Jared Callahan Comes to Class

When Jared Callahan came to speak to us about his pieces, I found him to be the most relatable guest we have had thus far… at least in my personal opinion. He was very realistic about funding, where to begin projects, etc… and I also liked the fact that he told us which classes he took in college, such as production, and how they have been helpful… or not helpful… for him today. I think learning from him really put into perspective my goals in the near future, and what I should strive for as a senior at Emory.

I really appreciated Callahan’s sense of positivity that he implements in the films he creates, or at least the ones we have viewed. The fact that he always attempts to put his subjects in a good light is refreshing to see in documentaries, rather than just showing the audiences what all is wrong with the world. Like he said,

“the camera is a source of compassion.”

That really resonated with me, and I hope that I can use that idea in films that I create myself.

While watching Janey Makes a Play, it was easy to see that the filmmaker was emotionally connected to central subject, Janey. I feel like otherwise the documentary as a whole would have never been created.

Callahan at the Lone Star Film Festival

While watching, I admired Janey and found her entire story to be entertaining. However, I did feel a sense of a disconnect. It might have been because I have never met this woman, or simply because this community theater is a place I have never been to. I’m not entirely sure of the cause, but I did feel a lack of connection to this documentary, and found my eyes glazing over at times, maybe just because I do not know those people, and have no personal connection. I also wonder if because Callahan knows her and always wants to put a great face on his characters, if that this created a sense of falsity within the movie as well.

I think my favorite films of the three was definitely American Moderate. Being from Texas, a state that has a VERY large Republican background, I found myself relating to Liz’s character. My father is a die-hard conservative Republican, and my mother is socially Democratic. At times dinner had some heated conversations haha. Regardless, I think that Liz’s story is one that we can all relate to. This presidential campaign has had the most media involvement in history, and this fact definitely effects the polls, along with family, friends, etc…

In the documentary, I liked how we never found out who Liz voted for. This ultimate question is then sort of asked to the audience– who do THEY want to vote for? I also think that not having her say in the film who she voted for was interesting because it also expresses the idea that media (including films) should not effect one’s own personal ideas and political opinions.

However, after finding Liz’s twitter account that she spoke of so much, it is clear to me that she has indeed voted for a particular candidate, and I think her saying so on Twitter sort of diminished my delight while watching. I wish I didn’t know, because then the mystery question would have been for the audience to decide.

I found The Many Friends of Sommer Caffarella to be the most uplifting for any audience to watch. It could easily touch anyone’s heart and reach to a broader audience. I think it was a good decision of Callahan’s to not have a tone that just basically says “feel sorry for those with disabilities,” but rather shows them as people, in this case Sommer. In this way, Callahan was able to go into a much larger issue in society through Sommer’s personal life, and how she dreams of being a star.

Can You Dig This?

Delila Vallot’s Can You Dig This, with John Legend as the executive producer, released in 2015, tells the story of “Gangster Gardeners,” a group of people living in threatening South Compton and Watts neighborhoods, who aspire to change both the physical and atmospheric aspects of the nearby projects. By transforming the dead dirt into a landscape of green beauty, they hope to give life to the crime-infested area of the projects.

After first watching the trailer, I was already hooked by this newly-discovered “hobby” in such corrupted neighborhoods. It’s almost enigmatic in the way in which these people can change not just the physical landscape within the community, but also their personal lives. It was inspiring to watch these people feel at home in these gardens, and even desire to stray away from the ways they grew up, and go past the crime and gang life they grew up in. I cannot imagine going to a middle school located in-between the gang territories of the Crips and the Bloods. To think that some of the people went through that, went through going to jail on several occasions, and are still able to literally “grow” out of that and become something entirely different is incredibly uplifting.

Others who walk by these gardens in Southside Compton are amazed at the beauty that erupts from them. Someone walked by once, pointed to a sunflower and asked, “Yo, son. Is that real?” “Renegade Gardener” Ron Finley, who has become somewhat of a green thumb extraordinaire, claims that the garden is about “letting people get into the dirt and see what it does,” and that it can “transform lives.”

Ron Finley’s Garden. After receiving several citations for growing his own food, he went to court and took it up with the legislation to allot gardening on walkways, and to keep his food growth.

Finley has become so well-known as coming out of the Projects to do expand this urban gardening movement, that he was featured on a TED Talk, and now travels throughout the country to show screenings of this film and spread this message’s seed.

Mychael “Spicey” Evans, another gardener, had been gang banging since middle school, which was geographically in-between the Crips and the Bloods. Arrested on several occasions, Spicey says,

“dreams ain’t nothing but thoughts to me… I don’t even use that word.”

But he still gardens, as it gives him a moment of peace in a surrounding community of gunshots. Throughout the film, others with a variety of motives for gardening show their compassion and optimism for growing up and away, just like the seeds they spread.

This documentary has won several awards and continues to spread its message. One negative aspect that I thought this film fell towards, was self-promotion and profit– one has to pay to see the screenings, and there was not a direct mention of the movie’s intent. It did not specify whether or not it was just an observational piece or if it had an impact, using Finley’s program.

People Like Dan

I found myself almost in tears while watching the video about Dan Eldon’s life, and what specifically caused The Creative Visions Foundation to exist in the first place. It was enigmatic, and almost unbelievable that a person with the most giving heart and soul like Eldon could live in a world like ours.mf12-artist-dan_eldon

We all say that we want to give to others. We want to believe that we can change society for the better and make a significant impact upon our world… but not many actually take the time to do it. Dan was one of them. Learning about Dan Eldon’s life and what he aspired to do for everyone– to show people, and make the world listen and see the truth in his photographs– it was eye-opening, and quite inspiring to me personally. I would love to aspire to be someone as selfless as he was. Also hearing from Erin and being able to meet her in person was really amazing as well. It made documentaries such as Imba Means Sing all the more real and life-changing. Seeing her in the flesh really made the “dream” to make someone notice an issue in the world utilizing a creative aspect even closer to touch.

This year I created an on-campus organization called “The Purple Circle,” which is dedicated to raising awareness amongst millennials in regards to Alzheimer’s Disease, and specifically raise donations for the national organization. It is one that effects people of all races, all genders, and all socio-economic backgrounds. This club is one very important to me personally, and one which I was originally very proud to have created and be a part of. But after meeting Erin, and discovering all she went through to make this documentary that she called her “baby,” I realize that I must do so much more to change at least a single mind within a community. In order to be even somewhat comparable to Dan or Erin, I must look past everything, and do everything it takes to make someone look… make someone notice an issue in the world. That is my dream.

Home, Y’all

I assumed that going to school in the “south” would consist of other people who said the word y’all, ate breakfast tacos and grits, and knew what going tubing on a river referred to. I did not consider that others would not know where I was coming from either. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have been so ignorant, especially for the fact that Emory is one of the most diverse private schools in the United States. I did not realize, however, that others would not understand where I was coming from.

“Oh my god, you say “y’all” ??”

“You’re from Texas? Did you ride horses to school?”

“Where is San Antonio?”

These are all questions that I was asked on a regular basis my freshman year at Emory. But now, I should be an insider within the Emory community, yes? According to “Power and Positionality: Negotiating Insider/Outsider Status Within and Across Cultures,” being an insider has both negative and positive aspects, just like being an outsider does. However, I feel as though being an insider, especially in research purposes, is often decided by those who are being studied. From their perspective, you are relatable or not– from their point of view are you allotted to be known as an insider to a community.

I cannot help but attempt to compare this to the Emory community. Are we allowed to call ourselves insiders? What makes us insiders in Druid Hills, if we are only here for a specified amount of time? I know that I can identify at least in some sense with those from Atlanta, although I must not know everything about it, of course. But I wouldn’t exactly refer to myself as an ultimate insider– yet simultaneously I would not call myself an outsider either. I know what it is like to live here. As I have spent almost four years here, I understand what the culture is like. Yet when I go home, I do think that I have lost at least some percentage of my ability to connect with its “Homeness.”

After being somewhat embarrassed after being poked at by my new friends in regards to my contractions, I made a conscious effort to lessen my “gonnas” “wannas” and “y’alls.” But now, I cannot help but think that this caused a conscious effort to be less of an insider from home– less of a Texan, and less of who I am or who I grew up as. The definition of an insider and an outsider is more of the “and” column of a venn diagram than anything else. This gray area is one of fluidity, based on one’s own perspective along with the others’ that surround us. I think in many instances, we can represent both characteristics of an insider as well as an outsider. I can be both an outsider here in Atlanta because I did not grow up here and many not share opinions or even memories from before, however I can also be an insider as I have learned and grown on my own here as well. In Texas, I feel like I will forever be a proud insider, but may currently be somewhat of an outsider because of how I have been separated.

A Camera’s Capability

Susan Sontag reiterates the simple power of photography that is generally ignored by our society. Especially in regards to war and other historical tragedies, photographs truly ingrain elements of our past into the present. According to Sontag, these photos “reiterate. They simplify. They agitate.” And all of this is true. I think that with other mediums of technology, people today can simply click the “x” out of a video, or click pause, or just mute it. But with photography, there is a sense of pause already… a pause in reality. It has a direct focal point of position, closing in on every problem, every mistake, and in this case every life taken by war. As we looked at the photographs in class, there was a silence in the beginning of every discussion, while we looked at them. Some of us had never seen them, and others have had them deep-seated in the back of our minds since the first time we looked at them. With these photos comes a sense of uncomfortability, but not in a negative way. I think that looking at photographs like these can be difficult to discuss because it’s a challenge to relate to these people; for we are lucky enough to not have been those situations. These photographs depict to us how grateful we should be for all we have, and to have never gone through such tragedy as others. When I looked at them, I felt guilty. I felt selfish and wrong for living the life I do. Coming to Emory even, while it’s a great education, I am getting opportunities that many others in these photos never even were given a chance to have. At the same time, that fact makes it difficult to relate to those in the images, because I have never gone through what they have. As Sontag reminds us, that there is a vast difference between empathy and sympathy.

A photo that I focused on in a previous class reminded me of the ones we looked at together.

This photo is by Marc Riboud, and is called The Ultimate Confrontation: The Flower and the Bayonet. He took this photo during the Vietnam War in 1967, and is generally a well-recognized photograph. It shows us Jan Rose Kasmir, an anti-war activist. Just at the age of seventeen years old, she walked up to National Guard troops outside of the Pentagon during a protest march. Apparently she was just trying to speak to the guards, and converse with them. I think it’s a very powerful image, as it shows the innocence with the flower, against the knives and guns aiming at it and the girl. It shows a very relevant paradox within society that is somewhat enigmatic. The photo is know pretty famous within the Flower Power Movement. As I look at it, I see a very emotional and impactful moment in history perfectly captured… a reality caught. This picture has a lot to do with what Sontag believes. She says that “photographs are a way of i imprisoning reality… One can’t possess reality, one can possess images– one can’t possess the present but one can possess the past.”

Beni’s Brotherhood: “The Crossing” Reaction

Young boys such as Beni have daily struggles that we as American children could never even fathom. We grew up with a home… with a nationality… with an identity… while 13 and 14 year old boys from sub-saharan Africa have grown up without being able to have a true home. Attempting to cross the border into Europe, these “brotherhood” refugees fight for more than just their own personal survival and freedom, but for their entire family’s back home as well.

“Every time you cross, you learn something new. You test your will.” — Dikembe, Brotherhood Chief

Compared to a military mission, each boy’s crossing is highly trained and planned for, months in advance. Beni’s Chief, Dikembe, even says that he prepares ahead of time wile knowing that he will lose some of his brothers along the way. With the goal being only one brother to make it across the fence, this mission is almost impossible. Yet these are the people who are relied on by so many families. In the U.S., these kids wouldn’t be able to get their drivers’ permit, but in their world, they run with the honor of the entire family on their backs. The ones who are successful and make it across are identified as “heroes” for the brothers behind them, hoping to one day be fortunate enough to “live the dream” as a prep cook or a cement mixer.

I found this video that shows some of the “razor” wire fence that Dr. Alexander discusses. What I had imagined first reading “The Crossing” cannot even compare to the imagery in the video itself.

I am now 21 years old, and cannot imagine having to take care of my family now. Reading about these peoples’ lives breaks my heart… and I feel selfish to even be at Emory, a very expensive private school a couple of states away from home. When we were little and asked what we wanted to be when we grew up, everyone said “a doctor,” or “a lawyer,” or sometimes “a superhero.” No one ever grew up with the idea of a “good job” as being a construction worker. But boys like Beni grew up learning of nothing else, and had no choice but to cross this international border– for his siblings. “I could stay at home and watch my little brother and sister starve to death, or I could leave my home and try to find work,” he said. Before as one who had never left his village before, he now had to support his entire family.


After reading “The Crossing,” I looked up other articles about people who have been in the same situation as Beni, such as Constantin, who “dreamed of a new life in Europe,” and just made it to Morocco from Congo. However, he ended up in jail after utilizing a fake passport to attempt to sneak into Europe. He now works as a construction worker making barely over $300 per month. Yet he lives the dream that so many children such as Beni die for. With so many people in this situation, it amazes me how little distance they have actually been able to make it. It’s also terrible to know that even after they make it, they never get completely comfortable. The culture shock is unsettling for the migrants. And I still recall as a freshman at Emory, having it seem like a completely different world compared to San Antonio, Texas. But here I am reading about these lives, and it’s humbling to realize how little I should ever complain, while these kids may never be able to immerse themselves in new societies, or truly know what freedom feels like.

Margaret Mead & Gregory Bateson

Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson were actually a married couple of anthropologists who worked together on several projects. While they later divorced in 1950 after having a girl, they still remained friends until death.

Margaret Mead was a cultural anthropologist from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, who focused on broadening sexual mores within a context of traditional Western religious life. She was known to be very influential for the 1960’s sexual revolution, as a women’s rights activist. Mead is also credited for changing the way we study different human cultures.

Gregory Bateson was born in Grantchester, England. As an anthropologist, social scientist, and cyberneticist, he was greatly recognized for incorporating systems to cultural behavior. Bateson had the desire to re-introduce “the mind” back into scientific equations.

Mead and Bateson met one another in 1933, in New Guinea, and soon enough were working on anthropologic films together. The two intended to characterize schemas based on gender and temperament, wanting to center around the idea of child development, specifically comparing them to Western civilization. They worked together, Mead running field notes and Bateson being in charge of the photographic record. After observing the people of Bali, the pair discovered that mothers in this civilization ignore their child when they express extreme emotion of “affection or temper,” instead of giving them all the attention like those in Western cultures. Their work in Bali was some of the first uses of photography as a primary recording device rather than just as illustration.

Their films were all generally in black and white, since that was the norm at the time of their research. However, the couple had very different research styles. Bateson preferred to just observe enough as a small basis for his own theories and interests to go from there, while Mead was really passionate for specific details and intricate patterns. Their differences worked for them in the end, as during their research, Mead was responsible for their project’s detailed focus and Bateson took all photos.

Their film, Trance and Dance in Bali, was very influential for its time. It depicts a performance of Balinese people dancing while going through violent trances, stabbing themselves with daggers without injury. They are then restored to consciousness with hoy water and incense. It showed the difference in our society, in which trances such as these may be considered one of violence and possibly schizophrenia, but in another it is normal or sacred.


Bathing Babies in Three Cultures, is intended to show the different parenting methods between Balinese and New Guinea children from American practices. This is depicted through the differentiating bathing processes. In it, a native mother washes her own ad neighbor’s children in a river—washes them standing, holding the kid firmly by the arm. She splashes them with water then lifts them to the bank, shaking the child in the air to dry.

Both Mead and Bateson left great legacies within the anthropological world. It has been said that without these two, many cultural traditions of several societies may have been forgotten.