Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Principle Voices: Kevin on THE LIST edit

Kevin Belli is Principle Pictures’ Senior Editor and Director of Photography

A whole day of editing, that’s how a typical day at Principle Pictures looks like for me, these last few months. I come in and review what I’ve done the day before. I try to macromanage myself and set daily goals. You can get really overwhelmed when you think about an hour long film for example. Every scene is like its own little film and it has to make sense in the context of the bigger story.

The most important thing for the rough cut is establishing structure. Beth Murphy (Director) and I will sit down and work out the film’s structure. The order information is presented, the order of the scenes, how the information is shared, how much information is being revealed... all of that establishes the pacing of the film.

I like to think creatively about how to tell parts of the story for which there is little to no video coverage. For example, a major part of Kirk Johnson’s character development in THE LIST is to tell his post-traumatic stress accident story: He was sleepwalking while on vacation and fell out a two story window. We have a few still photographs of Kirk in the hospital, and excellent interview material, but by themselves, I thought the presentation of the material fell flat.

The fun thing about being an editor is when a problem like this comes up, I can try to think of a unique way to shoot it or show it. In this case I came up with the idea of putting Kirk’s photographs from the Dominican Republic in a slide projector and shooting the projector itself and the projected images. So that became my coverage for telling this part of the story, and I think it provides a sort of a cool aesthetic that works well with some other stylistic choices we’ve made.

I have a love-hate relationship with editing, because it can seem overwhelming--especially at the beginning. For THE LIST, we have more than 350 hours of raw footage that we’re cutting down to less than an hour. And there are days when nothing seems to be going right, and a whole day will be spent trying to work through 10 or 20 seconds of the film. But then there are the good days - the great days. The days when it’s going so well I don’t want to leave the edit room. I love being in the groove, and there’s nothing like watching back a section that you know works. The rewards are so worth the struggle.

So I don’t view any of this as work. It eats up a lot of time, especially social time. But I love doing it because at the end of the day I’m working on a film. I’m making a movie! It’s fun, you know. It’s a mental struggle, it’s an emotional struggle, but at the end of the day it’s the most fun you can have.

Principle Voices is a new blog series that features weekly interviews with staff and interns to provide insights into what, how and why we do what we do.

Introducing Myself: Lara Sitruk

After working here for three weeks, I feel part of the PP-family. I’m up to date with most of the projects everybody is working on and the pile of plans for future projects which keeps growing. Common characteristics among my coworkers are ambition, interest in the world and the constant laughter that fills the office every day.

I moved to Boston from the Netherlands and arrived way too overdressed at my first day of work, thinking American companies are very professional and formal. Principle Pictures is professional, but more informal, which creates a very cozy, fun and motivating atmosphere in which to work!

Kevin Belli, Principle Pictures’ Senior editor, dragged me to the premier of ‘Jane Eyre’ at the MFA-museum after my first day of work, where we had just missed the President of the United States who was in Boston for a special event. That same week I got to join my coworkers at the Salem Film Fest, listen to music in South End and see ‘Educating Rita’ at the Huntington Theatre. I guess you can say people at Principle Pictures are very culturally educated.

One of my tasks here at Principle Pictures is to take care of our blog and keep you all up to date with our news, plans and adventures. To give you more insight in our projects and the people who work at Principle Pictures, we are introducing to you: Principle Voices, interviews with people in the office. This week Kevin tells us about what he’s up to right now: editing the documentary THE LIST.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Principle Inspirations: Poetry from Mary Angelino

Mary Angelino has been named one of 2010's best new poets.

Helping My Father Write His Father’s Eulogy

Instead of uneducated, write immigrant,
instead of mason
artist with brick and stone.

If you say worked hard, always
food on the table
, you won’t need
to say poor.

He’d want the Pslam read first
to get it out of the way.

End with the time
he drove to that mansion,
the fence as white as a rich man’s teeth,

Just to show you the tile rooftop,
blue as a thousand passports
cut from the sky.

Another of her poems, "Refugee," is beautiful and heartbreaking. She presents it at this reading:

Principle Inspirations is a new blog series that features those special things that makes us laugh and cry -- the things that motivate and inspire us. We hope you'll share your stories with us, too.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Remembering Geraldine Ferraro

One of my earliest memories as a journalist is of covering Geraldine Ferraro's visit to the University of Rhode Island in 1989 after she'd become head of the new Int'l Institute for Women's Political Leadership. I drove my white Fiero to the event which was held in the mold-infested campus auditorium where faded maroon-and-black carpet was made even less favorable by the low-watt florescent lighting.

With me I brought a Marantz pmd430 tape recorder, a microphone, and three packs of extra batteries--all stashed in my tan Liz Claiborne bag. After positioning the mic on its stand, angled precisely to the height I imagined Ferraro to be, I seated myself directly to what would be Ferraro's right. I imagined her right-handed, and, therefore, prone to looking right. I'd be sure to make eye contact, and be more likely to persuade an interview backstage.

As I moved left to sit, something under my chair reacted. I ignored it and sat. Ferraro began to speak. It felt like 1984. As she greeted us, something began to happen that I could not ignore: A giant cockroach darted back and forth underneath my seat. At first I just stared at the floor, lifting my legs up during every scurry. But an hour in, I kept my feet on the chair, hugging my knees into my chest.

I can't remember anything Ferraro said that night, and have long since lost the tape. But my memory of that night still makes me laugh. And Ferraro's acceptance speech five years earlier still inspires me:

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Mass Humanities Awards Grant for BEYOND BELIEF Education Campaign

Good news from the Massachusetts Foundation for Humanities! We’ve been awarded a grant to get BEYOND BELIEF and its new curriculum/study guide (written by Columbia University Teachers College) into the hands of teachers and students. In fully funding our grant proposal, Senior Program Officer Hayley Wood says, “I can think of few more appropriate ways to learn about 9/11, focusing not on the horror of the event itself, which may not be the most appropriate approach for young people, but learning about the event more tangentially, through the choices of people who were directly affected by the tragedy.”

Now that we’ve been awarded the grant, we can’t wait to spend it! The $10k will accomplish a lot. In collaboration with our partners—Teachers College and its innovative development division Edlab, Primary Source, Educational Collaborative of Greater Boston (EDCO), and Beyond the 11th, we will hold a series of professional development workshops this spring. Feedback from teachers during those sessions will be used by Teachers College to write a Teacher’s Manual, and online professional development materials will be created to extend the reach and impact of this grant.

This fall—in honor of the 10th anniversary of 9/11—Primary Source will organize a “Global Watch” of BEYOND BELIEF—a live event at Coolidge Corner Theater that will be streamed online, allowing educators and others to participate via Facebook and Twitter. Stay tuned for updates—we hope you can join us in-person or virtually!

The study guide has been developed with these specific disciplines in mind: history, social studies, English, peace studies, international studies, women’s studies, and psychology. While Teachers College has been busy writing, we’ve been editing a new educational DVD. New features include: 10-minute teaching modules, added special features from our return to Afghanistan, and a shortened version of the film that will fit into junior high, high school or university classes.

And we were thrilled to hear how effective the BEYOND BELIEF program has already been for students and teachers at Gill St. Bernard Middle and Upper school. “I have rarely seen students so moved and eager to make a difference on behalf of others whom they are never likely to meet or know,” says Peter Schmidt, the school’s Director of Studies.

One student explained her reaction this way, “Before watching the film, I felt prejudice toward Muslims… However, I learned my hatred was misguided toward the Afghan people who had nothing to do with the 9/11 terrorists attacks… I feel like my own wounds from that day have started to heal. This film gave me a powerful sense of hope.” This is exactly what we hope for – that students are able to internalize the film’s messages.

“This film and its study guide will move your students to talk about and understand the history of America and Afghanistan at war,” says Ambassador Swanee Hunt from Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. “The message is that this whole world is ours, we are all connected, we are all responsible for making this-our-world better.”

Initial funding for this educational effort came from the Fledgling Fund, making it possible for us to build the capacity for a strategic and robust campaign.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

In Defense of Malalai Joya's Visa Application

Almost three years ago to the day, Malalai Joya and I were bundled up in our winter coats walking through Boston Common, discussing Afghanistan. Joya hadn’t been back home in a while—she is always cautious about returning to Afghanistan, afraid she will put her parents’ and siblings’ lives in danger. Not to mention her own. As a vocal women’s rights activist who has since been named one of the 100 most influential people in the world, Joya has survived five assassination attempts and countless death threats.

But here in Beacon Hill with her slight frame and oversize coat, she was unrecognizable, blending in with the cities’ college kids while carrying a Canadian passport with a 1978 birth date printed inside the maple leaf cover.

As we took pictures in front of the State House, Joya’s smile was hidden by her long, dark hair that the wind swirled around her face. She held my 7-month-old daughter, Isabelle, and returning her to my arms spoke wistfully about how her life on the run would likely never be conducive to motherhood.

She had come to Massachusetts for a few events including the International Women’s Day program we planned: A screening of BEYOND BELIEF and a presentation by Joya.

I remember how uncomfortable it made some people in our audience when Joya gave example upon example of how U.S. policy--no matter how well intentioned--props up warlords and drug dealers and means more suffering and oppression for Afghan women. For years now, she has spoken vehemently against the U.S. war in Afghanistan, and our event was no exception.

It was a memorable night, and I was looking forward to seeing her again sometime this week during her book tour in the U.S. for “Woman Among Warlords.” That book tour was scheduled to start today.

But this time Joya was denied entry to America.

Denied a visa, according to her staff, because she is “unemployed” and “lives underground.” But America has long been a place of refuge and asylum for those fleeing persecution—something we can understand would make it impossible to hold down a job. What separates Joya from others like Iran’s Salman Rushdie or Mexico’s Marisol Valles Garcia is her attack on U.S. foreign policy. She says things that people just don’t want to hear.

Instead, Joya is now in the company of others denied visas –people like Kenya's former police chief Hussein Ali who was kept out of the U.S. last year because he is responsible for gross human rights violations at home. Last January, human rights groups celebrated Ali’s visa denial.

But no human rights groups are celebrating now. It seems clear that Joya’s visa denial is the result of what the ACLU calls “ideological exclusion,” an effort to deny visas to foreign artists, scholars and writers who criticize U.S. policy overseas. This was common during the Bush administration, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s recent lifting of bans on two prominent academics and a Columbian journalist seemed to signal an end to this racist, discriminatory, anti-free speech policy (one that is aimed at Muslims more than any other group).

In fighting one case of ideological exclusion, the ACLU wrote:
“No legitimate interest is served by the exclusion of foreign nationals on ideological grounds. Ideological exclusion impoverishes intellectual inquiry and debate in the United States, suggests to the world that our country is more interested in silencing than engaging its critics, and undermines our ability to support dissent in politically repressive nations.”

Whether you agree or disagree with what Joya says, the First Amendment protects our right to hear it. It’s a good time to remember President Obama’s 2009 Cairo speech in which he discussed ways to improve U.S.-Muslim relations through “a sustained effort to listen to each other; to learn from each other; to respect one another; and to seek common ground."

That vision cannot be realized if people like Malalai Joya are silenced in America.

(If you’d like to support Joya’s goal of having a book tour in the U.S. click here for practical ways that you can help.)

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Hello, Denver!

Barbara Bridges and her extraordinary Women+Film Festival know how to celebrate the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day! I'm here in Denver for a screening of BEYOND BELIEF and a fundraiser for our 10th anniversary of 9/11 national outreach effort. (All the while eating what is most definitely too much movie popcorn and enjoying beautiful French films like POTICHE starring Catherine Deneuve and QUEEN-TO-PLAY, Kevin Klein's first French-speaking role).

I am struck today by David Brooks' NYT editorial about our over-confident nation. As Americans, we're collectively self-indulgent and the accolades we expect don't match our merits. As Gerald Chertavian, founder of Year Up, told me this week, "There is no free lunch. If you're not willing to work your ass off, then you can't expect access or opportunity." Yet, lots of people do. And they want compliments, to boot! Not surprising then that a recent study shows college students would prefer to have their egos puffed up than eat their favorite food or even - gasp - have sex.

Brooks' most interesting observation is the link between magnification of self and the decline of values around citizenship. "Citizenship, after all," he writes, "is built on an awareness that we are not all that special but are, instead, enmeshed in a common enterprise." He is focused on ideas of national citizenship, but I believe the same applies to global citizenship. It's important, then, to see ourselves as a small link in a larger generational chain - so that things that inflate our sense of self today don't mean abdicating responsibility for tomorrow.

The films programmed by the talented Tammy Brislin of the Denver Film Society are helping to inspire many thoughts about how not to succumb to our "all-me" culture. She had first envisioned a 2.5 day festival to honor International Women's Day - but after 2 martinis and 2 weeks of pressure from DFS director Tom Botelho, found herself in charge of a 6 day festival exploring and celebrating women's voices and the inclusive spirit that defines them.