The ‘Off’ Season

‘Tis the season for the reason why we teach — summer!

Not the kind of lollygag that gives Minnesota lawmakers reflux. Most of my break is spent guiding young filmmakers. And thanks to connections made at Caldera’s Transformation Camp, I went away to find something rarer than an extended idle:

On family vacation to New York City, I’m treated to a pair of positive professional excursions. After a lively Bronx subway ride, I ring the buzzer for the Ghetto Film School, just a couple floors up a tiny lift from a New York State probation office.

What GFS has achieved upstairs is a spare, polished wood-floor marvel. Here, mostly low-income and minority young people, ages 14-21, apply to make movies through an after-school program, a charter high school and professional internships. Artistic rigor and yes, travel, connect them with their inner Spike Jonze. GFS even connects them to Spike Jonze as a frequent guest speaker.

Founder Joe Hall and Development Director Stosh Mintek graciously explain their finely tuned pedagogy, share curriculum and offer lovely parting gifts, including the one Daniel Pink book I’ve yet to devour, A Whole New Mind, which GFS staff reads as a unifying theory for right-brain education.

With their student crew wrapping a film in Asia, Mintek wonders aloud if there’s such a theory for travel’s educational benefits.

Anyone?

Their work reminds me of the filmmaking we do at Caldera  — mostly low-income, minority youth using professional space and gear. And regardless of where anyone comes from, how powerful it is to travel to a unique setting to create real movies minutes after arrival.

I wonder about the various goings of the youth I will soon see. Are they on vacations, family visits or any other trip they wouldn’t have made while in school? Brought together at camp with like-minded fellows, such as my welcome at GFS, they’ll ponder the sweet serendipity together.

Which brings us to our next stop — the sleek, creative citadel @Radical Media, makers of diverse projects like the online Johnny Cash Project and the design of NASA’s voyage to Jupiter. Founder Jon Kamen bills them a “trans-media” company, making movies, websites, TV — whatever delivers their message. This has led them from the Sundance Channel show Iconoclasts to the Oscar-winning documentary The Fog of War to the Grammy-winning Concert For George. Seeing the power of media writ so large reminds me that Beatle George Harrison’s exploration of The Inner Light, leaves out how it’s possible to arrive with traveling.

Places like this are shaping tomorrow’s world. Someday, the kids I work with might confirm the existence of similar fascinating floors of edit suites, sound-mixing rooms and networked hard drives. Until then, they can know first-hand how hard work breeds connection, making such stimulating spaces out there reachable.

As I walk into a rare city monsoon with a bag of graciously donated DVDs, I’m lit afire with gratitude, experiences, memories and the unexpected: motivation.

The reason is the season for why we teach — summer!

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