Archive for the ‘Nonprofit video’ Category

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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Video Production From the Road: Flying Tips 2

October 12, 2012

Having become a semi-learned student of the airline rules, I wield them like constitutional rights.

Last year I chose to become an APP (my designation for the 25,000 plus mile status) on two airlines: United and American. The former is part of the OneWorld network, and the latter is a member of Star Alliance. Since my home bases are Montclair, NJ – 10 miles from Newark Airport – and Los Angeles, the most convenient airline for me to fly in the US is United, which has the Newark-based hub of its recent mergee, Continental.  American sometimes flies out of Newark, but more frequently its NY flights originate in and go to JFK and LaGuardia, making it a second choice for me.  However, the Star Alliance has more airline partners than OneWorld, and they fly to many more destinations, so I’m glad to have at least the APP-1 (more than Any Passenger and less than Any Passenger Plus) benefits.

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I write this blog now aboard a flight from Melbourne, Australia to Hong Kong. I am traveling with my husband/business partner Curt. We are videotaping for a corporate client in both locations. The decision to do the shoot happened late in the game, so arrangements were made last minute, when few flights were still available.  The only feasible and affordable option required traveling with Cathay Pacific from JFK to Hong Kong, then Hong Kong to Adelaide, Australia, then Adelaide to Melbourne, where we worked for three days. This flight goes from Melbourne directly to Hong Kong, where we will stay for two nights. The next leg is to San Francisco, where we will work for a day. The last segment will take us from San Francisco back to Newark.

Cathay Pacific is a Star Alliance member. With our American gold status, we are classified as Ruby travelers on Star Alliance, going through the first and business class check-in and security lines, and boarding earlier in the game than other passengers. Since the economy class tickets had been sold out for the eastward bound flights at the late time of our booking, we purchased the next level: premium economy. That gave us a little more room and an APP+ status. But here is how being a partner airline APP member served as an advantage: The flight from NY to Hong Kong was 15 hours; the one from Hong Kong to Adelaide was another 9. When we arrived in Hong Kong, a ticket agent was waiting for us, informing us that we had been upgraded to business class. With open seats on the plane, priority went to us instead of others who had bought premium economy tickets since we had a combination of those slightly more expensive tickets and APP status on another Star Alliance partner airline.

Business seats on these eastern airlines are amazing for a number of reasons, but best of all, the seats fold down flat like beds. As someone who has a hard time sleeping in planes, I slept more than half of the journey, waking up refreshed enough to work for the afternoon in Melbourne. It made a huge difference!

curt fissel, voices and visions, travel, business, corporate video new jersey

Director of Photography, Curt.

The seats en route back west are only economy. But because of our APP status with Star Alliance member American, Cathay Pacific was able to offer us bulkhead seats, ie, front row in economy, with unlimited leg room.  For non-ruby passengers, these seats would have cost an additional $100 each, but our status ensured we could get them, and at no extra charge. We have reserved the same seats for the trip from Hong Kong to San Francisco.

The last leg of our trip will be provided by United, enabling us to return on a direct flight to Newark Airport. Checking over the seat availability, it seems we will be doomed to the last row. But as APP members, we stand a chance of getting upgraded, if anything is available.

I am well aware of the disadvantage of accruing miles in more than one airline per year. By this year’s end, I will have accumulated just short of 100,000 miles on all my flights combined. Had I stuck with one airline or partnership and taken a few extra trips to reach that mile marker, I would have been a lifetime status holder. Instead, the status I’ve earned over the last 10 months – which in another three weeks will be APPP on United and APP on American – will be good only through 2013. Come January 1, I will have to start all over again for 2014. But the offerings didn’t leave me much of a choice. The flights that gave me the most miles were available at specific times on particular airlines. At least I will enjoy my status in the coming year, always keeping an eye on changing rules and new opportunities.

Read Flying Tips 1.

Video Production From The Road

October 5, 2012

Day 1: Departure from JFK

Our corporate headquarters is in Montclair, NJ, about 15 miles from Newark Airport, but unfortunately for us, the majority of international flights still depart from JFK – a one hour drive when there is no traffic (a rare occurrence). When we are shooting a documentary about which we feel passionate and are working on the hope that funding will follow, we become beggars for free rides from friends on the much-disliked trek from NJ to Jamaica, NY.  And when we travel for quick stints, we take the car and find parking lots near airports that are priced less expensively than an hour of parking in midtown Manhattan. But when we travel for a more lengthy time for corporate clients who pay for our expenses, a car service saves the driving stress and guilt for swallowing hours of friends’ time.

Warning! Not all car services are the same! Most of those coupons in the Val-Pak envelopes that come in the mail suggest discounts of all kinds, but when you call the company to get a quote, you often hear about a host of other add-ons to the rate they advertise as total – things like tolls and extra bags and tips and taxes. You do the math and realize the discount drowns under the supplementary fees. There are exceptions, however, if you do the research. (All good things in travel come with extensive, time-consuming research. But once you’ve got it figured out, the knowledge goes a long way for a long time.)

We use a car service that is truly a one-price, no gimmicks. Tolls and even driver’s tip is built into the fee, which gets charged on my credit card at the end of each airport drop-off. The car of the driver Kenny (973.573.7142 or abovelimo123@yahoo.com)  is a bit old-world – a Lincoln Town Car that was probably a “beaut” about a decade ago — but it is a smooth ride and does the job, even if the permanently-jammed front window requires the driver to open his door to dunk in the change as he goes through the tolls for which he does not have EZPass. Those are his choices, but I don’t care. I’m usually busy in the back seat, distracted from the road by the constant flow of new messages into my smartphone.

The next hurdle at the outset of a videotaping trip is checking bags without paying for extra weight. Considering that we typically carry two professional cameras; one or two camera tripods and several more for lights; a full light kit; a set of microphones including wireless, lavs and shotguns; supporting equipment such as cables, batteries, chargers, and all kinds of Mary Poppins’ bag accessories – not to mention a few weeks’ worth of clothes to be worn in different climates – this is no small matter.  First on the list of packing is thinking about which items must travel with us onboard, either because of their fragility and expense, or in case the suitcases don’t arrive when we do. Over the years, we’ve had luggage end up in all parts of the world, sometimes opposite sides of our destination. That unfortunate occurrence is not an excuse for failing to work upon arrival, so back-up plans need to be considered in advance.

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Susie (available from B&H Photo/Video)

Ordinarily two of us travel per shoot, with two carry-ons each. That leaves the checked luggage, which in the days of BetaCam SP were numerous but now are down to three, each of which comes close to the 23 kilogram or 50 pound maximum weight. One is our 28 inch suitcase carrying all our clothes and some smaller pieces of equipment that lightens the load of the other bags. For this trip we’ve added a 21 inch, two-pound screen since we’ll be setting up a mini-editing suite in the hotel room.  Another bag has our full lighting kit, and a third has the tripods, light tripods and cables. Our big suitcase and light kit have wheels that roll on all four.  One additional carry-on is our prized possession, so important that she merits a name: Susie (derived from “wuski” – Polish for “carts”) – a powerful baggage cart holding up to 250 pounds that folds up into a flat item less than three feet tall and one inch wide. Susie, who we wheel into the airport with the tripod case and carry-ons, has seen more of the world than most people I know! After we check-in the bags that get stored under the plane, her load goes down to the heavier carry-ons, which we wheel through airports with ease except in LaGuardia where there seems to be a prejudice against her and they require her to go the way of the rest of our luggage.

The last major obstacle on the departure side – assuming no plane delays – is getting through security. Since the essential equipment accompanies us on board, we are usually subject to bag checks –almost always a delay, but never a problem.

Significantly, we’ve finally splurged the extra annual $250 for the American Express Platinum card, which lets us use US Airways lounges regardless of the flight we will be taking as well as American and Delta lounges when we travel with them. We also have access to Priority Pass lounges around the world, where I write this now from Hong Kong. (After the next trip, we’ll have enough miles on United to get into their clubs at no charge, too.) These spaces provide a much more comfortable waiting area, replete with free wi-fi, large comfortable chairs, snack food, drinks, and nice bathrooms. I’m doing the same thing in this lounge as I would be doing back in my office in New Jersey.

Next week: Flying Tips.

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.

 

Video Production Tip: Proper Lighting

August 21, 2012
curt, photography, video production, lighting, voices and visions, corporate video production, professional video productionThis week’s video production tip comes from our Director of Photography, Curt:

Proper lighting is an often-overlooked aspect of production because cameras can be forgiving, but this separates home movies from professional videos. You need a location that’s correctly lit. Poor lighting techniques will result in a longer time in post-production and even then may not yield the appearance you are seeking. Occasionally I keep the cameras rolling as I’m setting up so I can see the interplay between the lighting and the images I’m creating as they develop. There are many books and other reference sources about lighting techniques. Do your homework!

Tune in later this week for an in-depth discussion on some key differences between amateur video and those produced by professional video companies.

See last week’s tip on business travel.

Photography Q & A with Curt Fissel

August 15, 2012
To celebrate the launch of our new Instagram account (voicesvisions), we sat down with our director of photography, Curt Fissel, to talk about the art of the photograph.
What inspired you to go into photography in the first place?
My mother loved art. She exposed me to art from an early age and she gave me my first camera when I was five years old.

What is your continued source of inspiration?
I take hours of video and thousands of photographs a year. I’m always inspired for the perfect shot, and probably I still haven’t found it yet. There was one shot that came close, but I’m still searching for it.

Delicious Peace, Video Production, Documentary Production, Corporate Video, Nonprofit Video, Coffee farmers, Uganda

This photo was taken during the filming of Delicious Peace Grows in a Ugandan Coffee Bean

That’s the photograph that made me the happiest in the last many years.

If you could give one piece of advice to aspiring photographers, what would it be?
Really concentrate on composition. You need to take in all the elements of the frame; that’s your easel, so everything in that frame is important. Don’t be afraid to look at things from a different perspective. The angle of the shot and the lighting are important, but it all starts with composition. You have to pay attention to foreground and to the position of the frame. When you miss the composition, don’t use that shot. Also, be critical of your own work. If the shot is bad, figure out how to do it right the next time. You’re only fooling yourself if you can’t criticize your work.

How has technology like Photoshop changed photography as a business? As an art?
Digital has changed everything. Art has evolved along with the technology. It’s cool to use Photoshop for advertising and I do believe in adjusting levels and sharpening, but I don’t believe in manipulating the true image. I shoot full frame, I don’t crop. I know people do it, but I believe in the art of composition. I’m not trying to be a snob, but certainly there is something to taking a photo that stands on its own.

What advice would you give to someone who wanted to start learning Photoshop?
Lynda.com is a good tutorial website.

What is the first thing you do when you get a new piece of equipment?
I sit with the owner’s manual until I’m comfortable with the workings of my new camera. As soon as you think you know everything, you’re hosed. Problems generally can be solved, and those manuals are made for something. Make sure you know the camera you’re using, the limitations and the exceptional features.

If time and money were no issue, where would you go and what would you shoot?
I’d like to spend a few months traveling through Uganda and shoot a book on birds on Mount Elgon.

Some background on Curt: he began his career as a news cameraman with an NBC affiliate station, then moved to NJN (PBS) where he became Chief Photographer and Manager of News and Documentary Staff. He has also freelanced for outlets including HBO, CBS, ABC Nightline, CNN, YES Network, America’s Most Wanted, and Voice of America. For the past 15 years he has directed, photographed and edited eight documentaries for national PBS audiences, international film festivals and other global events as well as for multiple award-winning corporate video production company Voices & Visions Productions.

Video Editing Tip

August 7, 2012
curt fissel, voices and visions, new jersey video production, video production, new york video production, voices and visions, video editing, video marketing, social video
This week’s tip is for keeping video files organized during the editing process and it comes from Voices and Visions senior editor, Curt:
I use a program called Name Changer. It’s a free download that allows you to title your files sequentially and quickly. Keeping everything organized as it’s captured cuts your work in half. I also developed a label system to help me separate a-roll from b-roll.. I’m working with an intern right now and my producer needs to be able to understand what the intern is doing — and the next intern needs to understand what has previously been done; this is why we need a uniform system.
See last week’s tip on Video SEO.