Our Summer in Tehran: A Q&A with Justine Shapiro

July 6th, 2011

Photo credit: ITVS

In Our Summer in Tehran, Jewish filmmaker Justine Shapiro and her six-year-old son Mateo experience the daily life of three middle class families from very different backgrounds in Tehran, Iran. Here, Shapiro discusses the hurdles she encountered in making the film, as well as the decision to bring her son along for the journey.

Our Summer in Tehran airs Saturday, July 9 at 2 p.m. on THIRTEEN.

Interview by Abigail Licad, courtesy of ITVS. For more ITVS film content, visit their site.

Why did you decide to visit Iran with your son Mateo?

The film begins with these lines in voice over: “I want to meet Iranian mothers in their homes before our sons meet on the battlefield.” I was in pre-production for this film in 2006 and the shoot was in 2007, at a time when there was a great deal of media coverage around the possibility that Iran would be the next country in line for war. So I felt some urgency about going there and showing a human side of Iran, before a war began.

This film is very much about the relationships between families. I didn’t want to go to Iran as a journalist or as a single woman or as a travel host. I wanted the Iranian families to regard me as one of them: just another tired mom who, like them, strives to balance motherhood with work. Mateo’s sweet and curious nature opened doors and hearts. I was so glad that he and I had this experience together.

Can you describe the most surprising experience you had while in Tehran?

SURPRISE NUMBER 1: That my shoot came to a halt just 7 weeks into it. The Intelligence Ministry gave us 48 hours to leave Iran. And then, at the airport, the Intelligence Ministry confiscated ALL my material (75 hours of tapes)! Once I returned home I spent 4 months calling the various Ministries trying to convince them to release the tapes.

Finally, Iran relented — with huge caveats: I could get back the footage but I’d have to come to Iran, and edit the film there. So I flew to Iran three times in 2008 to edit Our Summer in Tehran, leaving Mateo behind. Each time I met with an official of the Intelligence Ministry. Finally at the end of the third trip this official gave me permission to bring home all my tapes and hard drives. And the edit began again!

SURPRISE NUMBER 2: The closest friendship I formed was with a devout Muslim — a family’s matriarch, Marjan Torabi, whose husband worked for Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. I didn’t reveal my Jewish heritage to her until the two of us had formed a bond.  Marjan wanted to take me inside the most holy shrine in Iran and I wasn’t sure if Jews could enter. I felt that she should know that I was Jewish before taking me inside. So I told her, on-camera, while she was buying a chador for me. You have to wear a chador to enter this shrine. I was nervous. But she was, and is, very accepting.  She said to me ‘We are both people of the book.’  We email each other every few weeks.

What insight from your trip do you most hope your son will take away and carry into adulthood?

At the end of the film I tell Mateo “I hope that you will continue to move through this world, as you did in Iran, in wonder rather than in fear.”

“Wonder” is being able to imagine possibilities. I think it’s helpful for young people to have experiences that inspire curiosity and wonder, and where they can get, at some level, that they are part of a much bigger world.

We have maps all over our house – even our tablemats are maps. Mateo’s Dad lives in Mexico City and we’ve spent a lot of time there. I think that in part his sense of wonder is also an appreciation of the differences, and a sense that the world is not fair. Why do some people live in houses and others live in cardboard boxes? So “wonder” is not necessarily all smiles and joy, it can also awe at the mystery of injustice. We are all on this planet together, and yet we are leading our lives amidst wildly divergent circumstances.

Vine Talk: Basking in Bordeaux from the Left Bank

June 30th, 2011

Tonight, Vine Talk turns its expert taste buds to the wines of Bordeaux, France to sample Left Bank Cab based Médoc.  Joining host Stanley Tucci this week are Chef Marcus Samuelsson, Patricia Clarkson, Warren Leight, and Michael Shannon.

Warren Leight, Patricia Clarkson, Ray Isle, Michael Shannon, Stanley Tucci, Chef Marcus Samuelsson, and Emilie Perrier (Photo by Eduardo Patino Photography)

Vine Talk airs Thursdays at 10:30 p.m. on THIRTEEN.

Watch a clip from the show: Actress Patricia Clarkson discusses her hometown, New Orleans, Louisiana.

Vine Talk – Episode 10 - Patricia Clarkson on New Orleans from Vine Talk on Vimeo.

Games for Change 2011: Public Media and Games

June 24th, 2011

At a time when public and educational media budgets are skimpy, yet under attack by a variety of sources, major governmental agencies have been speaking out in support of gaming as a major engagement force and artistic medium–and this was only at a day and an hour into Games for Change 2011. Yesterday, former US VP, Al Gore claimed that “Games have arrived as a mass-medium” and today, at a panel on Public Media & Games, speakers from NEA, NEH and PBS KIDS offered their 2 cents in a series of short presentations.

Matt Locke, of Storythings (formerly Head of Multiplatform Commissioning, Channel 4) moderated a panel of key leaders. Here are some highlights: Alyce Myatt, Director, Media Arts at the National Endowment for the Arts recently introduced a new Arts in Media funding stream, which includes “All available media platforms such as the Internet, interactive and mobile technologies, digital games, arts content delivered via satellite, as well as on radio and television.” The NEA is looking for projects with strong artistic merit and excellence, although the definition of “games as art” still needs to be defined. Alyce stated that “The fact that we don’t respect art in this country is “quite frightening” and that perhaps gaming can end the marginalization of art in American schools. I’m sure most developers will join me in thanking Alyce and the NEA for steering us down this exciting road (she also gave me my first job in kids’ TV and is a fellow Emerson College alumna, so I’m just a tad biased). Note that only non-profs are eligible; unfortunately they are not accepting submissions from independent artists or fiscal agents.

Matthew Meschery, Director of Digital Initiatives at ITVS, spoke about the misconceptions of funding for public media. He noted that the public need to know that public media dollars are not funding Grand Theft Auto. “Games can tell the story in a more immersive way that films can’t,” Matthew shared, as evidenced in recent ITVS games like Fatworld, World Without Oil and the Garbage Dreams game, which expands the experience in the award-winning documentary and transmedia project. ITVS is also funding a social game for Facebook on Half the Sky as part of their Women & Girls Lead transmedia/doc engagement project. This is how ITVS is thinking about cross-media for this initiative. Women/Girl power seems to be popping up a lot this year, which is fantastic, but that’s for a different post.

Michael Shirley, Senior Program Officer at the National Endowment for the Humanities is looking to platforms that reach diverse audiences and feels that games play a strong role in that approach. He cited recent social studies projects that are successfully engaging youth, including Thirteen/WNET’s Mission US (thanks for the shout-out) and Past Present.

Last, but certainly not least, Silvia Lovato of PBS KIDS GO! spoke about giving kids more control over their content by offering tools for content creation that will also engage them in the narrative with characters they love. Expanding on existing mash-up tools, their new product Cartoon Studio invites children into a more game-like experience around story and content creation.

Matt Locke ended the panel with: “Be first, cause trouble, inspire change” — great words, Matt. To all you inspiring media-makers out there, go do that!

Bio:
Marj Kleinman is the Senior Interactive Producer in Children’s & Educational Media at Thirteen/WNET, collaborating on PBS KIDS GO!’s Cyberchase and Noah Comprende, as well as Thirteen’s Mission US and other projects. She has been producing kids’ TV and emerging media for more than 18 years and was previously Director of Digital Media at the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop.

*This post originally appeared on the Games for Change blog on June 22, 2011.

Vine Talk: Relishing Riojas from Spain

June 23rd, 2011

This week on Vine Talk, a celebrity panel featuring Aidan Quinn, Nanette Lepore, and Chef Amanda Freitag join host Stanley Tucci to sample Rioja wines from Spain.

Nanette Lepore, Stanley Tucci, Aidan Quinn, Emilie Perrier, Amanda Freitag, Ray Isle

Vine Talk airs Thursdays at 10:30 p.m. on THIRTEEN.

Watch an excerpt from the show: Chef Amanda Freitag discusses the unique ice cream flavor she was invited to try while working in France.

[vimeo 24271767 w=400 h=225]

Vine Talk – Episode 9 – Ice Cream from Vine Talk on Vimeo.

Looking for the right wine to serve at your next picnic or barbecue? Check out Vine Talk‘s Summer Wine Picks.

Watch Online: New York Fight Clubs

June 20th, 2011

In New York Fight Clubs, Jimmy Breslin and other New Yorkers reminisce about the city’s once-popular fight clubs, where members of rival ethnic groups and neighborhoods regularly clashed in the ring. Most of the sites where those fights were staged were torn down years ago, but the memories endure.  New York Fight Clubs takes a nostalgic look back at a slice of New York City life that has all but disappeared.

Watch the full program here:

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Boxing Gym: A Q&A with Filmmaker Frederick Wiseman

June 15th, 2011

Frederick Wiseman (Photo: Gretje Ferguson)

Inside Thirteen had the opportunity to speak with veteran documentary filmmaker Frederick Wiseman about his upcoming film, Boxing Gym. The documentary takes a fly-on-the-wall look at Lord’s Gym in Austin, Texas — a true melting pot where boxers of all walks of life and skill levels come together to train.

Here, Wiseman discusses the inspiration behind Boxing Gym and his unique style of film making.

Boxing Gym airs Thursday, June 16 at 9 p.m. on THIRTEEN.

Mr. Wiseman answered our questions via email.

Inside Thirteen: What inspired you to make this film?

Frederick Wiseman: Boxing is a form of ritualized violence. Looking back at the films I have made, violence is a subject that links many of them.  For example, the inmates of Bridgewater State Prison where I made Titicut Follies had committed some of the most violent crimes imaginable and were separated by the State from civic life.  Law and Order (a film about the Kansas City police) illustrates the necessity and role of the police in a community to prevent crimes against people and property, and to find and arrest those responsible.  Juvenile Court documents the role of the criminal justice system in establishing the punishment of juvenile offenders who have committed violent acts.  Domestic Violence I and II show the work of a shelter, the police and the courts as the representatives of the State in helping and punishing people acting violently in their personal relationships.  Basic Training, Manoeuvre and Missile are illustrations of the application of the State’s monopoly of violence in the service of protecting its citizens against external violence.  Also, Boxing Gym is related to the two films I have done on ballet, Ballet and La Danse.  Both boxing and ballet require discipline, long years of training and control of the movement of the body.   Boxing Gym is related to and thematically consistent with all these other films.  In addition, I am a boxing fan.

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IT: What makes Lord’s Gym so unique? How did you first hear about it?

FW: I did not visit other boxing gyms and cannot compare it to others.  I think Richard Lord, the owner of the gym, is very unusual, mankind sensitive, responsible, tuned in to the needs of others, and an excellent teacher and effective leader.  I heard about Lord’s Gym from a friend who teaches at the University of Texas at Austin.

IT: Like many of your films, Boxing Gym is mostly observational – we are introduced to members of the gym through their interactions, but there are no direct interviews.  What appeals to you about this style of film making, and how did it lend itself to Boxing Gym?

(Photo: Frederick Wiseman)

FW: I do not like interviews or narration because they are didactic and separate the viewer from the subject.  When my technique works, it works because the viewer feels present at the events seen in the film and has to make up his/her own mind about what it is he/she is seeing and hearing.  My point of view toward the subject is revealed indirectly through the choice of sequences and the structure of the film, and it is more like a novel than a news report.

IT: Is boxing particularly popular in Texas?

FW: Boxing is popular in Texas.  I do not know whether it is more popular in Texas than in other states.

IT: Many of your films focus on exploring American institutions.  What drew you to these places, and what is more interesting for you to cover: well-known institutions, like the American Ballet Theatre, or lesser-known, more local places, like Lord’s Gym?

FW: When I started making films, institutions were relatively unexplored subjects on film.  An institution provides a boundary like the lines of a tennis court.  Whatever happens in the building or buildings of the institution or the geographical area that defines the subject of the film is fit for inclusion; anything outside is another film.  I am not concerned with whether the institution is well known or not, the subject is what matters.

IT: Was there anything you were surprised to learn about the members of Lord’s Gym, or the sport in general, during the making this film?

FW: I was impressed by the dedication and discipline of the boxers and the sense of community and mutual respect inspired by Richard Lord’s leadership.

OUT in America: A Q&A with Humorist Kate Clinton

June 7th, 2011

Kate Clinton (Photo: David Rodgers)

Inside Thirteen recently spoke with multi-talented funny lady Kate Clinton about her participation in the upcoming documentary, OUT in America.

The film is a collection of stories told by some of the country’s most prominent LGBT figures, along with everyday citizens with extraordinary stories. It spans the country to show the diversity of the LGBT community, and transcends stereotypes to reveal the real people behind the struggle for equality.

Here, Clinton shares her thoughts on LGBT issues and her varied career, which spans comedy, acting, writing, and beyond.

OUT in America airs Wednesday, June 8 at 8 p.m. on THIRTEEN.

Inside Thirteen: What first interested you in participating in OUT in America?

Kate Clinton: I think that from the beginning, the producer [Andrew Goldberg] was driven to tell the story of the ordinary lives of gay people in America. It’s part of the way of winning hearts and minds, which is certainly the campaign. It’s a wonderful venue through PBS – it has such a wide reach and I was excited that he was so determined to get it there and to really tell a good, ordinary story of the courageous and extraordinary lives of LGBT people in America. You just can’t have enough! So I was really drawn to that, and he [Goldberg] was relentless, so I couldn’t say no!

When I started doing comedy 30 years ago, if something gay happened in the news, I could talk about it for 5 to 10 years. It could be, “Lily Tomlin wore purple,” and that would be it! So, the fact that OUT in America through PBS really realizes what we’re up against to tell a gay story, because there are so many other gay stories being told, it’s incredible. That they have public relations and promotions for it is awesome! Before, it would be like, “Try to hide that thing by putting it on at 3 in the morning.” We are marshaled to make people aware that it’s on.

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IT: Are there any stories in OUT in America that you found especially moving or that resonated with you?

KC: What I loved is the overall gestalt the thing. It’s beautifully done, simply told, and I really loved all the stories.

IT: What message do you hope viewers will take from this film?

KC: It sounds so science fiction, but — we are among you. I don’t mean that in a threatening way, we’re not taking your lunch money. We’re tax-paying America loving, ordinary citizens like everybody else. And we want our PBS. (laughs)

IT: Are there any LGBT issues or perspectives that you feel do not get enough attention?

KC: I think that the national focus and conversation is definitely on marriage equality. I think that as a vehicle to talk about LGBT equality is wonderful. I do think that the wonderful video idea of “It Gets Better” is certainly drawing attention to bullying and encouraging young people to hang in there after the incredible number of suicides we’ve had.

I think the LGBT issue is that we are in all issues. Healthcare is an LGBT issue — we have incredibly inaccurate and outdated information about the LGBT population. We’re never represented fully in healthcare policy — we have huge amounts of breast cancer among lesbians. Why is that? We don’t know. Because of the effects of homophobia, we have horrible amounts of alcohol and drug addiction, and tobacco. I think what we’re not focusing on enough is that every issue is an LGBT issue. Immigration is an incredible LGBT issue. LGBT people are kind of like immigrants into the world of heterosexuality. We’re undocumented, we’re trying to figure out the language, we’re afraid of losing our jobs and our homes because we’re LGBT. We’re all border crossers. I think what we need to do going forward is be a part of every issue. To have a friend, you have to be a friend. So, we need to be in the profound discussions about choice in this country. We need to be in discussions about immigration. I’m very happy that we have finally repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” but we still have to be on issues like the rape of women in the military.

IT: How do you think the political/cultural landscape will change in the next decade with regards to gay rights and the fight for equality, if at all?

Kate Clinton (Photo: Two Cat Productions)

KC: I do think it will change — to look forward, we just have to look backwards and see the enormous changes that we’ve made in the last 40 years — it’s pretty stunning to be part of a liberation movement that has become so visible and has accomplished so many wonderful things on the state, national, and local levels. I think and hope that the way the LGBT landscape will change is as I was saying, that we become more involved as LGBT people in environmental issues, healthcare issues, education. Then, it is a true change. I worry that if we get federal marriage equality, that people will just go “Wow, that’s great! Okay, we’re done with that.” I love the moment when there’s somebody in an office trying to figure out in triplicate what to do about insurance for gay people. When it really comes down to that level, that’s what I’m looking for.

IT: You’ve had an extremely multi-faceted career, from acting to writing to comedy. If you had to give it all up and pick a different career, what would it be?

KC: I would be an adult literacy volunteer. I would teach people how to read — I think that would be rockin’.

IT: What is your favorite material to cover during your shows? Is there anything you generally avoid?

KC: I think people are overwhelmed by information and what we don’t get to do is contextualize it or connect it to other things. I think that is what I love to do the most. I love to laugh, and I work for laughter. But if you get a moment that’s quiet because people are thinking, and it’s because you’ve made some connection that maybe on some subconscious level they were thinking about but hadn’t articulated…I love that. I guess it’s making connections. On the flip side, if there is any joke that my girlfriend says, “Oh, you shouldn’t do that,” that is the one I want to do!

IT: Is there anything people would be surprised to learn about you?

KC: I think I’ve told them almost everything! I guess they would be surprised that I actually mean it! I have no sense of direction, I am technologically challenged. I really am against gay marriage! It’s a great idea and I’ll work for it, but don’t make me do it! (laughs)

WNET Selected by NJ Governor Christie to Provide Programming to NJN

June 6th, 2011

Gov. Christie, WNET President Neil Shapiro, and host Steve Adubato (Photo: Governor's Office/Tim Larsen)

Earlier today, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie announced his recommendation that WNET be selected to provide programming and services to New Jersey Network (NJN). Upon approval by the legislature, WNET will provide programming and services under a five-year agreement.

Among the programs that the network, which will be re-named NJTV, will air include:

  • A newly launched summertime edition of a news program in July—NJ Today—at the same frequency (4 broadcasts per day) and same airtimes as NJN currently runs.  In the fall a new version of NJ Today will premiere, with a focus on in-depth interviews, similar to the PBS NewsHour.
  • Popular PBS programs and never before seen shows like Charlie Rose.
  • An expanded daily uninterrupted children’s block of programs (Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.).

The New Jersey legislature is given 15 days from today to vote on Governor Christie’s recommendation. If approved, WNET will begin providing programming and services to NJN effective July 1.

Christie: On the Line Highlights

June 1st, 2011

On June 16, 2011 at 8 p.m., the Caucus Educational Corporation simulcast Governor Chris Christie: On the Line, a special one-hour live broadcast taped at the Tisch WNET studios at Lincoln Center that aired in prime-time on THIRTEEN, and a variety of PBS and National Public Radio (NPR) member stations.

On this interactive program, Governor Chris Christie responded to viewer questions on a range of issues including education, health care, the economy and bringing business back to New Jersey.

Additional stations that aired the broadcast include WHYY (Philadelphia’s PBS affiliate), WLIW (Long Island’s PBS affiliate), WLIW WORLD, NJN-Public Television, FiOS1, online at NJ.com, as well as on NPR member stations WNYC AM 820 (one of the highest-rated NPR member stations in the country) and WBGO 88.3 FM.

Watch highlights from Christie: On the Line.