My First Dramatic Film

I got to direct and edit my first dramatic short film! My crew and actors were comprised of a group of adults on the Eden Valley aboriginal reserve, none of who had technical or acting experience. We had less than five days to learn the basics, come up with a script, and shoot it.

And you know what? Despite the lighting not being quite right and the camera framing off, the story had an authenticity to it which really moved me. The realities on the reserve around addictions and the lack of any economic prospects make the story all the more meaningful.

You can watch the short video here:

The most important part of this story though is the impact it has had on the people who created it. Emil, the main actor, was stunned to see his own story reflected in the film because (I think) he saw his life and what was possible for his life. And perhaps in being the hero, in acting in front of a camera, in struggling to read the script, he felt the power of writing his own story.

I see the possibilities of fiction differently now. Fiction can be a medium that sometimes say more about reality than documentary can. For documentaries, you can’t always be at the right place at the right time. However good fiction can recreate or highlight those transformative moments in human experience. On the other hand, bad fiction like bad documentary oversimplifies or distorts our perceptions of the world. So in both cases, I feel a kind of responsibility to crafting something that is significant and meaningful. At least it is something I can aspire to.

Wish me luck.

Call Out: Looking for Young Documentary Filmmakers

With a grant from Calgary 2012 (Calgary’s cultural capital bid), I am now a project looking for ideas and youth who want to participate. All I know at this point is that it will involve documentary filmmaking, that it will start around September, and that the project should connect youth with significant issues and their own sense of power in affecting those issues.


How are we going to do this? Well I haven’t figured that out yet. Maybe you can help me tackle some of these questions.

What themes would be worthwhile exploring?

This is the year for Calgary 2012 so why not explore the urban design of the city? Most students and I would say most adults don’t have a good sense of how the city works (or doesn’t work). What if we had students learn about their cityscape Jane Jacobs style exploring and observing transportation, water sanitation, building construction, usage of public space? Would the city allow us in?

Or perhaps the youth can seek out exceptional Calgarians who lead by speaking the difficult truths and standing up for fairness and justice. These types of leaders are not necessarily the ones celebrated by the mainstream, but they’re the ones that actually shift the way the mainstream think. But where would I find such Calgarians?

Or can the projects by Calgary 2012 artists become the source for youth to investigate? What will the link be between art projects and community?

What format should the project take?

I could re-run Reel World Youth Documentaries at a school as Kate and I piloted at the end of last year. See for some of the details. I loved the engagement by the class and its integration with the curriculum. However, the time constraints were tight and we couldn’t dedicate enough time needed for field trips and research. If I were to do it again, I’d be looking for a school willing to dedicate weeks worth of time to it.

Or rather than running it on top of school curriculum, perhaps it could be a month long intensive program that takes the place of a segment of a course permitting me daily contact. The challenge here is that interviews would be more difficult to arrange in that short amount of time unless more prep was done.

Which school or class would be right for this?

Do you know of a school or a teacher or a group of youth or even a single youth that would have the flexibility to run an intensive yet engaging program such as this? Then let me know and propose your idea to me. I’m open for suggestions!

There you have it. It’s a project waiting for the right creative constraint. Please spread the word.



A friend died suddenly of cancer recently. As a result I’m in shock not knowing what what to feel or think. To be honest I haven’t had to think too much about mortality in a personal way until now.

I was with her at the hospital a few days before she passed away. At first you wonder what to even say or do. But then you realize that the imminent end strips away the need to skirt around reality; this is goodbye. You share memories, gratitudes, and yes even hopes for the future.

This was the gift that Tracey gave me and, I would guess, others. Despite it being her last days on earth, she looked to the future not so much for herself as for the people around her including her husband and son. This was typically her. Throughout her life, she faced blindness, cancer,and motherhood with a kind of directness and courage that inspired everyone who met her.

She also demonstrated that death isn’t the end. It’s not that I have any strong convictions around where she will go in the afterlife. But I do see how her actions have created ripples of change that will last beyond her life. This is as close to a grounded meaning of eternal life as I can define. What we do in this life does matter to the generations to come and perhaps in that way we do live on through the influence and impact we’ve had on others.

There is nothing revolutionary about this way of thinking except perhaps in our current individualistic and egotistical society. Every tradition has some sense of legacy. My middle name in Chinese tells me that I represent the 27th generation in my family. Today, however, we know that we are all part of the same family, the same species living on a relatively small and limited home.

So, the question becomes whether we are supporting humanity’s journey or hindering it. Easy to ask at the high level; difficult to work out the details since we don’t often ask questions about our own humanity. We assume it like an heir to the throne.

In an insulated society like ours we are protected from the debilitating fear of starvation, the violence of war, or the threat of freezing to death. Always a dangerous proposition for a species dependent on its ability to sense the environment around them. While safety gives us the space to explore and understand our world, safety also makes us complacent about what ensures our long-term safety.

Death is a major part of our evolutionary process. Without it, species would not be able to adapt from one generation to the next. We’re lucky in that human beings don’t always have to wait until their genes get updated. We can update our thinking about the world more quickly. Nevertheless, death is the final arbiter as to whether our thinking is sound, whether our civilization is worthy of life.

There are other ways to approach death though. You can take on beliefs that make it easier to deal with maybe even dismiss it altogether. You can decide that life is all about you and enjoy the ride. Or maybe it’s like groundhog day where you spend your life trying all the wrong ways of living before finding a good way to live.

I haven’t come to terms with it. I am caught between wanting to be brutally realistic about death, wanting to transcend it, and well wanting to avoid it.

I have figured out one piece of it though. If I thought about death only as it applies to me or other individuals, I fall into a survivalist “who-lives-who-dies” mentality where death is to be avoided at all costs. When I think about death as a part of life and when I think of myself as being part of a human community, I am better able to make sense of it. So rather than being only concerned with what life insurance policy I need, I am also concerned with why war, famine, disease is such a large part of our civilization.

Strangely enough that puts me at peace with my mortality.

Reel World Youth Filmfest

After wrapping up Reel World Youth and doing a final debrief with the teens at Alice Jamieson, I’ve come to the conclusion that life really is far more interesting than the comfortable illusions we are fed by daytime TV and cultural norms. Here’s a short video giving some of the highlights of this fun project.

What is next? Hard to say as this was a pilot project in education enhancement. Over the years I’ve come to realize that schooling is not the same as education and sometimes even runs counter to it. Because if education is everything society does to prepare people for life, then school in terms of influence plays only a small part. Yet at the time, it seemed like everything.

As someone who excelled in the school system, it’s a big shock to look back now and realize how the pursuit of marks, the segregation of subject areas, the standardized tests, need to conform to rules, and the need to always reference the authority… actually took away from my ability to learn adaptively. And by adaptively I mean learning how to do those thing where there was no external direction or routine to follow. Which in this day and age is pretty much what life is and will be.

So this experiment was one where we tried to break down the barriers between subject areas (English, technology, art, and history all blended together), to connect students to authorities beyond the classroom, to provide meaningful motivation beyond marks, and to give them a real life challenge. For the most part we were successful in making those connections. But there were tough lessons on time management, juggling the demands of curriculum, on technical glitches, and on frustration and relationships.

Nevertheless, I can see it is possible break the boundaries of conventional learning. It just takes a bit of thought and care.

Lunar Eclipse Inspiration

A few days ago I found myself waking up early morning a little after 6:00 am on December 10th for no apparent reason. Then I remembered there was to be a lunar eclipse, so like a little kid, I snuck out of bed, put on my coat and rushed out to watch the moon slowly being eaten by the shadow of the Earth.

It wasn’t long though before I decided I had to share it with everyone, so I rushed back in to grab my camera to point at the night sky. Here is what I caught in 25x time-lapse:

While you get to see 25 minutes compressed into one, I got to reflect on the celestial event and have some sense of why it happens and at what time! It brought me back to my elementary days when I tried to simulate the crescent moon with a flashlight, globe and tennis ball. To think that we were able to come up with Kepler’s laws of motion which could predict the motion of the planets and moons. This seems more magical to me than the old Chinese mythology of a dragon eating the moon. Here was a peaceful reminder that if humankind were to contemplate the heavens and reach for the best of what humankind can offer, then we can achieve much.

So while my ancestors might have been beating drums to scare the dragon away, I could have my moment of inspiration knowing that it won’t be long before the moon returns.