We’re now done with our very first session and I’ve been blown away by all the talent in the room. So much experience. So much wisdom. We wasted no time on day one. Tasked with introducing everyone to our works-in-progress within 5 minutes, I took the leap to turn an idea that’s been in my head for months, into reality. I’m excited about highlighting and exploring a much heavily praised aspect of Singapore with folks here in Chicago.
Adventures In Learning
The documentary I’m going to be working on throughout the course of the program and beyond will shine a spotlight on innovation in the classroom, before teens enter university. Areas of interest include classrooms that incorporate social entrepreneurship, environmental sustainability, or global citizenship.
The interest in these new curriculums and teaching methods really stem from my experience of growing up in a very “exam-driven” educational system, where school was more about learning to get the good grades than it was about learning… actually learning. I remember feeling like a fish out of water when I first stepped into the classrooms at Northwestern University. “You mean you actually wanna hear my opinion?” And also in constant awe of the number of fellow students around me who truly believed they could change the world.
Research Research Research
I’d like to follow stories both in Singapore and in Chicago. If the above resonates with you, I’d love to chat. In this initial research stage, I’m seeking people who’ve done academic studies on the education systems in Singapore and the US, and those who are directly involved in either education system, whether as a teacher, an administrator, or even as a student with an opinion to share.
At this point, I’m still searching for the right points to cover, characters to follow, and stories to tell. Know someone who fits the bill? Send him/her my way.
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.
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.
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
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 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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!!*
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.
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 fromCinematical, 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:
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
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!
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
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.
I realize it’s been almost a month since my last update! Been taking on lots of exciting projects lately! Apart from the managing-my-life aspect (work visa to stay in the US longer, mourning Germany’s loss at the World Cup), here’re some updates on what’s been keeping me busy.
Been pretty involved in the production of Maria Finitzo’sInvisible Seasons, a documentary that explores how change takes place in a democracy and the effects of Title IX on women’s athletics. Absolutely love going on shoots with the team doing 2nd camera, still photography, and filming behind-the-scenes footage. It’s always a blast when you put Maria, DP Peter Gilbert and Sound Recordist John Mathie together in one car. :) We’ve had opportunities to be a part of events like the Chicago Sky Opening Night at the Allstate Arena, the farewell banquet for the Kelly High School Women’s Soccer Team, and just learn so much through interviews with some really amazing people! Look out for the new demo that Editor Leslie Simmer’s been hard at work on, coming out mid August!
I’ve also had the pleasure of working the talented folks at Modea on the Invisible Seasons website. The initial draft concept they’ve sent me looks beautiful! It’s going to be such a fun and interactive website, I cannot wait for its official launch. :D
Innovations For Learning
I’m deep in post-production for the videos showcasing the company’s wonderful Online Tutoring program that brings together working professionals in the corporate world with 1st graders who need help with learning to read. They truly make it easy for the tutor because it only takes 30 minutes a week and he/she doesn’t even need to leave the office! All you really need is a phone line and an internet connection. Neat huh? I hope to be able to showcase all that through compelling stories told by our interviewees at the elementary schools and corporations we’ve visited. It’s so much fun exploring the various institutions and learning about what they do. It also gives me a great peek into the world of elementary education here in the US, since I didn’t grow up here. Plus it’s always heartwarming to be surrounded by 6 year-olds. :) Many thanks to my friends/DPs Karl, Alex, Trevor & Josh for coming on these journeys with me.
I got a random phonecall from Karl one day asking if I’d wanted to teach theater kids about film for a week-long summer program. Having no experience in the world of theater, I thought this would be a good chance to learn a little about it, while sharing what I know with a group of very expressive kids. Working with Aaron Shapiro and Tamara Drew at Studio BE was a ton of fun. We came up with a weeklong plan that would enable the kids to plan and shoot their very own promo video for their upcoming musical, RagTime!
That’s what my Cabrini Connections Film Club kids have decided to name our production company. We’re currently in the midst of an 8-week long summer course where they’ll learn filmmaking techniques through producing their very own music videos! The kids chose, right from day one, that they’d be working on music videos for Lil Mama’s Lip Gloss, and the opening theme song for the anime Air Gear. Two very different pieces, with very different feels.
Just earlier this week, the kids had 3.5 hours to shoot everything they needed. While one group had scenes with dancers, make-up and lots of attitude, the other group had shots of an intense card game, reminding me of casino scenes from James Bond. Over the next 4 weeks, we’ll be hard at work on editing, finishing and summing up with our big screening party. Whee!
Manchester United Soccer School & 1World Sports
The Manchester United Soccer School started off their US tour in Chicago, where kids from all over had to compete for the opportunity to spend a day with coaches from one of the world’s best soccer teams around. How exciting it was for Jane, Jenny and I to be there to capture all the action on video at UIC. :)
1World Sports knows that’s a lot of life lessons that can be taught through sports, so they designed the “Responsibilities of an Athlete” program to teach kids about them. Mixed that with running around under the sun doing soccer drills with the Man U coaches, and the kids went home with smiles on their faces (and plenty of cool Man U merchandise!).