Tag Archives: Documentary

Tradition or travesty? A TED Fellow’s documentary investigates the complexities of whale hunting in the Faroe Islands

For the 50,000 people of the Faroe Islands, a self-governing country within the Kingdom of Denmark, hunting long-finned pilot whales — a dark gray species found in their waters — is a tradition that stretches back centuries. These whales are a food source, and hunting them is considered an important part of Faroese culture. Today, the hunt, known as the “grind” (which rhymes with “wind” and is also the Faroese word for “pilot whale”), is highly controversial and divisive, despite the fact that the whales are not endangered.

Last year, photojournalist and TED Fellow Ed Ou and his filmmaking partner Elise Cokertraveled to the Faroe Islands to make a documentary for VICE, The Grind, about a standoff between the Faroese and the marine conservation society Sea Shepherd. For this doc — which you can watch above (warning: it does contain graphic images) — they filmed interviews with both the Faroese people and the activists who came to stop them, including Sea Shepherd supporter Pamela Anderson. In the process, they captured footage of the hunt itself.

We asked Ou and Coker to tell us more.

The Faroese hunt these whales for food — but to be clear, are whales still necessary for their diet?

There’s almost no native agriculture in the Faroes, and whales historically have been a staple of sustenance for the Faroese. They’ve survived into the modern day by fishing — including hunting whales — and raising sheep. Now, of course, the Faroese import goods from around the world. It’s true that if the grind were to stop today, the Faroese would not starve — but that is assuming nothing will ever interfere with global trade and a steady influx of shipments.

Those who oppose the grind often say the Faroese don’t need whale when they have access to resources from the rest of the world, but this suggestion that the Faroese should exclusively rely on outside sustenance strikes many as unfair and even somewhat ironic in light of the urban movement to eat local foods. 

The Faroese maintain that self-sufficiency is of utmost importance to them, and were it not for whales — a free, noncommercial, locally hunted food — they’d be significantly more dependent on imports. Plus, they question whether it’s better — both from humane and environmental perspectives — to import a pig from a farm somewhere in mainland Europe, rather than hunt a whale that swims by the islands. The other thing to note is that even when they are not hunting whales, their entire export industry is based on fishing and the resources of the sea.

Men drag dead pilot whales onto the beach during a hunt in Sandur, Faroe Islands on August 30, 2014. The tradition has endured for nearly 1,000 years. The grind usually occurs in the summer, but there is no set date or even a set season. A grind can happen at any moment. When a pod is spotted, everyone drops what they’re doing to participate in the hunt. Photo: Ed Ou/Reportage: Getty Images

Men drag dead pilot whales onto the beach during a hunt in Sandur, Faroe Islands on August 30, 2014. The tradition has endured for nearly 1,000 years. The grind usually occurs in the summer, but there is no set date or even a set season. A grind can happen at any moment. When a pod is spotted, everyone drops what they’re doing to participate in the hunt. Photo: Ed Ou/Reportage: Getty Images

Men harvest the meat of a pilot whale after the hunt in Sandur. The hunt has always been noncommercial — the meat is shared among the community. Photo: Ed Ou

Men harvest the meat of a pilot whale after the hunt in Sandur. The hunt has always been noncommercial — the meat is shared among the community. Photo: Ed Ou

Why do you think this has gotten so much attention? Do you think Sea Shepherd would respond differently had the hunters involved been indigenous? Is there an assumption that if people look European, they have access to other food?

Simply put, the whale hunt is bloody. It takes place out in the open, and whales have a certain special status in people’s hearts and imaginations. The Faroese will argue that whale hunting and the act of killing for food is no worse than eating beef, chicken or pork. In fact, they go on to say that whales that are hunted have lived full lives out in the ocean, whereas factory farming of chicken or cows is crueler and worse for the environment. 

It’s hard to say how the ethnicity of the Faroese plays into this. Sea Shepherd does have campaigns against non-European indigenous cultures. I think the main difference is that the Faroese have not experienced colonialism, while other cultures often taking the brunt of similar activism have a far more traumatized history of outsiders imposing alien standards upon their ways of life. As a result, the Faroese have a lot of unabashed pride, and defend their culture — more so, perhaps, than cultures that have been systematically oppressed over time.

Why do you think activists have focused on this rather than on trying to stop industrial meat production?

Sea Shepherd does have campaigns to stop industrial fishing and whaling in other parts of the world. To be clear, we don’t think the instinct to want to save whales and conserve marine wildlife is incorrect at all. This specific campaign in the Faroe Islands is a very visual and accessible one for Sea Shepherd to rally around. As volunteers told us, this is a specific, small and relatively easy thing to stop. One can easily imagine getting physically between a small group of hunters and the whales. Responsibility for the larger problems that plague the oceans is so diffuse and far-flung that the acute focus of a mission like this in the Faroes is appealing to those who want to feel like they are making an immediate and visceral difference.

To read the full interview, visit the TED Blog >>> 

An unexpected family photo album: LaToya Ruby Frazier

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Photographer LaToya Ruby Frazier’s new book The Notion of Family is a powerful visual chronicle of historic steel town, Braddock, Pennsylvania. It’s also an intimate portrait of the artist’s own family, Braddock natives who witnessed its boom, decline and — in recent years — its rebranding as an icon of Rust Belt renewal and destination for the so-called creative class. Frazier, who’s a TED Fellow, talked to Karen Eng about the origins of this ambitious project.

Tell us about the people in The Notion of Family.

The book features my grandmother, mother, and me, and looks through the three of our lives as people who grew up in three different social and economic periods in Braddock. Each one of us represents a different time period. My grandmother grew up in the 1930s when it was prosperous and had everything going for it; my mother grew up in the 1960s when there was the white flight, desegregation; and I grew up there in the 1980s, once the factories were dismantled and the town itself was left kind of abandoned, economically.

Grandma Ruby and Me 2005, from “The Notion of Family” (Aperture 2014).

Grandma Ruby and Me 2005, from “The Notion of Family” (Aperture 2014).

You said in your talk that by the 1970s most of the steel mills were gone — but there is one mill left, the Edgar Thomson Steel Works.

Yes, it’s a historic steel mill; it was the first in the region and the last one still in operation. Braddock is not post-industrial the way people like to talk about in the mainstream media. The narrative there is that it’s a new frontier — that “urban pioneers” should come forth and reclaim the land and open up restaurants and art studios. But in reality, people have been there for generations, and are still trying to exist within a framework of industry and environmental degradation. No one trying to redevelop the land wants to talk about the EPA levels there, or the fact that it’s a Superfund site, or a brownfield. So the environment’s eroding — and so are our bodies, from our terminal illnesses.

Has your own family suffered from illness?

Many people in the community have died from different types of cancer. My grandmother died from diabetes and pancreatic cancer. My mother suffers from an unknown neurological disorder. I myself have lupus — I’ve been battling it most of my life. A lot of the portraits in the book show this: they are taken after surgery, before surgery, during lupus attacks. The steel industry is still there polluting the town. Meanwhile, community hospitals in working class communities that are predominantly made up of elderly people, single parent households, and African-American communities are being dismantled.

And you don’t see the media telling this story?

My work isn’t just counter-narrative. There are parallel realities in this town. I see my work as telling a longer, sustained story covering material that the mainstream press doesn’t have time for. They come in and out, they tell the quickest highlighted story they can, and they go.

It’s creative class versus working class. I come from both, as an artist who comes from an impoverished working class background. So in a way, I stand in that gap as a witness to both. My hope is that the same resources that are available to the privileged creative class will become available to the working class. They should not be pitted against each other.

“For the past 12 years, my mother and I have made collaborative portraits together, disrupting the idea that the privileged photographer comes from the outside,” says LaToya Ruby Frazier. Mom Relaxing My Hair 2005, from “The Notion of Family” (Aperture 2014).

“For the past 12 years, my mother and I have made collaborative portraits together, disrupting the idea that the privileged photographer comes from the outside,” says LaToya Ruby Frazier. Mom Relaxing My Hair 2005, from “The Notion of Family” (Aperture 2014).

How did this project originate?

In 1999, during my first undergraduate photo class at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, we were given an assignment based on philosopher Roland Barthes’ idea that in a photograph, there’s a “punctum” and a “studium.” A punctum is the thing in the photograph that pricks you, that wounds you, that gives you some emotional charge. And the studium is the subject. The assignment was to bring in a photograph that had both.

One of the examples that was passed around in the classroom was Dorothea Lange’s iconic image Migrant Mother. Everyone kept calling it “Dorothea Lange’s photograph.” The  image was passed to me — and I realized I didn’t know that woman’s name. So I brought that up. “Who’s the woman in the photograph?” None of us knew. In that moment it just hit me. This is an iconic image, but we don’t know the woman’s name in the photograph, we only talk about the photographer and the government. How do you bring agency and power to the subject that everyone else is benefiting from? As it happens, her name was Florence Owens Thompson, she died destitute, and her children never received royalties from those images.

That’s where it began. Considering the difficult reality my mother, my grandmother and I were living in, I thought, “Well, wouldn’t it be a great way to honor Florence Owens Thompson by thinking about what her portraits might have looked like had she photographed herself?” And so I ran with that idea.

I started as a teenager, and so of course I didn’t have all the knowledge I have now, but it was that concept that gave the work the visual aesthetic of the black-and-white gelatin silver print. It’s the reason why my work looks like social documentary.

To read the full interview, visit the TED Ideas Blog >>>

 

 

 

 

Filmmaker, blogger … butcher? How TED Fellow Bassam Tariq works to upend conventional views of Muslim life

Artist Bassam Tariq is determined to shine a light on the incredible diversity of Muslim life – and he does it by any means necessary. Known for his blogging project 30 Mosques in 30 Days, Tariq and a friend took a month-long road trip through all 50 states, breaking their Ramadan fast each evening in mosques along the way and documenting the people they met.

He also traveled to Pakistan to film These Birds Walk, a documentary celebrating the life of the unassuming man who created Pakistan’s first ambulance service, through the lens of a coming-of-age story. And if that’s not enough, back home in New York City, Tariq cofounded Honest Chops, a halal butcher shop in the East Village that offers high-quality meat to his neighbors, 90 percent of whom aren’t even Muslim.

As his TED Talk, “The beauty and diversity of Muslim life,” is released, we spoke to Tariq about the unifying vision behind these wildly disparate projects, and how they each serve to alter perspective on what it means to be Muslim.

Your arsenal of talents is somewhat bewildering — butcher, blogger, filmmaker. How did you get here?

I was born in Pakistan, but after a short time in New York, where we lived in a very middle-class Astoria neighborhood, we moved to Houston — to the hood — when I was about 11. We didn’t even realize how bad the neighborhood was at first, because New York was so dirty in the ’90s. It was a subsidized housing complex. We thought, “Wow, this is so nice and so big!” It turned out to be violent.

I realized that everything was divided by race. It felt really weird, because in New York, we all just got along and everyone was from a different background. This neighborhood was a predominantly African-American area, and we were the only brown kids, and we always got into fights — always. So I started lying to people, and told them I was Jewish, just to get around. I didn’t want to be called “Gandhi.” To me, that was the worst thing you could be called.

I can think of worse people to be.

I know, right? But my attitude was, “That stupid little Indian man ruined everything for me.” They’d show videos of him in school, and everyone would be like, “Yo, that’s your dad.” And I was like, “Oh my god. No, I’m Pakistani.” People would respond: “What’s that?” No one really even knew where it was on a map.

Then, when we moved into the suburbs, we lived among more affluent people. It was the first time I started seeing a lot of white people in my life. I was in ninth grade. And I thought, “This is weird. These are American, WASPy white people.” Very different from the Greek and Italian kids that I grew up with [in New York]. That’s when I started seeing a different side of privilege. Until then, I believed our problems were due to having a victim mentality. When I went to college, I got involved with student organizations. The pivotal point for me was 9/11. I was forced to deal with Islam and what it meant to me — if anything. It’s such a cliché. But our politics and beliefs were put in the spotlight.

I also met affluent Pakistani kids who grew up wealthy, and until then I had no idea what that wealth was like. My dad worked in a restaurant, and we owned a gas station — that was our upward mobility — and we weren’t particularly religious. My dad would open the doors to the mosque in the morning, and then he’d go to open up the gas station. Later, we closed the gas station and my dad then opened a Chinese restaurant.

How’d that go?

It was really good food — Pakistani-Chinese fusion. It was awful as a business; it only lasted about a year-and-a-half. But my dad’s a great cook.

Above, watch the trailer for These Birds Walk, Bassam Tariq’s documentary feature that follows the coming-of-age story of two boys in Pakistan.

What did you grow up thinking you’d do?

I thought I’d go into business, or maybe become a doctor. No one in my family went to college, so it was really important that one of us go. But during that time, because my parents couldn’t afford college, I was signed up as a subject for medical tests to make money. It was dehumanizing. They’d hook me up to these weird machines and feed me medicine, and then follow my heart rate and so on. Then I took this class called “Creativity in American Culture,” and that really shifted my perspective on what was possible. I picked up a camera and thought, “I’ll start shooting videos. That might make some money.” I learned how to edit from a friend, and then did corporate videos — like videos for the university mental health department, and so on.

Is that why you became a filmmaker?

Yes, but I didn’t have an interest then in the art of film. In the beginning, I was excited about the creativity of advertising, and that’s the route I took after I graduated and moved to New York. It was really tough, being the only non-white person in the creative world of advertising. It’s very, very homogenous, and there’s no nuance to stories. There’s a façade of creativity, a sense that you’re changing the world. But I saw through it, and I ultimately got axed from my first job due to my lack of interest.

How did end up making These Birds Walk?

When I went to New York, I wanted to get away from Muslims, because in Texas, I saw how we bubbled ourselves. But as soon as I got to New York, I ended up meeting Muslims — and they were an amazing group of creative artists. My roommate, for example, was a filmmaker named Musa Syeed. He was setting his own rules, doing things his own way, and he was unapologetic about his beliefs and his practices. Until I met Musa and others in this circle, I’d worried more about being the token Muslim, that my work would be only for Muslims. Even now, for These Birds Walk, it was really important for me to make it about universal themes — family, youth, growing up.

To read the full interview, visit the TED Blog >>>

Ordinary people in an extraordinary moment: Portraits of the men + women caught up in revolution in Ukraine

TED Fellow Anastasia Taylor-Lind on the other side of the camera in Ukraine. She originally planned to photograph a series about the declining population in the country, but quickly realized that the protests were her story. Photo: Alexander Checkmenev

When Anastasia Taylor-Lind found herself in Kiev at the height of violence during Ukraine’s Independence Square protests, the documentary photographer decided to record not the fighting itself, but the human beings involved. Setting up a makeshift photo studio in an alleyway inside the barricaded square, she beckoned passers-by — the protesters themselves, and later the women who came to mourn their deaths — and captured their images on film, using a medium-format camera. The result is a hauntingly intimate, arresting set of portraits that gives a sense of the ordinary people in an extraordinary moment, and gender roles in conflict situations.

As events continue to unfold after Ukraine’s parliamentary elections last Sunday, Taylor-Lind tells the TED Blog about her experiences during those harrowing days.

Why were you in Kiev during the protests? Did you go to cover it as a photojournalist?

I initially traveled to Ukraine as part of a wider, long-term project I’m working on called Negative Zero, that looks at Europe’s declining populations. There are 19 countries inside Europe that have declining populations, and Ukraine is one of them. I had been to Romania, Serbia and Nagorno-Karabakh already, and Ukraine was next on my list. And actually, even before the war, Ukraine had the lowest life expectancy for men inside Europe.

So I traveled to Ukraine with the idea that I was going to photograph a story about winter deaths. I was going to look at TB dispensaries, AIDS hospices and palliative care — or the lack of it — for cancer patients, and the elderly. I arrived in Kiev and was researching how to facilitate access to these places that actually all lay in Donbass, in the east of Ukraine. It is a war zone today, but it was peaceful at that time. While there, I started photographing the protests in Maidan.

I knew the protests were going on. Corruption and depopulation are two very closely linked issues — and these were essentially anti-corruption protests, so already there was some relevance. Once I started photographing in Maidan, and particularly working on the portraits, I knew that I had to stay, and that my story was there.

I was in Ukraine again in August, and I tried to reach some of the places I had initially planned to photograph, but they were cut off by the fighting, so I wasn’t able to follow up my initial plan.

What are some factors for low life-expectancy in Ukraine?

Smoking, alcohol and drug addiction, poverty, poor access to health care — and now war.

Eugene, 22. Protestor from L’viv region. February 24, 2014. Photo: Anastasia Taylor-Lind

You’re primarily a documentary photographer. What made you decide, in that moment, to shoot portraits?

I had never done a portrait series before. But I made my decision to shoot portraits in reaction to the presence of so many other journalists in Kiev and in Maidan. It was a news event, and I was working alongside so many of my colleagues and my friends. That’s really unusual for me — I’m not used to working surrounded by other photographers. Of course, if I’d been the only photographer in Kiev, I wouldn’t have shot the portraits — I would have had to take reportage pictures to show you what was happening. But the presence of all of the other photographers made me understand that I didn’t have to tell the whole story as one individual — what I could do was contribute one small part to the collective recording and collective understanding of the events there. Acknowledging that and trying to find one thing — one way to talk about it, the way that only I could talk about it — led me to making these portraits.

I’d been in a news situation once before, in Libya, during the revolution in 2011, and I’d felt a similar frustration. It’s not necessary to repeat news pictures that other people are taking; as a photographer, you have to not just find something to say, but you have to find your own way to say it. I struggled with that in Libya, and then the idea came to me, I should make portraits — both of the journalists as well as the fighters. Because what I noticed in Libya was that we photographers were emulating the costumes of the rebels.

That sounds dangerous!

It’s something that happens naturally, I guess. Not that photographers were wearing combat clothing, but they had a similar look: hipsterish, skinny jeans, beards, the checked scarves. When I was in Kiev, I noticed the same thing: we all looked like the fighters, like somehow we were all choosing the same clothes. This reminded me that I’d had this idea to take portraits in Libya, but I hadn’t done it, because I’m not a portrait photographer, I’m a reportage photographer. This time, it was the photographers around me who said, “That’s a good idea, you should do it!” So in a way, the presence of all the other journalists pushed me to do something different from them. It helped me to push myself creatively.

All the people you photographed were in the middle of either fighting or mourning. How did you get them to agree to stand still for a portrait?

My portrait studio was by the barricades on Hrushevskoho Street, inside the barricade of Maidan. I set up my studio there every day in the same place. It was a collapsible metal frame with a black muslin curtain. I placed it in a bricked-up alleyway, so it was set back a little bit, and my fixer Emine had a gold reflector to bounce the light onto the subjects. We stood there all day.

That spot was on a thoroughfare leading to the barricades, the front line with the Berkut, the police. So we’d stop people as they were passing and ask them to come to the studio. After the worst days of violence — February 18 through the 20th, 2014 — all of these fighters were joined by tens of thousands of civilians in the square. Many women came to lay flowers for the people who had been killed — they started laying the flowers at the points where people had died, which you could tell because there was the blood on the ground. People set up small shrines and put crosses there. Eventually the whole square was covered in millions of flowers.

Natasha, 21. Mourner from Kiev. February 23, 2014. Photo: Anastasia Taylor-Lind

To read the full interview, please visit the TED Blog >>>

 

 

Chile’s people, 40 years after Pinochet: Jon Lowenstein captures a society in recovery and transformation

Patio 29 is a section of  Santiago's General Cemetery where political dissidents and supporters of Salvador Allende were buried anonymously in mass graves. To this day not all of the peole have been identified correctly; many families are still not sure what happened to their loved ones during that era.  Forty years after the coup headed by Gen. Augusto Pinochet, Chile remains a wounded, divided nation where the past lives in the present.  The nation’s enduring rifts are visible in the glaring contrast between the entrenched poverty in Santiago’s shantytowns and the country’s elite, who enriched themselves during the dictatorship.  History is alive in the homes of people like Ana Gonzalez, a woman whose husband, two of her sons and pregnant daughter-in-law were disappeared during the dictatorship.   And it’s a force in the November presidential election featuring Michelle Bachelet and Evelyn Matthei.  The daughters of Air Force Generals played together as children, but their lives were changed permanently by the coup.    Matthei’s father Fernando joined the junta. Bachelet’s father Alberto remained loyal to Salvador Allende and the constitution, paying for that decision with his life.   Yet there are also glimmerings of Chile’s coming to terms with its bloody past.  Among the most important: this September 11 saw an unprecedented outpouring of memory-related activity.

Patio 29 is a section of Santiago’s General Cemetery where political dissidents and supporters of Salvador Allende were buried anonymously in mass graves. To this day, not all of the people have been identified correctly; many families are still not sure what happened to their loved ones during that era.

Documentary photographer Jon Lowenstein and his brother Jeff Kelly Lowenstein, a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Diego Portales, are currently in Chile in the run-up to the country’s 2013 presidential election. Together they are documenting how the nation’s people are faring during this historic period 40 years after the coup overthrowing President Salvador Allende by General Augusto Pinochet. Jon’s images are currently being streamed on the New Yorker magazine’s Instagram feed, and the brothers have just posted the first in a series of three articles on the New Yorker’s Photo Booth blog. Below, find an introduction to the work by the Lowensteins, and more sample images from this powerful body of work in progress.

“Forty years after the coup headed by Gen. Augusto Pinochet, Chile remains a wounded, divided nation where the past lives in the present. The nation’s enduring rifts are visible in the glaring contrast between the entrenched poverty in Santiago’s shantytowns and the country’s elite, who enriched themselves during the dictatorship.

History is alive in the homes of people like Ana Gonzalez, a woman whose husband, two of her sons and pregnant daughter-in-law were disappeared during the dictatorship.

And it’s a force in the November presidential election featuring Michelle Bachelet and Evelyn Matthei. The daughters of Air Force Generals played together as children, but their lives were changed permanently by the coup. Matthei’s father Fernando joined the junta. Bachelet’s father Alberto remained loyal to Salvador Allende and the constitution, paying for that decision with his life.

Yet there are also glimmerings of Chile’s coming to terms with its bloody past. Among the most important: this September 11 saw an unprecedented outpouring of memory-related activity.”

Located in Santiago, Villa Grimaldi is considered the most important and infamous of DINA’s (Dirección de Inteligencia Nacional, the Chilean secret police) many places that were used for the detention, interrogation and torture of political prisoners during Gen. Augusto’s Pinochet’s dictatorship. The former social club was open from 1974 to 1978. About 4,500 detainees were brought to Villa Grimaldi during these years, at least 240 of whom were “disappeared” or killed by DINA. Rebuilt from survivors’ memories, the site is dedicated to preserving the memory of those tortured, interrogated and killed by Pinochet’s henchmen.

AFEP (Agrupacion de Familiares de Ejecutados Politicos - Group of Family Members of the Politically Executed) is a support group for family members of people who were executed during the Pinochet dictatorship. Group members call for truth and justice for the perpetrators and help each other to deal with the effects of the trauma.  Forty years after the coup headed by Gen. Augusto Pinochet, Chile remains a wounded, divided nation where the past lives in the present.  The nation’s enduring rifts are visible in the glaring contrast between the entrenched poverty in Santiago’s shantytowns and the country’s elite, who enriched themselves during the dictatorship.  History is alive in the homes of people like Ana Gonzalez, a woman whose husband, two sons and daughter-in-law were disappeared during the dictatorship.   And it’s a force in the November presidential election featuring Michelle Bachelet and Evelyn Matthei.  The daughters of Air Force Generals played together as children, but their lives were changed permanently by the coup.    Matthei’s father Fernando joined the junta. Bachelet’s father Alberto remained loyal to Salvador Allende and the constitution, paying for that decision with his life.   Yet there are also glimmerings of Chile’s coming to terms with its bloody past.  Among the most important: this September 11 saw an unprecedented outpouring of memory-related activity.

AFEP (Agrupacion de Familiares de Ejecutados Politicos – Group of Family Members of the Politically Executed) is a support group for family members of people who were executed during the Pinochet dictatorship. Group members call for truth and justice for the perpetrators and help each other to deal with the effects of the trauma.

The Muslims Are Coming!: Fellows Friday with Negin Farsad

The Muslims Are Coming!:: Dean Obeidallah and Negin Farsad bowling down the alley.

The Muslims Are Coming!:: Dean Obeidallah and Negin Farsad bowling down the alley.

Ever bowled with a Muslim? Why not? Negin Farsad wants to know. The comedian and filmmaker’s new documentary The Muslims Are Coming! follows a group of Muslim-American comedians as they travel through Middle America setting up street actions — Hug a Muslim, Bowl with a Muslim, Ask a Muslim — skewering stereotypes and turning Islamophobia into Muslim love. Now on the last leg of her tour promoting the US theatrical launch of the film, Farsad tells the TED Blog how her lifelong passion for social justice led her from working as an intern for Hillary Clinton to a job as a policy advisor for the city of New York — to creating shows for Comedy Central, filming rapping nerds and making sure everyone has hugged a Muslim.

After your first TED conference in 2013, you wrote a hilarious piece about the experience, how you felt alienated from it. Why?

It’s so big, so lofty, and there’s so much innovation — and I am a comedian. Someone else’s “innovations in mummification processes” is my fart jokes. I mean, social justice comedy is my main thing. So, I guess I understand why I was selected for a TED Fellowship. Being the only stand-up comedian in the TED Fellows among so many other fields is one of the most interesting things about the process so far.

Above: Negin Farsad performs at Standup NY.

Tell me about yourself. Did you wake up one morning when you were a kid, and say, “I want to be a comedian”?

No, I woke up one day as a kid and I was like, “I’m going to be President of the United States! I’m going to end the racial divide, and I’m going to make healthcare available for everybody.” That’s what I said, when I was eleven. I’m an Iranian-American Muslim lady, and I grew up in Palm Springs, in the desert of Southern California. My parents emigrated from Iran before I was born, and severe allergies on my part as a baby are what enabled them to stay in the United States. Just a random side note. They have one of those classic immigration stories: they came with nothing, blah blah blah, learned the language, built a life, etcetera. You know, just really traumatic stuff. Stuff I don’t have to do because they did it. So identity became a really large part of my life.

In high school I was a drama geek, but also president of the debate club. I went to Cornell for undergrad, and I was a double major in government and theater. Then I joined a campus sketch comedy troupe. I really started to identify with the black struggle, the Latino struggle, with race politics and policy in general. So my commitment to public policy and public services has been around forever. I moved to New York, and I started another sketch comedy troupe, and I began excelling in comedy. Even still, I thought this was just a hobby I’d outgrow. “You must outgrow it, because you have to be a public servant.” So I went to grad school for African American studies and public policy as a dual degree at Columbia.

I ended up interning for Charles Rangel and Hillary Clinton. I really believed in, and still do believe in, that kind of work. It was valuable seeing people firsthand who are doing really good work, and I became even more emotionally committed to it. Once I graduated from grad school, I got a job with the New York City Campaign Finance Board and I would run numbers and talk about leveling the playing field for candidates and so on. It’s a really great program, and an example for what campaign finance can really be nationally.

But I had this nagging, horrible feeling like I just didn’t want to do it. Meanwhile, I was performing stand-up every night. By day, I’d go to city council meetings, dealing with really serious public servants. At a certain point, it just felt inappropriate, you know what I mean?

The Muslims Are Coming!: Hug a Muslim

The Muslims Are Coming!: Hug a Muslim

Is the passion for policy still there?

The passion’s still there, but I couldn’t be a part of the execution from a policy end. And I thought that’s what I always wanted to do — that I wanted to run for office. Then I realized, I think my skills are better used in a different way, which is to fold those things into my comedy.

And so began the Era of Parental Disappointment — my comedy career, a field that is horribly unstable and that half the time people don’t even view as a real art. It’s just one of these things where people are like, “Well you just go up there and wing it, right? It’s no big deal.” No, this takes years and years and years of boot-camp style, in-the-field training. And you’re never done training, because you always have to develop new material, you always have to test it and you always have to put yourself through the wringer. It can be seriously demoralizing. And then half the time you don’t get paid.

To read the full interview, visit the TED Blog >>>

Join Oliver Stone, Danny Glover and Stephen Fry In Supporting Global Protest Film “We Are Many”

 

 

10 DAY COUNTDOWN CALL TO ACTION

Many TED Fellows and subscribers to this blog and their Facebook friends and Twitter followers have backed this important documentary by either pledging and/or helping spread the word. The production team of We Are Many are grateful for your generosity and support. Together we have raised $20,000 which is fantastic. But we still have a long way to go and need your help in reaching new donors.

We now have 10 days to raise the remaining $50,000 to reach the set target of $70,000. What you can do here and now in less than a minute:

1.     Tweet the Kickstarter link to your followers with the hashtag #wearemany

2.     Post the Kickstarter link on your Facebook wall.

3.     Or if you happen to have a personal blog or a newsletter please consider including a post about the film. You can use this Press Release.

Raising $5000 per day from today! It is a huge ask but not impossible. Our network of friends and followers, our circles of influence, can do it. This is a true test of the power of social media to do good. Let’s stretch it to its limits in a truly deserving case study: a documentary about people power crowd-funded by people.

A final thought from the  Olivier, Tony and BAFTA winning actor Mark Rylance currently in Jerusalem in London’s West End

 

Thank you!

 

 

 

 

“We Are Many” on Kickstarter kicks off with fantastic momentum!

Our documentary project We Are Many launched less than a week ago on Kickstarter has got off to a great start thanks to the TED Fellows spreading the word. Thank you!

Here’s another mention for those who may have missed the post. Please take 6 mins to take a look at the trailer and help put it out there in your social media.

To capture the spirit and energy of the spectacular global Occupy movement Amirani Films has just launched a Kickstarter campaign for a major new documentary called We Are Many.

This is the trailer for the film

And this is the Kickstarter page

Like the film on Facebook

Follow the film on Twitter

And visit the film’s website

 

Directed by Amir Amirani and Executive Produced by TED Senior Fellow Taghi Amirani, the film tells the remarkable story of the biggest protest in history which took place on February 15, 2003. The unprecdented  worldwide march againts the impedning invasion of Iraq failed to stop an illegal war based on mass deception. But it drew a new map for protests to come. What happened in Cairo’s Tahrir Square during the Arab Spring, and the subsequent global Occupy Movement, have a direct link to what happened on February 15, 2003. A seismic shift took place, and we are only now beginning to understand its impact. 

If this movie project strikes a chord with you in any way please give it your support. Of course Kickstarter is all about crowdfunding and you can help in that way if you wish. But we need something more valuable than money; we need your help in reaching your communities. Your Twitter followers, Facebook friends, blog subscribers, website visitors, your mailing list, your real life friends and fanily..Please take a few minutes to share this post and the links below with your network. Share the TED Fellow love and see it reciprocated in ways you can’t yet imagine!


TED Fellow and Kickstarter Co-Founder Perry Chen has started the ball rolling:

Special thanks to Perry, Elisabeth Holm and their brilliant team at Kickstarter.
Now it’s over to you.
 
 

Many thanks.

 

Taghi Amirani

TED Senior Fellow 2010

Amirani Films

@tagz23

 

 

 

 

Seven Years Later, The Reunion

The shoot in Avignon is over. From my desk in London, I remember one thing overall. Salah’s dedication, his singular obsession with the Sahrawis, remaining within their orbit, trying to stay as close to their centre as possible. He is constantly connected to the news from the camps and Moroccan-controlled Western Sahara. He falls asleep listening to Sahrawi radio, people from around the world calling in to share their thoughts on the latest news, events, rumours. This is his universe, and he can’t stand to be too far from it.

This film is not a traditional portrait, with archive pictures, histories, and disembodied narratives. This is not a historical reportage. This is a zoetrope. The perception of a full story is achieved only by peeking through thin slits as they spin quickly by. You see blinking movement, only brief glimpses. The images themselves are still but the cylinder, spinning around, gives the impression of motion.

Last night, I watched with Salah a video of him returning to Moroccan-controlled Western Sahara for the first time in 7 years. He hadn’t seen his family for seven years. His mother, father, his brothers and sisters, his cousins, aunts and uncles. When he left seven years ago he was just a good athlete. When he returned he was a symbol of everything that gave the people hope. In the video, he is surrounded by cheering friends and family. Outside the tent, visible on the edges of the video, are rows of Moroccan police watching, taking pictures of everyone who attends.

You can see the joy on the faces of the crowds, clamouring to hug Salah and welcome him back. You can hear the excitement in their cheers. Salah, all the while, is overwhelmed. He occasionally spots a familiar face and breaks into a smile, but otherwise his eyes look around, searching for something familiar. He is not expecting this. There is very little familiar about it. There is a mixture of joy – the reunion – and loss. This would, after all, have to end.

On the train back to London, I can see the snow is thick on the ground. This is far from where I last saw Salah, in the Algerian Sahara. On Sunday, I’ll fly to Athens to pitch the film for the last time this year.

 

The Only Thing Certain Is That Nothing Is Certain

Paris is freezing. My hands are in pain, trying to hold the metal of the camera. The sting of the cold is almost too much. I think of the men and women I saw last night sleeping in the waiting room of Gare de Lyon.

There’s a mist of frost over the city. Mostapha is here for his asylum application interview. Last night, the friend we were staying with in Paris asked Mostapha “do you want to know the history of Western Sahara?” as preparation for his interview. They’ve been going through significant dates together, to make sure the timeline is accurate. They watch an online video of an interview with an Egyptian Sheikh explaining the history of Western Sahara, but Mostapha doesn’t like some of his conclusions. He shakes his head and tuts when the Sheikh says Western Sahara was part of the Moroccan Kingdom. “He’s lying.”

The next morning, in a cafe near the ministry of refugee affairs, we sit waiting for the offices to open, trying to stay warm. Mostapha is still running through the details of his journey to France, and his reasons for applying for asylum, to get everything straight and clear in his head. He disappears for a few minutes, and we smile when he emerges from the bathroom wearing his Dra’a, long blue robe, with the folds of cloth wrapped around his arm. We’re used to seeing him in jeans and a t-shirt, but he says it’s important to wear the Dra’a for his interview. He takes pride in it, even though it means he’ll suffer from the cold on the walk to his interview. We wish him luck and he leaves a little early to make his 9am appointment.

An hour later, he returns to the cafe, a smile on his face. “It was fine,” he says, calmly. “Their questions were simple. They asked how I got here to France and about my background and my family. I think it was fine. They say I’ll get a decision in one month.” We sit down for another coffee.

Later, back in Avignon, Hossam asks “what if they don’t accept his application?” But I don’t know the answer.

I’m reminded of certain arguments. They’re not far from the arguments we always have about Palestine. There are differences of opinion about how to approach the Sahrawi cause – differences that are becoming clearer to me now. The recent protest camp, and all the violence that followed, has split the opinions of the Sahrawi down the middle. “We have the right to defend ourselves” one said. “No, those camps were a shame on us and all Sahrawi” another told me, “violence only breeds violence.”

Some say Moroccan policemen were slaughtered like sheep. Others say it’s not true, those videos were fake. We don’t now the real number of dead and injured. We don’t know the real timeline of events. Was anyone else there to witness? The only thing certain is that nothing is certain.