I've been faced with many challenges, especially relating to on the one hand, the need and desire to film "reality" (ie not just performative pieces like cute kids singing songs), and on the other, a discomfort with filming in difficult situations. I'm noting how my own anxiety and the perceived and/or real discomfort of the subjects play off of each other. The dilemma came up abruptly when four of the children’s (siblings) biological father was very sick with TB and in the hospital. He was an alcoholic and absent most of their childhood and thus they were in the care of the school/home where I'm filming. Still, they loved him and would go visit him in the hospital. The relationship was complex: the 14 year old boy, Rajendra said to me, "I love my father, but I don't like when he would beat my mom".
The following was published in Care2
I often tell people, casually, that I don’t really like apps. They say, “but you’ve been working for two years to launch a mobile app business!” This is true, but it’s not that I think the technology is so cool; rather, apps are tools, which oftentimes end up creating more problems. How many of us have more time now? Sure, slicing flying fruit and flinging cartoon animals across the screen is fun, but these only provide fleeting distractions, until the next gimmick replaces them. Do we have shorter attention spans, and a jaded sense of excitement? It’s not that technology is inherently a waste of time, or that people shouldn’t use it for entertainment, but the proportions are, in my opinion, off. Luckily, there are truly useful apps and programs that facilitate everything from “micro volunteering,” to helping people with autism communicate better. There’s no reason that technology cannot continue eroding the perceived dichotomy between doing good and having a good time, but to do so, we must offer consumers a range of technological tools to fit their needs.
Impossible Foods, a startup with $75 million in venture funding is reportedly working on a meatless burger that bleeds. Yep, bleeds. Gross, right? Well, no, that’s part of the appeal, apparently. As a society we are (usually) so squeamish about blood and bodily functions that it is surprising that something so otherwise well, off-putting would be considered a positive attribute. People often speak of liking the “taste” of meat, but does it really taste that good? Good enough to overcome the normal aversion to blood? Or fecal matter, which is found in over 90% of most US meat? Not to mention the host of moral, environmental and health concerns. The true draw to meat is likely a complex emotional attachment, which likely augments the perceived pleasure many people get from eating it. In making rational arguments against killing animals, and often overlooking or discounting these emotional realms as weak justifications, activists are focusing too much on being right, and missing opportunities to actually influence more people.
The following was published in Care2
Though the primary motivation of most volunteers is helping others, not personal recognition, they are less likely to quit if they are thanked for their service (New York Cares 2009). With US non-profits losing $30 billion annually due to high volunteer attrition (New York Cares 2009), why are there not more programs to thank and reward volunteers? As co-creator of Reward Volunteers, a mobile app that attempts to do just that, I realized that part of the problem lays with prevalent societal attitudes that value volunteers’ self-sacrifice and the appearance of humility.
This is a "news story" reflecting on the rise of "Godless" religious traditions amongst students at Stanford University. Written in 2008.
The statistic is well known – when kids leave grade school they’ve seen 8,000 murders on TV (AAP, 2007); and perhaps less well known-- advertisers spent $450 billion on advertising last year, often targeting youth (Economist, 2007). Turning the lens – literally giving kids cameras to make their own media-- holds much potential to counter such negative trends, both for participants and viewers, but can also raise many ethical issues. This paper will analyze the most effective and ethical approaches to collaborating with youth in filmmaking. Using Chain Camera (Dick, 2001) and Tenderloin Stories (VYDC, 1996), as case studies, I will discuss a number of potential benefits to youth filmmaking – in terms of the positive impact on the youth first, society second and filmmaker last -- as well as potential ethical shortcomings.
Though the light from the sun may shine nearly uniformly, when reflected on different people, the shadows appear in distinctive shapes. Like sun rays, the techniques used in both Children Underground (Belzberg), and Dark End of the Street (Okazaki) -- share many similarities, yet the uniqueness of the two groups of subjects spawn sufficiently different results. Both filmmakers, working in some degree with disenfranchised youth, present hands-off relationship with the subjects. In Dark End, this generally works to raise awareness and elicit sympathy, or at least concern. When dealing with young children in The Children Underground, however, the filmmaker’s “detached” approach backfires – the viewer’s feelings of sympathy and outrage at the situation are overwhelmed by confusion, questions and indignation at the filmmaker’s techniques. To illustrate this, I will discuss the apparent subject-filmmaker relationships, in terms of their lack of interference, interview techniques, narration/background info, and music.
[This was written in 2008, and is therefore somewhat outdated]
During India’s Independence struggle, people flocked to movies dealing with difficult social issues such as child marriage and the treatment of widows (Kaul 132). So, why, today is it so hard to find social issue films/documentaries in India? Is the class of producers and would- be consumers just apathetic? Is life so hard that watching three - hour fantasies is a necessary coping mechanism? Does the government censor films that deal with unflattering issues? While these, as well as broader economic and historical factors play a role, the majority of social issue documentaries are, unfortunately for their popularity, often anti- Bollywood. The Bollywood aesthetic – hereafter referred to simply as ‘Bollywood’ – a conglomeration of borrowed and created devices used repeatedly in Hindi fiction films -- is very popular. Independent documentaries might never be able to compete with big budget fiction films, but they can integrate some of the popular aspects to be more accessible to audiences, without losing the integrity of their mission.
[This was written after my first filmmaking trip to India. While filming Jeevodaya: Hope through Education I met Bhaskara, who inadvertanly led me to the Children's Project, the subjects of my current films. ]
Bhaskara’s dusty bare feet, which poked out from oversized pants, shifted until he caught my attention. He didn’t ask me for my south Indian breakfast, but just stared hungrily. I handed him a 2-rupee coupon (about four cents). That would suffice to buy a large scoop of oopama -- hot wheat cereal with tomatoes, onions, chilies and spices.
The term "racism" is being thrown around too much – masking the underlying issues facing new immigrant students. "Immigrant students share their frustrations with legislators" states that, “They [students] said too often they are segregated into English-as-a-second-language classes and are discouraged from rising to higher-level classes” (BFP 2/24/12). If this “segregation” is based on race, as opposed to English-medium academic level, then it is racism – otherwise it’s not.
[This is the first part of Nilima's undergraduate thesis. Please Contact me if you'd like a copy of the whole paper. This thesis won UVM's Wertheimer Award for Best Political Science Honors Thesis, 2006].
Only one half of the citizens in India -- the world’s largest democracy -- can read and write (UNICEF, 2005). As globalization flourishes, including industrialization and media technology, uneducated people suffer marginalization and disproportionately few opportunities. This project analyzes the Indian elementary school system’s failures on behalf of the poor and the potential use of media (broadly defined) to mitigate these failures.