Monday, December 29, 2008

FURTHER Watching as a New Documentary Takes Shape

A little over three months ago, I encountered the beginnings of a most interesting and hopeful documentary called BURNING IN THE SUN (hereafter referred to as BITS) during Independent Film Week. Currently celebrating its 30th anniversary and formerly known as IFP Market, Independent Film Week hosts 156 projects, including documentary works-in-progress, "emerging narrative" screenplays and "no borders" international co-productions to a mainly industry crowd. The purpose is to get your work seen, in hopes that distribution opportunities will arise or that people with money will like what they see enough to invest and thus help you finish your film.

Producer Claire Weingarten and co-directors Cambria Matlow (above, right ) and Morgan Robinson (above, left) were handed their subject by a friend working on energy in Africa who told them about the particular person and situation, noting that they might want to film it. They did. The result -- BITS -- tracks a young man named Daniel Dembele (shown below) who, raised in Mali but having spent time in Europe, seems to combine the best of both worlds. He has decided to build and install cheap solar panels (shown above, top) that will bring the first-ever electricity to the small villages of his native country. This proves a fascinating subject. The twenty minutes shown to us were riveting, and the ramifications are pretty extraordinary -- for Mali, of course, but for poor countries worldwide and, in fact, for some rich ones, too. If solar energy can be created as easily and cheaply as shown here, perhaps our own government might pay a bit more attention.

A lot has happened in the past three months since I first saw footage from this documentary. A new -- and, one hopes, much better -- political administration will soon assume the reins of our country. Perhaps the USA can again become a positive force in helping itself and then the world at large. But what, I wondered, had meantime happened for BITS, which needs addditional funds for its completion?

On December 18 -- literally three month and one day after my first post about BITS, the 92YTRIBECA screening room, together with Chicken and Egg Pictures and Working Films hosted an evening dedicated to BITS and two other upcoming documentaries in a program devoted to exploring how "story leads to action." Although I was not able to attend, co-director Cambria Matlow tells me that the results appear very encouraging. Here's our back-and-forth e-mails to fill you in. (And, yes, I got Cambria's permission to post them.)

Tuesday, December 16:
Hi, Cambria—
This is so exciting, and all three pix sound terrific (of course, I've seen yours, so I know). Currently, I am trying to cover the entire Spanish Cinema Now series at the Walter Reade for GreenCine, which is 25 programs during this month. So my plate is full for December and I just can't handle anything else right now. Let me know how things go, please! And good luck at this screening. Will this perhaps mean more investment $ and further chance to finish the film?

Wednesday, December 17
Hi Jim!
Good to hear back from you. Thanks for the kind words.
EVERYTHING at this point means more investment money and further chances to finish. Chicken and Egg are wonderful and sometimes choose to come on as Executive Producers for some of the films which they support. We can only imagine that being selected to take part in this night, so soon after coming on board with them, is a good sign....
Plus, they are really great at setting up documentaries with non-profits that can help the filmmakers use their films as platforms for action. For anyone offering us finishing funds, I feel like it will be attractive for them to know that we plan to USE our film to enact social change. For example, a leader from Solar One (the solar-powered community center and film venue along the East River in NYC) will be speaking in conjunction with our screening at the event tomorrow night. Cool, right?
We'll definitely keep you in the loop - our composer's music is sounding BEAUTIFUL, that's the latest from me right now.
Enjoy the Spanish Cinema series!
All the best,

Thursday, December 18
Hey –
Thanks for this very newsy and encouraging update. BTW, I have noticed that in the last month my blog piece about you and your film got twice the attention it received during the original month that I posted it. Weird, but it's good to know that people are clicking on it. Let's hope Chicken and Egg and Solar One bring more interest (and $$) to the table. I just watched the documentary FLOW last night, about the world's water shortage and the sleazebags who want to "sell" water to the poor. It reminded me of your film, especially how small communities in Africa and Asia, often led by one person, are rising to the challenge and doing things themselves.
Do keep me posted, in fact if you have a minute in the next few days, let me know how things went tonight!

Wednesday, December 24
Hi there Jim!
Thanks for writing back once again - I am enjoying our dialogue so much!
The screening last week went fabulously. A couple of representatives from Solar One came to speak, and the film seemed to be received very well. We only showed 20 minutes, but the audience seemed very much engaged and to understand the essence and meaning of our work. They had lots of questions afterward, in the 'good' way, and overall there appeared to be so much potential to use this film to encourage change on the local and domestic level - a consequence we had mostly thought of as a 'Part 2' of our outreach program (Part 1 being more international in scope). Excitingly, the film illuminated ideas about taking action here in the USA as being every bit as important as encouraging change in Mali and other places in developing countries.
This was exciting for me for two reasons: One - I had no idea how a more 'domestic' audience would receive the film, and Two - this means that the Africans depicted in the film came across significantly as leaders, and not as victims. This tone was very important for us to achieve and I think we have accomplished it. Not every film about Africa does this but I am proud to say that we have. Anyway - some new partnerships were formulated last week during and after the screening that I think will serve us and the film well!

It's funny that you mention FLOW. Morgan, our co-director, actually spoke in front of an audience at a FLOW screening at BAM last year. He met the director of the film on the subway randomly one day. Using footage from BURNING IN THE SUN that otherwise would have ended up on the cutting room floor, Morgan made a short promotional video for Loriana Dembele (our lead character's mother). She leads a non-profit in Mali that builds water wells in rural villages. That short film is called JI DUMA: Bring Them Water and there is actually a link to it on the FLOW website. We were educated about the water situation in Mali and what people there were doing about it, but we chose to focus our film on Daniel and his efforts with solar energy. There is a lot to talk about indeed. I appreciate the comparison you made very much, though.
Jim - I hope you have a joyful holiday week. I will be working while visiting with my boyfriend's family in Vermont, but I hope that you can take some time to relax!
All the best,

That's the update till now, folks. Given all that is happening for Cambria, Morgan and Claire, it's hard to imagine that we will not be seeing a finished version of BITS -- and sooner rather than later. We'll continue to keep you posted....

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