Tag Archives: discovery

Getting Past the Ego

by Gail Mooney
November 25 2011

 

I was invited recently to speak at a TEDx event in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Someone in Brazil had seen the trailer for Opening Our Eyes and wanted me to come to this event and talk about the subjects in our film.  I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, and the  commonalities amongst the people in our film; they all think beyond themselves and consider how their actions will or won’t affect others.  In return of course, they are all richly rewarded.

There isn’t a day that I don’t think about Ronni Kahn’s words “don’t do it for the money….. or for the recognition…….do it for the sake of doing.”  Every one of our subjects lives their lives this way.  At a time when the prevailing attitude seems to be “what’s in it for me?” these people have put their egos aside and are “doing for the sake of doing”.  That is why so many of our subjects tended to shy away from the camera and the limelight, but were eager to tell their stories in order to help their causes.

Let’s face it, in a culture of “packaging and fizz”, it’s hard to sort through all the noise and pick out authenticity.  Even that word itself  “authenticity” has been over used and has lost its meaning. But we can all spot “the real deal” when we see it.  Just like knowing who your real friends are – you just know.

So, I think the only way to talk about the subjects of our film, in just 18 minutes, is to point out that they are no different than you or me – they are just ordinary people who think beyond themselves.  They are doing what they feel is the right thing to do and are staying close to their convictions and beliefs. They believe in the impossible and have a can do attitude. They are “walkin’ the walk”, not just talking. They take one step at a time in pursuing their dreams.

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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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Meeting Jackson Browne – A Class Act

by Gail Mooney
October 16 2011

It wasn’t at all like I imagined it would be – it was so much better.

I met singer/songwriter Jackson Browne  last night,

Gail Mooney and Jackson Browne, Wellmont Theater, Montclair, NJ

after seeing his concert in Montclair, NJ. The show on its own was amazing. Jackson  did an acoustic set,  his 17 guitars lined up behind him, a keyboard and a solo chair, all perfectly positioned on stage. He doesn’t use a play list for  his acoustic shows – he simply picks out a guitar and plays the song that he associates with that particular instrument. It can get a bit rowdy with the audience shouting out titles for him to play, but Jackson is more free-form and picks up on the vibe of the audience. His performance last night was incredible – he sounded great and his audio mix was outstanding.

So, why am I writing about Jackson Browne and what does he have to do with Opening Our Eyes? Many of you know the answer to that question but for those who don’t, I’ll explain briefly. I’ve been a big fan of Jackson’s music for over 30 years. I also admire him for his social activism and his efforts (as well as his wife Dianna Cohen) in making a difference in the world. Jackson does countless benefit concerts for various causes and Dianna is founder of the Plastic Pollution Coalition, a movement to get people away from “one use” plastic products – water bottles, shopping bags etc. So, both Jackson and Dianna personified what this film is about.

When I was struggling to find a title for the film, I was listening to Jackson’s music one day while on the treadmill. One of his songs, Alive in the World really resonated with me – it was almost like it had been written for the film, but at that point in time, I was far from even envisioning this project as a film – I was still in the planning stages of the trip. There’s a stanza in the song that goes:

“To open my eyes
And wake up alive in the world
To open my eyes
And finally arrive in the world”

….and I thought – “yeah, that’s it – Opening Our Eyes.”

I started manifesting in my mind that if Jackson became aware of our project, he would give his permission to use his song in our film. Long story short, this project has had many “angels” behind it and one very dear angel, Angel Burns – made this happen. Angel got Jackson and Dianna to watch the trailer of the film and he granted us permission to use it in the film. We can’t release it (yet) on DVD with his music, but we do have permission for community screenings and film festivals with the option to “re-negotiate in good faith” if the film gets picked up for distribution. If that’s not motivation to find distribution – what is?

In communicating with Jackson’s assistant, I mentioned that my husband and I had tickets to his upcoming show in New Jersey in October. I relayed to her that I would love to personally thank Jackson and hand him a copy of the finished film. She wrote back saying that she would set up AS (After Show) passes for us to pick up at Will Call.

That was a couple of months ago and I’ve been thinking about what I would say to Jackson, ever since. I wanted to make sure I thanked him of course and I wanted to tell him how meaningful it was for me to have his beautiful song as part of our film. I also wanted to tell him that Dianna had totally changed my thinking as to how I packaged the DVD’s. Rather than use a conventional “plastic” DVD case, I decided to package the DVD in simple cardboard slip jackets. And lastly, I wanted to give him a copy of a DVD I had made over ten years ago, The Delta Blues Musicians. It was basic and pretty crude because it was the first video piece that I had ever created, but I somehow knew that Jackson would appreciate. It was the stories of seven Mississippi bluesmen – all gone now but one.

So, back to last night. I was on such a high after Jackson’s performance. I was feeling so full – full of life – full of love – full of everything good. We had been told at Will Call when we picked up our passes, to gather at the front of the theater and that someone would escort us backstage to meet Jackson. I saw a crowd of people gathered there, and I figured that we would be shuffled through a “meet and greet” type of thing. Then one staff guy spotted my pass and looked at me and said “Gail?” When I responded with a “yes” (after a bit of a delay – I was totally surprised that Jackson would be expecting “me”) he told me “I’m John – c’mon.” So, John, Tom and I and one other couple headed up the back stairs to Jackson’s dressing room. John left us outside a door marked “Jackson Browne” and told us to wait a bit and that Jackson would come out in a minute.

After a few minutes, Jackson walked out the door. I hesitated, waiting until the other couple said their hellos and left, and then I introduced myself. He said, (in the nicest possible way) “so, I can’t wait to see the rest of the movie” and right on cue I handed him a copy of the DVD in the awesome packaging that digital artist Allan Davey  had created. Allan is another angel who has become part of our project and that in itself has made an extraordinary difference in how this film is being received. Jackson remarked on how beautiful the packaging design and artwork was – I thanked him and handed him another copy to give to Dianna. I told him that Dianna had totally changed my thinking in terms of the packaging and had influenced my decision  NOT to use plastic DVD cases. Jackson looked at me and pointed to his arm and said “goose bumps”.

There was one last thing I wanted to do and that was to give Jackson that old copy of my “blues” DVD. I told him that I should be embarrassed to give him something that was so basic and a bit crude – and that it was the first video that I ever created. I’ve come a long way since then – and so has technology. But I told him that I thought he would appreciate it because of the interviews that I had captured of all those old blues cats. I told Jackson that my interest in making that video, wasn’t so much about the music as it was about that time and that place in America that gave birth to that music. Once again, he rubbed his arm and said “goose bumps”. I know that Jackson will enjoy that video for what it is and for the stories that I captured. I told him that I had hours of interview footage of those old blues artists – and he thanked me and remarked about the importance of documenting those stories and recordings. I don’t know why I thought to give Jackson that DVD, but at that moment in time, it seemed liked all the dots became connected – like everything I’ve been doing over the last ten years was somehow related.

I apologize for such a long post, in a way I write this for myself – so that I will remember every detail. In all the anticipation that led up to last night – I thought it would feel like the end of a chapter. But instead, all day yesterday, I had this feeling that it was really just the beginning.

Thank you Jackson and thanks to every one of our angels and supporters. We can all do this together. We can make this world what we want it to be.

 

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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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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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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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The Trailer

by Gail Mooney
March 30 2011