Showing posts with label movies. Show all posts
Showing posts with label movies. Show all posts

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Watching Tom Shadyac's movie "I Am"

Official HD Trailer
for Tom Shadyac's documentary
"I Am"

Years ago, Oprah recommended a movie called "I am" by director Tom Shadyac. If Oprah tells me to watch something, I'm going to do so - after all these years, I love her more than ever. I miss her weekday show. It's as if a friend moved away.

 I finally got around to watching the documentary "I am." It was, just as she described, wonderfully uplifting. I recommend it too! The central questions of the film are "What's wrong with the world? What can we do about it?"

Watching it from Turkey, I can't help but see how American the inquiry of ideas is in the film. An American viewpoint celebrates individual achievement above all else. In pursuit of capitalism, world and human resources are to be used in pursuit of the profit of whomever is building a company requiring them. The long-term consequences to the Earth or others isn't ranked as high as the need to continue wealth creation. So this is where Tom Shadyac started out and he shared his travels to a different point-of-view.

The central premise of his new viewpoint (gathered from interviewing some of the most interesting thinkers on the planet) is that we, as humans and species, are all interconnected. In a capitalist society, it's very easy to discount the weak, the elderly, the disabled as non-contributors and to assign them less value. But if they aren't there, what happens to the entire society? Does it continue to exist? 

I reflected afterwards that this idea of non-contributers is so central to American life it even has a number assigned to it: the 47%. It's not a very empathetic point-of-view. People usually spend some time in their life in the 47%, for example, when they are children or an elderly person.

In contrast, I would describe Turkish culture as a hive culture where people assume cooperation with each other in most settings. The capitalist system is an adjustment in the last generation from an older culture of togetherness among people of the same ethnicity. The spirit of competition and zero sum game is a new practice here.

A simple example of how it is expressed is that Western students would hide a bad test score from their peers, but Turkish students share this information openly. Their attitude is geared more toward helping each other rather than competing with each other.

 Another idea from the film is that our emotions have the power to influence events and other living creatures. We under estimate the power of each of our individual acts and how they influence others.

People also live their emotions much more openly here in Turkey and this energy contributes to creating an exciting hum in Istanbul.
I think a Turkish friend watching this movie would say, "Duh. Everyone knows these concepts that we are all interconnected and that our energy and emotions influence the energy of others." Yet, I don't think all Americans do know that, which is why Tom Shadyac's film resonates so much. 

If you judge the systems based on wealth created, the American system is better. Is that the only way to measure individual success? Humanity's success? In the movie, Tom Shadyac gives up this measure for measuring the success of his own life. And he has never felt happier. He adopts more of an indingenous cultures' viewpoint that pursuit of gain beyond one's own immediate needs is considered mental illness.

Watch "I Am" for yourself and ask yourself what your cultural lens taught you growing up. Has it changed as you've aged? If so, why? Do you think that your cultural lens will help or hurt the long-term survival of the species - not only the human species but all other species as well?

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Sunday, July 1, 2012

Hanging out with old friends in Wichita, Kansas

After my daughters and I spent a few days in Arkansas, my children and I parted. It was incredibly satisfying for me to know they were both now college educated. My oldest was on her way about to take the next step in life, getting engaged. My youngest daughter had a few days at home with her father before she started her new job as an Oscar Mayer Brand Ambassador and Weinermobile Driver.
Nhan and Gulnara
with her baby bump
My next step while I was home in America was to rent a car to drive to Wichita, Kansas. That may seem like an odd destination for someone to go to all the way from Istanbul, but I had wonderful friends from Prague living there (Gulnara and I had done TEFL training together) and I wanted to be present with them at an exciting moment in their lives. Gulnara and Nhan were expecting their first child! Oh, how my friend Gulnara had longed for this! It was wonderful to see her slow down and "listen" to this growing child inside of her.

I loved, loved, loved being pregnant and was so sad when my own second pregnancy was done because I knew it was the last time. It's such a wonderful time in a woman's life feeling a child inside growing, stretching, and kicking.
Gulnara and me
As always, one of the great joys of spending time with Gulnara and Nhan is their amazing hospitality. The first thing Nhan did when I walked in the door was chop open a fresh coconut with a big machete and hand me fresh, cold delicious coconut juice. How fun is that?

Every morning I enjoyed robust coffee from the Cafe du Monde in New Orleans that Nhan made me with their wonderful coffee maker. I remember when I was a little kid thinking that coffee was so dark no one could actually drink it and like it. How our tastes change over a lifetime! Now, thanks in no small part to Turkish coffee, I love deep, rich coffee. Wow, was that good.
Nhan cooking up
some crayfish
Doesn't that look amazing?
Vietnamese noodles
with carmalized onions on top
Peking Duck
Warren Theatre
in Wichita, Kansas
One night when Gulnara wasn't feeling 100% and needed to rest, Nhan and I went to watch "The Avengers" in 3-D on Wichita's IMAX screen, which is six stories high and 100 feet high. The Wichita IMAX theatre cost $7.2 million and features the largest digital screen in the country. I'm not much of a comic book girl but the movie was so fun and so engaging in 3-D, I thoroughly enjoyed myself.  I saw it with "overseas" eyes. Our entertainment industry gets so much admiration from folks in other lands, I walked out the theatre feeling very patriotic.

I look forward to hearing all about Gulnara and Nhan's child's development. Even though pregnancy reminds me of the wonders of life, it didn't make me want to be a grandmother any sooner though. I sure am loving this expat life!

You might also enjoy these other blog posts about my trip home to America:






Sunday, April 15, 2012

My First Turkish Movie -‘Kurtuluş Son Durak’

One night I was invited to a gal's night out with about six Turkish married women. My friends were organizing themselves to see a new Turkish movie with an all-female cast called ‘Kurtuluş Son Durak.’

I hadn't even yet seen the inside of our local movie theatre and was pleasantly surprised by the deluxe leather or leather-like Lazy-Boy style chairs. It was a beautiful theatre and very, very comfortable. I bought a giant popcorn to complete the experience and sat down not knowing what to expect. I didn't even know what the movie would be about.

This movie, a comedy with a theme of domestic violence, was adorable! The story starts when a glamorous woman, recently dumped by her boyfriend, moves into an Istanbul building. All of the other ladies in the building are, of course, curious about her but she resists their friendship.

The women all have their own struggles. One woman has devoted her life to her bedridden father; another has resigned herself to daily beatings from her husband so long as he doesn't touch the kids; another is facing the reality that her Mafioso boyfriend won't marry her, a young teenager hates seeing her mother beaten. Eventually, the ladies unite through their struggles, and become empowered to solve their problems. Most importantly, they have adopted a motto to "oppose all forms of violence."

The movie showcases
six skilled Turkish actresses
What I loved about the movie is that it showed absolutely beautiful parts of Turkish female culture. A Turkish woman will never let anyone starve. If food could cure cancer, there would be no cancer in Turkey! Even if a Turkish woman doesn't do the cooking herself, she has immense pride in her country's cuisine and is always quick to offer it. Turkish hospitality is awe-inspiring. They eventually wear down their new neighbor with their amazing food!

Typical Turkish Dinner with Rakı
(Turkish anise-flavored liquor),
good fellowship,
and good music
Secondly, Turkish women, actually Turkish people in general, are quick to share joy through music and dance. Have I met a bad Turkish dancer yet? I have not! Since childhood, folks in Turkey have been learning about music and folk dancing, belly dancing, and traditional dancing from their elders.

This movie was written by a man named Barış Pirhasan and directed by his son Yusuf Pirhasan. I need to give special appreciation to them as a viewer for creating this hilarious, uplifting script. Domestic violence seems like it wouldn't be a good subject for a movie, because it could seem so hopeless and dreary. There is a real accelerating problem with domestic violence in Turkey with domestic murders of women up 1400% in the last seven years. This movie seems like such a healthy way to create conversation about the problem and eliminate denial about the topic. Isn't that what is great about artists? They are always challenging us to do better, notice this, address that! Kudos, gentlemen.

This movie was a fun playful revenge fantasy similar in spirit to Dolly Parton's, Lily Tomlin's, and Jane Fonda's "9 to 5," the American movie about the glass ceiling women encounter at work. I didn't need much help during the movie to understand it since it was about the universal theme of relationships and friendship. The creators should be invited to appear at film festivals everywhere! Click on my title to visit the film's website.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Forgotten Transports of Czech Jews

Deported Czech Jews
working as conscripted laborers
in Estonia
I haven't yet been to Terezin, the concentration camp that is frequently visited by Prague tourists as a day trip out of the city.  If there is one experience that tells the story of Czech Jews, visiting Terezin and seeing it for oneself has been the single event that most people interested in Czech history have experienced.

Now a new and intensively-researched film documents the little-known stories of what happened to Czech Jews during the Holocaust.  Filmmaker Lukas Pribyl, is a project obviously close to his heart due to his family's history, has culled photos from survivors and relatives of both sides of the story to create a photographic narrative of what happened for us to see almost as if we were there.

To read more about his new film, click on my title to access the story in the New York Times. Does anyone know if it's been shown in Prague yet?  Have you seen it?

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Pavel's Prague, Part I: Cafe Emporio

The number of inspiring cafes in Prague is literally overwhelming. I would love to see them all because they are as different in personality as people are. Some you come back to again and again because slipping into the booth is like being embraced with a familiar hug by someone who cares for you.

I love everything about the European coffee experience: from the strength of it's flavor and smell, the exquisitely foamed and expertly presented cappuccino, to the comfort of settling down with a friend in an interesting spot to enjoy caffeine and each other's company.

I have found wonderful places through friends. Among my favorites are the Cafe Imperial, the Cafe Louvre, Cafe Tobruk on St. Peter's Square, and 7th heaven around the corner from the Cafe Savoy (try the warm goat cheese toasts). I asked a friend with impeccable taste, Pavel Pisan, the ballet dancer, to show me his favorite cafe spots in Prague.

One of my very favorite things about Prague is that high culture is everywhere. I love high culture and believe that I know it fairly well. It's a whole higher level of appreciation and awareness though when you are a creator of it.

Pavel had previously shared with me tickets to see "Romeo and Juliet." I may know the story and the music. Pavel knows each of the characters, their moves, their presentation, how one should inhabit each personality. It's a level of knowledge I love listening too and learning from because it's beyond my aficionado status. I learn from Pavel every time I'm with him. And it's not just ballet. It's Czech culture, opera, and acting. I could go on and on.

Me and Pavel at Cafe Emporio that day

When my American girlfriends and I first met Pavel, we were a bit awestruck by his beauty. But then one of my cheeky friends nicknamed him 'David' reducing us to a fit of giggles and starting endless rounds of teasing this wonderful man who spreads sunshine wherever he goes. Pavel's smile is electric. His exuberance is part of his entrance. It grabs your attention and never lets go. Everyone looks up when Pavel enters a room because his joyful spirit emanates outward and lifts the mood of everyone present.

Pavel loves to use cafes for a moment of solitary relaxation - to enjoy the paper or a great meal. To think and people watch over a cup of espresso. He had three favorite cafes he thought I should see.

We decided to meet at Cafe Emporio
at Jindrisska 3 in Prague 1.

It's just off the intersection of
Vaclavska Namesti and Jindrisska.

Is there a better sight than a friends' big smile
through the window?

Behind the white leather banquette seating
was this intriguing wall of
chocolate color and eggshells

And an ultra-hip mural that predated the bar

Other cafe goers under the
metal strip chandelier
hanging from the second floor

Up on the second floor -
a view of the mod chair seating and wall.

Pavel says, "The eggshell wall has been refreshed. It used to have feathers amidst the eggshells. I was sensitive to the dust because I'm allergic. They redid the wall which is great because it keeps people excited to come."

A larger view of the mural
on the second floor

Pavel continued, "When I came here in 1995, this wasn't a cafe but the mosaic was here. They kept it. It's originally from the '60s." Does anyone know who the artist is? I would love to know more about it.

Later, I came back to this place when I was walking home with my flatmate from going to see a movie at Kino Svetozor. It's this wonderful art house cinema palace with movies from all over the world, a bar with tables to meet your friends before the movie, and a convenient location on Jindrisska just on the other side of Vaclavska Namesti from Cafe Emporio. I literally thought life can not get any more perfect than to go to an art cinema house in the middle of Prague, and walk on cobblestones four blocks to our apartment, with a contented nightcap at this magnificent spot on the way home. Life in Prague is so fabulous.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Real and True Blessings

I've safely arrived in Madison and am up early because I can't sleep. Maybe because it's high noon in Prague. Luckily, there's some leftover lemon chiffon birthday cake from my daughter's 21st birthday and ice cold milk.

My journey was totally awesome. Have you seen the floor at the Prague airport? It's perfect for rollerblading! They should shut down the airport for a day and just let everybody try out that floor - it's huge.

I hung out with a 23-year-old Quebecois waiting for the plane. He was so excited about the Obama administration. Wow, it's nice to hear that again. Appreciation for an American administration by someone from another country. I had to ask him about his own region's politics.

"Are you a separatist?" I asked.

"Yes. Being part of Canada is like trying to make a woman love you who doesn't want to love you. She still wants to live in the same house cause she she wants the house, and she doesn't want to be alone, but she doesn't love anymore. Quebec has been sleeping on the couch for years."

Later I asked him, "does all of Quebec use that analogy?"

"No," he said proudly. "It's mine."

My flight was booked on Swiss Air. Oh my, do the Swiss know how to pamper people. That eight hour flight went by quickly, helped by interesting passengers, a totally fantastic entertainment system, and good food and wine. It was like being cocooned for eight hours. I watched the movie "Burn After Reading" which had me rolling in my seat it was so funny.

Part of the time on the flight, I sat and mused how truly, truly blessed I am with my friends. I know I said it yesterday but to be given so much love in so short a time by so many people, it was such a gift. I could not believe the outpouring of caring. That is my real and true blessing.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Jeden Svet: One World '09

This is the 200th post on my blog! Since what I like to blog about is cross-cultural issues between America and the Czech Republic, it seems appropriate to devote my 200th post to celebrating the Jeden Svet '09 Film Festival now occurring here in Prague and outlying cities.

You know how there are some things you only do when you're out of town and aren't so harried? I realized there was a perfectly exciting film festival near my home in America and I never got around to going. By all reports, the fledging Beloit International Film Festival in Beloit, Wisconsin was fantastic. It was only 17 miles from my house. Here I am, out-of-town, so to speak, and I finally got off my butt and went to see some movies!

This is the 11th year of this film festival devoted to human rights. There are 120 documentaries from over 40 countries. In 2009, the festival has a wonderful subtheme celebrating 20 years of Eastern and Central European democracy in film. Indeed, the festival trailer (which you can link through by clicking on the title of my post) shows former Czech President Vaclav Havel helping in the maternity ward as a new generation of Czechs, born in freedom, arrive in the world. The Velvet Generation comes of age. What will they do with their freedom?

And as I looked around at each venue, it was the young people who had shown up for the films. The first movie I attended, directed by a Canadian, was called "Letters to a President." It showcased the cheap populism of Iranian President Ahmadinejad. People in Iran write him over 10 million letters a year asking him to solve their problems. Every letter is answered, which on the face of it, sounds like responsive government. It came across though as him setting himself up as a Messiah-like figure and the people, many of whom are lacking a decent education, being grateful for any little crumb. Not educating the populace is quite often in the interests of world leaders.

I also went to see "The Death of Stalinism in Bohemia" and "Paper Heads." "Paper Heads" is an especially useful movie for expatriates and young people to see because it shares what life was like under communism in the Czech Republic. Watching the movie, you can see how if you were a Czech back then, when the West had sold you out at Munich, and the Soviets were the ones that liberated you from the Nazis if you lived in Prague, communism just didn't seem like the threat we saw it as in the West. The Soviets probably saved your life.

Once communism was in place though, it was completely inhuman to those who objected. It's hard to look back and think of all the angry, nasty history that occurred here. It just doesn't square with the beauty I see around me every single day.

The festival continues until March 19th.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

An Unexpectedly Patriotic Weekend

This weekend I went over to my friends' flat and watched the first two installments of the HBO series "John Adams" about America's founding father and second president. My friend Nhan said, "it can't help but make you feel more patriotic." So true.

John Adams had an eye for talent. He considered himself obnoxious and widely unpopular in his own time. Yet it's impossible to not like a guy who valued his wife's advice so much. On my life list of 'things to do' is to read the letters John and Abigail Adams wrote to each other while he was away at the Continental Congress. In addition to selecting a great partner, Adams also suggested George Washington to be the first General of the Continental Army and Thomas Jefferson to author the Declaration of Independence. Humanity's general consensus: good calls.


Sean Penn as Harvey Milk

The next day I went out to see "Milk," the new movie about San Francisco activist Harvey Milk, starring Sean Penn. Sean Penn was totally believable as a gay man. Penn won the Oscar later that night for "Best Actor." He deserved it.

It was fascinating to see how America's founding fathers constantly inspire new generations of people to demand their rights. Harvey Milk was the first openly gay politician elected in America. Today in America, being openly gay still takes a lot of courage (American teenagers who are dealing with their sexual orientation have a higher than normal suicide attempt rate) but it's a lot easier because of people like Harvey Milk. This movie, like the "John Adams" mini-series, made me so damn proud of my country. Here was another wonderful example of Americans leading the cry for us to live as if "all men are created equal." MILK is a movie that sends hope all over the globe to people who need it. That's what the America I know and love is supposed to do. Spread hope.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Wonderful English Language Theatre in Prague

One of the nice things about having a large English-speaking population in Prague is that expats have started to create and grow their own institutions. We are like the population of a smaller town within a larger city. We can keep the doors open to special gathering spots like bars, restaurants, and theaters on our own.

This weekend a friend and I went to see Glengarry Glen Ross, the Pulitzer-prize winning play by American David Mamet. It was presented by the Prague Playhouse under the direction of Brian Caspe. The play was held in a cozy theater called Divadlo Inspirace. The theater holds about 70 people in the gothic basement of Malostranske namesti 13, a stunningly beautiful part of town. The whole place, including the foyer where beer was sold, had the feeling of a secret clubhouse. Who else should be there but Blogging Gelle and a whole row of his pals, which was a fun surprise.

When I saw this play as a movie with Al Pacino and Jack Lemmon, I found the language so brutal it was hard to get passed it. But as Mamet said when he wrote his play set in a real estate sales office in Florida, "this is how real estate guys really do talk to each other." This time I was prepared for the language and was able to see the humor and the humanity of the characters.

There is a masterful opening monologue by actor Curtis Mathew, who played Shelly Levene, "the Machine" who tried to persuade his boss that he had just hit a selling dry spell and only needed the best leads to turn it all around. Throughout the play, Curtis did a great job showcasing the ego dejection of his dry spell and the ego inflation of turning it around.

If you've every been around a sales team, or managed a sales team, you will thoroughly enjoy the point-by-point account of how he closed a sale. Who hasn't heard a business war story retold in detail like that in real life? Heck, who hasn't told one!

There is another monologue I love in this play where one man accuses another of "being like a child" but I won't tell you anymore about it. I have to leave some surprises, right?

As usual, the Prague price for this professionally-acted theater is fantastic: 200 kc or $10 a seat. Brian predicts the show will sell out. Click on my title if you are interested in seeing the play on the remaining three dates that have seats available.

I would like to ask Czechs learning English if hearing and seeing an English language play is easier to understand than hearing an English-language movie? What do you think, my dear Czech friends?

Friday, January 16, 2009

"I Served the King of England"

This month I've been reading book after book in English written by Czechs. Among the pile of titles a friend lent me was a book called "I Served the King of England" by Bohumil Hrabal. I'd never heard of the author and the book looked like a light read.

Don't you love that feeling when you're in the midst of discovering a new artist, author, or visual show that is totally fantastic and you can't get enough of it? That's how this author was for me as I read this book. The details of ordinary life! The storytelling! The romantic nature of his mind! The entire story is utterly and completely charming.

Milan Kundera is the author probably best known outside of the Czech Republic. A Czech friend told me today that Hrabal is probably best known inside the country. And because so much of what he's written has been made into a movie, even the Czech non-readers know Hrabel's stuff through films. Bohumil Hrabal is considered a Czech national treasure.

I have to read everything he's written now and see all the movies. He deserves to be discovered and read more outside the Czech Republic. I loved this book called "I Served the King of England."

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Czechs Need One More Freedom

I went to see the new Bond movie with Gulnara and Nhan, two new friends in Prague. When we went to the movie theater we were surprised to learn that we had been assigned specific seats to watch the movie!

The seats were close to the screen too. Much closer than we would have sat on our own. I didn't need to sit in the car with Bond to enjoy the opening scene. People of the Czech Republic unite! You deserve one more freedom. The freedom to sit wherever the heck you want in the movie theater.
 
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