Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Nesvatbov (Matchmaking Mayor)

'Matchmaking Mayor' is a documentary by Czech director Erika Hníková, about a small community in Zemplínske Hámre, Slovakia. Jozef Gajdoš, the village-Mayor, is obsessed, to the point of near psychotic obsession, with the fact that the village is dying out because the residents are not marrying and having children. He takes things into his own hands, by preaching to the residents over the public PA system and by offering generous cash incentives for all couples who marry and have babies.

The plot is crazy, impossible to believe - which is all the more mad because it's completely true. In many ways, the film is wildly hilarious -- yet, underneath the humour and strangeness is a sadness. The characters in the film are alone. As much as the mayor tries to bring them together, the film is punctuated by shots of men and women choosing to not interact with each other. Perhaps the characters are fearful, perhaps they're content -- it's hard to say. The interesting thing is that, behind the fascinating characters and unusual social rituals, there are universal themes and patterns that nearly all of us can relate to.

Care to share?

Monday, 8 August 2011

The Interrupters

"Violence interrupters have one goal in mind, to save a life."

Weird how things work out. Today I saw the new film from documentary filmmaker Steve James, "The Interrupters". You may remember his incredible documentary 'Hoop Dreams', which is widely regarded as one of the all time great documentaries.

'The Interrupters' is about gangs in Chicago. It's about violence interrupters, mostly former convicts, who go out on the street with the sole aim of stopping lives from being lost. The very brave Steve James put himself into the firing line and went out and documented their work.

I made the plans to see an advance screening earlier in the week, when everything was normal. And then London started burning, and disorder became a sudden and unexpected norm. And suddenly this film took on far more meaning for me than could have been anticipated.

Civil unrest is weird. If we have equilibrium, we always think things are okay. But tension and conflict will always bubble up at some point. This week it did. The young people of London are ruthlessly and disgustingly setting fire to our town. Small businesses are up in flame, historic buildings are burning down, and people's homes are vanishing. It all feels so senseless. It is senseless.

But it has a context. These things aren't random. If they were random, it would be ME looting and rioting. But it's not. You have to begin to ask why --- why those young people? What are their lives like? Steve James says that you can't ignore the socioeconomic context. You can't ignore the cuts. The lack of jobs. Everything has its context. And that doesn't condone a shooting, or a riot, but it does help explain it.

That's why 'The Interrupters' is great. It shows the reality of gangs in Chicago. They're not just gangsters who want to shoot each other up. They're people who get pushed around, who can't get work, who have nowhere to turn. The statistics about poverty in black communities in America is astonishing, and the divide in wealth between blacks and whites is bigger than it's been in 25 years. 'The Interrupters' shows us people trying to get on with their lives. Trying to survive in their own environment. That's why it's so riveting. We can easily find ourselves in the privileged position of being able to ignore these issues, of sweeping them aside -- or perhaps, more commonly, just being unaware. 

This is a film that brings the issues front and centre.

We live in troubled times. 'The Interrupters' reminds us not to judge people until we've seen the full picture. Documentaries like this are important because they show us the truth, what's happening down on the ground, and it's not filtered through the eyes of news organizations with vested interests. 

Additional points: 

1) The key scene is one where, fresh out of jail, a young man returns to the scene of his crime a few years later, to apologise to the family for what he did. 

And I think he expects them to accept his apology, which in the end they do -- but not before they explain to him in detail the effect he has had on their lives, and how it affects them still, every day. 

It's the most powerful scene you'll see all year. Here's this boy who was in his mid-teens and pulled a gun on a family and thought only of himself. And now, years later, he sees it from their point of view. 


2) I asked Steve James if he would ever follow up on 'Hoop Dreams'. I already knew the answer and he confirmed it. That ship has sailed. The boys are leading different lives now. The story is complete. He also mentioned that 'The Interrupters' seems like a bookend to that story. 

3) One of the things that inspired 'The Interrupters' was that both of the families from 'Hoop Dreams' had tragic, senseless, crime-related deaths in the years proceeding the documentary's release. Steve wanted to dig further into that. There were important stories to tell.

4) This is only going to get a limited release theatrically. Try and catch it.

Care to share?

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Those Who Do It Do It

Everyone needs encouragement. Everyone needs a push. Everyone goes through dry spells.

But if it's six months later and you're still saying to your friend "Start the script!" or "send me the DVD" then don't bother.

When you add up the pep-talks and Facebook messages you realize you've spent 20 hours encouraging one person who has yet to spend 7 minutes creating their blog or filming their scene or applying for that job.

Those who want to do it do it. I'm doing this stuff every day. Even those do-ers who have stressful office jobs and grumpy kids to feed still find ways to put the hours in.

There are some people I know who I love to pieces, they're genuinely wonderful, fascinating people; but they're not doing the work. They're talking about doing the work and they're talking about starting the project next month or next year-- just like they did last month and last year.

It takes so long to get good. You've gotta be busy failing and getting rejected every single day. Those who sit at home rejecting themselves before anyone else can, they're a drain on your time and energy.

Do the work. And help others who are doing the work. And appreciate that some people are suffering and hurting and struggling, and for a while they can't do the work. Everyone goes through that.

But those who say they'll do the work but never do-- those waiting for the summer to end or the Olympics to start before they work, they're just wasting away.

Everyone has a dream. You're either someone who does it or someone who tweets quotes about doing it but never does. And either way is fine. But if you're creative, you have to focus on the job. It takes so long to get great and we have to put the hours in. Ask anyone who made it and they'll tell you the exact same thing.

Care to share?

Shared Dreams

Tay left this comment on my post "I'm Thinking Of Starting A Project" and it made my week, so I thought I'd share it.

Dear Kid,

I first came across your blog when I was trying to write something inspiring about our new zero budget, zero expenditure short film. That's when I read "Make your short film on a zero budget". I like your writings. Some days, they serve as an encouragement to keep filming, keep writing and to keep creating. Some days, they are painful reminders for self reflection. Some days, they feel like I have a friend out there who truly understands how I feel. 

My partner and I are currently traveling around world documenting and sharing people's dreams online with the intention "One dream shared, one dream inspired" My personal dream is to be an inspiring story teller and my partner Val's dream is to become an inspiring actress. Your blog has kept our dreams going simply because we resonate with the words that you speak: "Don't make the mistake of thinking your artistic destiny is in anyone's hands but yours. The artist doesn't ask 'how long till you get a real job?'. But if success doesn't come the artist starts hearing the voices in their own heads. Art lasts. Business kills you. Don't get excited by the big lights, just do the work that you love. I feel like we all know true greatness. We just need to trust it."

I would like to say thank you to you for being authentic, for living your dream, for trusting true greatness in all of us, in yourself day after day after day. 

Keep writing.

Here is a link to Tay and Val's project. Check it out.

Care to share?

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Your Personal Story

It's your life. You paint it in all the colours and captions and stories that make it meaningful. Your favourite book sits up on the shelf and only you could ever know what it means to you. When you try and explain it, it loses something. And the other person will never feel the same.

Some movies just connect with you. In you. Through you. They feel like home. They are home. You put in the DVD and disappear into another world, yet somehow it feels like a portal to your own world, to who you really are.

We all have that song. You're in your car and it comes on the radio, or filters through a sound system from a building across the street. And you just feel it. You feel the essence of who you are. It's your song.

The art that you live by defies time and distance. Chaplin is long dead, but he can still reach you. Elton John could be at a party in New York, but a song he recorded thirty-five years ago can reach your headphones when you're walking down a rainswept street on the outskirts of Berlin. There are no limits. We don't even need the record, or the DVD; they live in our heads. Our hearts.

We get lost in fashion. Lost in the latest releases. And people look at you like there's a right and a wrong. But whether you're cool or fashionable doesn't matter when you're alone in a dark room at 4am. All that matters is who you are.

You build your personal story. 

Bricks made of pop songs and heartbreaks and road trips and arguments and death and life and fights and cinema visits and folded pages. Every single moment is a moment to dive in. Watch a movie, dream about a girl who played you a song long ago, read your favourite book again and again and again. Each time, you get closer to who you are and where you came from. And if you dive in enough, you find out where you're going. 

Care to share?