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Archive for May, 2011

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

When Matthew Cork visited India in October of 2007, his experience triggered a movement that has been gathering momentum and is about to break on the scene with powerful force.  About two and a half years ago, inspired by the success of a church in Atlanta, the creative team set out to make a theatrical, full length feature film to capture a wide audience.  It would be a drama, not a documentary, and would build a bridge half way around the world, connecting resources and a laser beam focus on the plight and destiny of a people group of nearly three hundred million – the Dalits of India.

Matthew announced the improbable goal – to eliminate the caste system.  When I first heard him say it, I was struck by the sheer enormity of it.  (“Impossible!” was my first reaction.)  But as we explored the problem and the grass roots movement that is expanding like an October Southern California brush fire, consuming long held prejudices and egregious traditions turning the old ideas of untouchability into ash, we began to understand that the impossible becomes possible.  In response, a single Southern California church, where Matthew Cork serves as Lead Pastor, pledged nearly twenty million dollars (most of it toward building schools for a whole new generation of Dalits) to fuel a campaign that will spell freedom and hope for millions.

What a journey.  Matthew commissioned two of his top creative lieutenants to write a script.  Brent Martz and Jon Van Dyke went to work.  They gave birth to a compelling story: Caden, a privileged, cynical, self-absorbed Southern California twenty-something, travels to India on a lark with his party pals and stumbles across an eight-year-old Dalit, Annikka, and her father Karin, while back home his girlfriend, mother and step-dad pray.  Repelled at first, Caden gradually becomes attached to the wide-eyed little girl and when Karin sells her away for a small fistful of rupees, thinking it will guarantee a better future than he can give, Caden is incensed.  As he connects to the Internet from his luxury hotel, his research gives him a primer on trafficking and the previously calloused Californian becomes obsessed with her rescue.  Together, Caden, the entitled Californian, and Karin, the Dalit father, set out to find Annikka.  Their search takes them all over India, and into the dark world of human trade where children are debased as a sub-human commodity.

The script led to a casting call.  Church folks volunteered to serve the project.  A cinematographer emerged.  Donations materialized.  Excitement accelerated.  Storyboards mapped out production plans.  Slum Dog Millionaire (a surprise hit film which introduced the world to India’s untouchables) stormed the Oscars.  Doors opened in India.  Cast members and crew appeared from both sides of the globe.  A location trip identified sites for filming.  Filmed on location, the movie would take characters through the slums, the marketplace, the trains, the bustling city streets, the dark shadows of the brothel district and back allies where human dignity is forgotten, trampled.  The team faced impossible odds.  Barriers and roadblocks have been encountered all along the way.  Murphy’s Law (if it can go wrong, it will) imposed itself time and again.  And in spite of all the challenges, all the objections, all the predictions of calamity, the seers of doom, all the delays, all the undelivered promises, all the reasons why the team could well have thrown up their hands in discouragement and simply said “never mind”, “I quit”, “this is too much”, “we can’t go on”… in spite of all of that and more, the movie is almost done.  And it is very, very good.

As I write, the production crew is applying the finishing touches.  World-class composer Don Harper has completed an original score.  The mix is nearly complete.  The final edit is going through a color correction, which is tantamount to a Photo Shop of every frame.  The result is eye-popping clarity and crisp resolution.  Much of the dialogue, true to life, is in an Indian dialect.  Animated subtitles bring the conversation to life.  The team will be done mid-summer.  Focus groups will register their responses for final tweaking and presentation to the several major distributors who have already indicated keen interest.

I wish I could express adequately how proud I am of the production team.  I am attached to this project largely because I traveled to India twice these past two years; the first trip along with the writer, director, producer and cinematographer.   We located sites in Hyderabad, on the train, in Calcutta and Mumbai.  As the movie was made, for nearly a full year, I worked with Matthew to write a book that tells the story of Global Freedom.

One man’s vision, one that captured him in the middle of the night in a hotel room in the heart of India, has already moved a mountain.  It’s about to move a nation.

Maybe the whole world.

Copyright Kenneth E Kemp 2011

Learn more: The Movie | The Book 

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A Story in Every Life

Monday, May 15, 2011

Veteran motivational business leader Dan Cathy may have seemed somewhat out of place in a conference on technology-driven education around the world, but, after all, he was a prime benefactor in making the event happen. They called it the “Imagination Summit[1],” and invited some of the major digital companies to present and inform students, professors and administrators to some of the innovative technologies setting the pace in the new global economy. We heard from representatives at Cisco, Apple, Stanford University and Rethink Books, a digital publishing firm, among others.

There were definite “Wow!” moments as our facilitators walked us through some of the new tools for delivering academic content. Some of the most fascinating involve the penetration of remote, underprivileged, underserved places around the globe with high level, age-appropriate curriculum. In far away African villages, for example, with no connectivity or power supply, Stanford is opening doors and minds to a world of ideas. Cisco works alongside some of the most prestigious (and expensive) universities to bring the classroom experience with some of the nation’s most distinguished and innovative professors to sites all over the world. Online classes have become virtual classrooms, with live interaction and group video. Libraries are becoming digitized and accessible. In real time, lectures can now be transcribed and translated into several languages. Video recordings of speeches, simultaneously transcribed, can be searched according to outline and actual text. As information proliferates, it is becoming democratized, available for the asking, no longer the domain of exclusive, elitist associations. Those who resist technological advance are declining in influence. Those who integrate technology with their disciplines are expanding their reach in unimaginable ways.

Dan Cathy fit in, mainly because he runs his business from a smart-phone. He opened by giving us all his mobile number, which for a crowd of close to a thousand seemed a risky move. But it was all part of a tech-type contest in which he challenged us to send him a text message. The start would be signaled by the announcement of his phone number… first text in would win an iPad. You could feel the adrenaline rush as this collection of techies poised themselves, well, ourselves, to show our stuff. (I missed it – by a hair.)

But Cathy’s agenda differed from the rest of the presenters that day. The others were there to trigger the technological whiz-bang moments that would prompt collective Imagineering. Cathy brought in the human element. He challenged us to see technology, not as a master but a servant. Success in any enterprise, he said, means meeting the real needs of real people. Technology should enhance relationships. Our affection for our tools can be counterproductive, placing barriers between us and those we serve. Technology is no substitute for high touch. Connectivity must go beyond a digital login.

He speaks from experience. Mr. Cathy is President and CEO of one of the most successful business enterprises of the new millennium: the 3.5 billion dollar line of new restaurants – Chick Fil A. He is passionate about his business plan.

It must be a great sandwich, he will concede. But people will come back not simply because of a great product. He believes every visit to every store should be a great experience. So, they began with a highly intentional training program so that every manager, every server, every employee understands how to make every visit just that – a great and satisfying event. The sort you will speak of with enthusiasm to your friends.

One of the many training tools in Cathy’s box is a video that reminds his employees that every guest has a story. Even the unpleasant arrival carries unwanted baggage into the store. That burden may manifest in quirky ways. But the right question, a proper greeting, intentional assistance, an atmosphere of welcome and superior service will disarm most everyone. The video introduces us to a store filled with customers (a word Cathy avoids) and using animated text tells us something of each person’s back story – the man who just arrived from his chemo treatment, the tattooed teenager whose father walked out, the young couple struggling with infertility, the elderly woman eating alone whose husband recently passed away, the young mom with multiple kids trying to keep it together after the father of her children disappeared, the bright young high school woman who just got accepted at the university of her dreams, the grandmother herding her young grandchildren after a morning at the park and so on. At first, you see each simply as a patron in the store. When you read even a brief phrase summarizing the story, the patron becomes a person. And knowing the story, well, it triggers compassion and care. Boom. Cathy’s point.

So we live in a world of burgeoning technology. The possibilities energize us.

But let’s not forget the human dimension. Let’s look for those stories. Listen. Care. Smile. Hand ‘em a chicken sandwich. Waffle fries and ketchup.

Copyright Kenneth E Kemp, 2011

YouTube Video

[1] Sponsored and held last month at Biola University

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Monday, May 8, 2011

Disney’s latest nature film is stunning family fare, with an overlay narrative that ties the drama together.  Attributing human qualities and emotion to animal behavior can feel contrived, but the stunning images on the big screen are so astonishing, so filled with delight, artistic license for the creators of this visual feast is generously granted on a broad scale.

Speaking of feast, there is plenty of that out in the wild.  African Cats is a story of survival for those majestic carnivores in the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya’s massive Serengeti plains.  Caution: young children may be disturbed by the hunt and kill.  While the scenes are not gratuitous, they could be too much.  The New York Times reviewer reports that a seven year old dragged his mother out of the theater as a pack of lions lunched on a fallen zebra.

That aside, a storyline weaves the extraordinary scenes together.  In the Maasai Mara, the crocodile infested Talek River separates a Northern Kingdom and a Southern Kingdom.  Both exist under the rule of a Lion King: Kali in the North and Fang in the South.  They gather on either side of the river in a communal pride, mainly unaware of each other.  A lion pride consists of several male and female lions, along with their playful cubs, each pride ruled by a dominant male.  Herds of wildebeest, numbered in the millions, provide plenty of nourishment.  The horned, hoofed, horse-like mammals swarm the plain until their annual migration further south.  Their departure leaves the giant cats hungry.

As the waters retreat in the summertime, the lions will venture into the water of the river crossing the natural border, risking the jaws of submerged predators, the crocs.  They wander into foreign territory on the other side.  The Maasai Mara Reserve boasts an abundance of species, perhaps the largest in the world.  There are elephants and buffalo, leopards and hyenas and jackals, foxes and hippos and giraffes, gazelles and zebras.  Nearly five hundred species of birds flutter in and around the plains, vultures and storks and hornbills and ostriches.  Eagles and falcons and cranes.  And a jumping secretary bird who entertains the lion cubs.

Layla depends on Fang, who is named for a broken tooth, a casualty of battle, to protect her cubs.  Mara, her youngest, needs the most care.  Sita, a powerful cheetah, must protect her brood but in addition, must leave them from time to time to hunt for their foods.  Meat-eaters all, their exploits in the Serengeti Plain operate way up the food chain.  Mammals chasing mammals.  Each with eyes and ears and protective strategies, the hunt and the chase provide the high drama.  The cameras capture the intimacy and power of a mother’s protective, playful care.  In cinematic detail, muscular bodies ripple in hot pursuit.  Slow motion.  The adrenaline rush.  Mom’s hunt, too.  It’s hit and miss out there.  Chance and determination are both in play.  The focus of the cheetah’s gaze just before the kill is nature’s laser beam.  Sometimes the banquet comes home.  Sometimes not.

Kali and Fang eventually come face to face.  Sita gets caught in the confrontation.  I won’t give away the outcome.

African Cats is mainly the story of the circle of life and in that sense is reminiscent of the Disney classic, Lion King.  The technologies that capture these images and sequences for the big screen are the best ever.  But it is more than technical.  One reviewer calls it a story that illuminates the “power of mother love.”

And that makes it a Mother’s Day film.  As I watched these scenes, something mysterious and awe-inspiring in nature shines a light on human experience.  The Dad as protector.  The Mom as caregiver, nurturer.   She prepares her offspring for life in the wild.  (It really is a jungle out there.)  But mainly, you get a new perspective on the intuitive and powerful connection between parent and child – the family and the place of pride.  When that is broken, everything is at risk.

So we have Kali and Fang.  Layla and Sita.  Mara and the brood of cubs.  The pride.

And here we are in our own Serengeti Plain, surrounded by wonders; dangers, toils and snares.  High risk.  Great reward.  And moments of deep satisfaction.

Makes me want to sit and watch a sunset.  Real time.

Copyright Kenneth Kemp 2011

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