Wednesday, August 30, 2006

India Days Four and Five

That last couple of days have been incredibly hectic, so I haven't had a chance to write until now, on the morning of our sixth day.

Day Four had us starting the day by visiting the school our young filmmakers attend - a private school with a student body of about 2,000 kids from pre-school to 12th grade. It's a huge, modern looking school, though with little air conditioning save for the computer labsand some offices. We were treated to a tour of the campus, where we were at times mobbed by crowds of excited kids. We felt like rock stars. The school, by the way, is not religious, so the kids represented a cross section of India's (more weathy) population.

From the school, we returned to the community center, where our kids joined us. We began shooting their film in the blazing hot India sun. Sun block, at least for us, is critical here - as it bug-spray. The kids are working on a short film about a girl who returns to India after having been gone for eight years, and finds that much has changed. The first scene had her walking along a road with her bag, having just gotten off a plane. At first, she's disgusted when a small group of beggar children (whom they recruited from a poor family living in a shack nearby) surround her, asking for money. She then finds another kid and aks for help finding a pedicab - He tells her that she doesn't need a cab - there's a metro (train) now. She's shocked. It took a couple of hours to shoot the scene, including extensive debates, usually in Hindi, among the young filmmakers. I often had to interrupt and ask for clarification on what precisely they were debating...bottom line - they got the job done. We're hoping they're finish shooting today. After a full day with the kids, we returned to the hotel (early, for a change) for a nice, leisurely dinner.

On Day Five, we met the kids again, and hopped on a bus for a three-hour ride to a rural school located just by a beautiful ancient temple, set on a great pool of water. We were treated like honored guests, and presented with traditional costumed dance and music performed by the children. The kids at this school were even more excited, and eager to shake our hands and wave excitedly at the camera. After about an hour at that location, we seperated from our film kids, hopped in a care, and took a three-four hour drive to Agra, to visit the Taj Mahal. We've discovered that there are no highways in India, at least not in the way we understand them. Most are two-lane highways, some badly maintained, and none set apart from people and less advanced transportation. It's a rough, sometimes frightening journey.

When we reached the outer reaches of the Taj Mahal grounds (it's about a mile or so from the parking lot to the Taj Mahal itself), we were immediately accosted by an army of kids sellling postcards, t-shirts, and the like - they were constantly begging us to buy from them, no matter how many times we told them we weren't interested. Finally inside, we passed through a gateway building - and there it was - the famous gleaming monument to love, featuring incredible detail and handicraft at the closest inspection. The Taj is simple a tomb - it never was anything but a tribute to a lost love.

The trip back from Agra to our hotel in Delhi took 5-6 hours - including about 30-45 minutes wasted when our driver headed in the wrong direction. As frightening as the roads are, they are positively terrifying at night. We wondered whether we would make it back in one piece. As I've written before, we are constantly bombarded with images as we drive though Delhi and the surrounding area. I remain amazed.

Today, we work with the kids in the morning and travel to visit another (closer) school, and meet the mayor of Delhi in the afternoon. We'll then be treated to dinner at our host's home. All in all, it will be a less grueling experience then yesterday. It's good to be "home."

Monday, August 28, 2006

India Day Three

Today was our first day working on moviemaking with the kids - 18 disciplined, bright and creative kids who believe in their country and its promise in the future. There has been so much change in India in just the last few years that even kids that are fourteen or sixteen years old can recognize the transformation: the construction of highways, the development and expansion of a new metro system, and goverment's continuing efforts to help India's desperate poor. That hasn't lessened the sheer desperation we see everyday in the poor - and in old sections of Delhi, buildings seemed almost draped in haphazardly hung power lines. Still, the kids believe that things can and will change.

We developed with them the plans for short video about an Indian who returns to the country after several years, and is shocked at some of the changes that have occurred - and wonders why she has stayed away for so long. On Tuesday, we begin shooting.

After we finished for the day, we were invited to visit with Mr. Singh, a trustee of the community center where we're working. He spends a good portion of his time living in Calabasas in the San Fernando Valley, near whilch most of his children live. He's a true American success story, having begun small distribution company seling just cigarettes to a diverse company with an enormous warehouse. He's retired now, and can afford to keep homes going in both countries. At the insistance of his children, he gave up wearing the turban that Sikhs are known for. After 9-11, it became dangerous for a while to wear turbans in public - though Sikhs were not involved in any way with the attacks. Most less-educated people assoicated the turban with Osama Ben Laden. Several Sikhs, in fact, were attacked or killed for just that reason.

I continue to marvel at the wild cows and yaks that wander aimlessly throughout the city, and glimpses of child labor that also seems fairly common in some areas. Last night, we saw a team of young children helping to pave a road at 11:30 at night.

It's been a long day - I write again tomorrow.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

India Day Two

We're back from our second day in India - a day full of history, and more and more of the drama of everyday life here.

Our first stop was at the mansion, now a museum, which was the home of India's first prime minister, Nehru, followed by a visit to a museum about Gandhi - India's legendary hero of the fight for independence (and the proponent of fighting for change through non-violence. Gandhi's museum featured a state-of-the-art multimedia presentation - while Nehru's was somewhat ragged at the edges - like most of India's infrastructure.

We also spent a couple of hours at a religious festival featuring dozens of craft booths - we all came home with a load of goodies....the dollar goes incredibly far here. We had dinner tonight for five people for ten dollars - and it was a lot of food. We ended the day at a fairly primitve, but nonetheless interesting sound at light show at the Red Fort, a huge, ancient military fort that has been the center of several critical events in India's long history, including the announcement of India's indepence in the 1940's.

Some of India's infrastructure seems like it's crumbling, while there's numerous improvements road improvements underway.

Still, the streets are teeming with people, and we are constantly pursued by beggers.

Tomorrow, we begin what we came here for - teaching teens filmmaking, and taking the first steps in creating an international connection with young filmmakers in America.

More tomorrow!! I'm offf to sleep.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

India Day One

It's 1 am after our first full day in India. We had a fantastic breakfast buffet at the hotel, followed by a trip to a beautiful, modern government cultural center, lunch at one of the finest Indian restaurants in town. From there, we went sightseeing around town, driving through diverse areas, from the governemnt center (with the imposing colonial-era architecture), to the desperate poverty we've heard about - numerous people, seeing our caucasion faces, have come knocking on our car windows, or followed us arouind marketplaces - children, women with babies in their arms. A filthy little boy banged a drum and his sister did cartwheels outside our car as were stuck in traffic, then came knocking. It's very awkward, of course - we really don't know how to react other then to ignore them - the Indian people must practice a real mental disconnect from the world around them.

The sights we see as we drive around really enforce the description we've heard that India is a nation of contrast. We've seen gleaming new corporate skyscrapers contrasted with numerous bulls and goats and such roaming free on the steets, pedal and the occasion horse-drawn pedicabs sharing the road with all kinds of vehicles in a constantly mad, chaotic race.

Our final sightseeing stop was at an ancient Islamic shrine (I don't recall the name at the moment), which lies in ruins, except for a huge tower (I've seen pictures of this before). The ruins were spectacular - the mosque had to have been huge. The ruins have all the scale and majesty of Roman ruins - there's so much of the world that we, as Westerners, are ignorant.

From the ruins we went to visit "Spice World," an entertainment and shopping center that opened in the last few years (and may be opening a branch in Los Angeles soon). The multiplex there includes a 35 seat theatre that features fully operational reclining chairs, and food service direct to your chair. Finally, we had dinner at a brand new restaurant that's opening soon in that complex. We had a special preview, and all seven of us were attended to by the entire staff. The food never stopped coming. The English, incidentally, is a bit difficult to understand - most of us pick up only about 50-70% of what even our hosts are saying. We're doing a lot of nodding knowingly - though we're sometimes clueless!

Now, we're back "home." We're going to take it easy tomorrow morning, and then continue our adventure in the afternoon.

Sunday, August 13, 2006


A few weeks back, I was at a party being given by the father of one of the teens in the summer filmmaking workship (see earlier blog). I became aware of an unusual CD playing in the background. It turned out to be "Visions" by a group called Libera - a boys' choir, no less, with a modern twist. It's generally found in the "New Age" section. From what I understand, Libera mixes the tradition boys' choir with modern compositions and instrumentals (i.e. rock influenced).

I find the music haunting at times, and generally fascinating. I've never listened that closely to a boys choir - this makes it accessible. Though I'm new to Libera, they've been around for over ten years. They have a modest following around the world, though their particularly popular in Japan.

Here's the album I just purchased:"

There are three selections I recommend in particular: "Always With You," "Libera" and "We are the Lost."

Saturday, August 12, 2006

A New YouTube Star...

Over the last couple of weeks, a new star has emerged on the YouTube video site. YouTube, for those of you who don't know, is a place where almost anyone can post a video (except pornography). Content ranges from teen skateboarders, practical jokes, excerpts from favorite televsion shows, animation and assorted humor, to video blogs.

In that last category, a 78 year-old widower living alone in England has become one of the top attractions on the site. He's not outrageous or shocking - he's simply honest - and that's what's attracting people of all ages to watch his five minute musings on both his own life, and the world at large.

YouTube allows the viewer to subscribe to a particular individual's videos, so that their latest creation will allows appear when the subscriber signs on to YouTube.

As of this writing, "geriatric1927" has 5,821 subscribers - and he only posted his first video on August 5th! To put that in perspective, he's already the 11th most subscribed "channel" of all time - #1 for this week, and already #1 for the month. His August 5th video has been viewed 254,694 times.

Take a look at his latest - you're almost certain to hear about him on the news fairly soon. In less than a week, he's become a legend:

Wednesday, August 09, 2006


Later this month, I'll be traveling with my associates at Roads End Enterainment to New Delhi, India, where I'll be continuing the "FreshiFilx" program that began this spring in Los Angeles Unfied School District (and also encompassed the film camp I discussed in a previous blog). We'll be teaching filmmaking to middle-school age kids for about a week - and exploring New Delhi, a city of which I which I currently know little. This is the sort of traveling that I think is particularly worthwhile. I'm generally not satisfied with seeing landscape or landmarks. Why travel anywhere if all you seek is a postcard image?

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Apple Reborn

I finally got my Mac Back this past Friday - so far, so good - it seems to be working. I'm crossing my fingers. Of course, now one of my external drives is making a strange noise....