never done anything like that before.  It’s the same reason that I had to do Opening Our Eyes.  It took me a lifetime to realize my purpose and I am very grateful that I am able to fulfill it.

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99 Days and Counting

by Gail Mooney
September 28 2011

When I formed this idea, almost two years ago, I would not have believed then that I would still be working on this project now. Not only am I still working on it, but it has taken on a life of its own. In fact, we have  a new tagline, which aptly describes what this project has become:

It’s not just a Move – It’s a Movement

With that said, we have decided to launch another funding cycle, through Indiegogo. This time, we have more than just an idea and a lot of uncut footage – we have a finished movie and a movie that’s getting rave reviews.

Today is the start of our 99-day cycle of fundraising.  Why 99 days?  Well, for starters, our journey around the world took 99 days to complete the circle.  And, in 99 days, it’s Erin’s birthday – her 25th.  I was 25 years old when I decided to pursue the path I’m on as a photojournalist, instead of following a more lucrative profession.  I had gone to see Jay Maisel, a legendary New York photographer, known for his bluntness.  After making a lot of excuses of why I wasn’t going to follow my heart and become a photojournalist he looked me straight in the eye and said “You’re 25 years old and you’re already making compromises?”  It was a turning point in my life.

The post-production on the film was completed in July.

Opening Our Eyes Sneak Preview, Traverse City, MI

Since that time, I’ve spent countless hours submitting it to film festivals and trying to create awareness for the film. What’s the point of making something like this if it is not seen by as many people as possible? Our goal is simple and that is to get this movie “out there” by whatever means we can so that we can really make a difference with it.

A comment from an audience member at our sneak preview in Traverse City said:

“I just want to thank you for making this movie and let you know that you
have definitely succeeded in inspiring people. I’ve had a {sic} paradigm
shift after seeing this movie. I think you two should count yourself among
the inspirational heroes for bringing these stories to a larger audience.”

And at our sneak preview in Detroit, Oscar recipient, Pamela Conn who won for
“ best short documentary” stated:

“ I would just like to say that that’s the first thing I thought of was that
it’s obvious that this should be submitted for an Oscar. Absolutely this
is Oscar worthy.”

We have created something of value – a value that goes beyond dollars and cents. But to give this thing legs, we will need “dollars and cents” to take it the next steps. It takes money for festival submissions, PR and marketing and theatrical screenings. In fact Jon Reiss, the DIY of the indie film world says that a filmmaker should allocate half of their budget for PR and marketing – or your film will fall into oblivion.

This money won’t go into my pocket.  In fact, even creating this movie on a shoe string budget made up of airline miles and trades for services has exhausted my savings, not to mention taken me away from my business.  But, something is pushing me to do this.  If we can get this movie “on the map” then everyone wins, especially all the change makers that this movie is about.

Please help us with this movement. Contribute if you can or simply pass along this link to others. We all can play a part in making our world a better place.

As Marian Kramer, a subject in our film says “We all have to shine each other up.”

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A Sad Day

by Gail Mooney
September 16 2011

This is out of the norm for this site, but I post this news to remind everyone to live their life each day as if it were their last. It’s a reminder to us all,  to not put off those things you want to do or leave your words unsaid.

I write when I have something on my mind or feel that I have something to say and pass along.  Today, I write because I’m heartbroken.  I need to share some thoughts and then close out.

Willie “ Big Eyes” Smith – legendary blues musician, passed away – suddenly from a stroke.  He was one of the seven Delta blues musicians that I interviewed for one of my first short documentaries back in 2002, The Delta Blues Musicians.  They are all gone now – but one.

I’ll always remember the day I sat down to talk to Willie.  It was relaxed and we had the most wonderful conversation, sitting on the porch of an old sharecropper shack at Hopson’s Plantation in Clarksdale, MS.  I feel good that I captured his thoughts and words that day and preserved them for future generations.  I feel that my purpose in life is to do just that – to document, record and capture the peoples and cultures of our times. I feel that is what I am here to do.  When I stay on that course, I have peace inside.  When I drift from that – I don’t feel right.  I think I’ve always known that – but nowadays I try to stay focused on that path.

Willie’s passing reminds me yet again, how precious life is and to appreciate the now.  For the most part, I do live in the now.  I try to live my life as if this may be my last day on earth.  It frees me from a lot of needless fears that stops lots of people from “doing”.  It reminds me to tell my people that I love them because I may not get that chance again.

We all put things off or leave things left unsaid. Seven years ago,  mom died suddenly, without warning. It seems like yesterday because the pain is still real and there is a hole left in my heart.  I remember quite clearly the week before she died.  It was a busy week and I had planned to give my mom a call because it had been awhile.  I never did get that chance – and those words will go unsaid – forever.

We lost another blues legend earlier this year, Pinetop Perkins.  Pinetop and Willie had just won a Grammy for the album “Joined at the Hip” that they worked on together.  I had been meaning to head down to the Delta next month to the Arkansas Blues and Heritage Festival – I had missed the festival last year and I wanted to hear Pinetop and Willie play. Sadly, I won’t get that chance to see and hear them in concert again.  But I do have their records and I’ll always have their words, both on tape and tucked away in the recesses of my mind.

We’ll miss you Willie.

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Feedback

by Gail Mooney
September 10 2011

Today, I’m reflecting on the many wonderful comments people have relayed since watching our film.  I’d like to share a few of the remarks that some folks have made, not to stroke my ego, but rather to express how meaningful these comments are to us.  They reaffirm in our minds that perhaps in some small way, we too have made a difference by making this film – and that is all I ever hoped for.

Thank you all for sharing your thoughts – they are very much appreciated.

“It was awesome – just awesome”

“I just want to thank you for making this movie and let you know that you have definitely succeeded in inspiring people.  I’ve had a small paradigm shift after seeing this movie.  I think you two should count yourself among the inspirational heroes for bringing these stories to a larger audience.”

“ I would just like to say that that’s the first thing I thought of was that it’s obvious that this should be submitted for an Oscar.  Absolutely this is Oscar worthy.”
Pamela Conn – Oscar winner for Best Short Documentary (Young at Heart)

“Your film is a celebration of something that I’ve always believed in – there are daily miracles. People always look for a burning bush or something special.  Miracles are a daily occurrence of thank yous.”

And one of my favorites –  R rated 🙂
“Thank you.
Absafuhkinglutely love what you and Erin created…
Truly inspirational.
Watched it with my inspiration, my 15-year old daughter.  It was a quiet room with no dry eyes. We are still talking about it.”

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Full Circle

by Gail Mooney
August 31 2011

A year ago today Erin and I boarded a plane, bound for home on our final flight of our 99-day journey around the world.  Seems like that happened in another lifetime – so much has transpired since then.

The day before we headed home, we sat down with our friend Ethan G. Salwen, who interviewed us on camera.  We are grateful for that because we were able to capture our thoughts at the time – at the end of an amazing adventure.

We had just finished our last story in Carlos Keen, Argentina – a town about an hour outside of Buenos Aires.  It was a story about Camino Abierto, a farm, a home to adolescent boys who had nowhere to call home,  and a restaurant – all filled with love.  We only spent two days there but those two days came at just the right time giving us one last burst of energy to complete the project we had started over 3 months prior.

At the time, I didn’t realize that it was really just the beginning of this project in so many ways.  As Erin headed back to Chicago and settled back into her life, I immersed myself deeper into this project with hundreds of hours of footage that needed to be edited.  I managed to get through one of the toughest winters of my life that taxed every ounce of my spirit on the darkest days.  But after a round of crowd funding via Kickstarter and finding the perfect editor, Erik Freeland and many more months of post-production – we now have a film that we are proud of.

As I mailed out the “rewards” yesterday to all of our backers that supported our project, I realized once again that this project is still not yet complete.  There are film festivals to submit to and community screenings to line up and plans to make different “cuts” at various lengths for different markets.  One idea is to break up the stories for the potential of a broadcast series. I actually went out to LA this past winter and “pitched” the idea to some industry folks and a couple of people were quite interested.  I even made a new version of the trailer and renamed the show.  We shall see if anything develops along those lines.

I have been richly rewarded in so many ways on this journey. Getting to really know my daughter has been perhaps the biggest reward.  But some of the kind comments that I have received from people who have seen the film have confirmed in my mind that this quest was meant to be. I’ll be sharing some of these comments with you in the coming months, on this blog that I have neglected as I’ve been off the radar working behind the scenes.

Here’s a tidbit from our Buenos Aires Interview on the final day of our journey.  I will share more soon.  This project was meant to be shared – that is the only way to manifest the true power behind this thing that we put into motion so long ago.

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Tears of Happiness and Sadness

by Gail Mooney
August 4 2011

It just hit me this morning that we have completed this film.  I cried because I was happy, we had done it.  I cried because it was finished.  I was sad the journey was over – but is it?

Yesterday, I hand delivered the first DVD to someone in the “business” who could really help me as I face the next step – getting the film “out there”.  That’s the hard part – coming up with a plan to give this film legs.  What would have been the point of my daughter and I traveling all around the world, creating a film about people making a difference that could motivate others to action – if people don’t see it?

I know I have a lot of hard work ahead of me, sending DVD’s to film festivals, outreach directors and potential distributors.  I will be networking with everyone I know as far as making the rights connections with people who can help us get our film out there so that we can achieve what we set out to do- turn this film into a ground swell of action.

Here are some thoughts of what we’d like to do with this film.  Start thinking about people you know who could help us realize these goals.

•    Submit to film festivals to create awareness and publicity for the film.  Festivals are very competitive but I believe our film is a strong contender.  If the film is selected for a festival, then we will want to find a sponsor and make an event out of it and/or have a “premiere screening” in that city to coincide with the festival. It’s a cost effective way to do a premiere and the audience is already there.

•    Have community screenings that would be “move to action” events.  This could take place in a variety of venues, from schools to churches, with the filmmakers present or not.  It could be a community fundraiser, centered on the screening of the film.  Generally, filmmakers hire outreach directors or bookers to find these venues and matches. This can be a win/win where the filmmakers have a chance to recoup their costs and the community raises money for their cause.  In our case, we can also structure it so that our subjects’ causes receive a percentage.

•    Have screenings at universities.  This is something that I would love to do – show the film with a Q&A to students.  The film could really make an impact with young people who are just starting out in life.  If anyone knows people who book college activities – let me know.

•    Theatrical screenings.  This takes money.  But it can lead to rewards – including the academy awards.  My executive Angel Burns is confident we can do this.  Essentially, there needs to be theatrical bookings in LA and NYC, well publicized with mandated advertising in the NY and LA newspapers.  We may need to do another fundraiser ourselves or find a sponsor to make this happen.

•    Broadcast.  Maybe the best way to get eyeballs on it.  Anyone with contacts at OWN (Oprah’s network), Oxygen or Lifetime – viable candidates for this documentary or even a TV docu reality series?  Imagine how refreshing that would be to see on TV – a series about people making a positive difference in the world – instead of watching yet again another show about the worst in human nature.

This film has had an amazing effect on our lives.  We’ve traveled the world, seen our name in lights on a theater marquee and met extraordinary people along the way.  In fact it seems like we are like magnets, attracting just the right people into our lives at just the right time. First of all we “found” all our amazing subjects who brought tremendous value to our lives – we learned so much from them. We found our executive producer, Angel Burns – or shall I say, she found me when I spoke in LA at a “photocine” event about creating a documentary with no money. I found the perfect editor, Erik Freeland who brought his wonderful vision to this film and made us look good, and Maria Grillo, a graphic designer in Chicago who designed our logo and overall look. I have another friend, Ally Raye who put together a great “deck” and “sizzle” for a TV pitch for me.  I can’t even imagine what life was like before these people came into my life.  This film just seems to have some inexplicable power of connecting people.

If you know anyone who is good with marketing and PR, or works in broadcast or knows a sponsor who would be a perfect match and could infuse some financial support to this project, please let us know.

Like one of our subjects, Marian Kramer said, “We’ve got to shine each other up”.

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Maggie’s Visit

by Gail Mooney
April 23 2011

Last Wednesday I spent the day with Maggie Doyne, a family friend, neighbor and subject of our film Opening Our Eyes. We spent the afternoon looking at hours of footage that we shot when we visited Maggie and her children in Nepal last summer.

It was a wonderful afternoon,

Gail and Maggie in Mendham,NJ

we talked, we looked at the footage that I hadn’t seen in awhile and we had a nice simple lunch. Being with Maggie is like getting a shot of goodness and it brought back a lot of nice memories of the journey that Erin and I took last summer.

It’s hard to believe that next month it will be a year since we left on our global journey. There are days that the trip is so fresh in my mind and others when it seems like a distant memory. I am still so hands on with the project – editing but for Erin it must seem like it happened in another lifetime.

Maggie said something that really rang true. As she watched the interview and other footage that we shot of her at the Kopila Valley Children’s Home and School she remarked how far she and all the people at Kopila Children’s Home had come since then. When we were there shooting, the school was still under construction even though classes had already begun. And the new kitchen hadn’t been finished yet either. Now both are completed and used on a daily basis.

I thought about how I had been feeling this past winter as I spent 14 hours a day, every day in the editing room for two months solid and I couldn’t see an end in sight to this film becoming a reality. But now it’s in the hands of a great editor with a due date to be completed late next month. When we started our journey almost a year ago, I never imagined that I would still be so entrenched with this project a year later. But then I look back from where I came and I can see how far I’ve come. I needed to be reminded to look back every now and then and observe from that perspective.

Thanks Maggie once again for your inspiration.

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