Archive for the ‘Documentaries’ Category

Journeying through Flory’s Footsteps

June 15, 2014

The documentary Flory’s Flame we have produced through our nonprofit company JEMGLO is 95% finished, with a first, second, and third draft behind us. It is a story that weaves together music from Flory Jagoda’s Celebration Concert at the Library of Congress last September with clips from a series of interviews with Flory that tell the story of this National Heritage Fellow who has been widely called the “keeper of the flame” of ancient Sephardic musical traditions. The narrative begins in the Jewish community of Spain before the Inquisition and continues in Sarajevo and a small town nearby called Vlasenica, and it moves to Zagreb, Croatia. During World War II, the flight from the Nazis to safety brought Flory to places along the Adriatic Sea in Croatia, then to Italy, and finally to the USA, where her prowess as a composer and performer of the music on which she was raised took off.

Missing from the most recent cut of the documentary are clips of visuals that emit the feelings of the places that give important levels of depth to the story. Consequently, a couple of weeks ago director of photography Curt Fissel, our friend serving as associate producer Cathy Lawrence, and I (producer) set out on a b-roll trip to relevant locales in southeast Europe, carving out our own experiences as we captured footage that painted pictures we had imagined from Flory’s telling. With a day left to go, the pieces of the journey are beginning to gel in my mind.

The center square of Zagreb

The center square of Zagreb

 

Zagreb: beautiful, colorful, spotless city. We stayed at the impressive Esplanade Hotel, built in 1925. Once a stop along the Orient Express, the Esplanade retains its grandeur with walls built of marble, crystal chandeliers and the aroma of white lilies wafting through the lobby and adjoining sitting rooms. For dinner we drank delicious, complex Rose wine grown in the nearby Krauthaker vineyards; my very tasty entrée was a plate of pasta with mushrooms and real truffles, also found locally. Curt ate an Adriatic sea bass cooked in a blanket of salt that was peeled after being grilled. The stately Esplanade, located only a few blocks away from where Flory grew up, is a must stay for tourists to this beautiful city.

Lobby of the Esplanade Hotel in Zagreb

Lobby of the Esplanade Hotel in Zagreb

A modern city, we had to work to find apartments and schools that were representative of what Flory might have experienced. But old mixes with new in Zagreb just as our documentary winds story around concert, so we were able to recreate snippets of her teenage years. And the Esplanade gave us the prime room in the hotel with views out the window of the old city – a photographer’s dream.

From Zagreb we drove to the Adriatic Coast, stopping first in Split, the city to which Flory and her parents fled when the Germans took over Zagreb. There the local tourism board set us up with the city’s most knowledgeable guide, Dino Ivancic, a history professor who exudes European charm, elegance and a sense of humor. Dino, with whom we shared a wonderful day, brought Flory’s stories alive to us in the context of the history of this gorgeous coastal spot, the site of the palace of the Roman Emperor Diocletian dating to the 3rd century.

Curt Fissel videotaping in Split

Curt Fissel videotaping in Split

A ferry brought us the next day to the island of Korcula, about which Flory says: “For us teenagers, it was a good time. No school, go swimming every day, all the time on the beach. …. I became an island accordionist and taught accordion….It made me alive.” In the heart of the ancient stone streets and buildings of the old city, sitting atop a hill that overlooked the transparent turquoise waters of the Adriatic, we could swear we heard the sounds of an accordion belting out harmonies that meshed with its beautiful surroundings. We fell in love with this island filled with friendly people, and we promised ourselves we’d return and stay for awhile sometime after we send our finished documentary out into the world.

The town of Korcula on the island of Korcula

The town of Korcula on the island of Korcula

Our chronological route was based on pragmatism, not a mirror of Flory’s timeline, so from Korcula we made our way to Sarajevo in Bosnia and Herzegovina. It was difficult to leave paradise and enter a city still suffering from the aftermath of the siege from 1992-95 in which 9,500 to 14,000 people – half civilians, including 521 children – were killed. Buildings throughout the city are still dotted with bullet holes, and residents readily talk about their experiences and the feeling of fear they have internalized. At a Friday night Shabbat dinner to which we were invited I asked one woman about whether she had hope for the future; she responded by saying there have been four wars in Bosnia in the last century, so how could she envision a time when violence would not raise its head every few decades?

Memorial to the children

Memorial to the children

 

It is our last day of filming today, and an historian named Eli Tauber, who is a friend of Flory’s, takes us to Vlasenica, a town that is two hours away and where Flory’s family lived for several hundred years. Appropriately, it is our first full day of rain and fog, shrouding the places of our protagonist’s beautiful childhood memories that the evil history of the Holocaust has fatally destroyed.

Tomorrow we close our circuitous road back in Zagreb, where we will meet with the folks who run the Zagreb Jewish Film Festival. Like so many others in this region, they know Flory, love her music, and can’t wait to see the finished documentary. My sentiments exactly!

 

 

NYC Bar Association Panel: From Lawyer to Entrepreneur

December 19, 2013

One of the most fun aspects about being an entrepreneur is the opportunity to live in a number of different and challenging roles on a daily basis.

Some hours each day I am a producer of corporate video productions and documentaries, figuring out and implementing countless logistics of a broad range of projects. Other hours I am a writer, crafting the scripts and storyboards on which the productions are built. Sometimes I am a researcher, diving into the substance of clients’ businesses to ensure that the videos we are creating accurately reflect the nature of the organizations. Importantly, I am often the head of marketing and sales, seeking prospective clients to keep the business engine humming. Whenever I find a few free moments, I become the chief dreamer, configuring new ideas to improve or change my current businesses – or create new ones. And of course, I’m also the “baker and candlestick maker” (never a butcher – I’m a vegetarian!) for all the behind-the-scenes details that make the businesses run.

A break during a documentary shoot in Paris

Equally as exciting for me, last week I had the opportunity to put on my “entrepreneur” hat and speak on a panel at the NYC Bar Association (NYCBA) entitled “Lawyer to Entrepreneur.” The forum, organized by Emilia Roll of the NYCBA’s Career Advancement and Management Committee, was billed as an opportunity to “Come and learn from successful entrepreneurs about their paths from practicing law to running their own businesses and how they are using their ‘lawyer’ skills to advance.”

I am very lucky to love all the hats I wear, and the entrepreneurial one is at the top of the list. I have been a part of a number of entrepreneurial groups with different foci, and I almost always find that the commonalities between entrepreneurs outweigh huge differences in industries, markets, and strategies. There are unstated understandings, shared experiences and generous support systems that fuel the passion to take multiple business endeavors to the ever-next level.

buildingfront_web

NYC Bar Association

That was certainly the experience for me on the panel last week. I was privileged to be joined by George Tsiatis of Group 113 and The Resolution Project, Rosena Sammi of Rosena Sammi Jewelry, Diana St. Louis of Bijte, Brian Trunzo of Carson Street Clothiers, and Suzie Scanlon of Bliss Lawyers. As I answered questions relating to the benefits of having a legal background as a jumping off point to becoming a businessperson/producer/writer/researcher/marketer/dreamer/baker/candlestick maker, it was inspirational to hear about my co-panelists’ paths, businesses, challenges, solutions, and ideas. It was also exciting to engage in discussions with an audience of lawyers poised on the verge of considering their business dreams. The experience was a reminder of the journey taken thus far, the never-ending possibilities offered by the entrepreneurial road, and the value of enjoying every step along the way.

Now back to a producer review of the latest draft video for a private equity client…

NY Times Highlights Subject of Film Produced by V&V’s Principals

June 5, 2013

Having started filming the documentary Delicious Peace Grows in a Ugandan Coffee Bean back in 2006, the JEMGLO production team was excited to see The New York Times today refer to the cooperative of Christian, Jewish and Muslim coffee farmers who comprise the documentary subject. The principals of JEMGLO, producer/writer Ellen Friedland director/DP/cinematographer Curt Fissel, are also the principals of Voices and Visions.

Highlighted in the Food section, the Times noted that “J.J. Keki, a Jewish Ugandan coffee farmer…enlisted Christian, Jewish and Muslim farmers to form a coffee cooperative. The result: Delicious Peace Coffee (Mirembe Kawomera), which comes in a nutty-tasting light roast, a rich dark roast and decaffeinated.” The Times’ mention coincided with the launch of a Smithsonian Folkways recording on CD produced by Rabbi Jeffrey Summit of 16 songs by the farmers titled Delicious Peace: Coffee, Music and Interfaith Harmony in Uganda. 

The first version of the documentary, narrated by actor Ed O’Neill, was released in 2010 and screened at over 35 film festivals internationally, including many prestigious festivals, and won a number of meaningful awards. This past March Ellen, Curt and several additional members of a production team, returned for a fifth trip to the cooperative to videotape updates (link to the blog), including a qualitatively improved standard of living thanks in large measure to Fair Trade wages paid to the farmers by their coffee buying partner, Thanksgiving Coffee Company.

delicious peace, documentary, smithsonian, new york times, uganda, fair trade, interfaith, fair trade coffee, jewish nonprofit, documentary production

The documentary is available to educational institutions through the Video Project. In addition, socially-conscious media company Specialty Studios is distributing Delicious Peace Grows in a Ugandan Coffee Bean by organizing Delicious Peace Parties where the film is screened and Fair Trade coffee and chocolate are enjoyed. Please contact them for more information!

The Miraculous Reality of Fair Trade Coffee Farming

March 11, 2013

Our first trip to Mirembe Kawomera (“Delicious Peace”) Coffee Co-op, located in the village of Namanyoni on the outskirts of Mbale, Uganda, was in 2006. The co-op had been founded just two years earlier, the idea of regional leader JJ Keki who sought a market for local farmers’ coffee as well as a way to overcome historical religious-based intolerance. A year after their establishment – also a year before our arrival – they had signed a deal with Fair Trade coffee buyer/roaster/seller Thanksgiving Coffee Company in Fort Bragg, CA.

We went there as a film production team with the goal of creating a documentary about this inspirational farming collective. Still only one year into their arrangement with Thanksgiving, they had just begun selling a small amount of coffee; the first shipment was a single shipping container. We spent several days becoming acquainted with the farmers, and they opened up to us, inviting us into their homes and lives.

One farmer housed 25 children. Only a fraction of those were biologically related; the others were children of parents who had died of AIDS or other causes, or who were otherwise unable to take care of them. Another farmer showed us the graves of three of his children who had passed away, all from malaria. He did not have money to take care of many of the nutritional needs of his extended family, including children and grandchildren. Everyone complained about a lack of funds to send their kids to school. While public schools exist, families are required to pay for books, uniforms and school lunches – an impossibility for many who are poverty stricken.

Simply put, the needs were overwhelming.

And yet, the farmers had been fortunate to find a Fair Trade buyer. Fair Trade guarantees a minimum and fair price, despite the international fluctuation of this commodity market. It also enables farmers to receive a second payment if the quality of the coffee is very good. Mandating egalitarianism and democracy on co-op boards and in the general running of the organization, Fair Trade additionally gives farming cooperatives a “social premium,” enabling them to support local community projects.

fair trade, coffee, uganda, mbala, africa, farmers, documentary, nonprofit

I write this now from Mbale, where we have spent the last five days with the Mirembe Kawomera farmers. It is almost seven years since our first visit. The school-age children of the farmer whose residence was home to 25 now all attend educational institutions. The farmer whose children suffered from unhealthy diets talked about his new-found knowledge of the four food groups, and how his large family is conscious of – and able to – partake in that diet on a daily basis. He has a new home that is covered with an iron roof to keep out the rain rather than the thatched roof that leaked, and his house even has some furniture. Not one farmer complained that his or her children were not able to attend school. And the co-op used its social premium to help build a new wing on a local public school that had become overcrowded.

When I asked the farmers to tell me about problems the co-op still has, each one – interviewed independently — answered the same thing: A thief broke into their warehouse and stole 15 bags of coffee.

Of course, that is awful – every bag represents a huge expenditure of hard work as well as profits. But then, thieves are everywhere. There was no additional complaint.

Pretty good support for the value of Fair Trade. And an important reminder to consumers who have buying choices that not only satisfy their caffeine longings but also have the ability to change individual lives.

My job – when I work on a documentary — is to be a producer, not a marketer. I look for objective facts. In this instance, the argument for the benefit of Fair Trade could not have been more compelling.

Returning to Uganda

March 4, 2013

 

I remember the first full day of our initial trip to Uganda in October 2006 to produce a documentary about Mirembe Kawomera (“Delicious Peace”) Coffee Co-op. After three days of travel (one from NY to Europe, the second from there to Entebbe Airport, and the third by car up to the Mbale region), we enthusiastically showed up at the entrance of the coffee co-op’s clay-constructed storefront. We were eager to meet the legendary farmers who had formed a collective to bridge interfaith differences and generate economic development through a Fair Trade partnership with California-based buyer, roaster and seller Thanksgiving Coffee Company. Since we had been in touch via email for several months and the executive board had invited us to come, we were ready to break out the cameras following the handshakes and dive into work. Instead, the farmers asked that we sit down for a four-hour meeting that began with the question: “Why should we let you do this?”

At that moment, Curt looked at me and said, “You are the attorney. You can negotiate this. I’m going outside to take pictures. They may be the last ones we get!”


delicious peace, documentary, coffee, fair trade, Uganda

Now here it is, six and a half years after that meeting and three years after the premiere screening of Delicious Peace Grows in a Ugandan Coffee Bean, and we are returning in two weeks for our fifth trip, this time (as the last) with a group of friends in tow.  Dual goals motivate this journey: (1) adding an extra 15-20 minutes of footage for a one-hour TV release focused on co-op updates and the impact of climate change on the farmers’ crops, and (2) introducing more American consumers to the work of the Mirembe Kawomera co-op, helping to spread awareness about their truly delicious coffee and the myriad families whose lives orbit around it.

In many respects, the first aim parallels corporate video production shoots we do around the world for many clients. We have done our homework and know what we want to record, all the necessary equipment is packed and ready to go, a basic schedule is in place, and we have the contact information for folks who will be crucial data-providers.

This assignment, however, comes with advance bonuses. We already have established friendships with farmers in the co-op, who are excited to help with the new phase of the project by devoting days of time when we are present to providing assistance; they understand and appreciate our role in helping to publicize their messages. And – New Yorkers — you know that excited feeling of being with out-of-towners who arrive in New York for the first time and stand in transcendental wonderment upon their initial ascent out of the subway? We will have the opportunity to experience that feeling through the eyes of our trip participants, multiple-fold, beginning with the moment our friend/tourguide Samson drives our group out of the airport onto the streets of Entebbe.

delicious peace, documentary, coffee, Uganda, fair trade

In response to the farmers’ initial question in 2006, I promised a long-term, mutual partnership in which success would be shared. I promised we would produce, complete, and screen the documentary. I said this would be an important avenue to spread the message of the work they are doing to bridge interfaith differences and educate coffee consumers about the hard work of farmers dedicated to specialty coffee production so that purchasing decisions reflect that knowledge. I told them that a successful documentary will trigger interest in their coffee. I told them that we have always established long-term friendships with the people who are the subjects of documentaries we undertake – as we have often done with our corporate video production clients.

Almost seven years later, the documentary has screened (and continues to do so) at over 35 international film festivals with a TV debut in the near future. We have partnered with a distributor committed to creating local educational “Peace Party” screenings around the country. Countless people have watched the program and learned about the important work of the farmers – many are busy talking about it on social media avenues everyday. And we are going back again to visit our friends and continue to develop the informational base.

We’re grateful the farmers took a leap of faith with us and proud to have earned their trust. Uganda, here we come!

 

Whole Foods’ Do Something Reel Film Festival

December 21, 2012

Watch. Think. Act. These three verbs succinctly sum up the mission of the Do Something Reel Film Festival. Presented by Whole Foods Market, this festival is designed to highlight films that inspire change in their audiences. We were thrilled to learn that Whole Foods selected Delicious Peace Grows in a Ugandan Coffee Bean as its Do Something Reel film for the month of December.

The film, shot through our nonprofit Jemglo over several years in Uganda, tells the incredible story of the Mirembe Kawomera coffee cooperative, the members of whom are Jewish, Christian and Muslim. Once at odds with each other, these three groups joined together to build economic development and foster peace in their region. This interfaith message of cooperation has spread to other villages in Uganda as well as to the United States, where the Mirembe Kawomera farmers have partnered with Fair Trade buyer, Thanksgiving Coffee Company.

do something reel film festival, whole foods, whole foods market, whole foods little rock, fair trade, coffee, documentary, uganda, interfaith, holiday, party 
The focus of the Do Something Reel Film Festival is to provide “provocative, character-driven films that focus on food, environmental issues and everyday people with a vision of making a world of difference.” In addition to offering the film, Whole Foods has arranged for a number of its stores to host live screenings. One of these screenings is taking place at the Whole Foods store in Little Rock, AR on December 27th. We’re looking forward to seeing how this community responds to the inspiring message of the film and plan to report back with reactions.

If anyone is interested in hosting a live screening, socially-minded media company Specialty Studios is organizing Peace Parties around the film and the coffee that inspired it. It’s a great way to spread the Fair Trade message while enjoying delicious (and fairly traded) coffee and chocolate and other Fair Trade products with your friends and family.

do something reel film festival, whole foods, whole foods market, whole foods little rock, fair trade, coffee, documentary, uganda, interfaith, holiday, party

Spreading Peace in your Starbucks Backyard

November 20, 2012

This month the Delicious Peace photography exhibit of Voices & Visions’ DP Curt Fissel is on display at Starbucks in Glen Ridge, New Jersey because barista Derek Teixeira, a photographer himself, likes to transform the walls of his store into a place artists can show their work. It was his hope that the Glen Ridge Starbucks Community Art Wall would also convey a deeper meaning. “We saw the wall as a way in which to promote the benefits of art. Especially in contemporary times, it really brings together a community,” said Teixeira.

His commitment to promoting community is reflected in the artists it features on the Wall. Last month the students of East Orange Youth Cultural Complex had their art on display. Says Teixeira, “These children worked along side their teacher (and world traveled artist) Miah Leslie in creating collages that both were in homage to Romare Bearden and simultaneously offered its viewers a peek into the mind of a child in 2012 urban America.”

curt fissel, starbucks, voices and visions, corporate video, documentary production

From the “Delicious Peace” show.

This month’s show, Delicious Peace, is a collection of photos taken during the filming of Delicious Peace Grows in a Ugandan Coffee Bean, which is a story about interfaith Ugandan coffee farmers building community and economic development in the face of great adversity. Teixeira draws a parallel between the missions of Starbucks and Delicious Peace, stating, “Its ability to bring people from various religious faiths – Jewish, Muslim and Christian — is in line with what Starbucks aims to do over coffee.”

I always find the greater Montclair region of New Jersey to be a vortex of creative energy. It’s a place where people respect and celebrate each other’s cultures.  At its heart Delicious Peace is about embracing differences and building community. We are thrilled to have found an exhibition space with a mission as similarly positioned. Says Teixeira: “Stop into the Glen Ridge Starbucks on any day, and you’ll see that our store brings together people off all colors, religions, ages and backgrounds! This month’s work couldn’t be any more fitting to help embody that.”

Starbucks

710 Bloomfield Ave.

Glen Ridge, NJ 07028
(973) 743-1752

Starbucks Photo Exhibit

November 16, 2012

Whether the medium is video or stills, talented photographers see space in ways others do not. Curt Fissel, our DP at Voices & Visions Productions and JEMGLO Productions, carries this third eye around with him wherever our jobs take us. Sometimes our destination is a corporate video shoot when his task is to transform a boring boardroom into a compelling interview space. Other times it’s in the field shooting footage for an upcoming documentary. Some of the places our projects have taken us are beautiful landscapes, others war-torn, but few places stand out like the Mbale region of Uganda, where we shot Delicious Peace Grows in a Ugandan Coffee Bean.

curt fissel, starbucks, voices and visions, corporate video, documentary productionIn addition to capturing hundreds of hours of footage in this beautiful Eden, Curt also documented the essence of Ugandan life through his first love: the still photo. Living in the artsy epicenter of Montclair, NJ, he has had the opportunity to show his “Delicious Peace” photo exhibit at several locations, including the Montclair Public Library during African American History Month and Parlor Hair Studio’s wall gallery. This month the show is at a Starbucks in the next door township of Glen Ridge.

The documentary tells the story of the Mirembe Kawomera coffee cooperative in Uganda, which is comprised  of Jewish, Muslim and Christian famers. Once at odds with each other over religious differences, these men and women have united by forming the co-op together, focused on  building prosperity for their families and fostering peace in their community. Their story is one of triumph; their initiative is a model for the world.

curt fissel, starbucks, voices and visions, corporate video, documentary production

The nature of Starbucks’ business and its corporate philosopahy make it, an appropriate location for this photo exhibition. Curt is very excited about the exhibition being held throughout the month of November, and we hope everyone in the area is able to stop by to see it! The farmers’ story is a message of peace. Our goal is to spread the framework of peace they have created through art, coffee and film.

Where in the world…?

September 5, 2012

Who know where today’s Photo of the Week was taken?

 

Canal, photography, curt fissel, voices and visions, new jersey video production, new york video production, los angeles video production, professional video production company

See last week’s photo.

Photo of the Week

August 27, 2012

 

Last year we went to Uganda with our nonprofit, Jem/Glo, to screen Delicious Peace for the Mirembe Kawomera coffee farmers, an interfaith cooperative that formed to build peace and economic development in the area. Afterward, we led a group of fellow travelers on a gorilla trek, where Curt snapped this photo of a silverback gorilla:

Gorilla, Curt Fissel, Voices and Visions, Jem/Glo, Uganda, Video production

 

It was also recently featured in an article by Wells Fargo. Has anyone else ever been on a gorilla trek?

See last week’s Photo of the Week.