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The Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival from the interns' point of view
Monday, March 14, 2011
Blog was written by Brian McCormick, Film, Photo & Visual Arts, '12, FLEFF intern, Wilbraham, MA.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with FLEFF filmmaker Landon Van Soest, an Ithaca College alumn (‘04), who is screening his documentary “Good Fortune” at FLEFF 2011. As the film’s director/producer, Van Soest works alongside partner producer/editor Jeremy Levine. Together, they operate their own production company, Transient Pictures.
Prior to making “Good Fortune,” Van Soest was a film major at Ithaca College, where he produced the award-winning documentary “Walking the Line.”
Van Soest was able to travel extensively while in college, including participation in a SIT study abroad program in Kenya where he lived with local families. His witness to the extreme poverty there inspired him to return to Kenya on a Fulbright grant to learn more about international development. In Kenya, he talked to people whose lives made more difficult--rather than improved-- by the influx of international aid and development. This observation led him to produce his next film, "Good Fortune."
Q: What is "Good Fortune" about?
A: "Good Fortune is about the unintended consequences of large scale international aid projects that are imposed on African communities. The film follows two very different approaches to development aid projects with strikingly similar outcomes."
Q: Can you talk about the film's subjects, Jackson and Silva?
A: "Jackson is a farmer in a rural area of who's home is being flooded by an American corporation intent on stimulating commercial agriculture in the region. Silva works as a midwife in Nairobi's largest slum, where UN Habitat has launched a major 'slum-upgrading' project.
In both cases the development organizations aim to address poverty and improve the lifestyles of the community, but for people like Jackson and Silva, the projects threaten to destroy their homes and livelihoods."
Q: How long did it take to make "Good Fortune"?
A: “There were a couple of moments where we were really on edge, but overall it went surprisingly smooth, albeit a slow process. From start to finish it’s taken about four years, with about three years of shooting.”
Q: What are your influences as a documentary filmmaker?
A: "I'm influenced by so many things its hard to know where to start.
The great thing about documentary filmmaking is that it allows you to synthesize so many things––visual arts, narrative story telling, social commentary, etc.––in one medium, so influences can come from a variety of places.
I can say that documentary has been evolving rapidly over the past ten years or so and there are a number of people pushing the medium forward, so its truly an exciting time to be making films."
Q: What advice do you have for emerging filmmakers?
A: "Just make movies.
It’s easy to get caught up in other things. Some people get decent jobs with production companies and get caught up with that, which isn’t a bad thing.
But if you want to be a filmmaker, the best way is to just get out there and make films.”
Q: Why is "Good Fortune" important to FLEFF?
A: "Good Fortune asks us to reassess our relationship with the developing world.
The film asserts that we, as Western citizens, project a paternalistic attitude toward other cultures, economies, and the natural world. Reassessing these relationships, and striving for a more equitable, sustainable world are the essence of what FLEFF has always embodied for me."
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Because Van Soest is currently shooting for his next film in Abu Dhabi, his partner Jeremey Levine will be on hand to discuss the film at FLEFF 2011.
What does it mean to screen "Good Fortune" at FLEFF for Van Soest ?
"I studied filmmaking at Ithaca College, where I met my co-producer Jeremy Levine. So screening at FLEFF is a wonderful homecoming for us," Van Soest explained.
Friday, March 11, 2011
Blog was written by Kelsey Greene, Documentary Studies and Production, '13, FLEFF intern, Buffalo, New York
Today I was able to catch busy, co-director Thomas Shevory for an interview about his experience with FLEFF.
He has been highly involved throughout the festival’s history and became co-director in 2006.
When he’s not working out FLEFF details with co-director Patricia Zimmerman, he educates students on issues related to law, public policy, and popular culture as a professor of politics at Ithaca College. His academic work gives special attention to health and environment, which is one of the reasons he became involved with the festival.
What are some of the challenges you face?
Well, there’s a lot happening, so keeping everything straight is a challenge. There are so many things to juggle, so many elements. so many people involved. Just trying to keep track of everything and keeping events and people on target, I think that’s our biggest challenge.
Some things are more routine than others. Finalizing films and filmmakers for Cinemapolis seems to be the biggest challenge at the moment. Patty has been working the commercial film side of things with Lynne Cohen and Rich Szanyi, who manage Seventh Art. It’s a difficult world to break into, but they are doing a great job.
Is there anything specific you’re looking forward to with this year’s event?
I’m looking forward to, well everything.
The Rite of Spring event with Mahler lieder featuring vocalist Brad (Hougham) and pianists Jairo (Geronymo) and Debbie (Martin), and film projection, that’ll be fantastic. They’re just great musicians who we’ve worked with in the past, and that’ll be a big, spectacular event, always a highlight. Also, we have some fantastic guests, including venerable new media artist, Philip Mallory Jones and Laura Deutch...an IC alum...with her innovative project, Messages in Motion. Also Tom Swartwout will be on campus. He's a highly regarded film editor (who has worked with Sidney Lumet.)
I'm excited to host Tom and Laura in a class I'm teaching. My colleague Beth Harris is organizing an event on the Egyptian uprising, with two filmmaker/activists who have just returned from Cairo, Menna Kahlil and Michael Kennedy.
The downtown music events, live music silent film events you know, they are also very popular, and deservedly so. They’re in a sense unexpected, because live music performed with film always creates unforeseen resonances. Even if you've been to the rehearsal, the event itself always surprises, and often mesmerizes.
And then we’re bringing in several film directors this year, so I’m looking forward to that, including Tina Mabry (Mississippi Damned), IC alums Jeremy Levine and Landon Van Soest (Good Fortune), David Brancaccio (public radio's Marketplace, and his film Fixing the Future), Jenny Stein and James Laveck (Peaceable Kingdom), Maple Raza (Bastards of Utopia), Danny Schecter (the "news dissector"), and Helen DeMichiel (Lunch Love Community). (Helen will also be on campus for much of the week.)
The downtown events are fun because everyone is together. It's a combination social event, big college seminar..media confab. Well it's a festival. And a chance to get together with people we haven't seen in a while.
And we'll be opening at Cinemapolis this year with the premier of Uncorked, a series of webisodes featuring wine and upstate New York. We've partnered with Park Media Lab (Carol Jennings) and the Ithaca/Tompkins County Convention Center Visitors Bureau (Fred Bonn) and the Finger Lakes Wine Center. (Be there on the evening of Sunday April 10th!)
Also, it'll be great to be in the new theaters. The theaters are beautiful, plus excellent screens and good projection. It’s a very open, welcoming space. A great place to gather.
I'll tell you something else...a lot my colleagues have mentioned how great the mini-courses look. And, if I were a student, I'd definitely enroll in one.
What have you taken away from you involvement with FLEFF throughout the years?
I came into this through the door of environmental politics, and FLEFF is a different kind of space, but still a very political one on many levels. I find the political aspects of an environmental film festival (as we define it) to be very compelling, and there's a politics to the whole concept of a festival, that is convening people in public spaces to engage ideas.
In many ways, it has been an eye- opening experience. I've learned so much, almost like a second career, a different trajectory, a new path. I had never really organized events on that kind of scale that FLEFF involves. I was definitely not schooled as an events planner, believe me.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
I really appreciate all the people we work with, especially the interns.
What makes the festival, actually any festival, worthwhile are the people involved. The interns, the faculty, our web design and social media marketing team (Joanne Hindman and Steve Shoemaker), the guests, the musicians, Lynne and Rich at the theaters, Anne Michel and Phil Wilde (our producers and now intern directors), writing prof Barb Adams (who is organizing prose readings at Buffalo Street Books), Warren Schlesinger (who organizes the mini-courses and our FLEFF Fellows program), the filmmakers, the new media artists, the activists, the alums, the students... and the ideas....that's what keeps me coming back.
Also, Patty is a great person to work with.
Sunday, March 6, 2011
Blog post written by Kelsey Greene, Documentary Studies and Production, '13, FLEFF intern, Buffalo, New York
I had the opportunity to speak with Laura Deutch, an Ithaca College alumna and Philadelphia-based media artist and educator.
KG: Can you please describe why you decided to use media as a tool for social justice?
LD: Media is a powerful tool to support advocacy and educational campaigns for social justice. Visual media allows people to connect with one another, and identify with diverse points of view.
The problem is that in the current system, there is inequitable access to resources for creating and effectively distributing media messages. Even with the explosion of social media, the digital divide is very real.
As an educator, it’s important for me to not only help create alternative media, but to transfer these skills to underrepresented communities so they understand how media is constructed and manipulated, and gain the knowledge to document and express their own experiences and analysis.
KG: Your most recent project is Messages in Motion. Can you please explain this project and your reason to start it?
LD: There are two components to the Messages In Motion project. First, I’ve been identifying and working with organizations to conduct video workshops with the flip camera. At a workshop I speak about what a story is, what a shot is, what it means to upload, edit, and so on.
Participants see that they can create a video, and so they gain confidence. They see the power of this tool to reach a wider audience.
I’m a little less interested in having them recreate media they see on TV, but rather we experiment with voiceover, direct address and images to create something expressive and reflective of their experiences. The videos are used in an educational context or as part of an organizing campaign.
Second, I outfitted an old Chevy work van into a mobile media studio. I have 2 laptops, a workspace and a monitor. The equipment is powered by a solar panel on the roof.
People can stand outside the van and watch what others have created. I wanted to create a self-contained system so participants can create, upload it, and exhibit their work within a few hours.
Once people go through the whole process, it gives them the confidence that they can do it themselves.
KG: What has your experience been like doing such a project?
LD: For me, it has been really great. The neighborhoods in Philly are very segregated and have their own identity, so I enjoy being able to be mobile and being able to show people’s videos and create connections between places.
What’s great is that now that I am building an archive of videos, the participants are inspiring one another. They see the work of their peers in other parts of the city, and they respond to it, and build on it.
I’m starting to develop a broader understanding of the city. I hope to use this work to draw deeper connections between issues and create stronger alliances among organizations and neighborhoods.
KG: You have also recently completed a feature-length documentary, El Sol Sale Para Todos. Can you please give a brief summary of what the documentary is about?
LD: The documentary chronicles the last 15 years of the growth of the Mexican community in Philadelphia.
We wanted to show what it’s like for the first generation of an immigrant community to come to a new place and build a life. By now, the community is quite established, but it’s a history that many people do not know about.
What’s happened in South Philadelphia is similar to what is taking place in many urban and rural towns throughout the US. Through the stories of the seven main characters, the film puts a human face on the struggles and complexity of migrating to make a better life for oneself and one’s family.
It tries to break down stereotypes and can be used as a way to enter into the immigration debate.
KG: How did you find the story for the documentary? What was it like making the film?
LD: Since moving to Philadelphia 5 years ago, I became aware of the changing populations in the neighborhood where I was living.
I started volunteering with JUNTOS and Media Mobilizing Project for an initiative titled, Our City Our Voices. The goal of this project was to train low income and immigrant adults in citizen journalism media production.
During those workshops, I met Carlos and Leticia and we started making short films together, and 2 years later, we collaborated on this feature doc. Between the three of us we each brought unique experiences to the project. Ultimately it’s a piece made by the community, for the community.
KG: Did you ever see yourself doing the projects you are doing?
LD: Yes, as a student I was a media studies major. I never took production classes at school--I got trained at the Public Access Center in town.
I was always interested in community media. My junior and senior year I was more politically active.
Since that point, I’ve been pursuing work that allows me to combine my interest in documentary and radical experimental film with social justice and media education. Going back to school, and creating the Messages in Motion project was a logical outgrowth of those interests.
KG: What are some of the difficulties with a career such as yours?
LD: The biggest challenge is stability. I work on a project-to-project basis and teach a lot of classes.
However, organizations and institutions are only starting to realize how important web video and social media is to their work.
KG: Can you please describe some personal benefits you have achieved from doing your projects/films?
LD: I like the independence that I have because it has allowed me to work with many different people.
Working with media has allowed me to access a lot of different struggles, stories and cultures and it has helped me understand my role as an educator and producer.
KG: What are your views of FLEFF?
LD: I appreciate the vision and holistic approach to expanding one’s understanding of environment beyond global warming, for example, and trying to address the interconnected social, political and cultural issues which impact our natural and social environment.
KG: What are you looking forward to about FLEFF 2011?
LD: I feel very honored to be coming back as an alum.
I was always really inspired by visiting guests as a student--and I hope I can return the favor. I’ll be bringing the van, and I hope to offer something that can connect college students and town residents.
I am also very excited to see and hear the presentations and meet other artists.
KG: What advice would you give to aspiring media students today?
LD: Take responsibility with the skills and knowledge you are developing, stay true to your values and instincts.
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
Blog post written by Kelsey Green, Documentary Studies and Production, '13, FLEFF intern, Buffalo, New York
I grew up an hour outside of Buffalo, NY, but currently, I reside in Ithaca, New York, where I am a sophomore enrolled in Documentary Studies and Production at Ithaca College.
I am from a rural area and therefore enjoy many activities outdoors such as horseback riding, kayaking, and hiking. Ithaca is a great place to pursue my studies because there are so many natural areas to explore nearby.
On campus, I am engaged in several ways. I am a resident assistant for the first year living community on campus. And, I'm also a dean’s host for the Roy H. Park School of Communications.
When I am not on duty in the residential halls or giving tours of the Park School, the multimedia section of The Ithacan keeps me busy. I am regularly creating short videos and slideshows for the online section of the paper. On weekends, I get a thrill out of filming Cornell hockey games for the ICTV show Big Red Faceoff.
Education is very important to me. I do what I can to help youth, because I believe they are our future. Once a week, I go to the Ithaca High School to tutor local students. I also work through a program on campus to talk with visiting ninth graders about my college experiences. I hope to become a film producer after I finish my degree, but I am also interested in becoming a professor.
Why am I interested in documentaries and new media? Because I am amazed at the power they have in raising awareness and prompting social change. The engagement involved not only by the creators, but also by the audience, fascinates me. So, that's why I am excited to become more immersed in the media world through FLEFF. The opportunity to see so many different forms of art and to meet so many different leading artists is incredible!
What are you looking forward to in the 2011 edition of FLEFF? Are there certain artists you’re particularly excited to hear speak?
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
Blog posting written by Lindsay Harrop, Cinema & Photography '13, FLEFF Intern, McMinnville, Oregon
Hello FLEFF following world! Welcome to our FLEFF blog! To start things off, my name is Lindsay Harrop. I am currently a sophomore Cinema & Photography major at Ithaca College with a concentration in Screenwriting and a Politics minor.
I grew up in beautiful McMinnville, Oregon and came to Ithaca for the Park School of Communications. A bonus of living here is that - and this might be hard to believe - I love the cold! It only rains at home so I have a lot of fun with the snow and sub-freezing temperatures.
On campus I am a Leadership Scholar, Resident Assistant, Vice-President of the Writing for Production Association in Park and a delegate of the Ithaca College Model United Nations Team.
Beyond the cocurricular sphere, I love to travel both internationally and around the US. Some of my favorite places are Manuel Antonio on the Pacific Ocean in Costa Rica and the National Mall at midnight in Washington DC. A few other things I enjoy are white water kayaking, Pacific Northwest coffee, talking politics and, of course, watching movies.
I was first attracted to FLEFF because it represents a fusion of my two central passions - film and politics. Something I love about movies is that they are capable of transcending cultures in a way few other mediums can. A movie could be about Thai farmers, shot by a French film crew, financed by a British company and then screened in America while simultaneously evolving and remaining consistent for each group involved.
Moreover, movies are unique for their ability to encapsulate human experiences as they occur while capturing the deeper emotional tones that are lost in a news broadcast or quick TV snippet.
As an individual filmmaker and member of the FLEFF team, my goal is to do just that – drawing the audience’s eyes to the corners of the world that are most often overlooked and encouraging people to think critically about their place in the global community.
We've already had our first FLEFF event of 2011 with the spectacular Albert Maysles sharing his innovative features Gimme Shelter, Grey Gardens and Salesman with the Ithaca community. His visit kicked off some great discussions here and I’m really looking forward to all the other upcoming events. What FLEFF moments are you excited for?
Saturday, February 19, 2011
Blog posting written by Evan Johnson, Journalism, FLEFF intern, Marlboro, Vermont
My name is Evan Johnson and I am a blogger and intern at the Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival here in beautiful Ithaca, New York.
I currently attend college on the south hill where I am a sophomore journalism major and environmental studies minor at Ithaca College. Home for me is a five-hour drive away in bucolic Marlboro, Vermont. I love it there more than I can say however I've found Ithaca to be a suitable "home-away-from-home."
I have an affinity for wool sweaters, the German language and any dairy product. Saltine crackers are my favorite snack. I have a funk show every Friday evening on Ithaca’s radio station, WICB, I enjoy rock climbing and my better days are spent walking in the woods with my dog. In the future, I hope to combine my interests in environmentalism and journalism in a career in scientific or environmental writing.
Given my course of study and my interests, participating intimately in this festival was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. I’m thrilled to be a part of FLEFF and I’m looking forward to all of this spring’s events.
FLEFF is an impressive rally point for anyone interested in areas of art, social justice, environmentalism and independent and new media. The festival is an opportunity to address some of the most pressing issues of today from a variety of perspectives.
I'm excited to be participating in and helping facilitate this dialogue. I’m looking forward to being in the middle of the action and reporting back to you about all the exciting films, performances, speakers and instillations. I expect my time at FLEFF will be engaging, lively and powerful, maybe a little hectic, but nonetheless rewarding.
It’s going to be busy down on The Commons. I look forward to seeing you there.
Friday, February 18, 2011
Blog posting written by Brian McCormick, Film and Photography, '12, FLEFF Intern, Wilbraham, Massachussetts
Hello, all! My name is Brian McCormick and welcome to my FLEFF Blog! I’m a junior at Ithaca College, and I’m majoring in Film & Photography. I’m originally from Wilbraham, Massachusetts (the home of Friendly’s Ice Cream). Aside from my interest in filmmaking, I’m also a member of the college’s cross country and track teams.
This is my first year with FLEFF and I’m very excited for what’s going to be an incredible film festival. As a film major, I was immediately drawn to FLEFF, which is a very high-profile event that I knew I’d be able to draw wonderful, worthwhile experiences from.
Right off the bat, FLEFF has proven to be an energetic and valuable internship. Our kick-off event (a screening of Albert Maysles’ legendary documentary film Gimme Shelter) sold out at Cinemapolis. I think this is a sure sign of what’s to come this April!
I remember before I came to FLEFF I was asking myself: “So, what does an ‘environmental’ film festival show? Am I going to be interested in any of the films? I’m not really all about ‘being green.’”
What I’ve learned is that the word “environment” in FLEFF goes beyond all things green: It’s about all of the different environments around us: economic, cultural, and social environments. With the wide range of guests coming to the festival, there will in turn be a wide range of ideas about these environments that I’m sure we’ve never thought about before.
That is what I think makes FLEFF such an important festival: variety – the different names and people involved with this festival. I am not familiar with the people, but what is thrilling is that they are coming from all over the world.
I think participating in an event like FLEFF requires you to open up your mind more than you’re used to, and that’s what attracts me to it. It’s important to escape the bubble we grew up in and learn about environmental issues from a global standpoint. What’s affecting us in our own surroundings is also affecting people in nations on the other side of the world – issues of culture, economy, and society.
The world is getting smaller in the sense that we now have all this shared technology, shared media, shared education, and even a shared aesthetic of how to live. I think it’s wonderful how FLEFF gives the opportunity to simply communicate on a person-to-person level with people we may never have been able to speak to before.
I hope you're all thinking about FLEFF and getting excited! In the meantime, tell me: What do you hope to see at the festival?