Thursday, February 22, 2007
By M. Petra Daher
I visited Alaska for seventeen days in June of 2003, with a loose plan and a brand new video camera. I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to get to know my latest tool. It was the summer after 911 and my heart was still broken from all that had happened. It was the summer that I was going to visit my Grandparent’s homeland Lebanon, for the very first time. I had hoped to make a documentary about taking my elderly Lebanese American aunties back to visit their family and home country.
Because of travel restrictions and fear, that trip was postponed. I decided to replace one dream with another, substituting a Lebanese home coming for an Alaskan adventure. I figured the perfect remedy for the stress of the world events was immense amounts of undisturbed nature. I traveled from Denali National Park to Homer and back again. The title for the travelogue came from a line I first heard at a dinner theater’s musical performance that I attended outside of Denali National Park. It was about the History of Alaska. “The Odds are Good and the Goods are Odd,” was one of the many sayings that I heard often while I was there.
I independently produced this travelogue about south central Alaska. I was traveling light and on a small budget. I shot all of the footage hand held without a tripod. I interviewed all of the people on the spot with one take. All interviews and narration was done using the boom microphone on the camera. I directed and edited the project using a Sony VX2000 Mini DV Camera, a G5Powermac Computer and Final Cut Pro editing software. I was teaching at the time and it was wonderful to jump back into production. I wanted to explore what level of quality could be produced with minimal equipment and crew. This product is an example of a video revolution occurring thanks to affordable and portable video cameras and editing software that can be run on a home computer.
I found the people of Alaska to be generous and kind. People I barely knew quickly became friends and provided food, shelter, hospitality and sometimes, even rides. During my journey I collected interviews from 14 random people that I spoke with along the way. I had a few interview questions developed and improvised the rest as we talked. I developed the narration after shooting and logging all of the interviews. I was charmed that so many of them were willing to share with me what was meaningful to them. They offered valuable travel tips, sharing their favorite places and things to do. Many of them I spoke with came from somewhere else, in search of something new. They all longed for something different then what the lower 48 had to offer.
I felt very fortunate to be able to make a travelogue about my trip to Alaska. A passion for travel adventures is a family tradition. I grew up watching travelogues about all corners of the world and always longed to make one. Visiting Alaska changed me as a person. Experiencing the scope and magnitude of the natural beauty and wildlife was an event that I won’t soon forget. Capturing the experience on digital videotape is the best souvenir that I could hope for. The Alaskan people where equally fascinating. They are pioneers and survivors in the truest sense of the word. It was an honor to meet them. Alaskans are tough, persevering, passionate, freedom loving adventurers. Alaska still represents the last frontier. The Land of the Midnight Sun represents new possibilities and all that is wild.
I briefly experienced what it feels like to live in the wild, constantly aware of the power of the untamed territory. It is a new experience to constantly be preoccupied with not startling a bear or even more dangerous, a moose. Where else can you hear glaciers snap and crackle, feel absolutely small, and see what North America may have looked like before over development came in the name of progress.
This film is a celebration of the people, culture and natural beauty that is Alaska. I hope that what we all love about Alaska does not get taken for granted. Hopefully personal narratives about the Alaskan experience, like this documentary, will help other American’s realize the importance of preserving the uniqueness of the state. I hope that we Americans protect these precious resources, this last American wilderness, by demanding strong environmental policies so that future generations can share in the experience and learning.
By M. Petra Daher
“Courage Under Fire: Exposing the Occupation,” is a documentary about the International Solidarity Movement, (ISM), a movement calling on international volunteers to support the Palestian Nonviolence Movement. The documentary introduces us to the group’s Jewish co-founder and spokesperson, Adam Shapiro. He shares what inspired a Jewish American from New York City to become the co-founder of the Palestian Nonviolence Movement. We also meet Brian Avery, an American ISM volunteer, who was shot by the Israeli Military while serving as a human rights observer. He shares what he has learned from the experience and what happened the day of his shooting. And perhaps the most touching interviews come from Rachel Corrie’s grieving parents. They reflect on the lessons that their daughter taught them and call for an independent investigation of their daughter’s death.
Adam Shapiro, ISM Spokesperson
The Documentary, “Courage Under Fire: Exposing the Occupation,” is dedicated to ISM volunteer, Rachel Corrie, who was killed by a bulldozer while trying to protect a Palestinian Family’s home from being demolished in 2003. Sadly, this idealistic American college student fell victim to the human rights violations and violence that she was trying to help expose. It was her story that brought attention to the Palestian Non-Violence Movement. The slaying of a beautiful young American activist was able to command the world media’s attention in a way that a Palestian activist never could.
In January of 2004, members of the International Solidarity Movement, including the parents of slain activist Rachel Corrie, were at Michigan State University with members of the Michigan Peace Team for an in-service program on their mission and current activities. The groups where also trying to rally support for an independent investigation of the death of Rachel. It was at that event that the interviews for this documentary were compiled. Meeting these people was both inspiring and heartbreaking. It gave me the opportunity to speak first hand with activists on the front line of a horrible and often times misunderstood conflict. The interviews that I compiled reveal courage and insight into the complexities of the Israeli/ Palestinian crisis.
As a documentary maker, I am inspired to share the stories of everyday heroes who quietly work to give a voice to the powerless. I have always had great respect for the dangerous and very important work of human rights activists. The basic concept being that international volunteers travel to troubled spots throughout the world and serve as witnesses to human rights violations. This grassroots movement has proven to be an effective way to call attention to human rights abuses that might otherwise be ignored, as well as modeling nonviolent conflict resolution strategies. These non-violence strategies are based on the teachings of Gandhi and Reverend Martin Luther King. The International Solidarity Movement was successfully helping to promote non-violent approaches to conflict in the region. However, as this documentary highlights, peace team members began to get hurt and even killed, further stressing the need for worldwide criticism of human rights violations in the area.
This video work is an act of media activism. I seek to bring about awareness of topics overlooked or marginalized by mainstream media. I believe in the power of words and storytelling to heal. I hope that the viewer is both informed and inspired by the story and that it promotes dialogue and more questions. I made this film as a contribution to the Michigan Peace Team efforts. The film’s premiere provided the centerpiece for a successful fundraiser for Peace Team, and it is now used as a training tool for Peace Team volunteers heading off to do work in various troubled areas of the world.