Somehow I always end up crossing paths with the most interesting people while I am out jogging. Back in 2017, I was jogging in my OC neighborhood and passed by a home that had recently been sold. There was a guy diligently working in the yard with his dog nearby. Curious about the dog and wanting to welcome his family to the neighborhood I stopped to chat with the young man. Jason Michael was his name and he introduced me to his dog, a very large friendly German Shepherd named Max. It was a short conversation, and from that point on I stopped to say hi whenever I passed by, always talking about Max and Jason's latest landscaping project. His Texas sage bushes are stunning.!
A few months later, I stopped to give Max a few treats and Jason mentioned he was working on a new song about Max and my German Shepherd puppy (they played together by this point). WHAT!? He is a musician? I had no idea! We got to talking and I mentioned I was having trouble finding appropriate music for my latest indie project PATHBREAKERS. I asked if he knew any composers for cinema. Jason was very interested in the subject matter and immediately offered me access to his massive portfolio. Wow! Really? YES!
By now, maybe you all have heard the buzz about a film I directed called PATHBREAKERS. It was recently accepted to this years' The African Film Festival in the Best Documentary Short category. Everyone is asking how did this film come about? A while back during the filming of CORNERSTONE, I was approached by Sandra Washburn. Sandra, at the time, had recently started Oysters & Pearls (O&P), a mission based in Northern Uganda to provide tools and computer training to the blind and visually impaired. In 2015, she attended the launch fundraiser for CORNERSTONE and saw our film Hearts in the Himalayas. Sandra asked if her mission organization could be considered for a documentary project.
Funny how the universe works. Sometimes things just fall in your lap when you least expect it (or want) but exactly when you need it. In my last post, I mentioned I am on hiatus. I wrote about how I am burnt out from working, the stack, blah blah blah. Truth be told... I am also taking time off to take care of my terminally ill mother. In 2016, I came home from an overseas assignment to find her near death. Her condition, the result of neglect by her longtime companion. (Don't even get me started on that scum bag)
Ever since, every spare moment has been spent, with the help of my brother caring for mom in an attempt to help her recover. Guiding her through physical therapy, neurological therapy and more. She was completely unable to care for herself. I worked with her during the day, while my evenings and overnights were spent completing the film. Sleep was minimal. My husband and friends rarely saw me. Add on top of this, a career change for my husband and relocating our family. If this were not enough, I was also looking after my mother in law who suffers from Alzheimers. She is in a wonderful memory center, however I felt it important to check in on her regularly.
Unfortunately, mom took a turn for the worse after contracting sepsis. She was not expected to survive it. Even though she pulled through, I knew this was the beginning of the end.
So you see, I just did not have the time or the motivation to deal with the "stack". As mentioned in my previous post, the "stack" is composed of books, scripts proposals just sitting there waiting for me to tackle. On top of this stack was a little book that, well quite honestly, I never thought I would ever get to.
One day, a nagging voice just would not stop. It was in my head and directing me to read that book NOW. Why that book? Why now? I was still overwhelmed with everything and I had a few proposals that were much more attractive if I managed to spare the time. Why not read those first? So on a recent flight to visit my mom, I decided to silence that voice and read There's A Window To Heaven by Dr. Garrett L. Turke. As a journalist, I read everything with a critical eye and this was no different. Imagine my surprise when I found myself a crying mess within one chapter. Holy crap...That has NEVER happened before. Good grief! How on earth did this little book resonate so much with me? I could not stop reading it and I have to admit, I said a prayer asking that my plane would not crash so that I could see how it ended. I HAD to know.
I am sitting here in my office looking out of the window watching the snowfall. It is so quiet here and it is easy to get lost with each snowflake. But a stack of books and file folders sit on my desk in the foreground waiting and growing larger by the day. Eventually, the snow will stop and my focus will be redirected to that stack. The STACK. I do not dread tackling it. I look forward to the stories that await me.
The problem is, I am not ready to start a new project. GASP! My gosh! Did I just say that? I must be out of my mind! Not ready? Who says that? Who thinks that? Oh, let the whispers start! First off, let’s define “ready”.
My battery is drained. Spent. Dead. I have nothing in me to start. No, I am not depressed. It’s nothing like that. Simply put, creatively, when you put so much of yourself into project after project then add on top of that life outside of your projects, you cannot go on like this forever. One day you wake up and you realize your film sucks to high heaven or you just hate what you are doing. I don’t want that to happen. To avoid this I have decided it is time for me to take a much-needed break in 2018. This break means more time with my family and doing the things I really enjoy like hiking and traveling without working.
It does not mean I won’t keep my eye open for causes, but I will be reevaluating the work of Caring For The World Films and our future. CFTWF will have more films. The change will be on the subject matter. Will we continue with NGOs or move on to causes? We have grown so much over the last 11 years and our reputation has earned us respect of the industry. We can choose our own path and we will.
I cannot wait to read The STACK, but I am really looking forward to the recharge. I will see you in 2019 with hopefully a new project ready to go.
This past weekend was spent screening CORNERSTONE at The African Film Festival in Dallas Texas. It is always an honor to be accepted at a film festival, but this one really means a lot. The film festival focuses on African films and independent filmmakers. I was really worried about attendance to the screening because it was being held over a holiday weekend. However, that was all for not. Our screening was well attended. Even with all technical issues with the projector, the audience loved CORNERSTONE. Of course they are going to love the Nyaka story, Jackson, the children, the Mukaakas. How could they not? But, this time, people took notice of something. They noticed the cinematography. They noticed how carefully CORNERSTONE was shot. The audience GOT IT!!! THEY GOT IT!! This is something every filmmaker hopes for. Will they get the nuances of the film? The nuances of the sound, the lighting, the framing, the texture of the film. the editing, which are all so important to craft the story. Yes, they did. And they rewarded us for it. They gave us the award for Best Cinematography. The film was also nominated for Best Documentary
Feature, which was a great honor as two other Uganda films were also in the category.
From Director Debi Lang: I asked our Associate Producer Anna Ashford to submit a blog to share what the most valuable thing she learned while working with CFTWF
One of the most valuable experiences I took away from my month working for Caring for the World Films in Uganda was learning how to interview, and more importantly, learning how to interview ethically. As the Field Producer, (and also the owner of a British accent), Debi decided she would want me to conduct the interviews. I had never before worked on a film crew or in journalism so this experience was totally new to me. So what did I learn? The first, and most obvious, thing to learn about interviewing is to ask open questions, allowing the interviewees to give you the answer themselves and prevent meaningless “yes/no” answers. Furthermore asking open questions allows you to dig deeper, the most valuable cliché for any journalist. It is far easier said than done though I discovered. As we were sussing the ins and outs of how Nyaka AIDS Orphans Project works we had to dig deeper on numerous fronts, including several very sensitive ones; teenage pregnancies, family deaths and rape. So asking open questions is very important.
Coming up for air after a year and a half in production for the Nyaka AIDS Orphans Project documentary Cornerstone is nothing short of amazing. To think that it was only two years ago, that I met a very humble, but unassuming man by the name of Jackson who came to the US from Uganda to live the American dream, only to be pulled back to his village in order to save it. You all know by now, I am not easy to impress. As a journalist, I am jaded and suspicious by nature. I read Jackson's book "A School For My Village" and learned all about his non-profit organization Nyaka AIDS Orphans Project. I was intrigued, but my experience made him pay for those who embellished their stories before him. I decided to go take a look for myself with a young team of budding filmmakers. With Jackson's blessing, off we went in the summer of 2015 to check out the inner workings of Nyaka AIDS Orphans Project and to meet the people they serve.
Assembling the crew earlier this year, I was prepared to do just about anything to get Emily Jones on my team. When I proposed the project to her she was in, but there was a condition. She wanted her cousin, university student Anna Ashford to join us. Heavy sigh. I have bad luck on past projects inviting others I have never met so this was not something I initially would agree to. What if she is high maintenance? What if she just doesn't get what we do? What if she is lazy? And heaven forbid.... what if she doesn't have good chemistry to work with the crew or the people of Nyaka? But wait! Emily and I were on the Nepal trip together. I remembered someone named Anna being discussed in conversations with the physicians I met while filming Hearts In The Himalayas. The doctors raved about her and what a great person she is. They said I absolutely had to meet her. Could she be the same Anna?
Late in pre-production I received inquiries about adding additional crew members. I was getting a bit leery of adding more people since I prefer to travel light in order to keep a small footprint on assignments. My response was no, but that changed when one university student worked his magic to persuade me to at least hear him out. After some back and forth Facebook messaging (I guess that is what kids do these days in lieu of phone calls) I agreed to let him give me his pitch. Dylan is studying audio engineering and media production at Belmont University in Nashville. I met him when he was a young teenager and he always dabbled in music and anything techie. He proudly calls himself a geek but don't underestimate him. Dylan is also an experienced mountaineer, an accomplished snowboarder and skateboarder. He was a natural choice to shoot rider Nick Jone's latest video.
After he submitted a convincing essay on why I should have him on my crew, I thought it might not hurt to have an adventuresome techie (besides myself) along on the shoot so I invited him to join us. Dylan spent weeks assisting me with taking inventory, making sure all of the equipment was in good working condition then prepping and packing the gear for the long journey to Uganda.
Last week I wrote about my Director of Photography, Jan Kohler. This week, Brown University student Emily Jones is on tap. Emily… what can I say about this young woman? What can't I say about her?
For the Nyaka project, I knew I would need a good boom operator and all around production assistant. It would require someone who has a great work ethic, good temperament and positive energy. Emily was perfect for this role. She is one of those people you need to have on set when things go south or an interview gets a bit emotional. I am sure she does not realize this, but Em has a way of of looking at you and you know all things in the world will be good. I had no doubt she would be the perfect crew mate.
Debi Lang is a humanitarian and adventure traveler who never leaves home without her camera, well worn hiking boots and groovy headbands. .