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.
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.
It was an eventful day of filming back on Wednesday. I had the privillege of following the action, taking production pictures as well as some footage for the film on Jane’s new Canon 7D.
Director Maria Finitzo, DP Jim, Sound Recordist Rich and I got off to a great start. Just as we pulled into the parking lot of Kelly High School, one of the biggest in the city, Coach Stan of their womens’ soccer team came out to us with warm greetings. The girls were lacing up their boots, getting all geared up for their match against Whitney Young High. Emotions were high because for the seniors in the team, their high school soccer experience was coming to a close.
It was also my first time meeting Elizabeth and Nancy, two remarkable young women whose passion for the sportclearly shone through. What followed after on that field was plenty of action, accompanied by the soundtrack of Kelly High School’s cheers. And even though the girls put up a tough fight, the opposing team emerged victorious.
The girls took their loss graciously and did their best to provide emotional support for each other. As someone who was a team sport athlete myself at their age, I knew what it felt like for them. And that was one of the most difficult things I’ve had to do as a filmmaker… as much as I’d wanted to put that camera down and embrace them in big hugs too, I had to keep on rolling, knowing that the message embedded in the image will be incredibly powerful. But the girls took things in their stride. They exchanged comforting hugs, reassuring nods and strong words of encouragement, knowing that when they step back to see the bigger picture, they’ve grown tremendously from their time spent training with each other.
The final stop for the day was at the home of Chicago Sky President and CEO Margaret Stender. It’s amazing how much you learn about people just by stepping into their homes. It was a heartwarming scene of Margaret sharing a home-cooked meal with her children.
What an incredible day it was for a young filmmaker like myself. It sure brought back fond memories of my rowing days. I also got to witness firsthand the power of the moving image, and how rich a story we can tell with a well-placed camera.
Looking forward to more production adventures with Invisible Seasons!
Invisible Seasons is aKartemquinFilm currently in production. It explores the world of women and sports, Title IX, and how change takes place in a democracy. Set for a 2012 release, you can gain access to behind the scenes footage and trace our production journey byfollowing us on Twitter andliking us on Facebook. Our official site is currently under construction and will be up soon!