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Posts from June2010

We have met the enemy and he is us!

Posted by Leonard on June, 28, 2010

“Stop Blaming the U.S. arms dealers for the 5 million Congo war deaths” read an email from a friend, in reference to a conversation we’d had recently. We were talking about American Empire, about the number of US military bases around the world,  and the greatest problems facing our planet.  In the email was a link to this video, a parody of the famous Mac vs PC ads, but in this take, they address the ‘conflict minerals’ such as tin, tungsten, and tantalum, minerals found in most all of today’s computers and consumer electronics. He also included this quote from the famous cartoon strip PogoWe have met the enemy, and he is us! which couldn’t be more true here. Surely the military industrial complex is a real threat to global stability and peace, but it’s important here to recognize for whom the military fights these wars to secure those resources, be they oil or tungston, and to wonder why we hear so little about the brutal war in Congo when it’s apparently partly being fought to enable access to the minerals there that feed our consumer appetite? So Nicholas Kristof wrote a piece this weekend called Death by Gadgets which explores this sad reality and looks into the ways we can have an impact on companies unwilling to ensure that conflict free minerals are the ingredients going into their products.

Of particular interest to me and one reason why I blog about this here, is because it’s a very different though complimentary angle to a documentary I shot in 2005 in Lagos Nigeria, called The Digital Dump. In that piece, we exposed the underbelly of the global electronics waste trade, and how Africa was receiving the majority of the toxic trash that is a byproduct of our insatiable appetite for new consumer electronics, and how the toxics inside of them leach into the water table, are burned and melted to salvage copper and other valuable residuals, and are an overall environmental nightmare for the poor countries around the globe receiving the waste.

So on the front and the back end here, it’s an important reminder to again be asking ourselves what the consequences of our purchases are, where they are coming from, how they were produced, and what will happen to them when we are done with them, be it food, energy, or electronics.

The Digital Dump was produced by The Basel Action Network, a Seattle based NGO at the forefront of the global waste trade crisis. The film has been screened at film festivals around the world, at the UN, at many industrial trade conferences, and wrote about in the NYT, WSJ, and seen on PBS, 20/20 and many other media outlets around the world. The parody video was produced by The Enough Project, an anti-genocide organization doing very important work.

*In a rare blog post in response to the Kristof article, Steve Jobs of Apple claims that “We require all of our suppliers to certify in writing that they use conflict free materials. But honestly there is no way for them to be sure. Until someone invents a way to chemically trace minerals from the source mine, it’s a very difficult problem.”

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Connecting the dots, beyond filmmaking

Posted by Leonard on June, 28, 2010

As a filmmaker and videographer working internationally producing media about environmental and social issues, being able to make connections and have a positive impact is very rewarding. It was great to see 2 projects I’d worked on cross to create a unique opportunity.  It’s also nice to be able to continue my relationships with clients beyond the actual content production stage of our relationship, and this past Friday I had a nice synergy of client overlap.

A few months back while working on a story for Cedar Grove Composting at the Northwest Flower and Garden Show at The Washington Convention Center, I was following the food and beverage manager around the facility and filming while she talked about all the great food scrap and waste product composting they were doing there. When she lead me through the industrial kitchen, I saw people from all over the world working there, immigrants who didn’t all speak english but seemed happy in their work environment, and it occurred to me that perhaps this was a place where some of the Bhutanese Refugees I’d filmed in my story about their relocation to here in Seattle’s Rainier Valley, could also work.  So after checking with Cedar Grove to clarify that was an appropriate way to communicate with the Convention Center, I floated the idea, and the woman taking me on the tour was fine with it.

So here, a few months later, I was back at the Convention Center with a group of 10 refugees who have now been hired as part time workers there, washing dishes and doing other basic kitchen work.  To my surprise, it took about 5 hours of me translating and handholding to get all the paper work filled out together with a brief orientation around everything from getting uniforms to how to enter the building and what to expect when they showed up for their first shifts tomorrow. Taking so long wasn’t a big deal for me as it felt great to see some of these refugees so excited to be getting some actual work.  Arriving in America over the last 2 years with our economy in shambles, it’s been a very tough time to find work and for almost all of them it will be their first actual employment here in America.  They’ll be making the WA state minimum wage of $8.55/hr and some of them will be working the night shift from 10PM – 6 AM but overall they were incredibly excited and very grateful for the opportunity I’d facilitated for them.

Of the ten of them, there were 2 sisters, 2 brothers, one husband and wife and their 2 sons and daughter in law, ranging in age from 19-mid 50’s and best of all, the father featured in the piece I produced about their resettlement. He’s been here for 2 years now and with no language or work skills, he’s been very bored and unengaged in little more than going to ESL classes that are slow and frustrating and taking care of his young grandson, but little positive engagement with the outside world because of his limited language skills.  So he was very excited and couldn’t stop telling me how much it meant to him.  Also, I was very pleasantly surprised by how positive and supportive the staff getting them all signed up were, from the HR manager to the head chef (who had been to and loved Nepal as a tourist and knew how lovely Nepali people were), they were patient and joyful and overall really ready to give these folks a chance which is exactly what they need. Unfortunately the work is not full time but hopefully once they get a chance to prove themselves and the economy picks up, that there’ll be opportunities for more long term employment. My hope is that over time, this venue will have positions for more Bhutanese Refugees.

Here is the piece I produced about composting food scraps at the Convention Center

Here is the piece about the resettlement of Bhutanese Refugees from camps in Nepal to Seattle’s Rainier Valley

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The Freshness of a SIFF pass

Posted by Leonard on June, 4, 2010

This year I’ve had the privilege of obtaining a Seattle International Film Festival filmmaker pass. The pass enables me to attend all the press screenings which are hosted 3 a day, 4 days a week for 4 weeks during the fest. It’s been fabulous seeing so many incredible films from around the world.  They hold the screenings at 10, 12, & 2 at Pacific Place downtown,  so I’ve been enjoying taking the light rail in from the Rainier Valley and checking out multiple flicks/day, mostly documentaries for the past 2 weeks. It is a great privilege to run a small business, with the flexibility in my schedule to be able to attend the screenings during the day, and that SIFF made affordable and accesible which I am grateful for.

This week I saw the incredible Chinese documentary  The Last Train Home, the story of the Chinese New Year and the nationwide exodus of hundreds of millions of migrant workers going home for the holiday, the only time all year many will see their families. The film follows one particular family over the course of a few years, including their jobs and living situation at their factory, back home in the rural village where they left behind 2 children being raised by their grandparents, and on the move among the masses in brutal train station crowds and regional transportation as they head across China. The film is incredibly real and present in the people’s lives and the relationships including the struggle with their now teenage children.

Also, the The Pat Tillman Story A scathing exposé of the height of American war propaganda in Iraq & Afghanistan,  incredibly shocking. Pat Tillman was the NFL star who left his football career to join the Army Rangers, who’s death was manipulated at the highest levels of government as a war time propaganda tool that was really a big lie that was only exposed as his activist mother uncovers the truth behind what really happened with the other soldiers in his unit. From the SIFF website:

Fiction: Tillman was killed in action in Afghanistan following the rescue of dozens of his fellow soldiers from an enemy ambush. Fact: He was killed by friendly fire by members of his own unit as they shot indiscriminately at Tillman, believing him to be a guerilla fighter. The grave discrepancy between fact and fiction furthers growing suspicions of American media involvement in covering up the atrocities of the Bush administration, Gulf War generals, and former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. As the film unfolds, the realities of Tillman’s service and death prove to be much more profound and important than any manufactured image of the unwavering American hero.

And Hipsters A crazy musical set in 1955 Moscow, with young Hipsters  flaunting their mad style in an era of gray Soviet military domination of no art and no color and style. Gorgeous colors and lighting with awesome music and dancing.My guess is that this film will be out in theaters as it was beautifully crafted and an incredible window into life in Russia at the time. Watch the trailer.

The pass also enables me to participate in the Filmmakers Forums & Digital Media Lab classes that they’re teaching at The Seattle Center this weekend which I’m going to hit up on Sunday and am looking forward to.

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