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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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From Passion to……….

by Gail Mooney
August 25 2011

I have been thinking about how this project has taken on many different stages over the past year – and how every part of this “journey” has been so uniquely different, yet so focused toward the same vision. An idea that came to me one day when I was with a friend in a museum, blossomed into an eternal and deep bond with my daughter, an enormous amount of personal and creative growth and a film that has the ability to cause a “shift” – and make our world a better place.

It has been the “journey of a lifetime” but it’s not over.  In some ways, it’s just the beginning, at least in terms of it being a film. Lately,  I have been entering it into film festivals and that comes with yet another learning curve and some  strategic thinking. To be eligible for the Sundance competition for instance, the film must make its “world premiere” there – it cannot have been publicly screened prior to the Sundance festival.  It can have had private screenings for invited guests – but nothing that is open to the public in order to be considered for the competition.  That means that if we submit the film to other festivals and it’s lucky enough to get in – it would be ineligible for the Sundance competition, unless the other festival was after January. But, I will continue to submit the film to various festivals and what is meant to happen – will happen.

I’ve also been working on a press kit, which entails everything from a “tagline”, to a various length synopses to a “one sheet” or movie poster.  I’ve had to flip my brain into a different type of creative mode to assemble this kit.  I needed to start looking at this project through the eyes of the public.  That’s tough to do with something that I am so intimate with on so many levels.  I knew I needed outside help, especially when it came to creating a movie poster.

In what seems like another lifetime, I am a contributing “stock” still photographer to various agencies that license my work. This week, there was a discussion on a listserv amongst some of the photographers of one agency, about compositing and 3D.  I put out a query to see if anyone was interested in “collaborating on a movie poster for a worthwhile project that had a meager budget” and within 5 minutes I received a phone call from a guy who is one of the best digital artists I’ve seen.  He had known about our project and wanted to be part of it!  I can’t even begin to describe how blessed I feel – once again.

As this journey morphs from one stage to the next, I try to follow what seems to be the natural pace and rhythm of where it needs to go.  There have been highs and lows along the way and more to come I’m sure, but the seed of this idea that was planted long ago has just begun to grow.

P.S.  Almost forgot.  To all my “backers” – “rewards” will go out next week – finally!

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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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The Power of One

by Gail Mooney
May 20 2011

I’m anxiously waiting to see a rough cut from my editor Erik Freeland of Springhouse Films. Maybe “anxious” isn’t the right word because it kind of implies that I’m nervous when I’ve not at all. Erik and I have had conversations that confirm in my mind I picked the best editor for this film. It’s the little things he’s said – the comments he’s made about sound bites etc. that affirm in my mind that he understands the story to be told.

I’ve also been kicking around different titles – other than Opening Our Eyes. I’ve contemplated changing the title to the Power of One but I’ve decided against it.

Getting a "little help from our friends".

The reason is, even though each and every one of my subjects is an extraordinary individual, they would all tell you that they aren’t alone in their efforts. Every one has support in some form or another. They could be financial supporters, staff people on their foundations, volunteers, or family and friends that are always there for them.

I know I could never have done this without the support and encouragement of others. When I first thought of this undertaking, I thought I would do it solo. It never would have occurred to me to involve my daughter because she had left the nest, taken up roots in another city and started her own life. Now looking back, I know that I could not have done this without her. And of course, I could have never pulled this off without all the back support from my husband.

I have been blessed to be in a position to work with a great editor. I have been blessed to have incredible friends who have helped me with their feedback on the trailer, the music I chose, the still images I’ve selected and how I phrase things in my written correspondence. A true collaboration of spirits. This past week, I’ve been particularly blessed by the help of two very good friends. I won’t give you the details just yet – because I don’t want to jinx what we’ve been working on. I have grown so much with the help of these special people because I’ve opened my mind up to their suggestions. They may critique my approach at times, but they know they can do that without offending – because I’m eager to learn.

Most of all, I’m grateful to all of you and all my “backers”. Just knowing that there were people out there following our journey and cheering us on – gave us the strength to carry on. You all are the best and I thank you for sticking with us. If we’ve been quiet on the blogging site – it’s because we’ve been really busy taking this to the next step and that is getting this film “out there”. That’s when the magic will really happen and I want all of you to know – it could have never happened without you.

In the words of Marian Kramer “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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The Trailer

by Gail Mooney
March 30 2011