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Archive for December, 2008

nfs_maggie_in_hotel_2Nice Article on the Need for Speed: Undercover in LA Splash magazine.

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sunburstarborglyph1Last Night I saw the IMAX version of “Dark Knight” and all I can say is WOW!  Not only is the film a great story, but it is well acted and very well directed by Christopher Nolan.  I’d seen the film during its original release and enjoyed it at a regular movie theater, but after seeing the footage from the feature that was actually shot with IMAX, on an IMAX screen, I’m blown away.  Okay, I get it.  No wonder no one goes to the theater to see small independent films.  This is a movie worthy of the big screen.

Previous to “Dark Knight” I had seen only documentaries in the IMAX format.  I always enjoyed them, but wondered why the format wasn’t used more often for large scale productions, especially theatrical narrative films.  I’m not talking about blowing up 35mm prints for IMAX screenings, I mean really shooting with IMAX cameras.  I know the cameras are heavy and loud, so some projects are just not suited for the format, but I think it really takes a genius like Christopher Nolan to show what can be done creatively with the format.  These are definitely Unconventional times!

I have an IMAX movie I want to make.  Actually, I’ve wanted to make it for a long time, but now maybe the time is right.  For over 10 years, Singer-Songerwriter-Artist, Sandy Corley and I have been developing, “Witness Trees.”  Only problem is it is not a documentary or a narrative film like “Dark Knight,” it’s an art film (am I even allowed to say that word?).

Beech trees of the Southeast United States have stood for over one hundred years as unspeaking witnesses to sunlit mornings, lashing storms, nocturnal secrets, birth, death and historic occasions of celebration and despair.  Voices from the past still speak through the bark of these trees because beginning with the American Indians and later with the early European settlers, “Arborglyphs” have been carved into the trees, holding vital information and historical memories.  These are the messages spanning the Revolutionary war, the “Trail of Tears”, the war between the States and now, the present day.

You can see this is no ordinary film, it is a story as old as the forests.  Soon these Arborglyph messages will be silenced and lost.  Due to a natural end of lifespan, clear-cutting, acid rain, storms and their status as a non-timber “trash tree”, there is  a very little time left to document these “Witness Trees”.  Today’s remaining Arborglyphs are not only historical artifacts and national treasures, but are art forms from the Cherokees, Creek Confederacy, nameless soldiers, settlers and other travelers on the trails of our past, who left no other visible legacy.  This is an environmental story, an American Indian story, a “DaVinci Code” like story.

These trees exist and many have been documented and included on our website, WitnessTrees.org, but imagine an IMAX film with images of American Indian stories and legend, historical reenactments, environmental and scientific documents, with music and art inspired by these trees.  A film that makes you feel like you are in these forests like only an IMAX film can.  That’s the film I’ve always wanted to make.

I first met Sandy Corley, American Indian, in 1990, as she was developing a site sculpture and performance piece protest of the 500 year anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s “discovery” of America in 1992.  I was already a huge fan of poet/musician John Trudell and a strong believer in the spiritual and traditional programs of the American Indian Movement (AIM).  Sandy and her husband, Howard Deutsch, had been researching, gathering endorsements, shooting still photos and interviewing historians, authors, activists, wilderness magazine publishers, Georgia trail trees experts, Indian education directors, Georgia land lottery experts, anthropologists, archeologists, and others about this uniquely southern, endangered treasure, the Arborglyph.  In fact, much of Sandy’s music and art centers on these Beech tree carvings.  It was through Sandy that I later met others that cared and worked to save these Southeastern forests including Lamar Marshall and the wonderful organization, Wild South.

Since starting the project many sickening losses have occurred.  Little time is left to document the voices of these silent sentinels in order to preserve and pass on their messages to future southeastern generations and the world.

I don’t know how we got to this point, but speaking of sickening losses, something must be done now to free Leonard Peltier.  For those that don’t know Leonard Peltier, a Lakota Indian, is on Amnesty International’s list of political prisoners.  It is time to stop the 34 years of injustice that this innocent man has spent in prison.  Freedom for Leonard Peltier is way overdue!

If you saw the 1992 film, “Incident at Oglala,” produced by Robert Redford and directed by Michael Apted (and if you haven’t you should), then you will know that Leonard Peltier, a leader of AIM came to assist the Oglala Lakota People of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota in the mid 1970’s.  It was here on June 26, 1975, that the tragic shoot-out with Federal Agents occurred.  The court record in this case clearly shows that government prosecutors do not know who killed the agents, nor what role Leonard Peltier “may have’ played in the shoot-out.”  It is known that Peltier participated in the planning of community activities, religious ceremonies, programs for self-sufficiency, and improved living conditions. He also helped to organize security for the traditional people who were being targeted for violence by the pro-assimilation tribal chairman and his vigilantes.  He is a father, a grandfather, an artist, a writer, and an Indigenous rights activist.  He is not a killer.  Leonard Peltier was convicted to two life sentences based on fabricated testimony and circumstantial evidence.  September 12th of this year marked his 64th birthday.

Another parole application will be filed this month. The earliest that hearing is likely to occur is in January 2009 (according to the Parole Commission’s schedule for in-person parole reviews to be held at USP-Lewisburg, where Peltier is currently imprisoned).  We must all help Leonard Peltier get justice and freedom.  Other persons guilty of worse crimes have been released time and time again on parole or pardoned, yet Mr. Peltier remains imprisoned.  Nelson Mandela, Rigoberta Menchu, the U.N. High Commissioner on Human Rights, the Dalai Lama, the European Parliament, the Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights, and Rev. Jesse Jackson are only a few who have called for his freedom. To many Indigenous Peoples, Leonard Peltier is a symbol of the long history of abuse and repression they have endured.

From behind bars, Leonard Peltier has helped to establish scholarships for Native students and special programs for Indigenous youth. He has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize five times.  For more information check out his biography entitled “Prison Writings: My Life Is My Sun Dance” (St. Martin’s Press,1999) or contact Freedom Archives.

For me, Leonard Peltier is a white knight in dark times.  If people are truly ready for change, then he will finally be released from prison, just like Nelson Mandela was after the dark days of Apartheid.

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Yesterday, I finally pulled myself away from “Need for Speed:Undercover” on the XBox.  I’m having a terrible time making it past the early levels so that I can see more of the live action footage that I produced for the game.  It’s not the game, it’s definitely the player.

I had been asked by the Coalition of Southern California Music Organizations (COSMO), Just Plain Folks (JPF) and the Los Angeles Women in Music (LAWIM) to serve on a couple of panels regarding music and film.  I begrudgingly put the game controls down and found it to be an interesting experience, with a couple of nice surprises.

I must admit I’m a bit of a snob with my work in Nashville and our company there, Unconventional South.  I always figured that was the only place to be if you’re a serious songwriter.  However, I met some very talented writers and musicians at the all day conference held at the Professional Musicians Union, Local 47 on Vine street in Hollywood.

Just like in Nashville, a lot of the musicians wanted to know how to get their music discovered, past the little access of radio.  You already know my opinion, the internet, not only websites like Pandora and OurStage, but the simple things like making sure your best stuff is up on a MySpace site, also have your own promotional website.  I’m now using my own MySpace site as a place holder so that I can quickly access musicians and songwriters that I like and may want to use for future projects.

On the panels, I talked about developing relationships with upcoming directors and producers.  I warned that you may have to do the first project cheap, but if you can develop a long term relationship, it’ll pay off in the end.  I also promoted the idea of webisodes and a music web series.  I was very impressed to meet Jannel Rap and hear the Country rock sound of her band, Clementine.  They’ve just returned from the Squeaky Wheel Tour with a mission to help find missing persons.  They have handouts and information to various hotlines and weblinks at each performance and at 411Gina.org.  They’ve found over 300 missing persons so far.  Jannel’s sister, Regina, went missing after her own concert in 2000.  Jannel hasn’t stopped looking.

What I really found impressive was they’ve been putting up episodes of “Finding Gina” on YouTube of the tour.  This has generated interest in the cause, the band and the music.  It has lead to radio airplay.  This is a worthy cause, but it wouldn’t sustain if they didn’t have the music to back it up.  Other songwriters and musicians can follow this formula, creating a web series that showcases their music, be it documentary, reality or experimental.  This is what Unconventional Media is all about, new ways to get the message and music out there.

Okay, back to the XBox.

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