First Rough Cut!

We have finally reached a first rough cut of my new documentary film The Circle: Stories of Murder and Justice!  It’s been a long time coming.  I began exploring indigenous peacemaking circle work in 2007 with support from MassHumanities and LEF Moving Image Fund, as an exciting example of traditional culture being “repurposed” to address contemporary social issues.  After observing several amazing programs in Oakland, Chicago, Boston, and Nogales, AZ, I met Janet Connors, was amazed by her story, and began filming with her in December 2012.

Several years and 60 hours of powerful film material later, I was feeling frustrated at constantly juggling this documentary work with freelancing, teaching, and non-profit media production.  So I rented a little house on Cape Cod and my editor Shondra Burke and assistant Anna Graham holed up for a week last December to pull our first (five-hour!) assemblage together.  It was so fun going back to old-school index cards to build our structure.


That really jump-started the process.  We have now shaped our material into our first 90-minute rough cut of the feature film.  We’ve also come up with a long list of short videos we can create to help schools, prisons, and other groups develop their restorative justice programs.

Full steam ahead!

Learning About Learning

We have just published the fourth of six stories in our iBook series Touching Home in China: in search of missing girlhoodsin which two teen adoptees return to the rural towns in China where their lives began, meet girls growing up there, and learn from them how learning happens in 21st century China.

The interactive book, rich with digital media, invites Westerners into the school-day lives of Chinese girls. From an early age, family and teachers direct children’s total attention toward preparing for China’s life-determining standardized tests. Our interactive graphic explores the foundational Confucian principles that guide learning. Each girl’s score on key national exams determines her next destination. With videos, photo galleries, interactive graphics and narrative text, we follow these girls as they leave their rural towns to live at vocational programs, attend universities in China, or travel alone on a first visit to the United States to enroll in a university. 

Touching Home in China is a transmedia project, anchored by its iBook stories and its storytelling website. Its content is enriched by commentary and news about the circumstances of women and girls that appears on our social media platforms Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube. This project unites two American adoptees with six Chinese girls whom they meet for the first time as teenagers in the rural towns where each of them was born but only the Chinese girls grew up. The Americans are back “home” to learn from these girls what their own lives might have been like as daughters in 21st century China.

A curriculum for middle school to early college students is available on the Touching Home in China website.

What a Loving and Beautiful World

Photo: Harvard Crimson

We are producing a new set of videos for the Radcliffe Institute (Harvard’s institute for advanced study) and as part of the process I got to document the installation of What a Loving and Beautiful World at the new Johnson-Kulukundis Family Gallery in Byerly Hall.

This amazing melding of technology and art is a work of TeamLab, a collective of several hundred Japanese artists, designers, engineers, and programmers.  They work in a non-hierarchical mode with the collective assuming authorship of each piece.  What a Loving and Beautiful World is one of the best meldings of technology and art I have seen (another example is wonderful microscope imagery on display in the lobby of MIT's Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research).

The TeamLab piece involves large interactive projections on all four walls of the darkened gallery.  At first, Chinese and Japanese characters float across a minimal landscape.  As viewers touch these characters, they transform gracefully into the images they represent.  Those images then interact with each other – the bird flies to the tree, the sun makes the flower grow, etc. – to create a unique experience for every viewer.

Toshityuki Inoko, one of the creators, told me through a translator, “When we are living in the city, feeling our modern lives in the city, we don't necessarily understand that all of our actions somehow affect the world, resonate with the world and affect one another.  By creating an artwork like this, which is highly interactive and which one has agency to make the world of the space, to mold the environment, we like to think that one is made more aware of one's actions in the world as well. This is a work in which we hope people take more agency in the world.”

What a Loving and Beautiful World will be up at Radcliffe through December 19.

To learn more about Radcliffe, check out Investing in Ideas, a video I made for them in 2013.

21st Century Skills

Our video Incorporating 21st Century Skills in the Classroom, produced with Jobs for the Future, has been uploaded to the Students at the Center Hub. This website is funded by Nellie Mae Education Foundation and offers a wide range of resources for families, students, and educators interested in student-centered learning.

In this 20-minute video, U.S. History teacher Charles Willis and Chemistry teacher Leanne Collura share their strategies to teach not just their subject matter but 21st century skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, communication, collaboration, and creativity.  We spend a few days in their dynamic classrooms as Willis's students take the lead in exploring the lead-up to the American Civil War and Collura's students apply stochiometry principles to air bag design.

Revere High School principal Lourenco Garcia also highlights how the school's flipped classroom model develops 21st century skills by giving students more agency in the learning process.

This school is amazing and I loved getting to know the students, teachers, and staff there! I hope to have a chance to visit and further document their development.

Transmedia Story Full Launch!

Melissa Ludtke and I have just launched the website for our transmedia series Touching Home in China: in search of missing girlhoods. Now we add a website - functional on desktop and mobile - to the project's presence on FacebookTwitterInstagramYouTube, and iBooks. Our launch coincides with the 20th anniversary of Hillary Clinton's declaration that "women's rights are human rights once and for all" at the UN Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing.

The project explores girlhood in 21st century rural China through the eyes of two Chinese-American adoptees and the girls they meet in their "hometowns." The first of six stories has been uploaded, and the remaining installments will come over the next few months.

I have learned a lot about this new medium through our collaboration, and am excited to add more stories!

A Circle at Strong Oak's

On Monday my assistant Anna Graham and I had the privilege of filming a circle meeting of Boston's Restorative Justice Collaborative in the Berkshires at the home of Strong Oak Lefebvre.  Strong Oak (center, with talking piece) is an indigenous restorative justice leader and one of the founders of the Visioning Bear circle to prevent sexual violence.  (Visioning Bear has been recently addressing other issues of concern as well.)

In typical circle fashion, the conversation was honest and spontaneous and involved a lot of personal storytelling - in part around the question of what it means for non-native people to use a tradition that originated with native peoples. Participants also talked about what drew them to circle practice in the first place.

It was a moving conversation, and I hope to include it in my upcoming documentary, The Circle: A Story of Murder and Reconciliation in Boston. If you are interested, please follow the film project on Twitter or like it on Facebook!