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The Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival from the interns' point of view
Saturday, April 23, 2011
Blog posting written by Abby Sophir, Television-Radio ’14, FLEFF Intern, St. Louis, MO
It is hard to believe that FLEFF week has come and gone! Now that I’ve had some time to let the week sink in, several ideas from the films and panels stick out in my mind.
One of these is the question: How does one film in another country without exploiting the native people?
Both Rodrigo Bellott, casting director of Even the Rain, and Jeremy Levine, director of Good Fortune, offered insight into this question.
In Even the Rain, the extras that were cast were from Bolivia, where the film takes place, and many had fought in the water wars themselves. Rather than a bunch of foreigners coming in and telling the Bolivian’s how to portray what happened, the filmmakers listened to what the natives had to say. The director incorporated these people’s ideas and personal experiences into the film to make it more realistic and more of a collaborative effort.
Another thing Bellott mentioned that really caught my attention was that these extras did not want to be paid with cash for their work on the film. Rather, they believed that everyone in the community should benefit-- since those who weren’t acting had to compensate for the childcare and work of those who were. They asked the filmmakers to pay for a water well and other things that would benefit the community as a whole. The people of Cochabamba value community above all else and it was crucial that the film crew respect this request.
After the screening of Good Fortune, directer Jeremy Levine also talked about maintaing good relationships within a community where you are filming. Especially in a circumstance like the one in Kenya, where American companies were coming in and robbing the people of their water, the filmmakers has to be extra careful not to exploit the community and become one of the “bad guys”. In order to do this, they kept their crew extremely small, usually only two people, to eliminate any intimidation factor. They also got the community members involved, having them hold boom microphones and ask questions to those being interviewed.
The sensitivity these filmmakers paid to the local peoples and culture created environments of trust. Without this mutual respect, the production of these extremely powerful films would not have been possible.
Saturday, March 26, 2011
Blog post written by Brian McCormick, Film, Photo & Visual Arts '12, FLEFF Intern, Wilbraham, MA
With FLEFF almost two weeks away, I'm prepping myself for the films and events that I really want to see. I am especially excited for the wealth of documentaries being showed by internationally recognized filmmakers.
I am drawn to "human documentaries," which focus on human subjects' personal stories in order to speak to a whole, larger truth. Do you have a favorite kind of documentary?
I've focused my top five exclusively on the films being shown downtown at Cinemapolis -- for a larger list of documentaries and other films, make sure to check out our listings.
1) GOOD FORTUNE - a film by Landon Van Soest and Jeremy Levine
I had the privilege of interviewing Van Soest about his film and it sounds phenomenal. In Good Fortune, they explore the negative repercussions of efforts to alleviate poverty in Africa, honing in on the stories of Jackson and Silva who live in Kenya.
This is an extremely controversial subject. We are asked always to send money to these causes, but how do we know where that money is going? And also, is power always inevitably going to corrupt? Do we sacrifice good intentions for the "greater good"?
I think Jackson and Silva have an important story for us to hear.
(Showtimes: Cinemapolis, Sun. April 17 @ 2:00PM w/ Jeremy Levine, and 9:30PM)
2) AGRARIAN UTOPIA - a film by Uruphong Raksasad
The trailer for this film was the first piece of FLEFF that I saw, and I was blown away by the beauty and power in those images. This film shows two families working together on the same farm, trying to get through the season while adjusting to the country's changing economy, politics and society.
This documentary asks, does development and progression always mean increased happiness?
(Showtimes: Cinemapolis, Fri. April 15 @ 7:30PM; Sat. April 16 @ 9:30PM)
3) BUDRUS - a film by Julia Bacha and Ronit Avni
The Israeli village Budrus, with Palestinians and Israelis, Hammas and Fatahs, men and women, unite in non-violent protest against Israel's Separation Border, otherwise known as "the Fence." They are led by local community organizer Ayed Morrar, who brings the people together to save Budrus from destruction.
This is an inspiring story of unification against a common enemy, highlighted by Morrar's 15-year-old daughter Iltezam, who launches a contigent of women that quickly moves to the front lines (father and daughter side-by-side). The film chronicles this movement, which is still continuing today.
As said by a Fatah Party Member in the film: "I felt that, in order to succeed, we had to empty our minds of traditional thinking." This speaks wonderfully to the new environments and new ideas we are looking to explore here at FLEFF.
(Showtimes: Cinemapolis, Thur. April 14 @ 7:10PM; Sat. April 16 @ 9:30PM)
4) PEACEABLE KINGDOM: THE JOURNEY HOME - a film by Jenny Stein and James LaVeck
This documentary takes a hard, powerful look at how farmers are beginning to question traditional practices of handling animals and treating them as commodities. This is a very moving film that will give you the kind "inside look" into a way of life we don't think twice about. I think this is a very important film for us to see.
(Showtimes: Cinemapolis, Thur. April 14 @ 7:00PM; Sat. April 16 @ 9:30PM)
5) LOS HEREDEROS - a film by Eugenio Polgovsky
A look at child labor in rural Mexico, and how it has become a condition passed down from generation to generation. If you watch the trailer, you see it is a continuous cycle of labor: collecting water, shoveling, harvesting, sculpting, and so on. These children inherit these duties and are trapped in this cycle. Is it fair that our duties are determined by birth?
(Showtimes: Cinemapolis, Thur. April 14 @ 9:30PM; Fri. April 15 @ 10:00PM)
Well, there's MY list. I hope you're all looking through the films and finding out what you want to see.
The best part is that we have both the films AND their filmmakers -- any questions you have can be answered the same night you see it. Looking forward to it.
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."
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
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.
Wednesday, February 23, 2011
This year, FLEFF is pleased to feature the work of Ithaca College '06 alumnus Jeremy Levine, who manages the full-service production company Transient House with co-producer Landon Von Soenst. Their latest feature documentary, "Good Fortune" will be screened at the festival on Sunday, April 17. Earlier today, Levine and I spoke about his career, FLEFF, and his hopes for the screening.
Evan Johnson: What made you want to make movies?
Jeremy Levine: I did lots of stuff in high school that was really "at the high school level," but I knew I really loved making films. Also in high school I really got hooked on politics and social justice issues. I realized even before I got to college that documentary was the way to combine film with social justice and i've been on that path on ever since.
EJ: "Good Fortune" deals in lots of social justice issues. What was your experience like making that documentary?
JL: Making "Good Fortune" in Kenya was an incredible experience and an incredible challenge. The reason Landon and I started "Good Fortune" was because we realized our relatively privileged position as college graduates of the Western world and that there were vast difficulties in the developing world and we wanted to do something to help. We both had that drive early on - the naive urge to go out there - but also, at least for me, very little understanding of what that meant. It's amazing to know that there are these vast problems and that there are these tremendous resources but so often, the resources are just going to waste. It's frustrating and it's another great tragedy.
EJ: Do you have any other plans for the film? Is there anywhere else you'd like to see it go?
JL: Last night (2/22/11) we had a screening with the Young Professionals For International Cooperation [a program of the UNA-USA] and we had a long discussion, people asked really tough questions and we had an amazing dialogue. I think showing it to people who have the ability to make changes is where I'd love to see the film go. I don't think this film is going to change the world but I think it's important to hear the voices of those we don't often hear in the West. We're hoping to get it to screen more in Africa as well.
EJ: What are you looking forward to at FLEFF?
JL: When I was a student, I thought that FLEFF was an amazing festival and I never thought I would come back as a presenter so for me it's really incredible to come back and talk to the current students and the community.
EJ: What would you like the audience to learn from your film? What would you like them to walk away with?
JL: I hope that when people watch "Good Fortune," it raises some important and difficult questions of what foreign aid is, what foreign development is and should people be helped even if they don't want the help. Ultimately, change needs to come from the bottom-up and that's the lesson I hope people learn.