February Top 5

Drum roll!!
Day 35: “We all need a pep talk.”
Day 34: “A broken body isn’t a broken person.”
Day 38: “Fragile earth in wide angle.”
Day 58: “Cheetahs versus hippos.”
Day 48: “All kinds of minds.”


Day 59: Take ‘the other’ to lunch

Within each one of us are a multitude of personalities.

Elizabeth Lesser grew up in a politically active family of ‘warriors’. These warriors were intelligent, opinionated, driven and believed such traits didn’t fit with spirituality, or the ‘mystic’ personality as Lesser terms it. She was the black sheep of her family.

Lesser spent a long time looking for meaning at a time when it was unpopular. She went to mass, read Sartre and Socrates and watched as gurus from the East began to wash up on American shores. Her warrior nature made her concerned about world events; she has spent her life working on environmental and women’s issues. Her years of a mystic have made her proud not to know everything.

Lesser finds herself attracted to rare people who pull off devotion to humanity with the grace of a mystic and the drive of a warrior. Unfortunately a lack of understanding between individuals prevails. With this in mind, Lesser decided to introduce her initiative, “Take the other to lunch.”

The premise behind ‘Take the other to lunch’ is simple. Pick something from the opposite side of the debate as you; an individual who is anti-abortion, your neighbour who doesn’t believe in global warming. Take them to lunch and get to know them. Decide on a goal, be curious, conversational and don’t try to convert.

Before this talk, the left wing Lesser took a Tea Party activist to lunch. Over the course of their conversation, they marvelled at the stereotypes for each group which didn’t match anybody they knew. They never pretended their differences would melt away over lunch, yet each left with a better understanding of the other.

This work is difficult. It’s about 2 warriors dropping the pretence of knowing it all. But it’s worthwhile. In the words of the Persian poet Rumi;

“Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing there is a field. I’ll meet you there.”

Day 58: Cheetahs versus Hippos

George Ayittey told a TED crowd in Arusha, Tanzania in 2007 that it would rank as the most important conference in the beginning of the 21st century. He also pays tribute to the TED fellows for their organisation of it, saying African governments wouldn’t put together something similar without asking for foreign aid.
Ayittey unleashes a further torrent of controlled anger against African rule. The old ruling parties he describes as the ‘hippo generation’; those people who won’t introduce economic or other reforms as they benefit from the status quo.
There are lots of Africans who share his views. Africa is a continent rich in natural resources. Yet more than 40% of the profits from such resources leave the continent. Capital flight out of Africa amounts to about 80 million dollars yearly. Corruption costs 148 billion dollars. Ayittey describes the modern African leadership as consisting of Swiss bank socialists, pack revolutionaries and vampire states. Since 1960 there have been 204 heads of state on the continent. Most people would struggle to name 20 who worked for the good of their people.
It wasn’t always like this. Ancient African business operated in what Ayittey calls, ‘The Cradle System.’ Using this model, the extended family had ownership over the land. They used the commodities they produced themselves and sold the remainder for a profit which went solely back into the family. There was free trade throughout. Cities such as Timbuktu had massive market places. But when the continent was gradually colonised, Western leaders wrongly decided Africa was ready for socialism.
The ‘cheetah generation’ encompasses the many groups of people who want to fight against the establishment. Many in the African Diaspora have acted as agents of social change, particularly in Ayittey’s home country, Ghana. Ayittey encourages more people to mobilise themselves for justice. Together, he says, they may take back Africa one village at a time.


Day 57: Franco Sacchi tours Nigeria’s booming Nollywood.

Apparently it costs 10,000 dollars to cut a decent feature film in a week in Nigeria. So what are we waiting for?

The Nigerian film industry, or Nollywood is 15 years old and began as a grassroots movement without external aid or government funding. It has developed into a 250 million dollar industry, the third largest in the world, in a country where thousands live on less than a dollar a day. It is a subsistence industry which produces over 2000 films yearly.

In this talk, Italian filmmaker Franco Sacchi discusses his personal interest in the African film industry and shows footage of Nollywood stars in action.

Sacchi was born and spent the first several years of his life in Zambia. When the family returned to Italy, he noticed his parents had a tough time telling stories about Africa. Their friends and neighbours wanted to hear the 2 stories they imagined. These were either those of despair or a romantic re-telling of ‘Out of Africa.’ Yet Sacchi knew Zambia as a country where he had lived, like any other.

No country has ever existed without the telling of stories. Sacchi and the Nollywood stars have a dream. They want to keep the story of Africa as it really exists alive. They hope for more collaborations between filmmakers both within Nigeria and beyond.  In the words of a Siberian elder;

If you don’t know the trees you may be lost in the forest, but if you don’t know the stories you may be lost in life.”


Day 56- The Arts Festival Revolution

Broadway producer David Binder wants arts festivals to move out of the theatre. One of his examples of this is none other than the Sydney Festival, where he found himself at a site specific theatre project in Minto on his first night in the city.
His experience in Minto was eye opening. The audience walked from house to house, with homeowners performing autobiographical dances on their front lawns. In Binder’s opinion, Syd Fest represents a new type of arts festival, which is open and transforms communities.
Arts festivals began throughout the world in the rubble of the second World War. Edinburgh festival and the hundreds more that popped up in the 1940s and 50s brought seminal shows to the world and helped to reunite communities. As time passed, these became the establishment and something new had to emerge.
This new generation of events includes experimental art, audience participation and street events. In 100% Berlin, 100 people are chosen representing the race, gender and class of the city. Back to Back is an Australian company for people with disabilities, placing actors in the midst of the audience as a reminder of who and what we edit out of our lives daily. The Sultan’s Elephant consisted of 2 giant models on the streets of London. Barely nine months after the London bombings, this was lauded by ‘The Guardian’ and hundreds of residents of the city as an effective means of bringing about a sense of community and healing.
Binder tells us there is no single model for an arts festival. In today’s ever changing world, the variety of new festivals should fully capture the complexity of our lives.

Day 55: Filming Democracy In Ghana

Swiss-Ghanaian filmmaker Jarreth J. Merz went to Ghana in 2008 to film the presidential elections. After a lifetime of struggling with his own sense of identity, the director discovered that the country he’d left behind in the 1970s was finally establishing its own.

Ghana was the first Sub-Saharan country to gain independence, in 1957. In the 1950s it had the same GDP as Singapore. Today Singapore is a first world country; Ghana is definitely not. In Ghana in 1979 Merz experienced his first military coup and watched the execution of the former head of state on live television.

During the making of, ‘An African Election,’ Merz witnessed the changes in Ghanaian democratic practices firsthand. After a first round of voting was tied, the campaign began again. With it, came the beatings, mobs and guns on the streets. But when the gunshots died down he heard the voices chanting. They called out for peace. The second round of elections went ahead and the rightful winner was elected; in stark contrast, Merz tells us, to the 2006 U.S. presidential elections which relied on the Supreme Court rather than the people to pass judgement.

Much of this talk alludes to Merz’s personal journey of discovery. While he’s not there yet, he has witnessed Ghana creating democracy beautifully, proving that an African Country can rule itself.


Day 54- The Art of Creating Awe- Rob Legato

In James Cameron’s TED talk he tells us he wanted to make Titanic so he could explore the wreck in a submersible. The result was a series of stunning underwater shots, interspersed with the opening of Jack and Rose’s story. But look again at the opening sequence. Some scenes show 2 submersibles. While James Cameron was 3 miles underwater shooting his footage, Rob Legato was in a garage near the studio with a model wooden boat and 2 ‘submersibles’ the size of footballs Cato create the underwater scenes Cameron was unable to get. Legato was rewarded for his efforts with an Oscar.
In this talk he shows videos of how he achieved this and other special effects. It’s essential viewing for filmmakers. There’s rocket scenes from Apollo 13, including the landing, which was achieved by throwing a model out of a helicopter. There’s the scene from Hugo where Sacha Baren Cohen gets his prosthetic leg caught in a train; the movement of the train was simulated by having a camera moving with the floor moving simultaneously.
The shot sequence which Legato is most proud of also takes place in Hugo. As Hugo moves through the bowels of the train station, squeezing underneath clocks and along hidden corridors, Legato wanted to create the impression that this was his special world. He decided to follow Hugo with a camera constantly to achieve the feeling that the scene was shot in one continuous take. To achieve this, they set up a special rig, used 2 different boy and five different sets. Legato asked a friend why the shot got his best ever reviews. His friend answered with a phrase which must sum up the goal of many VFX projects; ‘Because no one knows you had anything to do with it.’