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FLEFF Intern Voices

The Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival from the interns' point of view

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Posted by Blaize Hall at 7:09PM   |  Add a comment

Blog post by Blaize Hall, Television-Radio, '15, Georgia, VT

Leila Nadir and Cary Peppermint

Tom Shevory stands at the front of the room and introduces the event and guests.  He points to flyers for other events throughout FLEFF week, then begins introducing Leila Nadir and Cary Peppermint of Ecoarttech.
She has an impressive list of education credentials from University of Rochester, Columbia University, and Wellesley College.  Her published works have been honored with the Eugenio Battisti Award, among others.  Cary Peppermint has executed "off the grid" expeditions in the Catskill Mountains of New York, among many other impressive credentials.

"There's something always wild and uncomfortable for me about having my bio read aloud," Cary says.

"That was a nice version," Leila adds.

Leila's home life:

She goes on to explain that with her involvement, "everything I do seems dissonant to me now."  She describes growing up in an Afghan-American family with parents who barely spoke due to their strong religious differences (her father was a devout Muslim and her mother a secular Catholic). 

She grew up in a small "pastoral, country" town.

"The woods behind my house became my escape from my parents problems," she shares. "I came out of that somewhat like Thoreau...I loved hiking."

She goes on to share that on the other side of her home life, there were Afghani parties in the city close to her, filled with refugees from the war overseas.

Leila pulls up a website with her personal bio of living with mixed racial background.  She points out two interestingly juxtaposed pictures of herself as a child, one in Afghan garb, posed in front of a Persian rug, to be sent to relatives overseas, one posed in front of an evergreen, wearing a rainbow hoodie.  These pictures show both sides of her.

Indeterminate Hikes:

She moves on to discussing Ecoarttech.  "Our work is really diverse, we don't have a political statement, or any kind of political goal we are working towards.  We are just trying to juxtapose technology and environments in creating ways to inspire conversation about the world we live in."

She pulls up the page about their new app, "Indeterminate Hikes", something they are very excited about. 

Cary steps in to discuss the controversy this app receives.  "There used to be two very distinct camps," he shares.  He explains that one body of thought believed in technological elimination, while one was moving into the technical world full speed.  Their goal is not to promote either the "crunchy hippie" side of embracing nature, or the side which embraces technological, but to find a way to combine them.

"We're a little Buddhist," Leila shares, "So we really believe in being present, in the moment".   Cary adds, jokingly, "We only believe in the little Buddha, not the big Buddha."

Leila explains that because of this, one of the goals of the app is to allow people to stop and appreciate non-iconic places while "hiking" in whatever environment they are in. The app prompts people to look for various things, such as "listen for the loudest object in the space", or "go find the nearest trash can".

Cary interrupts her again to correct one of her statements, and she points out "There is a lot of dissonance between us.  We aren't just one unit.  You may see us argue during this festival."

The audience chuckles. 

Cary explains how the hikes are indeterminate.  Because of the nature of the app, there will never be two of the same hikes generated.  However, there is a way to save your hike and share it with friends.  "We did this so that if anyone wanted to do a celebrity hike, say 'Let's go do Sean Penn's hike', they could.  I don't know why I just thought of him", he laughs to himself. 

They pull up a couple of pictures of FLEFF bloggers who participated in an indeterminate hike just last week.  Leila and Cary are excited to see the app being used in Ithaca.

Jonathan Miller of Homelands Productions:

Tom Shevory is back up to introduce Jonathon Miller of Homelands Productions.

Jonathon stands at the front of the room.  "I am a journalist."  He explains how this used to be difficult for him to say because he used to be an aspiring poet, but finally gave it up when journalism claimed him.  "Radio is where I've found my home," he shares.  He describes journalism as "an interesting way to get out of the house...I think its what I'm set up to do emotionally and intellectually.  It's something society asks you to do and says 'We don't have time to look into this so you go and find out what's going on.'" 

He goes on, "The world is this very interconnected, complicated, harmonic and dissonant place, and we have to make sense of it somehow and communicate the experience to other people.  This is the struggle of a journalist.  We have to take this messy hairball and turn it into sweaters or mittens or something."  He stops and laughs at himself.  "That's the world premier of that metaphor."

He prefaces a radio story, Andean Harvest, to play for us.  It is part of the collection of work he coordinated around the issue of global food.  It's a radio-journal style story about a community that's facing a decision. 

The story starts with music, the narration begins, "Dance troupes compete for prizes in a dust village in the center of the Andes..." The story begins.  The dance represent the contrast of hardship and abundance in the mountain life.  The story continues with ways that the village sells potatoes.  One woman left home and studied biology and worked in several agricultural labs, but says her education really started when she came home for the harvest.  "A vast and barren landscape" is described of the rugged hills that are the potato fields.  The potatoes are harvested by hand with a tiny tool.  The land is communally owned.  Before planting, farmers pay tribute to the Earth Mother.  A great variety of potatoes with different colors, shapes, flavors, and nutritional values are described. 

The commercial value of these varieties is obvious.  But the village community is wary of this.  They do not want to compete with one another, and struggle to find ways to split the money made when the land is owned communally.  A conversation around the possibility has gone on for two years, with no decision to move forward. 

Discussion Panel:

Tom Shevory brings up all three guests for a panel.  He asks the first question, about the ways that their work looks for Utopia. 

Leila answers by describing an interview with Ricardo Dominguez about his new app, Transborder Immigrant Tool, where she asked him what the difference was between activism and activist art.  He explained that activism confronts the law to change it, and art is a disturbance that "shakes the law", and exposes what it is, that you didn't even know was there.  When you have a utopian vision, as soon as it's recognized it shuts down people's minds.

Kimberly Capehart, a blogger, shares a comment.  "It was interesting when we used the hiking app, the ways that you interacted with people in an abstract way, and shared your experience with others who weren't in that moment with you."

Cary explains how that aspect of the app is meant to open up opportunity for new communication between people.

Jonathan shares a comment.  "As a journalist I come up against people with closed sets of beliefs."  He describes it as a reductionist way of looking at things. He shares about an art project he did as a youth that involved painting arrows around campus that pointed at various objects, that relates to the idea of opening up.

Tom Shevory asks him to share about the farmers in his radio piece. 

"Their one sacred area is their agriculture," he shares.  "When people have these strong ties to their land in indigenous societies, you realize that they're in the danger zone." 

Leila pipes up about the drive of standardization that the market imposes upon agriculture.  We are concerned that our culture is becoming too homogenous due to industrialization."  She shares about projects she is working on in fermentation of food, and the ways that it is important to diversify even the food we eat. 

Rachael Lewis-Krisky, a blogger, asks a question about accessablity of their work.  "Do you think you've reached people who are against your line of thought?"

Jonathon responds, "The journalism I've done has been very mainstream, and I've become comfortable with that."  He explains that speaking to large groups of people as opposed to "speaking to your own camp" is a decision you make, and that it is difficult to make things accessible to the masses, and approach these topics sensitively. 

Leila contradicts, "I'm not as concerned that my work is accessible to everyone, but rather that I do my thing and hope it speaks to some people.  It's not about my particular message, but rather fostering a culture of creativity."

Cary adds, "It can be really frustrating (when people are skeptical), but my best approach is to be compassionate.  When I try to deliver something too strongly it doesn't make me feel good and it doesn't make people receptive. I just hope it can have some tiny grain of the 'change of the world'.  I can't look at the huge hill in front of me.  It works better for me to just look at the ground as I run."

Another audience member, Claudia Pederson, speaks about the "ties that bond the community" in the Andes, and the fears that industrialization of their agriculture could break that up.  She shares about festivals that the communities hold, and outsiders perspectives on these events.  "Did you think about this when you were there, is this something you could share on public radio in the U.S?" she asks of Jonathon.  

He responds that after living in developing countries for 13 years, there are a lot of things he's seen that don't make sense.  But one thing he's realized is that these societies are always changing.  The will seem different, but they have always been connected to "the outside world", and have been changing with it. 

Leila explains the central idea of the evening, that when we think of the environment, a lot of the conversation we have is around ways we need to "sacrifice" to "save the environment" and that what this does is make the environment this utopian place in our minds that we can't live in.  "It overwhelms us so we don't know where to start."

Another audience member asks whether or not mass-production and sale of the potatoes in the Andes village could occur without destroying the village.

Jonathon responds by continuing his theme that the villages have always been changing and that it's inevitable and they still continue on. "It's one thing if people are imposing change, it's another if we're creating change, and it's another if it's just happening."

Cary thinks that it could happen, that the potatoes not be homogenized, and the village remain intact in its indigenous nature.  "I don't think its the end of days, I think its the beginning of some very different days. I choose to remain optimistic.  People will accommodate, things will change, lives with be lost and others gained.  It's just the beginning of some complex times with very different types of people."

Jonathon adds, "I always ask myself, "When am I gonna drop everything and become an activist, or can I just continue to do my good things?'"

The evening ends with a round of applause for the guests.


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