Go now, and take flight!

It’s amazing how quickly 8 weeks goes by when you’re immersed in work you’re passionate about. The Cabrini Connections Reel Talent Productions internship ran successfully and 3 teenage girls emerged with a renewed sense of confidence about who they are and what they can achieve. Here’s a peek at what went down.


Our interns Alicia Ward, Melissa Young and Marquita Fisher

In Summer 2011, 3 teenage interns came together to produce a short documentary about health and sports participation in their communities. With the generous help of Girls In The Game and Kartemquin Films, the result was 8 weeks of immersive, hands-on learning for the girls. Their finished film “Girls In Action” premiered on Aug 24, 2011 to over 50 people, and the screening was followed by a thoughtful Q&A session about the issues. Girls In Action will also be featured as a companion web video for In The Game, a Kartemquin Films doc-in-progress about Title IX, gender equality in sports, and how change takes place in a democracy.

Summer Squad

Teaching the younger generation that sports can be fun and that it's good to stay active!

In order for our interns to produce a well-informed and thoughtful documentary, they had to first learn about the issue at hand – why there is a lack of participation in sports among girls in their community. So we kicked things off by sending them to spend a week at Girls In The Game’s Summer Squad. There, our girls not only participated in daily workouts, but also learned about the media’s role in influencing perceptions of sports participation. They had to think about important questions like:

• How much coverage are women’s sports given in the media?
• How does the media portray sportswomen?
• How does that influence a teenage girl’s desire to be active?
• What can I as a filmmaker to do change perceptions and encourage more girls to be active?

Field Trip: Chicago Premiere of The Interrupters

Getting an autograph from Ameena Matthews of CeaseFire at The Interrupters premiere

To give our interns an understanding of how social issue documentary can inform audiences and affect change, we took them to the Gene Siskel Film Center for the Chicago premiere of The Interrupters, the newest film from Kartemquin Films (Hoop Dreams). It was an eye-opening experience for them to see a documentary film by the legendary Steve James, and to witness great audience discussion after with the filmmakers and subjects.

The Big Premiere

After weeks of hard work, Girls In Action was finally complete.

Our girls hard at work out in the field!

Our interns had the opportunity to screen their new documentary to the award-winning filmmakers at Kartemquin Films. The big day began with a special sit-down lunch with the producers and director of In The Game, where the girls got to share their experience and ask questions of Kartemquin’s Executive Director Justine Nagan, Producer Mary Morrissette, and Director Maria Finitzo herself.

After screening Girls In Action to the wonderful folks at Kartemquin Films

That same evening, our interns planned a big screening at Cabrini Connections itself. There was an overwhelming turnout of support from the interns’ friends, family members, subjects of the film, internship mentors, representatives from Girls In The Game, and staff of Cabrini Connections. The place was bustling with excitement as the girls geared up to screen their film a second time that day.

The crowd at Cabrini Connections listens carefully during the Q&A session after watching Girls In Action

Following the screening, the interns invited representatives from Girls In The Game up front to join in the Q&A session. Questions from audience members came fast and furious – first about issues covered in the film and what we can do about it, and later about the filmmakers’ experience. Our girls had set a goal for their film to inform, inspire and influence, and based on the questions audience members were asking, we can say they’ve achieved it. They handled the Q&A very well and we are very proud of what they’d accomplished in such a short period of time.

Summing Up

Our three interns had, over the course of 8 weeks, learned so much more than how to use a camera. They learned:

  • how to think critically about an issue and structure their story in a manner that would convey a positive message to their audience.
  • professional communication skills such as how to set up interviews, how to send a professional e-mail, and how to follow-up with a thank you note after.
  • basic job responsibilities such as showing up punctually, completing tasks on time, and communicating with teammates clearly and effectively.
  • to exercise their public speaking skills by standing in front of an audience, presenting their work, and taking questions after.
  • how to carry on as champions of healthy living and keeping an active lifestyle.

As with all good things, the internship had to come to an end. We sent our girls off with the hope for bright futures ahead for them all. Go now, and take flight!

Group photo on the last day. Melissa, Marquita and Alicia hold special DVD copies of their work and photographs for memories.

Of course, none of this would have been possible without the help of my two fellow instructors, Jane Wang and Jonathan Vogel. I couldn’t have asked for a better team to take this adventure on with me.

My Sundance Film Festival 2011 Journey.

And so it ends… the Grand Jury Prize winners Like Crazy (Dramatic) and How to Die in Oregon (Doc) announced just minutes ago at the Awards Ceremony… the crowd disperses across Park City to party the night away as the Sundance Film Festival 2011 draws to a close.

And what an incredible journey it’s been. With a million thanks to Maria Finitzo, Dorothy Marks and the folks at Kartemquin Films, I had the opportunity to be there as part of the 45-strong entourage that journeyed from Chicago to Park City in support of The Interrupters world premiere.

My first big film festival. *ahh!!*

Sundance Credentials
Holding up my Sundance credentials


As the plane touched down in Salt Lake City, I was instantly struck by the gorgeous snow-capped mountains all around – a stark difference from the flat Illinois I’m used to. Now I’d heard stories about how crazy things can get for first-time festival-goers (no surprise that everyone wants to be a part of the most prestigious film festival in the country), but nothing prepared me for the sheer madness we were hit with. The bus, ticketing, getting into theaters and parties all had complex systems that came with big learning curves. Thank goodness I had Maria and Dorothy to brave it all with me. No wonder people have written Sundance Survival Guides.

The Interrupters Eddie, Coby and Ameena pose with crew Zak, Alex and Aaron just before the world premiere

My first film of the festival? Kartemquin’s very own The Interrupters. While it was scheduled to premiere at 9pm at the beautiful Temple Theatre, we arrived by 7.30pm to party it up in the green room… specially reserved for the cast, crew, friends and family. Everyone had a ton of fun getting their glamour shots taken with the Sundance backdrop set up there. When it came time to roll, the theatre was packed. Director Steve James introduced the film and then, it was the moment of truth… the world premiere! I must’ve cried at least 5 times throughout the film… incredibly powerful stories of violence in neighborhoods of Chicago told through the eyes of 3 remarkable interrupters who’ve risked and dedicated their lives to stopping the killing. But don’t just take it from me. Read responses from Cinematical, Square, imdb.com, Chicago Tribune, Roger Ebert and the many folks who saw the movie. The Kartemquin party that followed the night after at our condo was definitely a celebration to remember and a great opportunity for me to get to know the interrupters themselves over drinks.


Our schedules for the days that followed after were jam-packed with as many films as we could get tickets for. Tickets were SO DIFFICULT to come by though… so there came times where we had to launch plan B: Show up at the venue 2 hours before the screening time to get on the wait list and hope/pray that we make it in. A real gamble… but somewhat fun too because you get to strike up some interesting conversations with people standing in line around you… like Michael aka Mr. Moustache, a cowboy hat-donning veteran Sundance volunteer (one of 1650!) who’s there to answer questions about the festival, but instead, receives questions about his long, intricately curled moustache the most!

It’s amazing how many fellow Chicagoans we met there. It was also pretty cool that most of the folks I’d made conversation with had either seen The Interrupters or had heard about it and were very excited about it. Good buzz!

There was also a good deal of kindness and generosity going around… One morning, as I was standing in line at 8am waiting to enter a theatre, the gentleman next to me turned to me.

“hey, would you like a ticket to see Happy, Happy?”
“erm… no thanks.” I replied.
“for free?” Now my interest was piqued.
“oh! well it depends on what time and which theatre…” I already had 3 films scheduled for the day.
“3pm at the Egyptian,” he said, “we’re not gonna be able to make it.”
The timing couldn’t have been more perfect.  I agreed and thanked them for their kindness, silently wondering why they’d bought the ticket in the first place… and then a look at the ticket revealed the answer… printed at the bottom were the words “Sponsor Comp”. Ah. I wonder which of the major name sponsors they were working for!

Happy, Happy, a Norwegian film, later went on to win the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize for Dramatic Filmmaking… so thanks guys! :)

All in all, Sundance 2011 was a wonderfully memorable experience. Got to see lotsa great films, meet lotsa great people, hang out with the wonderful folks from Kartemquin and eat lotsa great food. Thank you Maria, for your guidance, generosity and giving me the opportunity of a lifetime.

Here’s a list of the films I got to see there in chronological order:

  1. The Interrupters – Awesome doc. Go see it!
  2. Abraxas – Japanese Narrative about a punk rock musician turned buddhist monk
  3. Higher Ground – Directed by Up In The Air star Vera Farmiga. Excellent Soundtrack. Ok story.
  4. Happy Happy – Norwegian film about 2 couples cheating with one another. Light-hearted and funny. Winner of the World Cinema Grand Jury Prize for Dramatic Filmmaking
  5. Lost Kisses – Italian film about a 13-year old being idolized by the townsfolk who believe she has the ability to talk to God. I saw no connection to the film’s title. They gave out free lipbalm though!
  6. Shorts Program II – Best ones I saw were Brick Novax and Sexting.
  7. Position Among the Stars – Highly recommended doc set in Jakarta. Gripping story about 3 generations in a poor family striving for a better life. Winner of the World Cinema Special Jury Prize for Doc
  8. Doc Showcase II – The Barber of Birmingham was excellent. RIP director Gail Dolgin. Living for 32 had a great story, following the survivor of the Virginia Tech shootings… wish they’d executed it better though. Animals Distract Me was.. okay. A famous celeb self-indulging imo.
  9. Family Portrait in Black and White – Sad doc about black children in Ukraine orphaned because of racism and a foster mother who’s taken 17 of them in.
  10. The Bengali Detective – Interesting doc about the lives of 4 people in Calcutta as seen through the eyes of a slightly overweight detective with a heart of gold.

Media Impact Spotlight Ep3 – Jehane Noujaim

I had the pleasure of meeting the 2006 TED Prize Winner and award-winning director of Control Room, Jehane Noujaim. She was a special guest speaker at Northwestern for Speaking With A Lens, an awesome event organized by the Muslim cultural Students Association. Jehane was also the great mind behind Pangea Day, an epic event that brought inspiring movies to over a million screens across the world simultaneously.

Enjoy episode 3! :)

[Vimeo http://vimeo.com/12143988%5D

Media Impact Spotlight is a web video series featuring professionals utilizing various forms of media for positive social change. Watch previous episodes and subscribe to the series here.

Bringing the world together through the power of film.

Watching 2006 TED Prize winner Jehane Noujaim share her wish for the world with such passion sends goosebumps down my spine. It’s the 2nd time I’ve seen this video and I still feel moved.

Was super excited that she was scheduled to speak at Northwestern tonight about Speaking With a Lens. I found her film Control Room remarkable and was really looking forward to meeting her. Very bummed out that the Iceland Volcano ash cloud has prevented her from flying to the US. McSA, I really hope you’ll find a way to reschedule this.

**Update** They did reschedule it! Woohoo! Just got back from the event where Jehane so kindly agreed to be interviewed for the next episode of Media Impact Spotlight! Look out for it soon! Thank you, Jehane for a wonderful talk. It clearly inspired many in the room. And thank you, McSA, for organizing this. Looking forward to more great events in future. :)