Category

// Behind the Lens
JUL
21
2015

Immigration Turf

As my first piece for The Game Changers Project I am tackling the issue of immigration raids on Latino families in the United States. I think this issue is not really focused on in mainstream media, and it is Latino filmmakers’ responsibility to address these topics and how it affects the Latino family unit.

I come from a family that was unconstitutionally deported in the 1920’s, despite my grandmother being born in Newport Beach, California. This experience has shaped my identity and I often use it to relate to my students who have experienced undocumented status in this country.

Keeping this in mind, I have developed a concept for a short experimental dance video with my students to explore the topic of immigration raids and the effects it has on Mexican families. I partnered with local non-profit United Roots and dance group TURF Inc. to create an interpretive dance video using the rich Turf Dance tradition that was homegrown by some of my students here in Oakland. For those of you who do not know, Turf Dancing is a form of Hip-Hop dance invented in East Oakland back in the early 2000’s, which continues today. It has become a staple form of expression in Oakland Hip-hop culture, and I thought it would be great to amplify that art form to be used as a vehicle to discuss political issues that affect the often-unrecognized Latino population in Oakland.

Currently the Department of Homeland Security has an “ERO Program” which is deporting thousands of people every year. This program is rarely mentioned in any journalism outlets in this country, yet they regularly lead large-scale raids on private residences and destroy thousands of families every year. Some of the statistics displayed in my film will speak to the commonality of this experience in the Latino community, and how it affects children with deported parents.

Aesthetically, I have adopted the Rasquache tradition in the Chicano community in the film. This is an art form that was popularized by Luis Valdez and El Teatro Campesino during the 1960’s, as they led an artistic revolution to support the United Farm Workers Movement in California. Rasquache refers to a state of impoverishment, or a working-class method of ingenuity that is comparable to the term “ghetto” or “imperfect”. It is a socio-political form of expression that describes a uniquely Chicano aesthetic that makes the most out of the littlest means. In adopting this artistic approach, I have chosen to use a film grain effect for the first part of the film, and shoot the second half of the film on my Iphone to highlight the Chicano filmmakers lack of resources. This decision not only allows me to match the form with content, but it allows me to further my own research in inspiring a “Rasquchista” Revolution in filmmaking. For more information on this movement and how my own media collective is advancing this movement, please click here to visit our Green Eyed Media Collective’s “Manifesto for the Modern Guerilla Filmmaker”

http://cinesourcemagazine.com/index.php?/site/comments/towards_a_rasquache_cinema_a_manifesto_for_the_modern_guerrilla_filmmaker/#.VYMLS2AQafQ

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JUL
21
2015

African In America: A Creative Bridge

In my first discussion with the GCP Producers at the beginning of this fellowship we spoke about using one of my films to explore the connections between Africans living in America and African-Americans. As the daughter of a Gambian immigrant this topic hit very close to home. After talking a little about my dad’s experience in the States, we all agreed that looking at his life here could provide an interesting perspective into the subject.

My dad’s creativity is the backbone of this piece. As a batik artist and photographer it’s what has allowed him to build a career here in his adopted country. The images he paints reflect the scenes from home that have remained on his heart over the years. He puts everything into his work, it’s an integral part of who he is. As a result, everyone who comes into contact with my dad’s work gets a little piece of him, and a little piece of Gambia as well.

His creativity extends beyond his canvas and into the kitchen. When he came to the US food was one of the only physical ties he could maintain to home, so he taught himself to emulate the flavors he grew up tasting. When I reflect on my own life, my dad’s cooking was was the first and most consistent element of Gambian culture that I had growing up, and it remains one of the most memorable elements of my childhood and adolescence. Whether he was cooking for just our family or for a big crowd, his food has always been a very tangible way for him to share his culture with his loved ones and friends in America.

In terms of production, I wanted to connect the dots between his cooking and his painting to show that both are extensions of his creativity, his personality, and his world view. The dish he prepares in the piece is called Benachin, which is a Wolof word that translates to “one-pot” in English. It’s a staple dish in Gambia and Senegal, served as both a common meal and when people welcome others into their home. Though he only cooks on screen for a short time, this dish really embodies what I wanted to convey in the piece. In terms of my dad’s personality, it represents how he takes everything that life throws at him and uses it to make something positive. “One-pot” is also a metaphor for the idea of the American melting pot. Though we know that idea works far more in theory than in real life, it well reflects the optimism my dad had when he came to the US, and the hopes that many still carry as they make their way to this country.

Lastly, cooking Benachin serves as a virtual welcome for the viewer into my dad’s creative process, into our family, and into Gambian culture in general. In his own peaceful, methodical way my dad has used his creative gifts to show the world how connected we are as people across the diaspora. He will continue to advocate for us to build stronger connections as we collectively fight for our freedom, and it will continue to be a privilege for me to call him my dad. I hope you enjoy the piece and I hope you enjoy getting to know a little more about him.

-Njaimeh

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OCT
10
2014

They Have a Voice: Actor Helps Homeless Youth

Working on the “Unaccompanied Youth” film was and eye opening experience. First of all, I got to meet and interact with the actor Edwin Lee Gibson. He is a remarkable person who gives so much of his time. His ability to connect and interact with youth is really inspiring. He is a lesson in how opening up to kids about your issues helps them to understand their own predicament.

Obviously with a subject matter this sensitive every precaution had to be made to protect the kids. I knew this going in but got a real appreciation for putting these measures into place during this project. Filming at the shelter required very specific instruction and several layers of checks and balances.

The topic of unaccompanied and homeless youth is very detailed. What I wanted to convey with this piece is that they deserved to be heard. Edwin Lee Gibson provided the perfect manifestation of that message. Hopefully the viewers will walk away understanding that regardless of who we are and what are circumstances may be, we all have voice.

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OCT
08
2014

The Script, The Badge and The Game

By Vincent Cortez
When I stepped into the Marsh Theater in Berkeley Ca. to meet Jinho “the Piper” Ferreira I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’d seen a brief excerpt from his one man show, “Cops and Robbers”, which immediately impressed me – but for this particular story I wouldn’t just be asking questions about his play, but asking questions about his job as a Sheriff’s Deputy.
I showed up early to the theater in hopes that I would be able to shoot some of the prep. Not only was I able to do that – I was able to sit down with with Piper and conduct our first interview. His story came to life as he recalled the road he took to get to where he is: a road filled with reflective experiences that guided him to work in his community as both an artist and as person seeking to genuinely protect and serve. I filmed his show that night – including the open dialog he holds at the end of each show, a “talkback”, where he invites a member of law enforcement on stage to talk about what they do and answer audience questions.
Given the history of negative police activity in minority communities, Piper is preaching and practicing the only true solution to the problem: the community should encourage and create it’s own police. There is an investment and a value that a member of law enforcement has when the people that you serve are the people you live with. You learn to fight not against the people, but the circumstances and scenarios that drive people into criminal acts.
From that point I would spend a few more windows of time, following Piper around while he was in uniform, observing the positive work he is doing, including his role at the Community/Youth Center. My time conversing and interacting with Piper, both with the camera rolling and when it was off, give me hope for a brighter future when it comes to law enforcement and it’s relationship with community.
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AUG
07
2014

Dominic Ware: Changing the Corporate Game

In capturing Dominic Ware’s story, a story of resilience and solidarity, I was given the opportunity to connect with a young man that has both potential and ambition to spark change. Working with him, meeting his family, and seeing him really connect with his own past and where he wants to go in front of my lens was a honor and a blessing. All of the subjects I interviewed really believe in and are working towards changing the corporate game – and breaking down the “profit over people” model that has become so embraced by large companies, like Walmart, in our society.

The most challenging part of the process was having to tighten up and trim out much of the rich content I was fortunate to capture. There were so many facets to Dominic’s story and the struggle he is in to change the corporate mindset, while empowering the everyday, working person, that I had to go through multiple stages of letting go of certain elements to focus the short doc and keep the running time around 6 minutes.

Overall a great experience – I was able to work with some one who shared a love for our hometown, Oakland CA, and believed in the strength of our diverse and united community.

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AUG
07
2014

Carter G. Woodson Academy

Filming the Omega Carter G. Woodson was such a pleasure and a learning experience more than anything. I was amazed by the program and its leaders. While filming I wanted to convey the level of commitment of these men to not only the kids but the material. After several interviews it was my opinion that the program was driven more by the need for teaching the this material more so than having black males teachers. Hopefully that comes across.

As with any video of this type, coordination of schedules and locations can be a challenge. However, the Omega men opened their fraternity house to me which made things much easier. Also, being from Pittsbugh and dealing with our weather turned out to be a blessing in disguise. When I was assigned this project the Academy was scheduled to only have closing exercise and no more classes. Thankfully, a snow storm pushed their schedule back a week and allowed me to get the footage of the classrooms that I needed.

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NOV
04
2013

Bill Generett: Urban Innovator

We beat our drums and dance to them. Your beat is methodical; My rhythm is fluid; We connect to our cores. Our dances, though different, are proof that our drums lead us to the same place. I am interested in telling ethnically specific stories with universally resonating themes. Whether my subject is Muslim women, an African American lesbian or black men, I am working from the premise that we are not simply what others see: we are all that we can grasp and hold together; and, if we look closely, we will see that we are grasping at the same things. My work explores the process of seeing through superficial cultural barriers in search of the commonality between individuals of disparate cultures. I am presenting evidence proving that we may find ourselves in one another, demonstrating that all of us are beating our drums and doing our dances.

I am participating in The Game Changers Project because it is an opportunity to profile black men in Pittsburgh who have a global perspective. I believe that sharing the stories of men committed to rebuilding, revitalizing and reimagining the black community in Pittsburgh is an invaluable exercise in responsibility. For instance, William Generett Jr., Esq.’s story intrigues me: from Shady Side to Morehouse to Emory Law to Japan to D.C. and back to Pittsburgh with an unwavering commitment to help others reimagine their lives and reach their full potential. To often, young black men in Pittsburgh know everything about the latest rapper who made his fortune after dropping out of high school and narrowly escaping a life of self-destructive violence, but know nothing about the community leaders, educators, executives and business owners who used education as the path to their fortunes. I hope that in telling the stories of men like Bill Generett, I am able to help a few knuckleheads see the world beyond their hood and reimagine themselves moving through the world dancing to the beat of a different drummer.

SEP
19
2013

Who’s Your Brother? People Helping People

Is a man’s character truly his destiny? Heraclitus was a Greek Philosopher who thought so. The statement could also be conveyed as a man’s character is his fate, and even further a man’s character is his god. I think a lot about this when you begin to meet and interact with someone. Asking myself why do they do what they do or think how they think? I suppose at the end of the day it is Character the drives us to make certain choices.

I saw a post on IG today that said “Character is what someone does when there is nothing they are hoping to get in return”. This makes sense to me as so many times we do things because of what we get in return. Let’s face it; most of us are at a job 40 plus hours a week, not because we are expressing our characters or our passions, but because we are getting something in return for our time and labor. I wonder what that says about our society as a whole. And if it’s not OUR character then whose is it.

“Who’s Your Brother” is a nonprofit organization in Pittsburgh that is definitely changing the game. Their mission and what they believe is a new way of thinking, is to have people helping people in any given community without the exchange of money. Nothing in return! At least that’s the mindset we must go in with. We all see communities riddled with violence, low income/single parent homes. Communities with people hurting and in need. But what about the next door neighbor, can they help out? Lend a hand. Or are they so focused on the varying aspects and issues (we all have them) in their life to see that someone needs them. Ask yourself this question, have you helped in some way at a minimum 5 people in your community? “Who’s Your Brother’s” goal is to help you think about that, and if you want to do something about, they can help. (www.whosyourbrother.com)

When was the last time that someone challenged you in regards to your character? I believe that someone’s character can shift at various times in someone life. I know it has for me. Does this mean I have entertained different destinies, fates, or gods throughout my life? I believe it does. I have seen these things play out in my life. But I think being tested to ask yourself who your brother is, is something that has helped me in that shift. A brother treats another brother with love and respect. A brother is family! And family is something that many people have sacrificed for and an idea we can all get behind/understand. That idea seems to fade away when it comes to the neighbor who needs help cutting their grass, could use a couple bags of groceries, or whose son benefit from being tutored in math.

What destiny do you are long for? And are you willing to recognize someone as a brother and serve them to achieve it?

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SEP
12
2013

Scholarship Is A Code

Scholarship is something that I think many of us take for granted. It’s more than getting good grades or going to the right schools. Scholarship is a code. Like being a samurai, or a ninja. Or a knight, or a gentleman. Or even the code of the street. But it takes a scholar to recognize another scholar. And being a scholar is not something that can be faked. It has nothing to do with school. It is an approach to life that can be exemplified even by individuals who hardly ever set foot in a classroom. Abraham Lincoln had in total no more than a year’s formal schooling throughout his youth, but became self-educated by taking on private mentors and through voracious reading, eventually becoming one of our greatest presidents. Such achievement is the essence of scholarship, and it has nothing to do with grades.

The same could be said for Frederick Douglass, who began to educate himself after being taught how to read illegally by the wife of his “master”. Frederick Douglass went on to become a great author, public speaker, statesman, and overall profound and formidable intellect on behalf of the abolitionist movement not only because of his intimate knowledge of the inner workings of slavery in the South, but also because of his tremendous command of the English language which made some even doubt whether or not he ever was enslaved.

And so conceptualizing scholarship as a system of coded principles became something very attractive to to me. Making it almost like a fraternity that one belonged to. On the surface, I think this is what the Delany Scholars Program attempts to do through its nine principles. However, it takes more than principles on a sheet of paper to awaken the spirit of young men. It takes at least one individual who already embodies those principles who is willing to shed blood, sweat, and tears in order to pour that same spirit into his or her young initiates. This is true mastery. Not sitting back with a title and salary, but the intimate pouring out of one’s own spirit into one’s own students, even when there’s no paycheck involved.

I have been best friends with Reginald Hickman since the first grade. Because of this, I have had the opportunity to see him evolve in terms of his own scholarship. I can personally attest to the code he lives by as a scholar. We did six years of elementary school together, and then we went to college together where we were roommates for a time. As a result of this close proximity, it has been fascinating to observe “Rege”, as I like to call him, develop not only himself as a scholar, but also to watch the unique community of scholars that he belongs to evolve around him.

We are black men, who are faithfully married to our wives, each with our own sons and daughters. Our wives go out together and our children play together, and a few times a year we all gather for meals, and birthday parties, and New Year’s celebrations at each other’s houses. We laugh together, cry together, and share in each other’s joys and sorrows. While there are principals and medical doctors and Ph.D.’s among us that hardly matters. What matters is that we are a community. And scholarship is one of the primary codes we live by. It is something that we all value and that we all as individuals, as parents, and as a community are instilling into our children.

Rege is a game changer at home. This is the most fundamental reason why he is poised to be a game changer in the Woodland Hills School District.

We Still Rise!

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SEP
04
2013

Mike Logan: From the Super Bowl to the Community

I have the pleasure of being in the media, although time consuming and stressful, it has tremendous rewards. Mike Logan is a former NFL player that started his playing days in McKeesport, PA and told me he has always had a love for the sport. He was a standout in high school, so much so that he was recruited to play on the collegiate level at West Virginia (Mountaineers). After playing with great intensity, he was drafted to the NFL by the Jacksonville Jaguars. He landed back in Pittsburgh with the Steelers and finished his career with the team he grew up watching. Before retirement, he won a championship with the Steelers in Super Bowl XL (40) over the Seattle Seahawks 21-10 in Detroit.

Now that his playing days are long over, he is giving back, this time as a coach. He currently serves as the special teams coach for USO Football in Pittsburgh, PA. USO stands for three schools, University Preparatory, Sci-Tech and Obama Academy respectively.

Logan loves being instrumental in molding the minds of young people by teaching the game of football and applying that to life. For instance, he says it it imperative for the players to embrace proper attire on the field that will translate to real world situations like job interviews. Speaking in general about today’s youth, “I see so many young guys with their pants hanging down” he says. “We use football as a venue to teach life’s lessons.”

Logan also believes that coaching is a great tool to help with school work due to the complexity of the sport. Head coach Lou Berry told me that the players embrace Logan’s knowledge of the game and look up to him having played for the NFL. Berry, visually elated about having a Super Bowl champion on his coaching staff, says “not too many people can say that”.

Players Abner Roberts V and Curtis Williams were excited to do interviews with Game Changers about how Logan has helped them both in football and in life. Williams told me that he was helped significantly with school work, while Roberts stressed how the lesson of refraining from misusing social media and learning how to treat women stood out most to him.

I shot video over a course of three days to see Logan’s interaction with the team and I must say, it was magical. In my media career, I have covered 7 Super Bowls and Super Bowl XL was my first. As a native of Pittsburgh, it was a pleasure for it to be my first big assignment. After the game, I was able to interview Mike Logan on how it felt to be from the Pittsburgh area and win a Super Bowl. Logan told me it felt great. In his remarks, he didn’t focus on the personal gratification of winning, yet he payed homage to those who got him to this point in his life. Logan is a true class act and a true Game Changer.

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