Thursday, June 21, 2007

Welcome to our blog

In July 2000 I put my documentary projects on hold to teach a journalism class at American University Paris. I brought my students to Amnesty International for a conversation about genocide. As we were wrapping up, the Amnesty representative ushered us into a room and over to a large cardboard box with a bright blue fabric peeking out. Have you ever worn a burqa before? she asked. As I pulled the tent-like garment over my head and imagined being forced to wear it, I thought about what it would be like to be invisible to the world. That’s when I knew I wanted to produce a film about Afghanistan and help Afghan women to become visible again. The challenge was finding a way for the film to resonate with an American audience.

A year later, after the attacks of September 11th, the ability to draw the connection between Afghanistan and us seemed obvious. Three months later, I traveled to Afghanistan to film the growing humanitarian crisis and the aid workers who were struggling to respond to it. I was looking forward to seeing women shedding their burqas, liberated from the medieval laws of the Taliban. But when I arrived, all the women I encountered were still covered head-to-toe, allowed only a small mesh patch for their window to the world. When the documentary I was working on failed to sell, I vowed to return to this place that captured a piece of me with its beauty, isolation and sorrow.

What I could never have imagined then is that as I was filming in Afghanistan, there were two women living in my own backyard who were opening their eyes to the world in new and profound ways after losing their husbands on September 11th. Four years later I would return to Afghanistan with Susan Retik and Patti Quigley. Both pregnant with daughters on September 11th, Susan and Patti’s husbands were killed when the two planes bound for LA from Boston were flown into the World Trade Center Towers.

Their loss gave them permission to shut out the world, but their compassion forced them to have a leadership role in it. As they reached out to Afghan war widows, women they felt a true connection with, it became important to me to tell their story. They weren’t effected by the increasing divisions of the world by politics, ethnicity and religion. Instead, they worked to affirm a common humanity we all share.

After filming with them for more than two years, “Beyond Belief” recently premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, and my company, Principle Pictures, is now working with a sales rep for theatrical, television and DVD distribution. We’re also looking forward to participating in more festivals.

To take a look at the film’s website:

On this blog, I will share updates of our experiences with “Beyond Belief” and other documentary projects while focusing on two central themes: understanding our ability for compassion, and our vulnerability to compassion fatigue. These are themes that for me combine elements of human rights, social justice, women’s rights, journalism, ethics, philosophy and history.

The idea of compassion fatigue has fascinated me… and the desire to combat it has motivated me…. since reading Susan Moeller’s book, “Compassion Fatigue: How the Media Sell Disease, Famine, War and Death.” Compassion fatigue has been identified as a relatively new phenomenon. The idea is that as the media hop from one crisis to another, the world is reduced to a blurred trauma of poverty, disease and death, and audiences begin to care less and less about the world around them, despite the increasing number of dramatic images they’re exposed to.

The concept comes out of the relief world as a reference to weary donors, but it translates well to television audiences because it is the result of feeling that, no matter what we do, it is ineffectual.

If we are truly serious about making a difference with our programs, we need to confront compassion fatigue, and help keep viewers—and ourselves—from succumbing to it.

New entries to this blog will be made at least once a week, and I look forward to sharing a little bit of our world with you.

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