Tag Archives: Travel
Last spring, my daughter and I set out to circle the globe on a 99-day journey, seeking people who were making a difference in the world. A little more than a year later, we have completed a feature documentary about ordinary people on six continents who have not only had a positive impact on others, but they have had life changing experiences themselves.
This journey and the film were inspired by a
young woman that my daughter had gone to high school with, Maggie Doyne, At 19-years old, Maggie opted not to go straight off to college, but instead traveled on what was intended to be a gap year between high school and college. Five years later, at the age of 24, she has built a home in Nepal for 35 orphaned children, where she now resides and had recently finished construction on a primary school for 250 children when we visited her last summer..
Maggie has caught the attention of quite a few high profile people who have helped her in her mission. Last fall she appeared on the cover of the NY Times Magazine illustrating an article by Nicholas Kristof about DIY foreign aid. She’s a remarkable young woman. But what is often overlooked when one mentions Maggie’s accomplishments is that she herself, has changed her life’s path – before barely beginning.
Maggie is just one of eleven people that appear in our film, Opening Our Eyes. As we traveled the world, my daughter and I quickly realized that all of these extraordinary people had one thing in common, beyond doing good for others. They all had disrupted their own lives and had shifted course. They had discovered their purpose and in the process, found their bliss.
Maggie is fortunate that she made this discovery while she was still young. In a less dramatic way, I had my own awakening early in my career. In the late 70’s, I had just finished studying photography at Brooks Institute in Santa Barbara, California and I headed back East to pursue a career as a photojournalist. It was not the best of times to be starting out as a photojournalist, at least in terms of being able to make a decent living. So, I took a bit of a detour and pursued commercial photography instead. While making the rounds with my portfolio in NYC, I went to see legendary photographer Jay Maisel. Jay was known for his blunt demeanor, and when he looked at my perfectly presented photographic portfolio, he tossed it at me and told me it was garbage. He asked me if I had anything else to show him. I took out my dog-eared photos from my first world journey that I had taken before heading to Brooks. As he looked through my “snapshots” he asked me how old I was. I replied that I was 25 years old. He looked me straight in the eye and said, “You’re 25 and you’re already making compromises?” That was a turning point in my life and I never looked back from pursuing my passion.
I suppose Maggie and I are lucky in that we discovered our purpose at such a young age. But in making this film I learned one important thing – it’s never too late to find your bliss.
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.
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.
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.
This is more of an announcement or unveiling as opposed to a blog. Drum roll please – our new “one sheet” or commonly referred to as movie poster.
I was extremely fortunate to have digital artist Allan Davey create the poster. I am simply amazed by Allan’s talents. Most of you have probably seen Allan’s work on many book covers.
Like so many other serendipitous things that have happened since embarking on this project, Allan came into my life and wanted to be a part of what we are doing with this film. He wanted to contribute and indeed he did. I am in awe of Allan’s talents and am very grateful for his beautiful artwork.
Please contribute to our campaign on IndieGoGo and pass the link along to your friends. You’ll be helping us to grow this movement and create a shift in our culture about what we can do for others.
Plus it’s good karma.
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 🙂
Absafuhkinglutely love what you and Erin created…
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.”
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.
Yesterday morning, Opening Our Eyes was screened for the first time. It was perfect in every way.
We had picked the State Theater in Traverse City, MI for a few reasons:
- Our only two North American subjects were from Michigan
- I had a lot of family in Traverse City and I knew they could get the word out and fill seats
- The State Theater is a beautifully renovated theater with state of the art facilities and an old fashioned marquee to top it off
- Traverse City is a beautiful place to be in the summer because of all the water around it
The night before the screening, Erin, Tom and I and our friend and executive producer, Angel Burns went down to the theater to take some pictures of it. There it was on the marquee – right under MIDNIGHT IN PARIS – OPENING OUR EYES– A SNEAK PREVIEW – SUNDAY 9AM. There it was, sharing the billing with one of my favorite recent films. Night theater ErinMVI_0178 As soon as the 10 o’clock showing of Midnight in Paris went in – a 3-man crew started taking down the letters and putting up new ones.
It took them some time but letter by letter up it went. But it was when they started putting up our names that an incredible feeling went through my body. I had done it. I did what I set out to do.
The next morning, I was full of nerves. It has been a long time coming and the day had arrived. My Aunt Ike and cousin Rene had spread the word through town amongst friends, family, co-workers. There was a family reunion also planned that weekend and all those people had come. Angel was outside talking to folks who were looking at the poster of what was playing at the upcoming Traverse City Film Festival next week, and invited them. All in all, I think there were about 150-175 people – not bad for a Sunday morning in a town with a lot going on.
As the curtain went up – yes, a beautiful classic red curtain -and the movie began, it was almost surreal. Even though I had seen this film a hundred times – it was the first time I watched it as a movie – with popcorn and all. But I think the best part was the Q&A when a man stood up to ask a question. He said “Thank you for making this film. It has changed my life”. He had been someone Angel had talked to outside. He hadn’t even intended to go see a movie that morning. That was a big moment for me.
On to Detroit on Thursday, for our next sneak preview. It won’t be as grand as the first screening – because the first one’s are always the most special – but our two subjects Marian and Maureen will be there. Can’t wait.
We started out before dawn. We had a full day’s drive ahead of us, to Traverse City, Michigan for the first screening of our film, Opening Our Eyes. Tom and I were driving in from New Jersey, and meeting Erin in Ann Arbor. She was taking the Mega bus from Chicago with a friend and we’d all drive the last leg up to Traverse City together.
As we turned onto Route 80, headed west for the next 500 miles, I was struck by what I saw – the most gigantic, perfectly full moon, I have ever seen in my life. There it hung on the horizon dead ahead of us as we drove for almost an hour – a brilliant white circle pointing the way.
I’ve always felt like I’ve been ruled by the moon. Born under the sign of Cancer and with the surname of Mooney, I guess you could say that I’m a true “moon child”. And I really do feel the influences of the cycle of the moon. But I’ve never seen the moon that big and so clearly defined as it lingered there in the sky. It felt comforting to me after the last couple of weeks which have been filled with the anxiety of getting ready for this trip.
It’s been a long time coming – the making of this film – in fact, it’s been a little more than a year and a half since we first put up this website. We’ve traveled through 17 countries on over 30 flights, came back with over 150 hours of footage and 5000 still images and have spent the last six months in post production, editing this film.
There have been high points and lows along the way and finally – this Sunday, July 17th our efforts will be realized as we screen a sneak preview at the State Theater. Friends are coming to join us from all over the country. Our executive producer is flying in from Los Angeles, Erik, our editor is driving from Philadelphia and Erin is coming up from Chicago with friends.
Many people have asked me why Traverse City, Michigan. Well, I have a couple of reasons. My mother’s side of the family is from that part of the country and I have a lot of family there – enough to fill seats on a summer weekend morning. Traverse City is an absolutely beautiful place to be in the summer with the abundance of water all around it. And it gives us another opportunity to do another screening on Thursday, July 21st in Detroit where our two North American subjects live – Marian Kramer and Maureen Taylor.
I have a big birthday coming up this week – my 60th. It freaks me out a bit to even write that because I sure don’t feel like 60 years old – or at least how I perceived a 60 year old to be. That what comes when one listens to their voice inside – and that voice is ageless. I feel good and I can’t think of a better way to spend this milestone birthday – showing my film to friends and family.
My emotions are running the gamut from being ultra excited to wanting to puke from anxiety and everything in between. This chapter is finally coming to a close. And yet I feel like a new beginning is about to erupt in my life. That’s the exciting part. As Forest Gump said “Life is like a box of chocolates – you never know what you’re going to get”.
Today is Mother’s Day, a day to acknowledge and be grateful for all of the wonderful things that mothers do – making you grilled cheese on a rainy day, helping you finish that diorama that you waited until the last minute to do, buying you your first prom dress, encouraging you to follow your dreams and supporting you every step of the way. While I’m certainly grateful for all of those things, I’m even more grateful for what my mother did for me last year – provide me with the opportunity to travel around the world and meet incredible individuals along the way.
There aren’t too many mothers who could accomplish such a feat. Sure, they would love to do that with their daughters, but very few take the plunge and I bet even fewer could handle the conditions. It wasn’t exactly smooth sailing all the way. Staying in hostels, sleeping on the floor of a bamboo hut, getting bitten up the wazoo by mosquitoes, going without running water and air conditioning for days on end. And the hardest part – traveling with your daughter for 99 days straight. Nobody loves his or her kid that much to want to spend that much time with them, right? All in all, you certainly have to have an adventurous spirit to do such a thing, and no one has more of one than my mom.
I was continually amazed at her tenacity and determination throughout the trip. It didn’t matter how hot it was in Nepal, how badly her knees were hurting, how congested the streets of India were – she always kept going, no matter the obstacle. But then again, she has been like that all of my life; never making excuses and never giving up.
I think the best part of the trip for me was the fact that I got to do it with my mom and see her in action; not just as a mother, but also as a traveler in her element. I learned so much about her as a person, someone who has dreams and fears, just like me. And consequently, I have learned more about who I am as a person and why I am that way. Or in some instances, why I’m not a certain way. It’s fascinating to me how two closely related people can have such opposite reactions to the same situation. How can one person just jump on a subway train in Moscow while the other is compelled to stop and take the time to decipher the Cyrillic signs first? It’s a mystery.
I guess what I really want to say is that my mom is the coolest, most supportive and most inspiring mom I know. I am so lucky to have her in my life and that is what I am grateful for the most. Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. I love you.