As I followed Professor Alexander’s New Americans Project I was pleased to see many familiar faces and to gain some insight on their personal stories. One in particular is someone who I have grown close with over the past year my friend, Leila Yavari. With us both being film majors Leila and I have had many encounters in various film classes in the past. It wasn’t until Spring 2016 in our Documentary Filmmaking class that we became close. Whether it’s trips to Cinnaholic (our favorite vegan cinnamon rolls) or adventures filming for class we always have a genuinely great time.
From the very beginning of our filmmaking classes Leila expressed a desire to give people like her a voice and that’s how we really connected. Many have asked us why do we only want to use Black people or Persians in our individual films and our response is who else is using them or writing for them. We love to give people like ourselves a voice in America. Leila and I have had numerous conversations about her ethnicity and issues behind it. There is a lot of judgement from Americans as well as people in her culture. Her upcoming film for our Narrative filmmaking class delves into the issue of sexualizing “exotic/ambiguous looking” women. There’s an issue in America where many men feel like they only want to date a girl because she’s exotic or because “they’ve always wanted to date a Persian girl.” I wish I could present a more elaborate and defined written version of her film since it is written so eloquently and full of passion. Hopefully she will share it on social media for everyone to see. In all I am so happy to have met Leila and learn more about her and her culture. She is not only an amazing filmmaker and writer but also has a pure and kind heart.
As a young African-American female I surprisingly connected with Jared Callahan’s film Janey Makes a Play. It was not because I have spent the past 16 years at a predominately white school or because I am a woman. I believe it was my past experiences in the theater that made me enjoy the journey of Janey’s creation. A few scenes that I connected with were when the football player struggled to make it to rehearsals and when we learned about Kianna’s death. I didn’t play football but there was a point in my life where I had to chose between basketball and musical theater. Janey mentioned that she would have fought over her actor. As I watched this scene I couldn’t help but laugh because this is exactly what happened to me. My basketball coach and musical theater director emailed back and forth about my attendance to their practice/rehearsal. In the end my basketball coach won since we were in the middle of districts but it was refreshing to see Janey win in this scenario.
When the updates about the cast members were shown at the end, I was saddened by Kianna’s unexpected car accident. It was as if the film bookended itself, in the beginning another teen talked about the future and how she couldn’t wait to paint her future on the senior sidewalk. For Kianna, her future was shortened and I felt the town’s pain as if I knew her myself. It’s not just the fact that we grew to love her in the film but also because of her youth and how many of us can relate to losing a friend during high school. I always find it ironic how in many situations you expect the sick or old to have that update at the end of a film not a young girl with her whole life ahead of her. I partly blame Jared for making us fall in love with her so much making her death so much more impactful.
When Jared spoke with us it was refreshing and exciting to learn about his film methods. I could tell he was passionate about the films he creates and his notion of having the audience fall in love with his subjects was gold. I always strive to make my films meaningful and to have a message but Jared taught me that I don’t have to put the message out in front of my audience’s face, I just need them to love my subjects and most likely the audience will connect with the issue my subject is facing. It seems so simple but I never would have thought of it and I feel like I will go in a different direction with my filmmaking now. It actually relaxes me in knowing I don’t have to prove a point I just need to showcase my subject in a sense. In just that short class time Jared taught me so much and I am so grateful that Professor Alexander gave us another great opportunity to connect with these professionals that have so much experience, insight, and different methods.
American’s have been engrossed in their image and use many methods to obtain the standard beauty. Women especially have been held to a higher standard in that they are viewed as a prize or “trophy” to their mate. Women straighten their hair, wear makeup, waist trainers, but recently weight loss pills have been a trend. Celebrities such as the Kardashian sisters and even Jennifer Hudson promote these alternatives to working out. But where do these successful pills come from? A factory in the US? In Rehad Desai’s documentary Bushman’s Secret we find that these pills originate in Africa.
In the Kalahari Desert, lives the San tribe, also known as Bushmen. They are seen as the village doctors who use plants to heal the sick. Hoodia, a cactus used by Bushmen for centuries, has caught the attention of many big pharmaceutical companies in America. The plant has nutritious properties to heal but also suppresses the appetite. This secret was unveiled the pharmaceutical companies in America and they now profit from the plant leaving the Bushmen with nothing. Desai’s film is impactful in that it shows the Bushmen being taken advantage of by Americans. It raises awareness that these methods Americans take to better themselves is making other suffer thousands of miles away. While the pharmacists are profiting from the plant continue to live lavishly and the Bushmen’s healing resources are becoming limited.
The filmmakers used an unobtrusive documentary style to film Imba Means Sing. By doing this they truly captured the real moments such as the performances and the children’s’ interactions between each other. They also shot on the children’s’ eye level so instead of looking down on the young kids they were on the same level. This prevented the insinuation of looking down upon children or even further African children. It makes us feel equal and youthful as if we are one of their friends that are looking in the eye talking to instead of us towering over them and looking down on them throughout the film.
It is great to see that the children’s’ voices were heard throughout the movie, not only by song but also by the limitation of adult voices. Their culture is displayed by juxtaposing American lifestyle and cuisine to that in Uganda. It is also shown through their songs and outfits when they perform. I think there’s been a rise in organizations like the African Children’s Choir since people find as many similarities as they can to feel like insiders rather than outsiders. Connections like aspiring to be a pilot or a chef are collective dreams that any race or ethnicity has. Imba Means Sing was more than a film about a choir of African children on tour. It was a film that shared culture at the same time reminding us that no matter what country we are from we all have dreams and passions.
“Any gym is home” a phrase passed along to every basketball player I know. The meaning? Imagine spending hours walking, sprinting, falling, and diving on the basketball court. Doing homework before practice or a game. Sweeping up the dirt and spreading sweat across the floor. Setting up tables and chairs, pulling out bleachers and pulling out rugs to set up for incoming guests. Having a “family” meal almost two to three times a week. Putting on your favorite music and dancing like no one is watching. These are just a few chores that exist to get ready for a game in the gym.
Our permanent home was at 901 N. Highland Avenue. But if we went to the court at the YMCA or Disney’s Wide World of Sports, those were our homes too. We were so accustomed to spending hours and days in the gym. Our bodies clinged to the smell of hot sweat and the sound of squeaking sneakers became music to our ears. So if we closed our eyes it was as if we were back at 901 N. Highland Avenue. This goes for every basketball player. As long as there is a court and a hoop it doesn’t make any difference of the address. Like I said we spent hours at the gym, sometimes even more hours than we are in our actual homes. The word locker-room became bathroom to us and each person had her favorite shower. For me, I do not associate “lets go to the gym” as running on treadmills or lifting weights or doing the “typical workout.” Gym=basketball in my terms and basketball court=home.
As an American, I think it is ignorant of me to recognize immigration from Mexico only. Being unaware of the daily survival mechanisms, in regards to escape, that other cultures face struck me. Beni’s story resonated with me. I could feel his burning desire to reach a better life in Europe and I admired his faith in his journey. Doubt, fear, and pain are feelings that many would agree are not allowed in this lifestyle. When I was 12 or 13, I can remember scraping my leg on the basketball court or even getting a paper cut and how the pain impacted the rest of my day. Whether I had to limp or suck on my finger, I felt hindered by pain. In Beni’s case feeling pain during the crossing would mean death. His chief Dikembe states “Don’t let your body feel the pain. Pain will slow you down,” and if you are slow you will be one less person making it to the other side.
The odds of survival also shocked me in this story. Many would think that 500 men rushing across fences would be enough for at least half to survive. But from what I learned in this article they are lucky to even get 1 person over. Learning about the amount of lives lost (and young ones at that ) made me stop reading and ponder life. Like I said before doubt, fear, and pain could not be on their minds so what else would they feel? Hope? Happiness? How could they feel so strongly about something with those statistics? Their answer: “it takes God on your side.” Religion plays a major goal in many historically oppressed individuals. African-Americans used negro spirituals to get through their turmoil, defectors in North Korea released prayer guides, and Beni and his “brothers” used their faith in God to pull them through.
These young men face problems we hear about third world countries all of the time: poverty, war, and death. But to get a glimpse of how they are living through it is terrifying. This article really made me second guess complaining about another paper cut or how the food wasn’t that great in the DUC on a certain day. Although it is cliché, their confidence in survival inspired me to never give up on any dream you have.
Dziga Vertov was a soviet pioneer, documentary film and newsreel director as well as cinema theorist. He influenced the cinéma vérité style and the radical Dziga Vertov Group (which included politically active filmmakers such as Godard and Jean-Pierre Gorin. His theory of Kino-Pravda, or film-truth, captured actuality or everyday life. Much like cinéma vérité, this method would capture people’s experiences (sometimes without them knowing) whether it be at a bar or at a school making the cinematography simple. This style was an advancement compared to regular propaganda where reenactments or stagings usually occurred. Vertov maintained an active relationship with his audience. His segments defied narrative traditions and he made sure his series was influential despite its opposition towards dramatic devices.
When the Kino-Pravda series began, Vertov worked in a basement. He described the room as “damp and dark” which prevented his reels from sticking together properly. During his time agit-trains made it possible for Vertov to run film-cars which had actors ready for live performances and printing presses for regular propaganda. Vertov was able to create films on the go. The trains ran through battlefronts making his work available to a great amount of people. Vertov had a burning desire to capture “truth.” His compositions were intended to have “a deeper truth that cannot be seen with the naked eye.” Vertov had the ability represent the experience of others subtly and subjectively by eliminating narrative and using truth as his storyline.
At the end of his series he had used techniques such as stop motion and freeze frames that once again broke traditional narratives. He then expanded to experimental cinema which piggybacked his series by making films without narrative or scenarios. His most influential film Man with a Movie Camera (1929) is a prime example of his track to experimental films.