I was walking down an unlit Havana street at half past midnight when two guys materialized on either side of me. I had just spent the evening filming a Cuban jazz concert and was loaded down with expensive gear. I wasn’t about to give in without a fight, so I started looking for a way to defend myself. I picked up my pace, forcing the two men to do the same, but it was still three blocks before I found the perfect weapon.
Second-floor Havana apartments almost always have balconies so that people can sit out and catch the breeze - and keep an eye on things. The one I stopped under had a granny in it, clad only in a nightgown.
By now the men were getting quite aggressive. One reached out to tug on a camera strap, while the other said ominously, “you have so many cameras, why don’t you just give us one of them?” I pulled away and parried verbally for another thirty seconds. Then I looked up and said in my best little girl’s voice, “Abuela, ayudeme.” Grandmother, help me.
The old woman pulled herself half out of her seat, glared down at the three of us, and started screaming at the two men in a voice loud enough to wake the dead. I’m not sure exactly what she said – she didn’t have her teeth in – but those two guys disappeared so fast I thought I had imagined them. The granny then pointed at me and said, “Come up.”
She was blind - but she’d heard me and figured out exactly what kind of trouble I was in. her name was Marta and she’d lived on that block for 72 years. She knew every birth and death and secret worth telling.
We shared a bowl of rice and beans and become friends. I went back to see her almost every week. I got some of my best stories that way.
It was the first day of class, and the 11th grade North Carolina students were excited to start working on their documentaries. But the teacher had other plans. She wrote a simple sentence on the board:
The students copied down the sentence and dutifully filled in the blank. Most of them chose Jose, a recent arrival from Mexico who was quiet and hadn’t yet made many friends.
It wasn’t until the project was two-thirds over and the students started looking for music that they realized Jose was a genius on the keyboard. Not only could he make drumbeats sound like the Sahara wind, but he could add emotional undertones that would bring everyone to tears, or hope, or joy.
At the end of the project, the teacher wrote the same sentence on the board again. This time, when the students handed their answers back to her, not one of them had filled the blank space in.
Are you an business manager who has always dreamed of being a Hollywood filmmaker? A mother of three who knows exactly what Frontline’s next story should be? This may be your chance to try your hand as a producer, at least for the most creative part of the process – coming up with the ideas.
Next summer we plan to film global issues within North America. As part of our field preparations, we are looking for topics that have an international focus and that will shape America’s future. In general, successful ideas should follow certain rules:
- Issues must be filmable – there has to be a tangible, present-day dilemma that we can capture visually. World War 1 is a critical part of global history, but very difficult to film without a Hollywood set and a thousand extras.
- Ideally, we would wrap the story around an individual or family so that students (and their audiences) can identify more personally with the issues. The prison system is not about breaking laws, it’s about someone who has to face time behind bars.
- The subject has to be focused enough to get your mind around. The US political system is too broad.
- It can’t be so dangerous that our only producer is going to get shot. The Mexican drug trade is out.
- Unless you can pull strings for us, some topics are basically impossible to get. The prison idea is great, but do you have any idea how hard it is to get permission to film inside one of those places?
Possible topics: Immigration. The Amish/Cajun. Some aspect of health care/nutrition, or water rights/resources. Recycling.
Please send us your ideas! Karin@karinmuller.com
"You are influencing a new generation of filmmakers, activists, policy makers, and humanitarians and I just want you to see how far-reaching the effects of this project will be!" Teacher, CA