“She Thinks Who She Is”

film

I had the pleasure of attending a free session associated with the Florida Film Festival 2017 #FFF2017 taking place this week in Orlando.

Titled, “Indie Women: Grab’em by the Movies,” the panel included Jennifer Brea (Unrest), Dorie Barton (Girl Flu.), Julie Sokolow (Woman on Fire), and Valerie Weiss (The Archer). It was moderated by Anne Russell, Program Director—Film Production MFA from Full Sail University.

It was terrific listening to these filmmakers.  It occurred to me that they all shared one common characteristic regardless of their experience or genre: confidence.*  They all shared the will to pursue creating a film they cared about, regardless of the professional cost.  I’m sure you could say the same for male directors, but after listening to the alarming stats– 5% of Hollywood film directors are female; only 20% of Indie film directors are female– you can see how it’s more laudable that these women pursued their art and are achieving recognition in a heavily male-dominated field.

One quote particularly spoke to me from Jennifer Brea:

Over the past two years, my two male partners and I have had some rocky ups and downs while bringing our film High Point 10-79 to life.  But, in the end, we consistently focused on what we were out to achieve.  When we show people the film preview, we always get the response we were after.  I know that feeling of satisfaction she is talking about in this remark.

There is no other medium like film to stir one’s soul in ways that need to be stirred.  I’m really looking forward to finishing our film.  It will be a powerful piece of storytelling that stands to ignite a movement. Stay tuned.

*This phrase was always meant to be a catty put-down when I was in high school. But, I always liked it.  I’ve always found if a girl has a lot of confidence, that’s about all she needs. 

Truth and Consequences

challenger

Before we were engulfed in the digital age, reporters depended mostly on human to human interactions to get the news. As a professional writer, you had to cultivate sources on the phone and in person.  You needed to be an expert listener and build trust with your sources.  It was a careful balance (as it is today) to get the story while protecting your source at the same time. Once you had the story, you had to cajole and horse trade to get a few sources to confirm the story on the record before you’d consider writing your piece.

I read somewhere recently that journalism is one of the few respected fields where you don’t need credentials to be really good.  It never occurred to me that this is true, although my experience certainly bears this out.  I’ve even heard it described more of a trade than a profession.

In the 90s, I was a columnist and a newsletter editor.  I penned an insidery trade publication that had a lot of clout in my corner of the tech market.  In those days, the trade and business media would rely on niche market newsletter editors to get the inside scoop on what was happening in the field.

One week, I had just gotten off the phone with a couple of sources who were spilling details about a big deal (measured in hundreds of millions) going on behind the scenes in Australia.  They happened to mention one of their company’s leading executives was flying home at that very moment after personally pitching the customer’s executive team.  These guys weren’t part of the leadership team, but they were solid sources. I could always trust them to be reliable, and them me. I checked in with them from time to time to confirm something I was hearing on the whisper circuit.  I had cultivated sources at many levels within the company I was covering by that time and getting confirmations was fairly easy when something big was going down.

The next day, I got a call from the corporate executive they had mentioned.  He wanted to talk to me about something unrelated, but mentioned that he was thinking of me the day before.  When I told him I was flattered he was thinking of me in his corporate jet half-way around the world, he was a little unsettled.  In fact, he really was shocked that I knew he had been flying back from Australia.

Things changed for me after that day.  The executives at the company became a little fearful of the deep sources I had inside the company.  A friend who was involved with someone doing PR for the corporation told him, “When Susan calls Dallas, butts pucker.”

That was a long time ago, and I’m not writing this to show off.  I want to use this example to explain something critical to getting to the truth of a matter.  In short it’s this:  in order for people to tell you the truth, they have to trust you. Earning someone’s trust is an iterative, slow process.  As a writer, you have to repeatedly demonstrate your sincere interest in learning the truth.  You have to carefully transcribe what a source told you into prose that accurately reflects what he or she said. And you have to wrap their testimony in accurate context – every time. No mistakes.  And above all, you can’t have an agenda in seeking out the truth.

Decent people want to tell you the truth.  There’s a powerful tool always working for a good reporter which is the human conscience.  Not surprisingly, unscrupulous people generally want to lie, confuse, and mislead you.

Where am I going with this?

Today’s political climate is filled with paranoia, distrust, and fear. Alternative news sources that are proliferating propaganda and skewed reports are reaching new audiences hungry to trust them as credible outlets. More importantly, serious news outlets being cast as dishonest and inaccurate are struggling adjusting to new business models.

“The media” – the highest profile, most revered publishers and broadcasters in the world – are under siege from factions (foreign and domestic) that benefit from their delegitimization.

While all this is true, I’m feeling optimistic that truth will ultimately prevail over media manipulation and “fake news.” In my experience, decent people operate regularly within a clear set of moral boundaries that define them.  These individuals will always seek reputable writers whom they trust implicitly to tell their truth.

While the media landscape is changing, what I know for certain is decent people share a common characteristic that transcends brands, pedigree, titles, or platforms.  It even transcends politics, race, ethnicity, and gender.

That common characteristic is integrity.

Good writers can sense it instinctively. Bad writers don’t need it. Networks of outlets and audiences strung together with alternative, fake stories will dissolve over time because they have no foundation. There will be too many disappointments and promises broken. A strong network based on mutual respect, trust, and honesty has truth as its bedrock. It grows only stronger and is reinforced with every interaction. At some point, it becomes impenetrable.

So, have faith in humanity as this new chapter in our history is written.  We’re going to survive this era by trusting ethical and moral principles that have stood the test of time.

 

Yes Virginia, There is a Universe

paintingIt was the strangest thing.

I was walking downtown in Orlando to present to a local Meetup of Data Scientists about Big Mountain Data. I had just arrived in Florida two months before from Texas.

It was early evening, and I was running late. As I briskly walked past an art gallery, I glanced to my left and there she was: “The Girl.”

I literally felt the image pull me toward her.

I “saw” her.

It stopped me in my tracks. I thought to myself, “This is the woman I’m working for.”

That night I even mentioned it on Facebook. The experienced stayed with me.

I was thinking about this piece of art this week, as Big Mountain Data is turning a corner in 2017.  The past two years have been rewarding, and I’m more hopeful than ever that we are on the brink of creating something truly meaningful.  My mind drifted to this piece of art.  When I saw it in the gallery, she had a hefty price tag, but I was thinking I might be able to afford this in 2017 somehow.

So, yesterday, I started doing some image searches from the photo I had posted  on Facebook.  I found the artist, and discovered she was a local.  She had a Facebook page, so I inquired if the piece was still available.  An assistant replied within minutes, and said she’d check.  The artist, Pamela Loudon, responded to me herself with an affirmative and asked me to contact her about it.

I thought about it and decided to tell her the odd story about how the piece “spoke” to me that night in downtown Orlando.  I told her what I do, and that I felt a strong connection to this work:

“I saw your piece walking past an Orlando gallery downtown. It was the evening of April 23, 2015. I was on my way to present to the Orlando Data Science Meet-up (a group of nerdy developers and data scientists). The artwork stuck with me.  It is something about the way the woman is fractured, kind of has a black eye, yet is surrounded with vivid color.  I felt a connection to the piece in a way I had never had a connection to a piece of art.”

Pam called me within moments of reading my email.  She had just returned from being out of the country for many months.

She said, “This is very strange.” She told me the history about this particular piece. That she was walking up a hill in Marseille, France and “The Girl” was pasted in burlap to a wall and a group of men were tearing her down.  She was moved by the work and told the men to STOP.  She pieced her together in her studio and started applying color.  She told me she felt this woman represented all women who are “torn off the wall by men.”

Long story short, as a traveling photographer and digital artist, Pam has visited places and witnessed events (including Nicole Simpson’s house in Brentwood) where women were abused horribly.  She told me that this piece was her first experience of how “spirited stuff” can find its way into art.

I always tell people that bizarre events happen all the time for me since I’ve been working on Big Mountain Data.  Coincidences and things that cannot be rationally explained.  Pam said, “You have to be open to the universe.”

I told her, I am.  I am.

The good news is she agreed to sell me the artwork at a price and payment plan I can afford.  She is happy “The Girl” is going to someone who truly appreciates her and will use her eery power in a way that will empower women everywhere.

Thank you Pam, and you out there in the cosmos working for us.