SUPPORT: Living Up To Our Name

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The Science of Inertia: don't get him started (photo: Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones)

Looking down the rabbit hole at the genesis of “initiative,” global film and making a difference… 

Ever since I was a child, I’ve loved science.  The systematic study of structure.  Atoms crowding on the head of a pin.  Discovery…

As an adult, I haven’t lost this love–ironically, it’s what led me to a career in the arts and The Global Film Initiative.  Because I’ve always been fascinated by the [scientific] concepts of “inertia” and “potential energy” (that everything around us is simultaneously resisting change and has the potential to change), and how those concepts apply themselves in other elements of our world…

A stone rolls once pushed.  Still water ripples when hit with a stone.  Mick Jagger–if you start him up he’ll never stop.  All that needs to occur is a decision to act.  All that’s required to change a state of inertia or release potential energy is someone or something with… Initiative.

The Global Film Initiative began with this in mind, and it’s this guiding precept that has kept us inspired by what we do.  The world around us evolves slowly, imperceptibly or sometimes not at all.  But regardless, it is always ready for change.  And once that change occurs it can repeat itself like rolling thunder…

A filmmaker in Albania has an idea for a story, she tells a friend who has a camera, and he pulls together a crew and they make a film–which we then give to a teacher, who inspires other teachers to think creatively about education, and also a student, who eventually decides to work as our intern, to learn this process and one day repeat the whole thing on his own.

A lofty ideal?  Maybe.  But then again, nothing good comes from thinking small.  In the ten years that we’ve been in existence, we’ve worked the arthouse and schoolhouse, drawn attention to films once unnoticed and now well-known, and supported hundreds filmmakers that have gone on to take their place in one of the most globally diverse artistic generations in history.  Those filmmakers are now becoming teachers to a new generation…

And ten years ago, we began by saying that we need to create change via film, hoping that in ten years, the inertia of our time and culture would be replaced by other individuals, groups and societies that would follow our lead, carry that mission even further, and maybe even make an organization like ours unnecessary…

That hasn’t yet happened, but there certainly are signs.  And perhaps the best example comes from one of our interns, James Stowe, who recently told us why he was inspired to work for The Global Film Initiative:

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Taking initiative: James Stowe, GFI intern

In January of this year, I was on a flight back to Columbus, OH flying out of BWI airport in my native state of Maryland. I had just completed a two week roundtrip across the country to San Francisco, where the national conference for my student organization was held. The organization, AIESEC, always tries to help promote exchange of culture globally through internships which allow students to gain life-changing experiences in different parts of the world. Through this organization I had met hundreds of people from all walks of life and from more places than I’d ever be able to visit.

At that particular conference there were a number of guest speakers and alumni. Some were former UN staff and others social entrepreneurs, but all told us stories of how they had done all of these wonderful things to change the world. However their back stories weren’t quite like mine and as someone interested in film, I wasn’t sure how I could do something like that with my particular skill set.

I thought on this as we drove back across the country. It began to dawn on me that while I had never been out of the country, I had been able to gain insights into other cultures through films. Throughout my college studies in film, I had been able to interact with films from Russia, East Germany, Sweden, Iran, Palestine, Iraq, and a multitude of other countries. I was able to engage with elements of those cultures and admire the similarities between us. I came to see what I was watching on the screen as a little window into the country that it came from.  I feel that each one of those films has contributed to my own enlightenment.

I then realized that this was it. This was where I could leave my mark. And at that moment on the plane, it all clicked. I hadn’t heard of any sort of company that handled such a mission so I thought that I must be the one to create it. I spent the rest of the flight jotting down notes for my business plan. Staffing, sources of funding, team structure, these were among the things that I jotted down during the two and a half hour flight from Maryland to Ohio.  Almost as soon as I got back to my house in Columbus, I began scouring the internet for film internships so I could gain experience to help me achieve this goal of starting my organization. (I had a name for the organization and a mission statement but the notebook didn’t survive the trip to California, so it remains a mystery to me)

It was around this time that I found out about GFI. It was on some internship search website I think. When I saw it, I was in disbelief. How could such an organization exist and I didn’t know about it. I thought that it must be a sign and made up my mind to get the internship no matter what. I emailed my resume and cover letter and then called every day for a week until I talked to Emma. The rest is history.

I’ll end this letter with a brief story. About a year ago, I was in a pretty bad car accident. The SUV I was driving at that time clipped the back of two cars, and hit the grass median going 45 miles an hour. When something like that happens, they say that everything slows down and that your life flashes before your eyes. It doesn’t. You just have thoughts of what you’re leaving behind and brief flashes of regret. The truck then flipped three times before landing on its tires with the front smashed in and all of the windows blown out.

I was miraculously still alive and other than some scars I have no major damage today. The cop told me in the ambulance that he had never seen an accident that ugly without any major injury to anyone.  From that day on, I decided that I wouldn’t live with any regrets and that I would do what I could to leave some sort of positive impact on those around me and on the world if possible. Film has the potential to help fulfill both the mission of my former organization as well as my own personal mission. I came to GFI with all of that in mind.   – James Stowe

It’s an imprecise science, to trace the pathology of our existence.  But as James and every one of our filmmakers suggest, taking initiative, removing inertia and releasing the potential energy of our world is what makes a difference.

Change the Way You See the World (image: Morteza Farshbaf's MOURNING, featured in Global Lens 2012)

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