Posts Tagged ‘www.JEMGLO.org’

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.

 

Corporate Video Production: An Idea A Day: Day 9

December 9, 2011

Last in the series of nonprofit video productions that I have written about this week, today’s blog is not accompanied by video because it focuses on a client who runs a battered women’s shelter. This is a sticky area for video: Always reliant on substantial funding, organizations like this require video to make emotionally moving points, yet ensuring the absolute privacy of their beneficiaries is paramount. Our video production company was delighted to have the challenge of aligning these seemingly contradictory needs.

We advised the client to focus solely on the stories of three of their clients. We understood that the video would have impact if viewers got wrapped up in the unfolding of events as told by the women who underwent them. No statement by an executive of the organization telling viewers in a third party way about their clients’ tales of violence or directly making a pitch for funding would be nearly as effective as hearing the obvious needs from the victims.

Finding the spokeswomen, of course, was up to our client. They opted for two women who had already had successful outcomes in their experiences with the organization and were now on their own as well as a third who was newly admitted to the shelter. The first two were comfortable being seen on camera with the understanding that the video would only be screened to a select group of donors. They were extremely grateful for the help they had received and felt that they would have talked to the contributors in person if asked, so video was a natural extension. The third woman wanted to remain anonymous. For the purposes of the production, however, we did not want the screen to simply be black while viewers listened to her voice. Rather, we interviewed her in a room that we set up with bare lighting that put her in a dark shadow, completely unrecognizable. We knew that in the final video we edited, the viewer would be able to see some movement as she moved her arms, for instance. It would be enough to keep an audience fixated on the screen at the same time as they heard her relate the frightening circumstances that had given rise to her decision to reach out to the shelter. Indeed, the shadowy backdrop would add to the drama of her story.

We were also cognizant that for this video to be successful, we would need the women to open themselves up in emotionally challenging ways — on camera! It is a complex art of interviewing to get beyond the superficialities of a first meeting in a short time and dive so deeply into a person’s heart that she (in this case) feels comfortable enough to reveal some of her most vulnerable memories. That was the task before us, for which we are able to lean on our vast experience in documentary production around the world interviewing a broad range of people in different cultures who confront countless types of situations. Yet every situation, every person, is different. Sometimes the right approach is difficult to gauge. Particularly in situations like these, each person must be treated tenderly and empathetically; at the same time, we need to be focused constantly on getting the sound bites and eliciting the emotions that will be effective in the final script and expressed in a way that will ensure smooth cuts in the editing stage.

The video we ultimately created had three segments of under two minutes each, one segment for each of the women. The opening faded from black to the name of the first woman the client wanted to highlight. Dissolving out of the black to a close-up of her face, the viewer was able to see the intensity of her eyes as her story unraveled. At its end, the screen again went to black, then immediately up to the name of the second woman, with the same pattern for the third, whose identity was written in an anonymous way. Some necessary cuts to accomplish the storytelling succinctly yet passionately required b-roll cover-up with the two women who agreed to be seen on camera. We were able to videotape a small amount of b-roll after each interview, and they provided us with a few personal photos to use. Cuts with the woman cast in shadows did not require b-roll cover; the dissolves between shots were so subtle that they were unrecognizable, and the viewer stayed focused on the scary screen image.

We received excellent reports from our client about the effectiveness of this fundraising video after they screened it privately to their select group of prospective donors. We are confident that it was successful, since a few weeks later, a member of that group called us for a quote for another organization with which she was involved!