How to make GMOs

Vandana Shiva, noted environmentalist in 2007,...
Image via Wikipedia

I’m sure you’ve come across the words GMO or generically modified organism at some point, but what does it really mean? Is genetically modified food truly safe for consumption?

My dear friend Taylor McNulty’s been working on a documentary about genetically modified food in India and how it’s adversely affecting the farmers there. She had an amazing opportunity to work closely with a physicist and environmental activist Dr. Vandana Shiva, who created Navdanya, a movement to “protect the diversity and integrity of living resources, especially the native seed, the promotion of organic farming and fair trade“.

To help us understand just how GMOs are made, Taylor asked me to create some simple animation to accompany Dr. Shiva’s explanation of the process. I agreed in a heartbeat. :) Check it out:


The aromas of roast turkey, baked pears and pumpkin cheesecake are wafting up the stairwell, along with fits of laughter, as my housemates work on cooking up a feast. It’s Thanksgiving day here in the US. Walk down the street and, just like on Chinese New Year in Singapore, you’ll find 99% of all stores closed. Folks travel far and wide to be home with their families. The dishes and conversations may vary across the country, but the basic human love and warmth remains the same. I’m a million miles away from home, but am fortunate to still be surrounded by friends.

As I venture through my 24th year on Earth, surrounded by fellow young adults all on uncertain paths, I often find myself either engaged in deep conversation, or lost in deep thought about life. Who are we? Where are we going? How did we get here? I know, without a doubt in my mind, that I have much to be thankful for.

  • For the ability to pursue my social issue documentary filmmaking dreams & make a decent living from doing it
  • For the mentors who guide me and look out for my well-being – Maria, JJ, Ines, folks at Kartemquin – ¬†you know not how much you inspire me.
  • For the kindness and generosity of Seth and his team at Innovations For Learning, who’s sponsoring my work visa.
  • For the opportunity to spend all 4 of my Thanksgiving Days so far in great company. With Sam’s family in Wisconsin, Jane’s family in Maryland, friends/housemates at 1101 Garnett, and this year with Maria’s family.
  • For the friends I still get to see every so often, you keep me happy, grounded, loved and sane.
  • For the friends I don’t really get to see, because you’re far far away… you’re still in my heart. Wish I’d been able to communicate as much as I’d like to.
  • For my family. The unconditional love and support means a lot to me. It’s been 2 years since I’ve been home and I can’t wait for the next opportunity to visit.
  • And, of course, for you.

What are you thankful for?

Teaching at Cabrini Connections Video Club

If you’re given the opportunity to spend time in a classroom with a handful of 14-17 year olds as a guest teacher, what would you do with that time? I’d want to grab the golden opportunity to touch and inspire young lives, to be that spark in helping them dream big. But what if you only had all of just 90 minutes to do it?

Film Club Oct 05 2009 002My colleague Karl and I were asked to guest teach video editing at the Cabrini Connections Video Club. And even though i’ve taught people editing previously at Mediaworks, it was usually one-on-one, and they were college students. As first-timers teaching in front of an actual class of students, we were naturally nervous.

There were also a couple of challenges we had to overcome. You see, Karl and I were fortunate enough to learn to use editing software in big computer labs and fancy projectors that allowed us to follow our instructors step by step. However, with the limited resources of a nonprofit organization like Cabrini Connections, where they only had 1 ancient mac that (barely) ran Final Cut Express, it was clear that we would not be able to teach the kids in the same way we were taught.

Another challenge we faced was overcoming what is known as The Curse of Knowledge. Often, we become so used to the things that come to us naturally, that we forget what it was like to not know. How do we put across these complicated editing concepts in a simple manner? Stories. Stories and examples always help. After a week of prep and a lot of thought, we came up with our lesson plan and handouts.

We got through concepts of the individual frame and how meaning can change drastically when you splice together different images. We got a little technical with continuity editing techniques too. Getting to use YouTube videos and clips from movies really helped to illustrate our points better. Film Club Oct 05 2009 001

I think they really enjoyed getting some hands-on editing practice and making their own editorial decisions the most. I remember enjoying hands-on sessions the most too, back in the day. Karl and I decided that the best workaround was for us both to bring our laptops to class and split the students into 2 groups. We’d then individually guide the students and ask them to take turns deciding the arrangement of 4 shots taken from one of Karl’s old college projects.

You should have heard how excited they were. Even though the plan was for Karl and I to be the ones actually using Final Cut to execute their editorial decisions, one of my boys rushed to take the hot seat in front of my laptop and started clicking away happily. “Ah, you’ve used this before, haven’t you?” I asked. He replied with confidence, “yeah, my school has macs.” Another one of my girls, after peeking over to see how Karl’s group was doing, said with such pride, “theirs looks good, but ours is gonna be better!” Ah, the spirit of competition. :)

At least 1 of the girls, Melissa, has expressed interest in going to film school in future. I would love to help her gain some awesome set experience before college sometime by inviting her to a Northwestern student film set. I can imagine how thrilled she’d be!

Those 90 minutes whizzed on by all too quickly. And while I don’t think we managed to get across anything that was particularly as life-changing as i had hoped, I still think we all enjoyed the session. I think it would take a little more time to be able to instill in them how they can use their video-making skills to do something positive. It blows my mind how teachers do this on a daily basis. Respect!

Thanks Michael and Brad for asking us to come teach. Thanks Karl for tag-teaming it with me. It was such a great experience!

To read more about the Cabrini Connections Video Club and the great work they’re doing, check out their blog here.

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Marshall’s Memories… the making of

For our final RTVF 380 project, Marshall, Jory, Jane and I had initialy conceptualized a piece about the state of communication in today’s world, where it can be superficial and distilled, stripped of the richness of personal connection in electronic media. Marshall's Memories ShootPeople can be so close (in proximity) and yet so far away (on an emotional level). We wanted to tell it through the story of a lonely guy finds himself engaged in communication on a far deeper level through letters in a bottle.

We just learned to shoot with the Arriflex BL-16, a pretty cool, but kinda awkwardly-shaped and heavy 16mm film camera.The first major hurdle to using this camera, was learning to load film into the magazine in complete darkness. It’s difficult enough threading the film through the little nooks and crannies of the equipment when you can see it during practice! Doing it completely blind in a changing bag to avoid accidental light exposure was definitely a challenge.

Marshall's Memories Shoot 3We shot this in 16 hours. Got ourselves out of bed at 4am so we could have a beautiful sunrise backdrop on north beach. Mother nature didn’t seem to like our idea and decided to make it a cloudy day. Since we had no car and no dolly, our trusty dorm shopping cart served as both equipment transport and as a moving seat for me as i held the camera.

We waited for the evening magic hour to shoot our last scene so we’d have sunlight shining through the multi-colored glass bottles that lined theMarshall's Memories Shoot2 windowsill to cast pretty colors onto the table.

We also experimented shooting a long take at 12fps so it’d have a sped-up effect after film processing. It turned out pretty well, considering we were racing against time to get the shot before daylight went away.

Overall, a great experience!