Real Talkies

Real Talkies

Every cut is a lie. It’s never that way. Those two shots were never next to each other in time that way. But you’re telling a lie in order to tell the truth. –Wolf Koenig.

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Breast Cancer and Public Discourse

January 13, 2014

This blog post is in response to the Op-ed by #Bill Keller :


The fear is real. Very very real. Human beings are not designed to give up! Breast cancer is neither about pink ribbons nor about warriors or battles. Women like Lisa Bonchek Adams via social media and Sharon Marroquin in my film Foreign Puzzle allow incredible access to the raw, honest truth not the pink fluff because there is so little public discourse about the real shit. It gives perspectives that cannot be gathered from books, physicians and other “Educational Resources” And I am ever grateful for what these women contribute in public education on breast cancer. How @adamslisa chooses to deal with her metastatic cancer is her problem.

When a woman has to be kept alive because she houses her unborn child, where folks can fight to keep a brain dead person alive …what is wrong in a living person wanting to do everything she can to prolong her life. Isn’t that what the survival instinct is all about? On the same token if a person wants to stop all medical treatment and focus on the inevitable that is fine too.
As a physical therapist, I have seen many patients who I thought wont live past that night walk out of the hospital and those who seemed like they will make it, be rolled out. Life and death is not our choice but how we live is.

Please check her blog: I think she will be happy to hear from you all. Can we not respect Lisa Adams choices for life and choices for to cope with her illness without thrusting our views and right methodologies?

Also recommend reading:

On Live-Tweeting One’s Suffering – Journalists question the ethics of cancer—of fighting it, and of blogging about it

Social media is a conversation, not a press release, How @nytkeller and @emmagkeller flunk understanding @adamslisa.

No Shame: Bill Keller Bullies Cancer Victim –

Bill and Emma Keller’s bizarre pieces about cancer patient Lisa Adams – The former Times executive editor and his wife both call a Stage 4 cancer patient undignified in print



Super Excited! Mijo Enters PBS Online Film Festival

February 3, 2013

Mijo continues its splendid run.. Just got word that Mijo is selected to play on the PBS Online Film Festival, accessible beginning March 4 via all PBS digital platforms, You Tube and PBS social media channels. This online festival will showcase 25 short films, including Mijo, that feature a diversity of subjects, voices and viewpoints. What’s more interesting? You, in the audience, will have the opportunity to vote for your favorite short film from March 4 through March 22; the film with the most votes will receive the People’s Choice Award. The winning film will be announced in early April.  With your help, Mijo can definitely notch the People’s Choice Award. Super excited! Learn more here.


Documentaries about Gender in India

December 30, 2012 1 Comment

This is an effort to compile existing documentaries, PSA, non-fiction films that explore status of women, sexuality, gender roles etc from an Indian perspective.


PSA on Rape and Gender Violence in India. R.A.P.E is the most under reported crime in India.

The False Mirror: Representation of Women in Indian Advertising

A documentary on the representation of women in Indian media particularly advertisements. This video is inspired by the work of Jean Killbourne’s “Killing Us Softly” series on the representation of women in the United States.


What kind of an India are we building/leaving behind for the little Indian girls who did not get executed in the womb, who made it to the school against all odds and reached adulthood?As the whole nation is now actively engaged in talking about gender violence against women, this film becomes even more relevant. Watch the trailer.

On one side are the entrants for the Miss Indian pageant, 20 young women almost at the top of a pyramid that represents opportunity. “You earn for yourself, you gain respect,” declares one entrant, Ankita Shurey, and the business of beauty represents the chance of a gilded life with endorsements and television deals. Despite the demands of the competition and the unyielding male gaze, these women see the chance to trump an intensely patriarchal society. On the other side is the Durga Vahini, a nationalistic conservative woman’s association that indoctrinates 15 to 25-year-old Indian woman to maintain the country’s traditions by force (imagine the C.W.A with less baking and more rifle training). “Your transformation into tigers begins here,” declares one instructor, who tellingly adds that depictions of India’s traditional deities always featured weapons. The organisation sees change in India as a harbinger of social decay, with western values bringing supposedly western afflictions such as divorce, drug use and illegitimate children.

I love and hate this film. I love the film for looking at the status of Indian women through the most absurd and extreme lens. It looks at the scary polar opposites of India’s women. In my humble opinion those polar opposites are “Women as a Commodity” and “Women as Shakthi(boxed in conservative ideologies)”. I hate the film for reducing the discussion to just these two positions in a voyeuristic way. Nonetheless, it is a great film to debate, discuss and explore gender roles, representation and what should a Indian woman be like.


A ‘mix-tape’ so to speak of Mira Nair and Kama Sutra, and their films, Kama Sutra: A Love Tale (1996) and Water (2005), respectively.

Both controversial films, especially in India, this video looks at the question of how women are portrayed, and how, using this creative medium, are their injustices depicted…Can film play a role?


A documentary film through the eyes of a researcher, Sarah Harris as she explores the history of the Devadasi system and the lives of devadasis today

We travel deep into the remote villages and towns of Southern India to uncover an ancient system of religious sex slavery dating back to the 6th century. Although the practice was made illegal more than 20 years ago, we discover there are still more than 23,000 women in the state of Karnataka selling their bodies in the name of the mysterious Hindu Goddess Yellamma. They are known as Devadasis, or ‘servants of God’. From city red light districts to rural mud huts, we meet proud brothel madams, HIV positive teenage prostitutes, and gay men in saris. Our intimate exploration into the life of the Devadasi reveals a pseudo-religious system that exploits poverty-stricken families to fuel modern India’s booming sex trade.


Al Jazeera’s program on “Slavery: 21st Century Evil: Bridal Slaves explores bride trafficking in India.

In a country where female children are sometimes considered a financial burden, the common practice of infanticide and gender-selective abortion has led to a shortfall in the number of women available for marriage – something made all the more problematic by high dowry costs. Experts say this has encouraged bride trafficking.

In the midst of widespread poverty, fueled by economic inequality and rampant corruption, a new form of slavery – bridal slavery – has flourished. Women and young girls are sold for as little as $120 to men who often burden them with strenuous labour and abuse them.

In Silence: Maternal Mortality in India

Each year half a million women around the world die in childbirth. Twenty percent of those deaths are in India. Most of the deaths are preventable with access to proper healthcare.

Women Aloud Videoblogging for Empowerment (WAVE) in India

WAVE is…A unique digital platform for young semi-urban Indian women to voice their perspectives on issues that matter through video blogs.

One young woman was selected through non-government organizations and colleges from every state in India for an innovative 9-month mentorship program, and provided with video equipment, intensive training and monthly stipends for participating in the project. WAVE’s philosophy is that young women in India need to be heard and encouraged to analyze the problems in their communities and go on to become leaders who provide effective solutions in order for society to become socially and economically empowered.

WAVE was started by Sapna Shahani (Director) and Angana Jhaveri (Associate Director) and took flight when their proposal won a grant from 2009 Digital Media and Learning Competition (DML) sponsored by the MacArthur Foundation and HASTAC in the U.S.


The Girl Effect is a MOVEMENT. It’s about about ending poverty. And it’s about doing so by investing in girls. Learn. Explore. And get involved. I dare you.


How an opportunity makes a world of difference. Listen to Anita appeal, ” Do whatever you can do give girls a chance”

Surviving Your Marriage: A 10-Step Guide for Women (In Production)

Synopsis: This short preview of an under-production feature length documentary, follows the struggles of a few Muslim women in India who have taken on the social, legal and religious institutions of India to defend their rights surrounding the infamous triple “Talaq” practice in India, a Sunni Muslim custom that allows any husband to end his marriage by saying three times “talaq”. The preview outlines the struggles of three women in Old Delhi.

More films will be added soon.

Documentaries on Media & Women

December 30, 2012



The media is the message and the messenger. Then we should care about how are women represented in the media, right? How are we represented? Is it all about the female body and not about the brain? This film brings this conversation to the forefront.

Like drawing back a curtain to let bright light stream in, Miss Representation (90 min; TV-14 DL) uncovers a glaring reality we live with every day but fail to see. Written and directed by Jennifer Siebel Newsom, the film exposes how mainstream media contribute to the under-representation of women in positions of power and influence in America. The film challenges the media’s limited and often disparaging portrayals of women and girls, which make it difficult for women to achieve leadership positions and for the average woman to feel powerful herself.

In a society where media is the most persuasive force shaping cultural norms, the collective message that our young women and men overwhelmingly receive is that a woman’s value and power lie in her youth, beauty, and sexuality, and not in her capacity as a leader. While women have made great strides in leadership over the past few decades, the United States is still 90th in the world for women in national legislatures, women hold only 3% of clout positions in mainstream media, and 65% of women and girls have disordered eating behaviors.

Stories from teenage girls and provocative interviews with politicians, journalists, entertainers, activists and academics, like Condoleezza Rice, Nancy Pelosi, Katie Couric, Rachel Maddow, Margaret Cho, Rosario Dawson and Gloria Steinem build momentum as Miss Representation accumulates startling facts and statistics that will leave the audience shaken and armed with a new perspective. (Source: Film’s Website)

Are you all pumped up after watching the trailer? Do you feel like you want to do your bit? TAKE ACTION PRONTO


The Girl Effect is a MOVEMENT. It’s about about ending poverty. And it’s about doing so by investing in girls. Learn. Explore. And get involved. I dare you.

More films to be added soon.

R.A.P.E : the most under reported violent crime

December 24, 2012


I was immensely disturbed by the rape crisis in India and I decided to VOICE my opinion in the best way I know to – “Make a video”. Although I conceived the idea and edited it to some powerful music by Raghav Mahalingam, all the pictures used in the video were found on the web. Everyone is raising their voice and this is my part in the collective outcry against the sexual violence. This video is “copyleft” so please feel free to share it.


December 3, 2012

I absolutely believe in the transformative power of story telling. It is the inspiring stories of real people like Arunachalam Muruganantham that form the core of my filmmaking. All the research, preproduction, sleepless nights, hours of filming and days of editing are absolutely worth it if the film gets watched by lots and lots of people. I do believe that by watching inspiring stories, people will be moved to do something. Small changes are important.

“Rags to Pads” is my 3min film ( about a man who wore a sanitary pad to make women hygiene products accesible in India. I seek your help to spread the word about this remarkable man who has made talking about menstrual hygiene cool and trendy in parts of the world were this is completely taboo.
His innovation has helped women make and use hygienic products to manage periods. There are many others like him who are doing similar work in small rural pockets. But Women like Indumathy (in the film) are the most important people who not only take the pads to the doorsteps of other women but also educate and raise awareness.In doing so they are improving the health of women and in turn their entire families. It is these foot soldiers who often go unthanked. I hope my film did a bit more justice in acknowledging them as well.

I woud like your help in taking this movie and its message to a larger audience and help us with the audience award. In this age of social media, YOU are the most important advocate for films like “Rags to Pads”. I NEED YOUR HELP. Take 3-minutes to watch the film, if you like it, Click on the VOTE tab on the far right of the video screen. If you are moved by the story – i) Share it on your facebook wall with a personal message and ask your friends to Watch, Vote and Share. ii) If you know a blogger, journalist, reporter, radio/TV anchor who might do a story about this film – please share the film and my email Together let’s take “Rags to Pads” to new audiences.

This summer I was in India filming the story of an amazing inventor/entrepreneur, Muruganantham and his incredible innovation – a low cost sanitary pad.

The film, “Rags to Pads” is a semifinalist at Focus Forward Filmmaker Competition along with 93 other incredible films. It is just 3 minutes long, so if you are curious watch it. If you love it, vote for it (vote button is on the top right corner). And of course share it.

Muruganantham, a mechanic, was appalled when he learned that his wife was using rags dirtier than the ones he uses at his workshop during her menstrual cycle. Upon further inquiry he realized that most Indian women shun sanitary napkins because they are too expensive and took it upon himself to make an affordable napkin. Only a very small segment of India’s 355 million menstruating women use sanitary napkins. About 81% of women use dirty rags, newspapers, dried leaves and even ashes during their periods. The biggest barriers to the use of sanitary napkins are affordability and poor sanitary infrastructure such as toilets. High-school drop out rates are high and economic productivity is low during periods as women miss work. Women are also susceptible to serious infections, infertility, cancer and death because of the dismal state of feminine hygiene in India.

All he wanted to do was create a low cost napkin for his wife but his quest was not easy. Such experimentation in a conservative society quickly resulted in him being labeled a psycho, a pervert and a black magician. His wife left him and his mother was traumatized when she saw him in a room full of used napkins. The endless derision made him more determined. Unable to find women volunteers to test his prototypes he did the unthinkable – he wore a sanitary pad himself for a whole week. After several years of laborious research, Muruganantham figured a way to make low cost sanitary pads that are comparable in quality to those made by popular commercial brands. Powered by electricity or foot pedals, the machines de-fiber cellulose from pine bark and compress it into a napkin form. In the next stage, it is sealed with non-woven fabric and finally sterilized using ultraviolet light. His patented technology was quite simple and allowed for small-scale production of sanitary pads that could be made and distributed locally.

Although there are several barriers to the use of sanitary pads, affordability is the biggest barrier and hence Muruganantham’s invention is very critical. He took a novel approach and built a socially-conscious business model around his innovation. Instead of profiting directly, his firm – Jayashree Industries, sells the machines to women entrepreneurs or self-help groups for $1500 per unit. The women, many of them uneducated with limited technical skills, can learn to use the machine in three hours. Each unit can make about 1000 pads/day and the pads retail at about $.25 for a pack of 8. Typically, each unit can provide employment for about four to six women. On average each woman entrepreneur makes about $100/month. Currently, 647 such machines are in operation in rural communities. Muruganantham firmly believes that this scheme can generate at least a million jobs for rural women. With rising local competition, the commercial brands have also lowered the price of their sanitary napkins. This has further improved the availability of sanitary products for women in many rural communities across India.

Unfortunately, access to sanitary pads is not the only barrier. Rural woman are often uninformed about how to use a sanitary pad or hesitate to spend money on them. Also there are several cultural and religious taboos and myths that prevent women from using sanitary pads. The women entrepreneurs who make the napkins not only sell their product but also educate their potential customers about menstrual hygiene.
Muruganantham has a vision of making India a 100% napkin-using country. His invention is a step in the right direction but many challenges still remain. Deep rooted cultural taboos and lack of proper sanitary facilities are among the many barriers that need to be overcome. Muruganatham’s machine plays a critical role in catalyzing access to feminine hygiene products, empowering women and vitalizing rural economies. And for this we salute his tenacity and innovative spirit.

Do check the other incredible films in the contest. The judges will announce the 20 finalists on Nov 28th. The ten films with the most votes get Audience awards.

If you know bloggers, print/news/internet/local/international media personnel that might be interested in the story please share this link with them. Like our facebook page We got a lot of awesome projects to follow soon.

RAGS TO PADS – One man can make a difference!

November 16, 2012 5 Comments

DIY Heli Rig made by Esben Nielsen

October 9, 2012

Stunning aerial shots with a super cool DIY expensive heli rig made by Esben Nielsen in Denmark. He used a Octokopter multirotor to film the aerial footage. The frame is a Cinestar8 and the electronics are mostly mikrokopter. The camera controls were built by Esben and group. If you love the footage reach out to him directly with specific questions about the camera used, cost of rig, how to obtain it etc via

Response to non-profits that seek experienced filmmakers with exceptional editing skills, reliability & punctuality for free

October 9, 2012

Dear reputable non-profit organizations,

This letter is an open response to all organizations and individuals who seek the services of ” highly qualified experienced filmmakers with exceptional editing skills, reliability, punctuality and professionalism” for FREE like the ad listed below.

Videographer/Photographer Wanted — UNPAID Position (Washington, DC)

DC-based non-profit organization seeks experienced videographer/photographer to film a series of interviews that are to be formatted for social media distribution on major channels (YouTube, Facebook, etc.). A demonstrated concern for social justice issues and a progressive mindset are desired, as are exceptional editing skills, solid reliability, punctuality, and professionalism. Project is expected to begin later this month and continue indefinitely. PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS IS NOT (NOT!) A PAID POSITION, but these videos would add significant impact to one’s portfolio, while also providing the right candidate with potential connections to more project work with some of the leading non-profit agencies in the region. Please send resume and links to your portfolio — no phone calls please. Only preferred candidates will receive a response. 

An experienced filmmaker with exceptional skills does not need your help to add to their already exceptional portfolio. And the right candidate for the job already has several working connections and does not need your help.

First of all the creation of an exceptional film even if it is an interview requires skills, effort, tools and time. I am going to go a step further and itemize each of those costs.

  1. Travel to and from the location multiple times and parking the automobile costs money.
  2. Equipment used to film the video a.k.a camera, lens, mics, cards, batteries, tripod, lighting equipment, hard drives, laptops, editing softwares etc cost money. Even if I own them they depreciate in value, breakdown, need to be upgraded and replaced often. No one gave these equipment to me for free because I told them that they can add to their portfolio some of the stellar films I create. I am still paying credit card bills for them.
  3. I went to college for three years to learn this skill just like a doctor, engineer, mechanic and pilot did to learn their skill. Do you ever ask any of them to offer their services for free? I have genuine skills to create a quality film that would create tremendous visibility for your mission. The videos I create are entertaining and unforgetable and people will share, retweet and spread your word. Something your outreach coordinator is struggling with right now. When you stand to gain so much from it why not compensate me atleast for my basic costs? And for heaven sake, I have student debt to pay back :(.
  4. There is no dollar value to ascribe to the creativity, passion and professionalism a media professional brings to the table. And you know what we give that away for free anyways. Finally you can never compensate us for dreaming about the stories whole heartedly, thinking about it when we shower or living every minute of it till we deliver the product.

Non-profits we understand that you are doing valuable work to the community and we want to support you. An experienced filmmaker with exceptional skills is not going to respond to your email. A recent graduate who wants to build a portfolio and is eager to help is probably the person who is most likely to respond to this post. But asking us to work for free is unreasonable. You will need to compensate for transport, some reasonable (above poverty line) hourly rate for time spent and consultation charges for the idea. Please recognize that we bring tremendous value to your organization and we really love to do that for you. But without this bare minimum compensation we wont be alive to work for you.


Chithra Jeyaram

Filmmaker and Editor



June 19, 2012


Director: Ann Fessier “A girl like her”

Ann is such a calm and unassuming woman with a pleasant smile. I saw her while waiting at the registration counter in Silver Docs Film Festival and then again the next day when she was just lounging between conference sessions. I introduced myself and we began talking. She said she was the director of “A girl like her”. Little did I know that I just met a woman behind an incredible  oral history project, a book and now a documentary.

Film’s Synopsis:

In the 1950s and 60s, more than a million unmarried American women lost children to adoption. It was time when “nice” girls didn’t get pregnant. Voiceless, single women were routinely sent away to maternity homes or to distant relatives to secretly give birth, surrender their child, and start over with a clean slate. But did they?

Ann Fessler is an adoptee, filmmaker, author, and professor of photography at the Rhode Island School of Design.  For the last several years her work has focused on adoption, especially its effect on first mothers and resulted in the creation of the book The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v Wade (2006), a collection of  birthmother oral histories with historical analysis.  A GIRL LIKE HER juxtaposes footage from films of the time period about dating, sex, “illegitimate” pregnancy, and adoption—that both reflected and shaped the public’s understanding of single pregnancy during that time—with the voices of these mothers as they speak today, with hindsight, about the long-term impact of surrender and silence on their lives. In other words, the film is a juxtaposition of the woman’s lived and recorded histories and the cost of doing that. I highly recommend watching this film at Silverdocs 2012

The Art of Letting Go

January 2, 2012


Dear God, Save Me! This is much harder than I thought.

Today, Jan 2nd 2012, we filmed Sharon Marroquin learning to climb, glide and suspend using a silky sash, under the tutelage of super talented Nicole at theBlue Lapis Light Studio.

After a few warm up exercises, Nicole guided Sharon through basic silk climbing moves. Nicole coiled her leg around the silk slash and shifted her weight upward and drifted in space with such ease that it seemed like child’s play. Sharon followed clumsily, her fingers, hands, shoulder and core muscles screamed for a break. She knew climbing the silk was going to be hard but did not expect it to be this hard.

Exactly two years ago, in Jan 2010 While Sharon was at her break in the teacher’s lounge, she received a call about her breast cancer diagnosis. Since that day, she says she walks around in the world disguised as Sharon and her body is like a foreign puzzle with missing pieces. ‘Foreign Puzzle’ is a documentary (directed by Chithra Jeyaram) in production that explores the transcending phase of human experience, where we confront our deepest fears and become willing to experiment and embark on a journey where the end is not known.

Her battle with cancer gave Sharon, a modern dancer & choreographer, a renewed sense of purpose and a drive to create. In the subsequent months, as she was underwent chemotherapy, surgeries and radiation, she channeled her anger and frustration into an obsession. An obsession to create a dance called ‘The Materiality of Impermanence’ – about the volatile nature of life. Every night after she tucked her 7 year old son to bed, she deconstructed her ideas to create a dance that embodies and physically manifests her untold feelings. The documentary Foreign Puzzle chronicles 18 months of Sharon’s life and hopes to  answer the following question: Will creating an intensely personal dance help Sharon find a new equilibrium and unravel the puzzle of her life?

Sharon knows she has to be detached to survive this journey. One of the things she works at everyday is ‘Letting Go’; Letting go of what her life was, letting go of what she wishes her life should be and letting go of strong emotional attachments for loved ones. The image of a dancer clinging tightly to a white silk afraid to let go and climbing hard comes to her mind all the time.

Sharon wants to surrender to the journey of life and learning to climb the silk effortlessly and being able to pry open her fingers and suspend in stillness is important both literally and figuratively in this process. While Sharon struggled with the physicality of the lesson today, we believe it is only a matter of practice and time for a talented dancer like her to master the art of aerial silk climbing.

Aerial dance is like a trance. It is a mediative duet between the dancer and the fabric, were one floats and glides in space intertwined with the silk. The movements may appear light and effortless but it is a paradoxical state of intense activity and intense relaxation simultaneously. And that is exactly how we should live our lives – intensely engaged in the living with no fear of consequences. It is for this reason Sharon wants to climb the silk, hopefully the mastery of the physical will transcend in other dimensions too.

Chithra Jeyaram (Director, Foreign Puzzle)


December 9, 2011

Scientist Victor DeNoble was tasked in the 1980s by a major tobacco company to invent a safer form of nicotine – one that would decrease its harmful effects but will still be addictive (i.e. smokers can live longer and smoke way more cigarettes – a win win situation). Guess what – DeNoble succeeded in doing exactly that. But, in doing so, he inadvertently created indisputable evidence that nicotine was addictive, something the tobacco companies had long denied.  His position was terminated, his lab was closed, and both his research and the “safer cigarette” were buried in the vaults and kept from the public…until he broke his confidentiality agreement and became the ultimate whistleblower. In 1994, scientist Victor DeNoble became the first whistleblower to reveal the tobacco industry’s efforts to manufacture “a maximally addictive” product.  After testifying before Congressional committees, the FDA and Al Gore’s Tobacco Settlement Committee, DeNoble has become America’s peripatetic anti-smoking advocate par excellence.

ADDICTION INCORPORATED, Charles Evans Jr.’s taut, journalistic exposé made over the course of 15 years, tells the riveting story of DeNoble’s journey from research scientist to star informant.  For more information visit:

Cigarette packing gets graphic (Abc News)

The story continues to unfold as provisions of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act begin to go into effect, empowering the FDA to require that cigarette packages display disturbing photographs of rotting teeth and blackened lungs, ban sweetened cigarettes targeted to children, and prohibit “light” and “low tar” labeling by fall 2012.  The new law also allows the FDA to reduce nicotine in cigarettes to near nil, a prospect that could put big tobacco out of business. With new restrictions fast approaching, the tobacco companies are rolling up their sleeves and arming themselves for litigation — again.

ADDICTION INCORPORATED has unprecedented access to vital and previously undisclosed information from key players behind the scenes (interviewees include Steven C. Parrish, the former Senior VP and General Counsel for External Affairs at Philip Morris). The film also reveals exactly how the tobacco industry achieved behemoth power through scientific secrecy…and what their next move may be.

It plays on the big screen starting Dec 2011 at select venues in United States. For more info about dates and venues:


August 19, 2011

THE POWER OF TWO is the inspirational tale of twins who refuse to let a disabling and life-shortening illness get in the way of their quest for a better life. Isabel “Isa” Stenzel and Anabel “Ana” Stenzel are biracial twin sisters both born with cystic fibrosis and gifted with “gaman” – the japanese word for perseverance, which has helped them thrive despite their  disease. The sisters present a picture of resilience, fortitude and a window into a life with cystic fibrosis, an inherited disease that causes a thick, sticky mucus to form in the lungs, pancreas and other organs. In the lungs, this mucus blocks the airways, causing lung damage and making it hard to breathe. There is  no cure for Cystic Fibrosis, for many CF sufferers, including the twins, lung transplantation is the only route to survival.  They felt called to action by their life-saving double lung transplants and they strive to help those still in need of organ transplants and those suffering from Cystic Fibrosis live improved lives.

The Power of Two, directed by Marc Somolowitz, is a documentary that was inspired by the Stenzel’s memoir (“The Power of Two: A twin Triumph over Cystic Fibrosis”). It is not only an affectionate, passionate and insightful story that takes the viewer in several directions: first into the  personal lives of the twins and the constant medical care they undertake but also their crusade in Japan where CF is rare and organ transplantation is a cultural taboo.  Despite being a wealthy nation with sophisticated medical care, Japan has the lowest rate of organ donation among developed nations due to religious and cultural beliefs as well as ethical concerns tainting the first heart transplant in Japan. At the crux of a rising movement to change laws and stigmas, Ana and Isa embark on a 10 city tour of Japan to inspire change in the hearts and minds of a culture resistant to transplantation.

Though organ donation is much more common in the United States when compared to Japan, recent statistics show that 110,000 Americans currently need life saving organ transplants.  On an average 18 men, women and children die each day while waiting for an organ. Only 37% of American, 18 and over are registered donors. The tale of Ana and Isa shows people what those donated organs can do and reminds us that saying ‘yes’ to organ donation can have profound impact on many lives.

The film premieres theatrically in Los Angeles for a week on August 19th, then in New York for a week on August 26th and will continue through out the country in select cities through late October.

PS: The Daily Gift App was developed as a part of the film’s Outreach and Engagement Campaign, it focuses on sharing organ donation and transplantation stories and inspiring people to become organ donors.

Source: The Power of Two Docuweeks Media Advisory (PDF), Official Press Notes (PDF)


August 17, 2011

It has been a busy and productive summer for Foreign Puzzle. We filmed a  lot, applied to a few grants, reached out to organizations/individuals to build partnerships, launched a website – and got on twitter –@foreignpuzzle

Production Still - "MIJO (My Son)

Jorge Faz and I edited a 10 minute sample reel early this summer. Initially, the sample reel was used to reach out to potential funders and grants. Eventually, the sample got tighter and tighter and evolved into a short film, a special vignette of our documentary “Foreign Puzzle”.

The short film is titled: “MIJO (My Son). It is an evocative portrayal of a mother and child’s intimate relationship in the midst of life altering medical events. “MIJO” is a finalist in the BreastFest 2011 Short Film Competition. VOTE FOR MIJO HERE.. For instructions on how to vote – CLICK HERE

Besides, getting selected for an online contest, Foreign Puzzle received a grant this summer. Dance Film Associations (DFA) awards a few post production grants every year for films that explore dance, dancer and or choreography for camera. I am pleased to announce that Foreign Puzzle is one of the recipients of DFA’s 2011 Post Production grant. Real Talkies congratulates Christoph Dostal (Film: BOB CURTIS: Dancing all colors) and Daniele Wilmouth (Film: Marching Banned), the other two recipients.


July 18, 2011

Today July 18th 2011, Nelson Mandela, a symbol of the human struggle for equality turns 93.  Today Mandela is a very old and frail man. As Mr Mandela fades from view, the ideas that he stood for remain glued and do spring different movements and development in South Africa. A week from today “Dear Mandela” a documentary film will have its world premiere at Durban International Film Festival.

When Nelson Mandela was elected President of South Africa in 1994, his government was faced with a seemingly insurmountable task: providing a better life for those who had suffered under apartheid. The cornerstone of Mandela’s ‘unbreakable promise’ was an ambitious plan to ensure housing for all. Sixteen years later, as the number of families living in slums has doubled, a frightening tale of betrayal is unfolding. Source:

The government is trying to ‘eradicate the slums’ by evicting shack dwellers from their homes at gunpoint, in scenes eerily reminiscent of apartheid-era forced removals. Determined to stop the bulldozers that are destroying homes and communities, a new social movement made up of the nation’s poorest is challenging the evictions on the streets and in the courts. DEAR MANDELA is the remarkable story of Abahlali BaseMjondolo – Zulu for ‘people of the shacks’. It is considered the largest movement of the poor to emerge in post-apartheid South Africa. Source:

Determined to stop the evictions, Mazwi, Zama and Mnikelo met with their communities by candlelight to study and debate new housing legislation. The shack dwellers discovered that the innocuous-sounding Slums Act legalized mass evictions and violated the rights enshrined in the country’s landmark Constitution. They challenged the Slums Act all the way to the highest court in the land – the hallowed Constitutional Court. Source:

South Africa’s new apartheid is not about race but about economic and power inequality and the journey for justice and equality continues. The principles are the same, the fight is the same just the names and faces are new.


July 17, 2011


A 3-part German documentary about “The Frankfurt Auschwitz Trial 1963-1965” often described as one of the best German films on the Holocaust, is a commentary on Germany’s  attempts to come to terms with its past. Using mainly archival footage, visuals of empty trial rooms juxtaposed with sickening audio transcripts of camp survivors, SS veterans and other witnesses; the film lays bare the secrets of the notorious death camp.

The film was initially produced in 1993 by a German public television station for the 30th anniversary of the start of the trial. The film tracks the 20-month trial and recreates it almost chronologically. The 180 minute emotionally draining documentary is very hard to watch and process. I had to watch it over 12 days in anguish pausing several times in horror  at the rawness of the film and other times in disbelief at the arrogant words/behavior of the SS veterans on trial. Please read the excerpt below from a review on written in 2007.

Within the courtroom, the voices of former inmates re-create the unimaginable day-to-day reality of the death camp for Frankfurt crowds drawn by the headlines. The filmmakers examine the proceedings from the vantage point of what came before (dipping into 1918 archival clips to trace the formation of the SS, for instance, or freely sampling testimony at the Nuremberg trials) and what came after (later interviews with prosecutors and activists disclose some behind-the-scenes political maneuverings). The documentary attempts to contextualize both the Holocaust and the 1960s trial for a ’90s German audience.

But it is the chilling succession of facts and documentation in the arid judicial proceedings — broken by the naked pain of disembodied voices with no faces, under images of too-familiar artifacts of manufactured death — that gives the docu its weight.

Bickel and Wagner are quite sparing in their use of the audio tapes, wisely doling them out for maximum effect over the three-hour running time. Thus, the flat, outrageous statement of the camp’s second-in-command that he knew and saw nothing of the deaths at Auschwitz is followed by the emotional reaction of a survivor explaining how he knew everything by his second day there — he had only to read the message in blood on the wall. Source:

For those who are interested in further exploration, the transcript of the entire 430 hours of tapes of audio interviews is available on DVD from the Fritz Bauer Institute. This haunting and soul wrenching documentary is a painful reminder of ethnic cleansing.  Lives lost cannot be changed and the memories of these experience remain etched for ever in the minds of the survivors but such trials and tribunals are cathartic and healing as in some strange way.

I wonder if Osama Bin Laden and their associates were tried and convicted for their crimes instead of being killed, would it have been perceived and processed very differently by the Americans and the Muslim world?

In the wake of Channel 4’s Sri Lanka’s killing fields will the Tamils ever see such a trial in Sri Lanka or else where to hold accountable those who committed horrific war crimes against the minority ethnic tamils? Will such a trial be cathartic and help heal the large rift between the Tamils and Sinhalese and promote reconciliation?


June 30, 2011

Love Etc, Project Nim, ‘Beats, rhythm and life. The travels of a tribe called Quest’, ‘Sholem Aleichem: Laughing in the darkness’, Tabloid, El Bulli – cooking in progress,  “Life in a Day” and the mind blogging “Interrupters”. Not bad right 8 documentary films will play in a few cities on the big screen. I would most definitely want to see atleast five out of these films – ‘Interrupters’, ‘Project Nim’, ‘Tabloid’, ‘Life in a Day’ and ‘El Bulli’ – all of these are fascinating stories. People go out and fill the theaters because if you do then these films will be available in a few more cities for more of us to watch.


LOVE ETC. is a witty, poignant and humorous exploration about the universal stages of love, depicted through five real stories over the course of one year in New York City. Young, old, gay, straight – everyone has experienced love – and the joy and frustration that come with it. From teen romance to a decades-long marriage; newlyweds to a recent divorcee, and even a bachelor so frustrated in his search that he chooses to have children without a partner, LOVE ETC. documents the intimate journeys of engaging characters aged 18-89 who reflect the city’s diversity, and takes an honest look at life’s most challenging pursuit.

The film is playing in select theaters in the a few cities. Theater Schedule. NewYork times REVIEW of the film is not necessarily special but I love the old couple in the trailer and would watch the film just to know more about them.


In 1973, a baby chimpanzee was born in a cage at a primate research center in Oklahoma. A few days later, his mother is knocked down by a tranquilizer dart, her screaming baby is seized from her and is placed into the waiting arms of his new human “mother” a graduate student of psychology with three children of her own.

PROJECT NIM is an unflinching and unsentimental biography of an animal that they tried to make human. The film combines testimony from key participants of the experiment, unseen archival footage and dramatic imagery to tell the story of one chimpanzee’s extraordinary journey through human society and the enduring impact he makes on the human beings he meets along the way. What is learned about his true nature and indeed human nature is comical, revealing and profoundly unsettling.

Beats, Rhymes & Life:
The Travels of a Tribe Called Quest (July 8th)

The films is about one of the most influential and groundbreaking musical groups in hip-hop history. They released 5 gold and platinum selling albums in 8 years and became the most commercially successful and artistically significant musical groups in recent history and are regarded as iconic pioneers of hip hop. But in 1998 the band broke up.

In 2008, the filmmaker sets out on a tour with ‘A Tribe called Quest’ when they reunited almost 10 years after the release of their last album. The film captures the story of how tenuous their relationship has become and how their unresolved conflicts continues to be a threat to their creative cohesion.

Personally, I don’t care much for documentaries about bands and music groups but I am sure there are tons of hip-hop fans that will flock the theater to watch this film. Film screening schedules and venues can be found in the FILM’s WEBSITE.

Sholem Aleichem:
Laughing in the Darkness (July 8th)

A riveting portrait of the great writer whose stories became the basis of the Broadway musical Fiddler on the Roof. Sholem Aleichem: Laughing in the Darkness tells the tale of the rebellious genius who created an entirely new literature. Plumbing the depths of a Jewish world locked in crisis and on the cusp of profound change, he captured that world with brilliant humor. Sholem Aleichem was not just a witness to the creation of a new modern Jewish identity, but one of the very men who forged it.

TABLOID (July 15th)

Errol Morris must have felt like it was time to lighten up. After his last few documentaries addressed the death penalty, Holocaust deniers, the Vietnam War, and Abu Ghraib, his new one tells an astonishing-but-true story about an insane-but-functional woman named Joyce McKinney. It’s called “Tabloid,” and its purpose is not enlightenment but entertainment. Source: And I totally agree with this reviewer. Enough said about that film, moving on to the next one.

EL BULLI: Cooking in Progress (JULY 27th)

The starred chef Ferran Adrià is known as the best, most innovative and craziest cook in the world. Every year, the restaurant closes for six months. During this time, Adrià and his creative team retire to their cooking laboratory in Barcelona, to create a new menu for the following season. Everything is allowed — except of copying themselves.
One year with Ferran Adrià, the development of a new menu, searching for the essence of creativity and obsession in a place where they already call the „frozen parmesan air with cereals” from 2004 a classical dish. Yummy..what indulgence!

LIFE IN A DAY (July 29th)

Life In A Day is a historic global experiment to create the world’s largest user-generated feature film: a documentary, shot in a single day, by you. On July 24, you have 24 hours to capture a glimpse of your life on camera. The most compelling and distinctive footage will be edited into an experimental documentary film, executive produced by Ridley Scott and directed by Kevin Macdonald.

What happens when you send a request out to the world to chronicle, via video, a single day on Earth? You get 80,000 submissions and 4,500 hours of footage from 192 countries. Producer Ridley Scott and Oscar-winning director Kevin Macdonald took this raw material — all shot on July 24, 2010 — and created Life in a Day, a groundbreaking, feature-length documentary that portrays this kaleidoscope of images we call life. National Geographic is bringing it to theaters starting July 24, 2011. Prepare to be amazed.


The Interrupters tells the moving and surprising stories of three Violence Interrupters who try to protect their Chicago communities from the violence they once employed. From acclaimed director Steve James and bestselling author Alex Kotlowitz, this film is an unusually intimate journey into the stubborn, persistence of violence in our cities. Shot over the course of a year out of Kartemquin FilmsThe Interrupters captures a period in Chicago when it became a national symbol for the violence in our cities. During that period, the city was besieged by high-profile incidents, most notably the brutal beating of Derrion Albert, a Chicago High School student, whose death was caught on videotape.

The film’s main subjects work for an innovative organization, CeaseFire. Founded by an epidemiologist, Gary Slutkin, who believes that the spread of violence mimics the spread of infectious diseases, and so the treatment should be similar, they go after the most infected, and stop the infection at its source. The Interrupters follows Ameena, Cobe and Eddie as they go about their work, and while doing so reveals their own inspired journeys of hope and redemption. The film attempts to make sense of what CeaseFire’s Tio Hardiman calls, simply, “the madness”.


June 30, 2011

15 years of research, two years of equipment design and 3 years of production resulted in the creation of the visually gorgeous 76 minute documentary “Microcosmos.’ The film reveals an awesome world that is so dazzlingly breathtaking and colourful, that it is hard to imagine it is real. The film is delightfully edited and is packaged with humor, passion, conflict and drama; besides sharing the habits and habitats of these minute creatures.

It chronicles one symbolic day in a meadow in the French countryside around Aveyron. Close-up shots make the insects look like huge, bizarre extra-terrestrials, and single drops of water appear to be gigantic, gooey objects from outer space. Dancers could be inspired by the rhythmic cavorting; lovers moved by the extraordinary passion of the Burgundy snails; a drop of rain is a cannon blast; there are circus-like feats with gymnasts, and construction workers busy at work; bees buzzing in a field of red poppies waving in the wind and the overwhelming beauty of the butterfly.

The film employs time lapse cinematography, slow motion and shallow focus to create this world. It is organized episodically with a lot of mini narratives – a grasshopper gets killed and eaten by a spider, rainstorms plunges an anthill into chaos. etc The narration, by Kristin Scott-Thomas, is kept to a bare minimum, as directors Claude Nuridsany and Marie Perennou let the marvellous images do their work. The films is magical and must be experienced.

PS: Can be watched on Netflix Watch Instant but I would recommend renting the video if you are interested in the extras!


June 29, 2011

Poster - At the edge of Russia

No border incursions ever occur at this or other northern Russian posts except occasional animal invaders.

SYNOPSIS: This is an absurdist look at Russian border guards on the frontier of northern Russia in one of the few remaining outposts on the Arctic Ocean.Young recruit Alexei gets flown in and is oriented to the ritualized ways of living and working in the permafrost.   He is schooled by the other soldiers, who in the Russian tradition quote poets, sing bawdy songs, play macho games like removing hands from wood about to be chopped, and share wisdom such as “When you start to freeze, hold your breath, and your body will start to function like it’s hooked up to a battery.” The film is a satire of nationalism and borders, packaged in a modest portrait of a few men performing their  absurd duty in this snow covered no man’s land, hundreds of miles from the nearest human settlement. Source: (various review sites)

When this film popped up on my twitter feeds, I marked in on my list of films to watch. I was intrigued by the idea of a filmmaker going to harsh terrains and was just interested in the logistics of the whole operations. The naive documentary filmmaker in me presumed he secured permission to actually go to an existing military outpost, filmed an observational documentary and edited it together as a film.

Marczak says he set out to make his film as a pure observational documentary. He traveled for three months searching for the ideal military base to shoot. “During this time I went through cadet training, spent two days in a snow cave, meet a lot of soldiers and visited various outposts,” he explains. He hired former soldiers to populate the outpost. He says there was no script, no set idea. “The protagonists were never tested on camera before the shoot. After one month, the base was fully operational and the life of the soldiers was set according to military standards, which the captain enforced very strongly.” Filming began on the helicopter flying in the cadet, who did not know that he was flying into this “sort of staged situation.” Shooting continued for two months. The film is “undoubtedly” a documentary, says Marczak. “The initial situation was helped, but everything that followed came from inside the people. I had no clue how the story would develop.” Marczak believes he has staged much less than many documentaries “which are never questioned about being documentaries. Source:

Yes all documentary films are subjective views of reality. But would Restrepo a film by Sebastian Junger and Late Tim Hetherington or Heather Courtney’s – “where the soldiers come” evoke the same response and emotion from the audience if it was revealed to them that Hetherington scouted Afghanistan found an outpost and then hired former soldiers and flew in a recruit and got the post functioning. Then he spent 9 months filming their “real” interaction. Does it not ridicule the whole situation? What about filmmakers like Tim Hetherington who put themselves in dangerous situations to get those stories to us or Heather Courtney who embedded with the soldiers on and off to film them.

Let me give you another example, director Micheal Winterbottom’s “In this world” ( the youtube trailer below) and “The road to Guantanamo” are fictionalized films about reality.

These films are shockingly real at times and do blur the lines of fiction and real but the filmmaker lets us the audience know upfront that this is not a documentary. That does not take away from our experience of the reality of what the two refugee Afghans go through.

Therefore films like “At the edge of Russia” do not sit well with me. If the situation was set up and non actors – former soldiers were “hired” and an actual cadet (even if he was oblivious to the actual situation) were all put in a situation and the camera filmed their interaction then call it what it is. Acknowledge it and reveal it to us, we would come and watch the film gladly and appreciate the nuances it brings in but please this is not the same as “Restrepo” or “Where the soldiers come from”, were the situations are real, the people are going through their real lives. Granted the filmmakers make subjective choices and force things to happen or wait for things to happen but it is still a very different story from “At the edge of Russia” And I believe it is necessary to communicate this difference.

Does the film reveal this in the credits? Are most of the audience oblivious to the set up? I just don’t get it.


June 25, 2011

Today June 23rd 2011, New York joined Conneticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hamsphire, Vermont and the District of Columbia in legalizing same sex marriage. I was reminded of a powerful short documentary “FREE HELD” that went on to win the Academy award for best short documentary.

The documentary film “Freeheld” chronicles Laurel’s struggle to transfer her earned pension to her domestic partner, Stacie Andree. With less than six months to live, Laurel refuses to back down when her elected officials – the Ocean County (New Jersey) Freeholders -deny her request to leave her pension to Stacie, an automatic option for heterosexual married couples. The film is structured chronologically, following both the escalation of Laurel’s battle with the Freeholders and the decline of her health as cancer spreads to her brain. Source:

Free Held Website has an interactive map which shows state by state rights of same-sex couples. With New York State legislature’s approval of same-sex marriages, my natural reaction was that it is going to be lot easier for couples like Laurel and Stacie. but then I  read this article in New York times which kinda got me thinking.

New York City has a domestic partnership law that allows both same-sex and different-sex couples to register as domestic partners, and many private and public employers treat employees who are in such partnerships as entitled to the same rights as married employees. But they have done this to rectify the injustice created by same-sex couples’ inability to legally marry. Once the marriage ban in New York State is lifted, domestic-partner couples, both gay and straight, will risk losing access to health care and other benefits if their employers treat marriage as the only ticket for entitlement to these benefits, which are increasingly expensive. Source:

In other words, will couples in long term committed relationship who do not want to marry be forced to marry to obtain or keep their benefits or to be respected or deemed as good citizens. Would that not be unfair?