Posts Tagged ‘Ellen Friedland’

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!

 

 

In Tokyo, sharing a real corporate video shoot with a fictional character

November 5, 2013

In one of the climax scenes of the novel 1Q84, the protagonist Aomame goes to Hotel Okura in Tokyo. She is moments away from a foreboding encounter to which an Alice in Wonderland series of events has been tensely building. Despite evidencing a personality that combines inner strength, courage, integrity, and selective sensitivity, Aomame feels an uncharacteristic apprehension, perceiving the unexpected presence of an undefined and potent hand of fate at work. She waits in the oversized, opulent lobby for an escort who will bring her to the room where her antagonist will be waiting.  Alone amidst a crowded diversity of people moving to the buzz of unlimited agendas, her mind skirts between its very rational and methodical proclivity and the nonsensical world that has somehow crept into her life.

I write this on an airplane, three hours away from landing in Japan’s Narita Airport for a corporate video shoot. I am here with Curt, my husband who is a director of photography for our company Voices & Visions Productions. This will be our second trip to Tokyo, so its sprawling urban landscape will not come as a surprise. On our last trip we had dinner one night on the top floor of our hotel and were seated at a table next to a large window overlooking the city. Actually, it was only a wedge of the city. Yet I remember thinking that the vision before us spread inescapably to the horizon, harboring within its dense mass infinite numbers of people and offices and stores and restaurants and everything. Like hotels.

When the logistics of this current trip to Tokyo were being planned, the office manager of our business client offered to reserve a room in the hotel where they have a corporate rate located a block away from their workplace. Eliminating for us the daunting task of choosing between countless hotels in the complex grid of Tokyo neighborhoods, we took them up on their kind gesture, then received the e-confirmation for a room at Hotel Okura.

lobby of Hotel Okura

lobby of Hotel Okura

 

I was reminded of Rick’s line about Ilsa in Casablanca: Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine.” Of all the thousands of hotels in Tokyo, our client booked us in the one where this pivotal moment in the best book I’ve read in years takes place.

I am a big fan of Haruki Murakami, the author of 1Q84, and especially of this particular book. It took me weeks to finish the 1,200-page odyssey since I am often working until after midnight, leaving me exhausted when I lay down in bed at night and open a book. For the first third or so, I read two chapters a night, but by the time I got to the middle of the book, my appetite for the plot grew voracious. Each night after I closed the book, the characters and plot danced through my dwindling consciousness into my dreams. They would fade into the paper of the book’s pages through most of the daytime hours when the real world of documentary and corporate video production would dominate my brain. In other words, like Aomame in that pivotal scene, the book transported me to a mental place of vacillation between the real world and the fictional world of Murakami.

It’s been a few months since I finished reading 1Q84, and some of its details have begun dissolving from my memory like the ending slate of a video we create. As the long United Airlines flight to Murakami’s city approaches our destination, my mind is transitioning into the concrete producer/writer roles in which I feel comfortable. But I confess that, immersed in the setting of Hotel Okura, I will not be able to avoid looking out for the imaginary Aomame and the ominous meeting she has in a room that may be located down the hall from the one where we will be camping out the next four days.

Fortunately the nature of our work is creative, so the influence of imagination in video storytelling – as much for a corporate marketing video as any other type – promises to be beneficial.

 

On the Road Again…in Bonn, Germany

September 7, 2013

I don’t have favorites, never have. I’ve always found confusing questions like: “What is your favorite color?”  — I like all the colors of the rainbow and the hues in between. Same thing when people ask me my favorite places to travel. My husband Curt Fissel — who is a director of photography and my business partner – and I (a producer/writer) are constantly on the global go for corporate video production and documentary shoots, but I don’t have a favorite destination.  There are aspects of each place I appreciate, so I thought I would write some blogs from the road, elaborating on things that make me smile in different locales.

 

Last week we were in Germany, videotaping for a private equity client that had just sold a company in its European portfolio and wanted us to produce a video highlighting the corporation and its impressive success over the holding period. When we finished all the field production relevant to producing a top line video, we took a few days to ourselves, visiting close friends who live in Bonn.

 

Enjoying sunny days with temperatures in the mid-70s, everyone we met told us that the winter there had lasted until the end of July. In fact, the past year in northern Europe has been exceptionally and uncharacteristically cold, snowy and rainy – much worse than usual. Curt and I had been well aware of that. We’ve been working on a project in Normandy, France for the past few years, and Rouen is listed in his phone’s weather app. Every morning since last mid-September we have had the same conversation:

 

Curt (checking weather in various locations we frequent): “Rouen: 50 degrees and raining.”

 

Me: “OMG. I’d feel so depressed.”

 

Yet that was not the weather that greeted us in Bonn last week, after the late spring climate had finally arrived on the cusp of July meeting August, and we had the chance to frolic in a few of the country’s attractions.

 

One of my favorite activities in Bad Godesberg, the little hamlet where our friends live, is jogging on the pathway that contours the Rhine.  Settled into rising hilltops along this segment of the majestic river are ruins of once-imposing castles. The age-old strongholds still convey a bygone aura of feudal importance, overlooking through cataract-type vision the goings-on of the world at their feet. Sightseeing cruises and cargo ships pass me as I run, reminders that the countryside’s natural counterparts (e.g., the river) run timelessly.

 

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Later in the day we all hop on board a train that also travels along the Rhine’s path. Whisking us south about 35 km., we get out in the village of Ahrweiler to partake in a winefest. Yes, you read it correctly: A winefest in Germany. Formerly not known as a serious competitor in the world of quality wine, this region has joined many others worldwide in improving its reputation, with impressive results. The vineyards in the Ahr Valley – known for its red wines — sit on 45 degree angles sloping up the sides of the Rhine. The fruits of the vines were exhibited in booths lining Ahrweiler’s main square, which framed the festival and the events taking place inside. An old-fashioned German brass band blared music to the much-anticipated annual election of a Wine Queen. A few speeches later, the coronation took place, after which the new queen was greeted by throngs of happy villagers holding bottles of locally grown Pinots and Rieslings. The year was 2013, of course, but it could have been 1913 or 1713. Unlike the physical castle structures along my morning jogging path, these old customs have survived in tact.

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Of course, even traditions are affected by change over time. Prior to World War II Ahrweiler had a small Jewish community. Apparently, the town was known as Nazi-resistant, but its Jews could not escape the Holocaust’s engine of death. No survivors ever returned to Ahrweiler. Significantly, however, the town has preserved the old synagogue, which is today used for cultural events. Curt and I, who have produced a number of documentaries on Jewish-related subjects, always visit these sites of former Jewish life in Europe. In Ahrweiler, our friends accompanied us to the former synagogue. We spent a few moments meditating in the atmosphere, listening to the voices in the wind and in our hearts, pledging anew to work to stamp out evil somehow, and experiencing gratitude for the energy of good people who remember, confront and commemorate.

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The next evening we visit a biergarten, the classically German hangout for the classically German drink. It’s as fun today as it was decades ago to sit at the tables covered with red and white-checkered cloths, surrounded by people drinking tall glasses of amber-colored beer with impressive white foam tops, toasting and celebrating everything always. (But in my opinion, with all the delicious craft beers available in the US today, the opportunity to imbibe the German selections are no longer the highlight of the biergarten experience.)

 

Back in Santa Monica, CA, I am working with some friends on an emerging project, www.EnjoyYourCoffee.net, which aims to be a travel website for coffee lovers around the world. Our Coffee Travel page lists good spots for coffee and conversation, beneficial for travelers to the region. Our group is trying to bolster the list of places worldwide, so wherever I travel, I try to visit the most popular cafes and add them to the list. In Bad Godesberg, my friends’ son Lorenz brought me to Café Lindentraum. The cappuccino was high quality and the atmosphere was quaint, but the conversations at each of the small tables were quiet and private (i.e., not group conversational). That’s a reflection of the culture, Lorenz told me. The same was true when I jogged along the Rhine: In many places where I have been, joggers passing each other share waves and smiles. Sometimes there’s even a “hello” attached in one language or another. Not here. It would be unfair to call it UNfriendly; it’s just not the nature of the culture to open up to strangers. In contrast, at the dinner party our friends hosted one night, we enjoyed conversations that quickly dove into interesting analyses.

 

I felt sad the morning of our departure. We had an amazing time with our friends. Their street fair was to happen that day, everyone on the block was cooking up something special to contribute, and the sun promised to continue shining. Anticipating the day’s events based on past years’ experiences, we were told that the young kids would run around and play together and the elders among the group would regale newcomers with stories that stretch back over decades.

 

Past, present and future live side by side there and find a way to communicate through the ups and downs of nature, time, governments, and people. And industrial and technological advancements whisk us across nine time zones and back to Los Angeles in about 11 hours so we can enjoy our coffee with our friends in Santa Monica a few hours after the fair has been cleaned up on our friends’ street in Bad Godesberg.

 

Visitor Center Video for National Historic Site

June 7, 2012

Sitting amongst New Hampshire hills, ponds, state forests, rivers, and covered bridges is an idyllic former summer colony in Cornish that was once home to America’s greatest sculptor, Augustus Saint-Gaudens.

Unbeknownst to me prior to Voices & Visions winning the National Park Service contract to produce a documentary-style film to screen at the Visitors Center of the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site, I had actually encountered the artist’s work many times before. A large equestrian statue of General William Tecumseh Sherman, led by the winged angel of Victory, is the centerpiece of the Plaza Hotel entrance to Central Park. First exhibited as a work-in-progress at the 1900 Paris World’s Fair, the General is depicted leading the march through Georgia to seize Atlanta for the Union forces. History has oft-quoted his candid statement that “War is Hell,” and in this great work of art, Saint-Gaudens creates motion and emotion in the bronze, with wind billowing back Sherman’s cloak and tension straining his facial features.

Yes, it’s clear: I loved this project! The footage that we used was shot in 2009 by a company that produced a PBS documentary, but it was owned by the National Historic Site. Upon getting the job to produce a 15-minute informational video to be viewed by visitors to the grounds, we were provided with 60 hours of unedited interviews and b-roll, as well as the opportunity to become art history students of the life and work of Saint-Gaudens.

As a writer, this job started with me. I spent a week feeling like I was researching for a major term paper, but the library was mostly in the form of oral accounts that I transcribed and imbibed. I supplemented this knowledge base with Internet-based facts and one old-world source of information: a book. Slowly the vision of Saint-Gaudens came to life in my imagination, then on my computer screen, subject to some minor revisions by the experts who have made the Historic Site their professional home for decades.

The sensitivity, beauty, and craftsmanship, yet novelty and originality that were the hallmarks of this sculptor’s works and were vivified in the script, inspired the motion graphics created by our designer Lori Newman and the flow of the archival and still images and video footage our editor Curt Fissel wove together. Diane Moser, a music historian, composer and performer, found and re-created period music from the Cornish Colony (recorded by audio engineer Chad Moser), adding era-appropriate feeling to works that were largely focused on Civil War heroes. And narrator David Rosenberg was so taken by the story that he has already made a trip up to Cornish to see the National Historic Site!

 

In retrospect I realize it’s a funny coincidence that all of our video production partners who worked with us on this film (Lori, Curt, Diane, Chad, David, and me) are from Montclair, NJ – a town long known as its own artistic colony of a sort. During the course of this project, we were all highly inspired by learning about the Shaw Memorial across from Boston Common,  honoring Civil War Colonel Robert Gould Shaw and the 54th Massachusetts Regiment — the first volunteer regiment of African American troops raised in the north; the monument to Civil War naval hero Admiral David G. Farragut, which sits in NY’s Madison Square Park; and in Chicago’s Lincoln Park, the impactful statue of a contemplative Abraham Lincoln in bronzed motion, rising out of his Greek-style chair.

Examples of Saint-Gaudens’ works can be seen in a number of spots across the US, but the Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site is filled with works that spanned his lifetime and give color to US history and his unparalleled personal experience. This national park is open from Memorial Day weekend to Halloween, 9 am to 4:30 daily, and is located at 139 Saint Gaudens Road in Cornish, NH, just off NH Route 12A. Please wander around and enjoy the grounds, but first watch the informational video to give yourself the contextual background that will elevate your experience.

The Streets of Philadelphia

February 9, 2012

As a true-blue-and-orange NY baseball fan, I am surprised to walk around the “streets of Philadelphia” and feel kinda like I’m in  — well — friendly territory?

Okay, okay, it is February 8, so obviously I am not at Citizens Bank Park, and the only time I will ever go there is when I can hold a broom on the third game of a series. And today, the day after the incredible NY Giants ticker tape parade, I see no green and white football jerseys wrapped around pedestrians’ bodies (even though Curt is hush, hush, swallow hard, say it, no don’t, in the name of honesty: an Eagles fan (gulp), having professionally videotaped them for the news for a number of years).

Nope. There are only two reasons (besides a sweep opportunity) that a committed Mets lover comes to Philadelphia. One is to see friends. The other is for business. I came here for both, albeit for less than a day.

When a meeting to discuss editing concepts for web videos for a previously prospective and now new client was set up at the corporation’s headquarters in downtown Philly, I decided to trek down there the night before and spend time with a close friend who’s a new immigrant to the city.

It helps that Cathy is working at the National Constitution Center, and her head was buzzing with exciting projects she is helping spearhead, including, as paragraph one’s foreshadowing hinted, an exhibit on Bruce Springsteen’s legendary career (February 17-September 3, 2012).

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National Constitution Center

And Cathy’s apartment, located in an adorable neighborhood with beautiful, old-fashioned row houses and yummy cafes, set a very welcoming stage.  Then there was the pleasant 2.5 mile walk I took from her home to downtown – no trains or subways needed like NY, no cars like NJ or LA.

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The Streets of Philadelphia

I don’t want to leave an impression of over-enthusiasm. I’m now on the Amtrak train heading back up to New York, looking forward to dinner in Manhattan with Lea from our office, my son Jared the Magician, and a close family friend.  Tomorrow Curt and I are off to our LA video production office, stopping en route to see my son Gabriel studying film at University of Colorado. Philadelphia is now in my rear view mirror, but probably not for too long since the process of producing web videos with this new client will be calling us back. So will Cathy; so will the “Streets of Philadelphia.”