Sunday, January 31, 2010

West Bank Spectacle

This is my latest video on the New York Times website. Have a look and let me know your thoughts. Warning: it is a tad violent.

I have always been very interested in the concept of non-violent struggle, and there is one thing that is not mentioned in the video that I think clarifies how the Palestinian popular struggle leaders define non-violence. This is a direct quote from an interview Zaid Murat, who is on the Palestinian Popular Struggle Coordination Committee.

He said, "By non-violence we mean that we are using every form of pressure possible to resist the occupation, except for killing. We will not kill. We will not decide to kill."

And so far this has happened. The worst injury inflicted on an Israeli soldier was losing an eye to a rock. But it begs the questions, Is anything short of killing truly a non-violent struggle?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Dusting off a Film

I began filming my first feature film, Grassroots, at the age of 24. Today I am 30, and I am proud to say that it was just released on I can't believe that this project, six years in the making is actually finished, and that I am now holding a shrink-wrapped DVD in my hands.

The timing is actually quite bizarre. The film’s goals were to raise awareness for three chronic injustices plaguing Miami. One of these injustices was the fact that Haitian nationals in Miami are not granted Temporary Protected Status (TPS). We interviewed Jean Robert la Fortune from the Haitian American Grassroots Coalition and Irwin Stotsky, a human rights attorney and Haiti expert from the University of Miami, to explain why Haitians had never been granted TPS. It’s bittersweet and coincidental, that on the heels of this horrific earthquake, Haitians finally have TPS, and that’s when Grassroots gets released on Amazon.

The film, I believe, will now serve as an interesting educational tool for sociologists, political scientists, Cuban-Americans, Haitian-Americans, African-Americans, and anyone interested in a snapshot of how culture and politics came to affect the 2004 US Presidential election in Miami. In a nerdy way, I think it’s also pretty entertaining.

Grassroots was my first film, and a graduation of sorts, since my later projects were more professional productions. Besides the plethora of technical things I learned, I gained a valuable life lesson. I learned that life is full of obstacles and challenges, but nothing is more of an obstacle than your own mind. Working on the film off an on over the course of 6 years, I ripped up 3 or 4 different scripts before I wrote the right one. There was no funding. At many moments, I found myself in the darkness staring at my computer screen wondering why I was still editing this film. At many points I wanted to give up, but something inside didn’t allow me to do so.

I didn’t give up because of all the wonderful, sad, and ultimately sacred human experiences I had while making the film.

I didn’t give up because of Chris Goldberg dashing from house to house in Little Haiti just before the polls closed, Ari’s speech while eating soul food in Liberty City, the tears of the canvassers after Bush’s victory was announced, the lady screaming “Kerry Communista” at the top of her lungs in Hialeah, the flat tires on a dark Costa Rican highway on New Years Eve.

I didn’t give up because of the tens of thousands of Haitians living in the shadows, or the tens of thousands of African-Americans who have been disenfranchised.

I didn’t give up because I had hundreds of voices and images in my head screaming at me to be freed.

The film probably won’t win any awards, and so I would like to deliver my faux Oscar speech, on my personal blog, right where it should be:

Firstly, the person who always believed in this project, my co-collaborator from the very beginning, a skilled producer, cameraman, and friend, Alex Ragir.

Secondly, a person who didn’t work on the film but served as an incredible mentor throughout. In the darkest hours of this project, Rhonda Mitrani was there to shine a light.

Then there’s my Miami brother Elad Gefen, the supremely talented editor who expertly crafted this picture from the first frame to the last. Ladi’s technical and artistic wizardry are all over this production.

This film is worth buying alone for the musical genius of Adam Weinberg. His Cuban-Caribbean rhythms are a listening pleasure and the best score I could have ever asked for.

Then there’s Gerald Jones and Adrian Baschuk, two of the best doco shooters around, who helped fill in when we needed some extra help in Miami.

Finally, I want to give a special thanks to Chris Goldberg and the rest of the Grassroots canvassers, who graciously allowed us to document their experiences that fateful November, and beyond. We are truly grateful.

In light of the election of an African-American president in 2008 and the granting of TPS to Haitians in 2010, MLK’s words never seemed so true.

“The arc of history is long, but it bends towards justice.”

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Memories of an Earthquake

Watching the horrific scenes that have emerged from Haiti has triggered flashbacks to the time I spent in Pakistan following the disastrous earthquake there in 2005. I keep thinking that had I stayed in Miami a few more days, I probably would have gone over to Haiti to cover it. But in a way I'm glad that I was able to avoid making that decision, because going to the scene of a devastating earthquake is one of the hardest things a journalist can do. While I'm not sure how much my reporting actually led to tangible results for the victims of the Kashmir quake, it strangely did turn into a positive experience for me. No, I'm not into death and destruction. Quite the opposite. I am so affected by it, that I can't even gather the strength to film it sometimes. Yet, while journalists get to pop in, document the misery, and then return to their comfortable lives, these people are living in the midst of a real-life horror film. People lost their limbs, homes, and entire families in one quick rumble of the earth. Yet they press on and, somehow, smile. I didn't know this at the time, but now looking back through the prism of my memory, I think that it was one of the most uplifting spiritual experiences I've ever had. It also shaped how I view human nature. When a stranger helps a stranger for absolutely no reward, it is a living proof that mankind is not essentially evil. I wish the people of Haiti strength and resilience in the face of this horrific tragedy.

The long-haired version of me, about to board a UN chopper to Muzzafarbad (2005)

Saturday, January 16, 2010

TPS Granted to Haitians

Very pleased to see that the Obama administration has decided to grant TPS to Haitian Nationals who arrived in the US before the earthquake. At least they won't be deported back to the sinking ship that is Haiti.

For more info, go to this link from the Miami Herald

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Call to Action: TPS for Haitians Now

I have long advocated that Haitian Nationals receive temporary protected status (TPS) from the US government. The injustices and double standards applied against Haitian immigrants in the US is simply appalling. My question for the Obama administration on the heels of this horrific earthquake is: If not now, when?

I made a film about the double standards when it comes to not granting TPS to Haitians. I filmed it in 2004 and I actually just completed it. More information on its release in the coming weeks, but I just want to point out the two main reasons given by several of our subjects as to why Haitians don't get TPS status.

Reason 1: Racism
Reason 2: They would actually come to the US in large numbers

Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and over the last decade has been devastated by both natural and political disasters. (In fact, this is the very definition of TPS eligibility) Its proximity to the US means that a wave of Haitian boat people would end up on the shores of the US should TPS be granted to Haitian nationals.

But there must be some middle ground between letting in every Haitian who wants a better life, and totally ignoring the plight of thousands of human beings who may be left to die in the coming weeks. There must be some system which would allow the most desperate Haitians a safe haven in the US.

To ignore the suffering of this cursed island will be a curse on all of us who stood by idly and did nothing.

If you are a US citizen, contact your State Representatives to pressure Obama to grant Haitians TPS.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Back in M.E.

I am now back in the Middle East and eager to find new and interesting stories from this fascinating and troubled land. I celebrated the New Year at my old dojo in South Florida, the Bushido Knights Ryu. Sensei Gerry Knapton started a cool tradition of breaking boards to mark the beginning and end of each year in the Gregorian calendar. I like it. It is a symbolic way to break from whatever was holding you back in the past, and to charge forward into the New Year with vigor.

The three years I spent training at this dojo was a truly valuable life experience. Not only did I learn how to defend myself against guns, knives, and unruly mobs, I gained confidence, wisdom, and a better understanding of self. The lessons of the Martial Arts are much greater than kicking and punching. That being said, it is by far the best martial arts center in that area if you are looking for practical self-defense.

Sometimes we also do impractical things such as breaking boards on fire.
Check out this link to see me breaking 2 boards with a palm hand at 3:00, and my brother Adam breaking 2 boards on fire with a hammer punch at 8:12.