Day 41- Pangea Day; Jehane Noujaim wishes for a global day of film.

In a topic close to my heart, Jehane Noujaim affirms the importance of film and images in breaking down borders between individuals. As the 2006 TED prizewinner, she wishes for a global day of film to unite the world.

Noujaim is the daughter of an American mother and an Egyptian/Syrian/Lebanese father. She has a strong belief in the power of film to unite cultures. In 2003, two weeks before the U.S. invaded Iraq, she gained access to both Al Jazeera and the U.S. Military’s Central Command offices in Quatar. Through this, she was able to convey the different angles from which each nation covered the war and her documentary, ‘Control Room’, resulted.

During this insightful talk, we see footage from ‘Control Room’. For me, the most moving piece is that on an American press officer who describes the graphic footage shown on Al Jazeera. He had a mind altering moment when he noticed that his reaction was stronger on seeing the bodies of American soldiers when compared with those of Iraqis. Jehane tells us later that he finally left the army and worked for Al Jazeera, feeling he could somehow change the world through the media. In highlighting the differences in communication, Jehane asks a critical question about the true meaning of free speech in modern media.

Jehane’s hope is that others would be similarly inspired by a day of independent film, a day in which lone voices were heard and people around the world came together. She quotes Robert Wright, ‘If we have a respect for others’ humanity, they’ll have respect for ours.’ Her proposed name, ‘Pangea Day’, sums up her vision, Pangea being the supercontinent; world in unison. I echo her calls.

“As the world is getting smaller, it becomes more and more important that we learn each other’s dance moves, that we meet each other, we get to know each other, we are able to figure out a way to cross borders, to understand each other, to understand people’s hopes and dreams, what makes them laugh and cry.” Jehane Noujaim, 2006


Day 39: One Second Every Day

“Forever is composed of nows” Emily Dickinson

Life is composed of a series of moments, yet over time our memories blur so we can’t remember what happened yesterday, a week ago, a month ago. Director and producer Cesar Kuriyama decided to take action against this, by recording a second from every day. At the time of this TED talk, he was a year into the project and planned to continue it for the rest of his life, a feat which would leave him with 5 hours of footage if he continued until he was eighty. Kuriyama doesn’t use filters and doesn’t include himself in the videos. He learned some days it’s really easy to choose lots of videos; on the bad days, it’s also important to film the upsetting things, while on the boring days, it’s important to do something interesting.

Kuriyama challenges everybody to do the same… going into my 30th year, I accept!

Day 38: Fragile Earth in Wide Angle

Yann Arthus Bertrand is possibly the world’s most famous aerial photographer. His images aren’t always beautiful, as he aims to use imagery to highlight the many problems facing the world and its environment. It’s a powerful tool, as can be seen when he showcases his three most recent projects in this talk.

The series, ‘Earth from Above’, is a UN sponsored ecological project led by Bertrand. It is the result of almost ten years of travel and to date has been seen by over 200 million people and converted to a film in France. Here are some of the images Bertrand shows in this talk, as well as the thought-provoking caption accompanying each;
– A coral reef in New Caledonia. 100% of this may be gone by 2050 due to global warming.
– The North Pole. A new link has opened between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans due to climate change.
– The new ice-less face of Kilimanjaro. Within 100 years all of the glaciers may be gone.
– Village in Africa. 1 billion people in the world still haven’t got enough to eat.
– A refugee camp in Darfur. There are 50 million refugees in the world.
– A palm tree plantation in Borneo. Every year we lose 50,000 square miles in deforestation.

These are sobering facts to accompany amazing photographs. But landscape alone doesn’t tell a story; people do. As a showcase film for Pangea Day 2008 (the TED wish of Jehane Noujaim), he made ‘6 Billion others.’ The aim of this was to promote understanding between people. Over 5000 people were filmed talking about their lives, often in their native language. This talk features some of the footage.

Bertrand ends by speaking about his next project, ‘Home’, a movie filmed in 50 countries which he describes as a survey of the past and solutions for a better world. This was distributed free of charge and is currently available on YouTube.

Day 27: David Hoffman on losing everything

Since the beginning of 2013 dozens of houses have been destroyed and hundreds evacuated from uncontrolled bushfires in Australia. One of the most recent programs I’ve heard about involves the collection of photographs of the victims by friends, neighbours, former schoolmates and work colleagues. For most, these trinkets that make up a life constitute one of the main losses following a housefire.   
David Hoffman is a collector. He keeps articles related to his films, photographs, letters and posters. Eight days before TED2008, his house burnt down and he lost everything, including 175 films and 16 milimeter negative.   
Hoffman looked at his belongings; a desk that took 40 odd years to fill, the only copy he had of a print from when his film, “King, Murray” won Cannes in 1970.  He wondered if ‘he’ was his ‘things.’ Then he remembered something he’d heard as a kid, “Make the best of a bad situation.”   In an attempt to make the best of a bad situation, he called his daughter and friends to start digging through the ashes in an attempt to piece together the bits of his life. His next project is going to be called, ‘Bits and Pieces.’   
Hoffman spoke at TED before this, in 2007, when he shared footage from his documentary, ‘Sputnik Mania.’ He was fully appreciative of this chance to speak with an audience in Monterey about his way of dealing with his loss. He was, as he should have been, extremely proud.  

Day 7- James Cameron. Before Avatar, a curious boy

“In whatever you’re doing, failure is an option, but fear is not.”

A beautiful closing statement from James Cameron which could be applied in a multitude of instances in life. In this talk, the director reminds us of the importance of imagination, stating that curiosity is the most powerful thing we own.

As a child, Cameron underwent an hour long bus journey to school each day. He spent most of this time immersed in a science fiction book, imagining fantasy worlds which he later drew or painted. Children at that time weren’t exposed to video games, computer generated imagery or the vast range of images present in the media today and so he had to pick much of the imagery for these alien worlds he created out of his head.

In the sixties, Jacques Costeau’s programmes on diving and the rich underwater world he explored began to excite Cameron. He realised that while he might never go to space, he could one day see the exotic, otherworldly marine environment. As he says, ‘Nature’s imagination is boundless compared with our own meagre human imagination.’ The teenage Cameron persuaded his father to buy him scuba diving lessons and eventually he received his certification in a pool in Buffalo, New York, hundreds of miles from the ocean. Since then, he estimates he’s spent about 3000 hours underwater.

As an adult, Cameron chose the career of a filmmaker as he felt it was the best way to reconcile his urge to tell stories with the urge to create images. He created a series of science fiction movies, including ‘Terminator’, ‘Aliens’ and ‘Abyss’ (which featured the first ever movie soft surface computer generated animation character.) According to Cameron, Arthur Clarke’s law states that an sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. This explains the reaction of audiences to characters such as the liquid metal dude in Terminator 2.

With the intention of further pushing the boundaries of filmmaking and leapfrogging the analogue processes, Cameron set up the company, ‘Digital Domain’, which for a while in the early nineties gave them a competitive advantage. When Cameron initially came up with the idea for ‘Avatar’ in the mid 90s, the company lacked the technology to create a world in which the characters and human emotions were all computer generated. So he shelved that project and decided to make ‘Titanic’.

‘Titanic’ is a perfect example of the possibility for imagination to create reality. Cameron convinced the movie studio to fund a trip in a Russian submersible to the wreck of the Titanic. He shelved his Hollywood life for a while and decided to become an explorer. They created robotic vehicles to explore the interior of the ship, which nobody had managed to do before. Cameron followed his love of the deep sea with an interest in space and later became heavily involved with NASA. He’d come full circle from being a science fiction fan as a kid, to actually doing science work for real. Between ‘Titanic’ and ‘Avatar’, Cameron made numerous documentaries on his explorations, mainly for the joy of the task itself. He used many of the lessons from this period to lead his team better during the making of ‘Avatar’. He tells us that over the four year production period of ‘Avatar’, they became a family, working as they did in uncharted territory, creating new technology that didn’t exist before. The end result was a film which many describe as Cameron bringing back the ocean organisms and putting them on the planet of Pandora.

Neither of the storylines in ‘Titanic’ or ‘Avatar’ are high concept, yet this talk reminded me of the boundaries Cameron pushed to make both films. Many of his statements aren’t original, yet as people we continuously fail to follow our dreams. Cameron has done so, with the drive, intelligence and commercial sense he is blessed with and has been extremely successful. If you have a creative mind that needs to be kick-started into 2013, you could do a lot worse than to take a leaf out of his book.