Tag Archives: Documentary

Artist Feature: Erica Hellerstein

Erica Hellerstein is a Bay Area-based journalist who we’ve known since attending high school together back in the day in Berkeley. She has contributed to and published stories from around the globe, from Central California to Chile. She highlights the importance of Reflection in her craft as the ability to find universal themes within circumstantial details of a story. She exhibits this approach in a current piece on cervical cancer in South Texas, exploring central ideas of womanhood and resistance. Throughout our dialogue she discusses various other projects including an investigative narrative piece exploring the use of the abortion pill misoprostol, and a radio documentary about Curanderas in the Bay Area. We’re excited to have an engaging talk with this craftswoman tough on her grind! 

Erica Hellerstein

Reflection is the process of distillation. It’s the opposite of reflex, of the reactive tweet or the fiery text. Reflection forces me unpack my impulses. As a journalist, it’s probably one of the most important and satisfying muscles that I can exercise.

– Erica Hellerstein

Leading off with some basics, where are you from? And where are you at?

EH: I was born and raised in the Bay Area, in a trendy, club-friendly corner of the East Bay called Kensington. After High School, I moved to the East Coast , where I stayed for several years. It was terrible. Everything was grey and frigid and even the wind howled more despairingly. Now, I’m happy to report that I’m finally back in California, wrapping up a graduate program at UC Berkeley.

What does Reflection and Response mean to you?

EH: I like this question because I’m sure I would have had answered it very differently had you thrown it my way a year and a half ago. I think that reflection and response will mean different things to me at different times. Right now, I am in a transitional period, and have genuinely no idea what I’ll be doing five months down the road — which makes the process of mindful reflection difficult. Sometimes it’s easy for me to get bogged down in the uncertainties and transience of my life, and this maddening tendency I have to beat myself up over matters I can’t control. When I’m constantly on the go, sometimes I forget to stop, look around, and relish the volatility of it all.

So for me, reflection is the process of distillation. It’s the opposite of reflex, of the reactive tweet or the fiery text. Reflection forces me unpack my impulses. As a journalist, it’s probably one of the most important and satisfying muscles that I can exercise. Without a process of reflection, my pieces wouldn’t have depth or universality. For me, it takes careful reflection and contemplation of the human spirit, to understand the stories that really pack punches. The ones that transcend time, place, identity, gender, nationalism, and religion — these are the pieces that endure and connect people across virtual bridges. Certainly it’s my aspiration as a writer and a journalist to tell universal stories. I think that reflection is the vantage point through which I can suspend my complicated identity and simply observe.

Now response, that’s easier for me. As you can probably tell, I’ve always been a talker. To me response feels natural, it’s what I do. Response means telling a story. It’s reflection digested — and I love to eat.

How does your writing fit in with that definition?

EH: Sometimes I view writing as a birthing process. I’ve created some deeply embarrassing babies — think angst-ridden college memoirs and romanticized articles about revolution in Latin America — so it’s hard for me to go back  to stories I’ve already produced and analyze them through the prism of reflection and response. Instead, I’m going to flip this question around and talk to you about a piece I’m working on that embodies this definition. Just to keep you on your toes, Peter.

So right now I’m writing a story about incredibly high cervical cancer rates in South Texas. It sounds like a terribly depressing story, and in some ways, it is. Or it would have been if I hadn’t reflected on the real story, which isn’t a doom-and-gloom piece about cancer. The real story is about women. And resistance. About a fascinating and inspiring group of of educators who are driving from slum to slum in South Texas, teaching women about their bodies and how to prevent cervical cancer and other reproductive health problems in spite of family planning clinic closures.

There are certainly elements of this story that are unsettling, raw, and unfair. There’s a community that has been forgotten by our health care system, and a group of women who are suffering because of that. There are children who are losing their mothers because they can’t afford to get regular check-ups, and there are families who are moving back to dangerous border towns in Mexico because they can’t get their health care needs met here.

But this is exactly where reaction and response came in. From afar, I thought it would be an incredibly sad and terrible story to work on. But when I got to South Texas and shadowed the health educators, driving from home to home on dusty, unpaved streets, I realized that my preconceived notions about the community and situation were completely wrong. It wasn’t depressing. The women couldn’t change the cards that they were dealt, but they were absolutely changing the ways that they played the hand. They were responding, reacting. The health situation there is still dire but they don’t think about it in a fatalistic way.  It was humbling to for  me realize just how wrong I was about the situation. Those are the moments that make me want to continue doing this work — when I realize how much I have left to learn. 

What else have you been working on recently? What are you looking to work on next?

EH: I’m working on a lot of projects right now. First off is my master’s thesis, which is a long, investigative narrative piece about the use of the (in some countries, illegal) abortion pill, misoprostol, in South Texas, where all of the abortion clinics have shut down. In many states in the US, it’s not legal to take this pill to induce your own abortion. It’s really a profile of this pill — an exposition of its lifeline. It has a fascinating history, it was discovered by women in Brazil in the ’80s to induce abortions and became wildly popular. My story follows the pill around the world and is rooted in Texas, where there are these parts of the state without abortion clinics that have basically turned into these pro Roe v. Wade wastelands. It’s rumored that misoprostol is sold illegally in South Texas flea markets, and I went undercover at the markets in search of the pill. You’ll have to read the piece to see what ultimately ended up happening.

I’m also working on a 30-minute radio documentary about Mexican folk healers, or Curanderas, in the Bay Area. There’s a really vibrant movement of female healers in the Bay that have all coalesced together in recent years. Nobody quite knows how it happened, but my documentary explores this group of healers and how they integrate their ancient practices with the modern. It also follows the story of a young woman who recently found out that her grandmother was a Curandera in Mexico, and is sort of exploring her own past by learning more about this tradition.

Who or what inspires you?

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Artist Feature: Diane Ghogomu

Recently I saw that someone had posted a preview of a documentary project on hip-hop in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on a friend’s Facebook wall. After researching the project a bit, we sent an email to one of the film’s three creators, Diane Ghogomu, who welcomed the idea of participating in the LIFESTYLE Artist Feature series. Originally from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Diane has been living in Buenos Aires for some time, where she has worked along with Segundo Bercetche and Sebastian Muñoz to produce Buenos Aires Rap.

Diane discusses the Reflective and Responsive nature of hip-hop in the film, which follows the lives of various artists involved in this art form in the Argentine capital. Diane and her co-directors will be screening their project at the Buenos Aires Film Festival this year, and are currently fundraising in order to put finishing touches on the project and begin distribution. Check out the interview, trailer, and stills from the film below!

Segundo Bercetche | Diane Ghogomu | Sebastian Muñoz

Sebastian Muñoz | Diane Ghogomu | Segundo Bercetche

Leading off with some basics, where are you from? And where are you at?

DG: I am from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania! Steeltown, represent! Right now I am living in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

What does Reflection and Response mean to you?

DG: Reflection and Response is the process of acting authentically to each situation that is presented to you. I always think of the Lion King. Simba had to follow his guide Rafiki to the water to see himself. Simba had to look in the water and reflect on his situation, speak with the ancestors, see his own image in the shore before he knew how he had to continue. His response was more powerful because it wasn’t reactionary, but to a powerful impulse backed by his spirits! That’s how he knocked evil’s block off!

Buenos Aires Rap

How does your project Buenos Aires Rap fit in with that definition?

DG: Buenos Aires Rap embodies Reflection and Response in various ways. First off, this project follows an incredible amount of artists whose music is a response to how they reflect on their own identities, their own existences, their own ways of life.

Lukas (Buenos Aires Rap)

Lukas (Buenos Aires Rap)

Those artists who truly respect and understand the history of hip-hop and rap see themselves reflected in that history and the present hip-hop culture. Many of the Bolivian immigrants who live here in Buenos Aires spoke about being able to relate with African Americans living in ghettos during Reaganism. One of my favorite quotes comes from a character named Anton who says, “Through hip-hop I’ve been able to comprehend a lot. I’ve thought a lot. I’ve learned a lot. Here people who have been here for less than 200 years are going to tell you that you are an immigrant when your ancestors have been here since Before Christ? That’s not right. Nationality is only a lack of identity!”

Milito (Buenos Aires Rap)

Milito (Buenos Aires Rap)

That is a beautiful thing to me. These characters are able to reflect, transform, and respond through hip-hop and rap.

Secondly, the job of the documentarian is to do just that: reflect and respond. Anyone who tells you that documentaries are objective are lying to you. Our job is to reflect on a social phenomenon, and respond by placing a camera where and how we see fit. In this project we tried to reflect an image of Buenos Aires that is oft-ignored. Even people who live in Buenos Aires will have a hard time naming all of the urban landscapes that pass by on their screen. We hope that the impact of our project will be a process of reflection and response. Buenos Aires is often painted as a white and European society, without leaving space for her true colors. We hope people can reflect on the truths of the black, the brown,the ghetto-dwellers, the hardworking, the crazy, and those that are just looking to have a little fun, and realize that all of these narratives make Buenos Aires what she is. The response should be an integration of these personalities into the imagery of Argentina. Buenos Aires, reflect! THIS IS YOU!! As one of the characters Rasek raps, “We know you won’t understand it if we rap it, so we’ll breathe it into you.”

Buenos Aires Rap

What else have you been working on recently? What are you looking to work on next?

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Artist Feature: Mina Fitzpatrick

I first met Mina Fitzpatrick in Buenos Aires, Argentina. We stayed in touch over the years and it was dope to connect over a LIFESTYLE Artist Feature about her filmmaking work. Mina has been living in Seoul, South Korea for the past two and a half years working on Two Together, a documentary film following the lives of 3 single mothers in South Korea, where single mothers often face significant social discrimination and pressure to give up their children for adoption. This is Mina’s first film and she notes the importance of taking the time to learn as much as possible about the craft while she works on the product itself. For this artist, Reflection and Response involves slowing down and giving the required time to reflect instead of responding immediately. Mina and her co-documentarian Tom Krawczyk are currently starting the editing process, so peep the Two Together website for updates on a release date!

Mina Fitzpatrick

To me, reflection and response reject the idea of immediacy, and instead demand time and patience from your work. So often we are caught up on the idea of responding to something, that we forget to reflect on it first. 

Leading off with some basics, where are you from? And where are you at?

MF: I’m originally from Seattle, Washington. I was born in Vermont and moved to South Korea when I was five years old. I spent most of my young adult life growing up in Seattle, and went to college in Houston, Texas. Now, I’ve found my way back to Korea, and have been living here for the past two and a half years. I love living in Seoul, with its fast-paced lifestyle, delicious food, and lively people. Definitely a place I’m proud to call home.

What does Reflection and Response mean to you?

MF: To me, reflection and response reject the idea of immediacy, and instead demand time and patience from your work. So often we are caught up on the idea of responding to something, that we forget to reflect on it first. 

Two Together Documentary TRAILER: http://twotogetherdocumentary.weebly.com/

The decision to raise a child as a single mother is never an easy one. In Korea, where unwed motherhood is highly stigmatized, the decision is especially difficult. For many years, the Korean government played no small role in influencing this decision. Instead of offering financial and social support to unwed mothers, the government opted for a system that seemingly swept the problem under the rug: overseas adoption. Today, Korea has the largest adult population of adoptees in the world, and the vast majority of Korean adoptees are the children of unwed mothers.

This documentary follows the stories of three different women. While their stories are different, each demonstrates the need to give women back the right to decide. It advocates for a society in which mothers can choose to raise their own children. 


How does your work with the documentary “Two Together” fit in with that definition? 

MF: As a novice filmmaker, this project has been a huge growing experience. I feel excited to have found a profession in which I feel just as excited about the “artistic process” as I do about the finished product. You know that old saying, “Anything worthwhile is worth the wait”? Taking time has not only allowed me to reflect on the characters, and their stories, but also on myself, and my role as a filmmaker. As I reflect, I am able to create a response that is deeper, and more meaningful to me, and hopefully to my audience. 

Two Together Documentary - Process

What else have you been working on recently? What are you looking to work on next?

MF: At the moment, most of my energy is focused on this project, as we are just beginning the long editing process. When I’m not working on the documentary, I usually spend time doing things that will help me become a better filmmaker, whether it be reading, writing, taking photographs, watching other documentaries or practicing Korean. When I move back to the States, I hope to work on some more local projects, maintaining a focus on social-political issues, and giving a voice to those who are rarely heard. 

Two Together Documentary - Process

Who or what inspires you?

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Artist Feature: Franz Rothe

We’ve been fortunate enough to have become close friends with Dresden-born musician, writer, and filmmaker Franz Rothe over the past year here in Brooklyn, and his versatility and creative output are huge inspirations for us. In an insightful interview, Franz guides us through his perspectives on Reflection and Response, explores how these concepts fit in with his musical process, reflects on a recent album called Away that he worked on as part of the band Franz & Frau Schneider und dieser Andere, and talks through various current projects. Let’s dig in:

Franz Rothe

I believe that the urge to write a song results from the need to capture and express a certain feeling…You chase this feeling, this impulse, because it is haunting, like something you have once known but forgotten. And you try to figure out what it is, what it wants to be, how it wants to sound.

– Franz Rothe

Leading off with some basics, where are you from? And where are you at?

FR: I am from a beautiful city called Dresden in Germany. But I have been living here and there in the recent past. Right now I live in New York, which is wonderful but won’t last very long either.

What does Reflection and Response mean to you?

FR: I think that, in a way, Reflection and Response describes the very essence of music or really any kind of art. I believe that whatever we create can only be seen as a response to what we have seen, heard or experienced before. At least I would say about myself, that I’ve never come up with any kind of idea that was not a response to something somebody else did before me. We reflect upon our experiences, our impressions, and we respond to them – knowingly or not – and sculpt them into something new.

Pessimistically, that view could lead to questioning the mere idea of originality, as everything is just a combination of what was there before. But on the other hand, I enjoy the thought of being a part in an endless chain of Reflection and Response.

(For example, I am not ashamed to say that my biggest form of admiration for any kind of art is the thought ‘Why didn’t I think of that?’ followed by the thought ‘How can I take that and turn it into something new?’…)

How does your album ‘Away’ fit in with that definition?

FR: I think the album ‘Away’ is on many levels the product of Reflection and Response – it is what we made of music we heard, songs we love, songs we hate, books that touched us, people that surrounded us and places we have been. But it is also what we made of each other and ourselves.

I believe that the urge to write a song results from the need to capture and express a certain feeling. It’s never about which chords might go well together and which words might rhyme. You chase this feeling, this impulse, because it is haunting, like something you have once known but forgotten. And you try to figure out what it is, what it wants to be, how it wants to sound.

I think, in the best case an artist should be like the needle of a record player, materializing an invisible something.

As we were three musicians working together on this album, the most important part was responding to our surroundings in a similar way. Sharing an understanding of the feelings that we wanted to transport in the music we made. And with every musician we brought into the studio, we hoped they would be telling a similar story as we did, adding to what the three of us shared.

Then again, that sounds way more complex than it actually was. In the end we just made music together, simply loving each other for that.

Franz Rothe & Vivi

What else have you been working on recently? What are you looking to work on next?

FR: I’m trying my hand at a couple of different things right now. There are so many languages in which you can express yourself, so I tried to look for other languages like film or writing. Kind of to find an outlet for things that haunted me, but couldn’t find their way out of my head through chords and melodies.

I made a documentary about forced evictions in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, with my dear friend Michael last year. It’s called ‘The Final Days’ and I’m happy about anyone watching it on vimeo.

Right now I actually started writing a book, which has been on my mind for ages. But first novels usually suck, so there’s really not too much to expect there…

Who or what inspires you?

FR: Places. People. My friends. Vivi and Lukas, who are the other two-thirds of the band. Their talent and their ability to always just naturally come up with exactly the right thing – that never ceased to amaze and inspire me!

Generally speaking though, in the best case, absolutely anything could be inspiration. But unfortunately I often have a hard time keeping the open eyes it takes to be aware of what’s actually around me.

So what I do is I travel a lot and try to see and live in as many countries and cultures as possible, to absorb as much as I can.

Is there anything else you would like the Collective to know?
FR: Check out the photographer Ben Zank! I just had the pleasure of meeting him and he is as nice a guy as he is a brilliant artist.
Shout out to…?

FR: Huge shout out to Vivi and Lukas, with whom I made the album ‘Away’ and whom I miss terribly when we are too far away from each other to make music!

Franz, Vivi, Lukas

Reflection and Response.

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Feature: Tanya Jackson

We’re honored to present this week’s feature on East Harlem-based educator, documentary artist, and performing artist Tanya Jackson. Collaboration is hard work sometimes, but nonetheless forces everyone invested in the process to grow—Tanya discusses her experiences working with other artists on some inspiring film projects and how she herself grows and develops through each project. Watch as she builds an exhibition of how we as people can be reflections of one another as we respond to the brush strokes that paint the canvas of our lives.

Tanya Jackson

Leading off with some basics, where are you from? And where are you at?

TJ: I’m a native New Yorker. I was born in Long Island and during the early years of my childhood, I bounced around various sections of the city. At about age 12, I moved to Hudson, New York where I finished high school. From there I earned a Bachelor of Arts in Communication from the University of New York at Albany – SUNY.

I lived in Philly for about 11 years and recently moved back to New York where I currently reside in East Harlem. But I spend a good amount of my free time in the artistic bed of Brooklyn.

What does Reflection and Response mean to you?

TJ: Reflection is a process used for recalling experiences in order to analyze and evaluate our thoughts, feelings and actions, as well as the social context that informs how we address those experiences.  Reflection is how we make sense of our lives and the world around us.  Response is replying, answering or reacting to something – and the reaction can take many forms.

Artistically, I respond through my role as an educator, media maker and performing artist.

How does your work fit in with that definition?

TJ: I recently worked with Visual and Performing Artist Frances Bradley shooting and editing the promotional video for the Womanhood or Woman’s-Hurt? project.  The project is a depiction of her experience as a victim and survivor of sexual assault.

When Frances and I first started discussing ideas, I found myself reluctant to take it on because I was dealing with a lot personally – including the loss of my father and my younger sister within a few months of each other. I was mentally and emotionally exhausted and all those things made me feel defeated. But creativity has the power to revitalize.

As a documentary artist, it is always challenging to document someone’s personal life. It requires you to be present as a human being but detached as an artist so you can operate from an objective standpoint that allows you to convey their message in the best way. Even though Frances only needed basic videography services, it ended up being a pretty tough project.

The experience depicted in Womanhood or Woman’s-Hurt? is not isolated. One in six women are victims of sexual violence, and through visual art, Frances managed to capture themes that reflect the psychological and emotional trauma every victim deals with after being sexually violated. You can’t spend countless hours shooting and editing that type of footage and ignore that.

Retrospectively, learning about Frances’ experience and working to capture the message she was trying to convey challenged me to reflect and cope with my personal history of being sexualized at an early age. I was on a creative journey that no other project had ever taken me on. Womanhood or Woman’s-Hurt? is truly the Art of Healing and working on the project helped my own healing process. My contribution to Womanhood or Woman’s-Hurt is paralleled with Frances’ work – and is the response to that reflection.

What else have you been working on recently? What are you looking to work on next?

TJ: Ironically, the majority of projects I’ve worked on for the past year focused on relationship and sexual violence.

I’m co-director of an after school program where I also teach high school students documentary filmmaking around social issues. This past spring, my students chose to explore dating violence for their term project after one of their peers shared her experience of being in a violent relationship with her child’s father. After showing my students the Womanhood or Woman’s-Hurt? promotional video, the same student who shared her violent relationship experience, shared how inspired she was by Frances’ courage to give voice to her trauma, and work to heal. Frances’ story, in part, helped this student find the courage to profile her own story in the students’ film, Journey to Survival, which confirms the necessity of the Womanhood or Woman’s-Hurt? project.

Last year, I co-starred in the short film, Bottom, written by up and coming director Chinonye Chukwu.  Bottom addresses sexual trauma’s effect on intimate relationships. That film is currently in distribution and recently premiered at the Los Angeles OutFest Festival.

Promo photo from "Bottom," a story of love between girlfriends taking an unexpected turn.

Promo photo from “Bottom,” a story of love between girlfriends taking an unexpected turn.

In the beginning of July I (humbly) served as a production assistant for an episode of Lisa Ling’s Our America series, which airs on Oprah Winfrey’s OWN network.  I say humbly because I haven’t been a production assistant in a couple of moons and I certainly didn’t see myself chiefly responsible for getting coffee and loading camera equipment at this age. But the experience and networking opportunities were well worth it!

I am currently working to finish the documentary for Womanhood or Woman’s-Hurt?. And I will also be working with Ms. Chukwu on her next short narrative, A Long Walk, a story that takes place in Philadelphia during the 1980s, and explores the effects of staying silent after witnessing injustice.

Who or what inspires you?

TJ: I find inspiration in lots of places.  Throughout the course of my life, the Black experience in the world, the struggle—how people fight against various forms of oppression in this world has always moved and churned my spirit.  As a youth I danced, wrote poems and made speeches about the Black experience. Ms. Debbie Allen was a huge inspiration to me in my youth because of her ability to channel different forms of artistic talent as a means of expression.

Learning inspires me! I earned a Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts in media studies, with a specialization in media literacy education (MLE).  As a student I was always excited about investigating all kinds of interests, especially when it came to studying how people consume media. The best practices of MLE rest in the awareness that inquiry and co-creating knowledge in an educational setting cultivates learning that requires constant reflection and encourages intentional, conscious response.

The energy of NYC inspires me.  I am inspired by my students and the communities where I work. I find the perspective, courage and vulnerability of other artists inspiring. Beautiful imagery in still and moving images cause me to soar. Direct engagement with all sorts of art is inspiring to me. I especially like being pleasantly surprised by art and nature when I’m walking about in the world.  I tend to get lost in my head a lot when walking and when art or nature unexpectedly jumps out at me, I’m immediately reminded that beauty can be just as real as it can be imagined.  Of course, a well made documentary film or video can inspire creative ideas.  Lastly, and most importantly, I find inspiration in myself when I am centered and in tune with my own creativity—true inspiration comes from the inside out.

Is there anything else you would like the Collective to know?

TJ: Art is a universal language and the life-size art of Womanhood or Woman’s-Hurt? tells a story that the majority of women in our lives are experiencing. People are becoming more visually oriented and conversations about sexual violence, it’s impact on victims and the healing process, needs to reflect that trend.

Only four out of 12 pieces of Womanhood or Woman’s-Hurt? are finished and we’re raising $25,000 to complete the project and we need all the support we can get. Every dollar counts so please contribute to this project.

I’m just beginning momentum for my company, Life Happens Media Works.  The Reflection and Response theme of LIFESTYLE resonates with the direction I plan to develop future work; taking part in this interview has been very helpful in developing these concepts. Thank you for your time and interest in my story.

I also want the Collective to know that our gifts matter! Our existence matters, even when we don’t feel like it does. We must continue to reflect and respond through our work and just Being the unique expressions of Love that we are; we are messengers!

Shout out to…?

TJ: All my homies! The driving force and PR department of the Womanhood or Woman’s Hurt Project, Frances Bradley and LaToya English; Frances Bradley again for her courage, power and artistry, she definitely inspires me in multiple ways.  Thanks to the Educational Video Center where I currently teach documentary filmmaking. EVC has been such a great place to merge my skill sets in education and media making. As I enhance my artistic skills, I can’t ask for a better day-job set up. Thanks to filmmaker, Chinonye Chukwu for being my artistic angel. She has lovingly included me on really amazing projects in ways that challenge and honor my gifts. She has provided a significant amount of loving support and encouraged me to continue being a true artist! Shout outs to all artists! Shout outs to my family and friends who ground me, save me and love me through thick and thin, Shout out to the city and people of Philadelphia for helping me mature and cultivate my work ethic. Thanks to New York City for its energy, urban beauty, diversity of people, and its art and experiences. Thanks to the Universe for everything!

Check out more of Tanya’s work below:

Breathing Easy: Environmental Hazards in Public Housing (Trailer)

Tanya currently serves as co-director of Educational Video Center’s Youth Documentary Workshop. Breathing Easy: Environmental Hazards in Public Housing, is one of the student-made films in her workshop. Breathing Easy was produced by high school students who participated in EVC’s fall 2012 Youth Documentary Workshop. Students focus their attention and cameras on the harmful impact that lead poisoning, mold, and pests and pesticides in low-income housing has on the health and wellbeing of their communities. They investigate how these pollutants affect their fellow student’s Harlem apartment, and show how the information and advocacy provided by WE ACT for Environmental Justice and other health experts give hope to a family in need.

Alaskaland (Trailer)

One of Tanya’s artistic roles is as a script supervisor for film productions. In 2011, She served as the script supervisor for the feature length film, Alaskaland, shot on location in Fairbanks, Alaska. “Alaskaland tells the story of Chukwuma, an Alaska-raised Nigerian struggling to balance his cultural heritage with the pressures of the larger world around him.  After a family tragedy forces a two-year estrangement from his younger sister Chidinma, the siblings reconnect in their hometown. Although their time apart has created new frictions, they find their reconciliation bringing them closer to each other and to their roots in this gorgeous, knowing debut film.

Reflection and Response.

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Two Tracks From a Documentary

Seattle, 2010. Just back from Argentine study abroad. My friend Yasmeen was finishing her film studies at the University of Southern Califronia and was doing a documentary and asked for some tracks. I put these together and she ended up using “Yasmeen Slower,” in the film.

Yasmeen Louder:

Yasmeen Slower

Reflection and Response


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Feature: Samuel Bostick

Liftoff. Folks, today we’re super excited to debut the LIFESTYLE Feature series with the one and only Samuel Bostick, a true homie, and family to us. Samuel is a multi-talented craftsman, and just an all around genuine and creative cat. Always an inspiring presence.

We are honored to present Samuel’s project titled Swagg: Reclaiming Space and Time. These days the word Swagger seems like it’s constantly, and often carelessly, dropped in a lot of different contexts. But what does this do to the word and the concept? What is Swagger? In this project, Samuel takes a critical look at what the essence of Swagger is all about.

Multimedia. First, an interview with the man himself, followed by a documentary he created as part of this project. Digg.

Swagg: Reclaiming Space and Time

Leading off with some basics, where are you from? And where are you at?

SB: I am from a small rural town known by the name of Atwater. I’m a country kid. When I say country I’m talking people still working in fruit factories and on farms; that’s what makes the city go round. Right now I’m in a transitional stage of my life, I just graduated college and got my degree in Ethnic Studies. Honestly, I am making my way through the world one day at a time.

What does Reflection and Response mean to you?

SB: Reflection and Response is a way of life most definitely. It’s a system that connects the self with the surrounding world. It is a relationship of function. The earth has a divine way of moving and keeping balance; it is up to us, you and me, to reflect on what we feel, hear, sense etc going on around. For instance the recent news and incidents concerning Troy Davis, the Irvine 11 or even on a global scale the reality of the Gaza strip and the Israeli invasions and occupation on Palestine, these are just some examples, the list is endless. Reflect and Respond appropriately, ask yourself what’s really going on? Where are you and What are you doing?

How does Swagg: Reclaiming Space and Time fit in with that definition?

SB: This past year at school I did my undergrad research on Swagger, through the lens of reclaiming space and time. We all carry an energy, an aura you can say, and this is something that can be felt by people, animals, plants, beings around us. Where this aura comes from is lived experience, personal mentalities, and the way you feel and interact with your surroundings. All this put into each step we take, the words we speak, every smile we break, the cities or regions we claim with pride, THAT is where it becomes SWAGGER. It is honestly a soulful thing. It is not a new thing either, it is something that has developed and evolved over time to become what we recognize as swagger today. It has a genealogy, a lineage of predecessors, there is a history, more so a traceable culture of undeniable stylo and interpersonal gusto!

Check it, Swagger is strongly connected to Hip Hop and Rap culture. Am I Right? Now follow me, Hip Hop’s grandfather is Jazz in the OG spectrum of funky música. Stick with me cuz here imma take it to church–In the golden days of Jazz people may not have been known for having the “meanest Swagg” per say, but I do know that they were diggin vibe off the “Coolest Cat” around, no jive. Can I get an amen?!? Cool is to Jazz as Swagg is to Hip Hop. It’s a formula of aesthetic production rooted in a subculture of sensational expression!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that Hip Hop is the only space of artistic expression that presumes Swagg. No. What I am saying is Hip Hop is where the popularization of the term swagger was established. Further, Hip Hop is one of the main sources of how the word SWAGGER became a sign and a signifier for something so deep and soulful as we recognize it to be today. Warning: pay attention to how the word is being stripped of its essence and being commodified as a tool to appeal to and hook the masses by the powers that be.

So I say all of this to illustrate the function of how swagger fits into the philosophy of Reflection and Response. It is a visual sign and readable text that REFLECTS a unique experience that is moving forward in time and space. RESPONSE is the platform of what we do with our reflections of life and how we carry ourselves, how we develop the code of conduct about our SWAGGGGGER.

What else have you been working on recently? What are you looking to work on next?

SB: Lately I’ve been planning a book I’d like to write and work on in the near future. Right now I’m in the super early beginning stages and development of this project but I’m excited nonetheless. Also I am looking to get into the Swagg distribution industry à barbershop, clothing, etc we’ll see where my journey takes me as I find my place in the world. More personally I have been working on maintaining peace and balance in myself and my life all together. It’s a battle but I’m aiming for the nothing less than GREAT and I have some bomb support around me so I expect GREATNESS. I hope yall stay tuned ;).

Who or what inspires you?

SB: My Family is a Grand source of inspiration, that’s my base and that is something never to change. One day my Grandpa said “Samuel, if anyone asks ‘why are you the way that you are?’ just answer them ‘I can’t help it, being cool runs in my blood. It’s just what we do.” Haha, I have to laugh but I am forever grateful for those words and for having him as a strong figure in my life. Next to family is my close homies. They may not be large in number but in support and Love they’re more than enough to keep me grounded and all that. Besides that, Traveling and seeing dope people in different situations and scenes inspires me. Lastly I’d have to say that music is a direct inspirational source of what I do on the daily.

Is there anything else you would like the Collective to know?

SB: I just want people to recognize that each of us is a powerful being and have a destiny and stakes in this journey of life, do well with yours. Stay positive, dare to dream and be bold enough to chase your dreams! Never forget how to laugh from your soul, don’t trade your beauty in for anything in the world. Go 100% hard at what you do.

Shout out to…?

SB: Shout out to my Lord, my Family, including the Acklins and the Grijalbas. People and things that have inspired me, Gene the Barber, 5andaDime, GPPR, just to name a few.  Shout out the homie Ricky G. a dope artist out here about to come up! They’re all doing dope biz in the world no joke. Of course big ups to Big V. and P-Mu of R & R! I’m humbly honored by this opportunity! And last but not least a special shout out to my lady who has helped me realize a lot of things about art, myself, and life in general.

Con Amor,

Samuel L. Bostick


Reflection and Response.

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