Day 5! Lessons from the Pros.

 My name is Rachel Geistfeld, I’m a senior Performance Studies and French major from outside the Twin Cities. I’ll be serving as the Student Live-Blogger for this year’s IMS trip, updating you daily about the SoC’s time in Paris.

The Whole IMS-Paris Gang!

You guys. Today was a huuuuuge day with lots of really big names in journalism and in history. We had four different speakers at AUP this morning, we went on a tour of another newspaper company and we met John Morris! Some of us even went all the way to Sacré Coeur and had fondue after that! I know that I personally will probably be asleep for about a week after this trip is over, so if you think of any future comments, please direct them to Dream Rachel.

Returning to our exciting speakers, though.

This morning we heard from Ann and Don Morrison, formerly co-editors of Time Magazine Europe. Anne was also Editor of Asiaweek Magazine in Hong Kong and Executive Editor for Fortune Magazine, New York. Don was also Executive Editor for Time Magazine Asia and Assistant Managing Editor for Time Magazine New York.

They both told us about their lives all around the world in a joint presentation called “Three Continents, Two Careers, One Couple, Two Kids, No Dogs.” They also shared some specific updates about journalism with us. All week long we’ve been hearing about the shift to online media, but this was the first time that we had any data on the matter.

–  1/3 of all newsroom jobs in the U.S in 2000 are gone.
–  Only 14% of news websites, though, provide original reportorial content
–  Of about 1 million U.S. blogs and social networking sites, 80& of links are to old media sites

Basically, Ms. Morrison’s data shows that newspapers still provide the only reportorial content on the internet. Although opinions can be found anywhere, newspapers are still the only places for facts on the matter.

The second speaker we heard from was Jean-Marc Illouz, Senior International Correspondent for France 2 TV. He discussed an issue that few of us knew about – France’s occupation of Mali. He gave us a bit of history and then told us about his disappointment in the United States’ international coverage Mr. Illouz believes that the US media does not do enough to get readers excited about the rest of the world, and that the Middle East is not portrayed accurately. Although a lot of opinionated information is available in blogs, there are not many sources of unbiased reporting. He suggested that we all read Al Jazeera English so that we could better understand the events abroad.

Our third speaker works in the fashion industry. Madeleine Czigier showed us a documentary on Hermès handbags. Let me tell you, these things don’t come cheap. The typical wait time for an Hermès bag is 5 years, and the starting price is around $5,000. As someone who isn’t particularly interested in fashion, I found this documentary to actually be pretty cool and would suggest you check it out some time, dear reader!

After this meeting, we went over to Libération, a (once Communist, now closer to the center) newspaper in Paris.

Side note – the publication is housed in what used to be a parking garage, so the interior design is pretty captivating.   Libération!

We heard about different stories done by the newspaper (election coverage, new online blog, its various forums for debate) and  also its current shift to online. Currently, Libération’s online presence is in the phase where it still needs many advertisers in order to make a profit. Hopefully that will change soon!

We then went to our last event of the day – a meeting with the legendary John G. Morris. You guys – this man is incredible. He’s 96 years old and he has lived an extraordinary life. Throughout World War II, he worked in London for the weekly picture magazine Life. After the war, he went to be the Picture Editor of Ladies’ Home Journal, the Executive Editor of Magnum, Assistant Managing Editor for Graphics of The Washington Post and Picture Editor of the New York Times. We were invited to go to his house and see pictures from his entire career. They were absolutely breathtaking, not just because of their historical significance, but because Mr. Morris had stories for every single photo. It was very humbling to listen to someone who has seen so much history and been able to share it with the world. Today, Mr. Morris primarily does peace work. He is very involved with Democrats Abroad (the organization that Eileen Bastianelli works for!) and he also frequently writes to senators and to The White House. Mr. Morris was adamant that every person, young and old, can get involved with politics and should strive to be informed about current events and the government. I honestly can’t find the words to describe how cool it was to hear this man speak.

John G. Morris

Overall, today was a day where we got to hear from a lot of journalism veterans. We’ve been hearing a lot this week from people who are still working in the field, but it was great to hear more about how journalism and media has evolved over the past century.

Adventures in India: It’s a Wrap!

My name is Greg Uzelac and I am a senior Radio, Television, and Film and Asian Language and Civilizations double major.  I will be updating you on the adventures of the Indian Cinema Seminar in Hyderabad, India.

Two days ago, we were split into groups and given the “simple” task of making a short film.  Now we have all cut, corrected, and cried over our projects just in time to make the deadline.  My group’s experience got especially tense, with several editing hiccups that brought things down to the wire.  In the end, the enormous sense of accomplishment has been overshadowed by insurmountable relief.

I want to thank my fellow crew, Neela, Keertiga, Rahul, Nishant, Vaisvi, Caroline, and Emerson.  You were all amazing to work with and our film is awesome.  I would also like to thank the faculty at AISFM for all of their help.

I have never taken part in a challenge like this.  Many of us from both NU and AISFM hadn’t.  Still, the reward of finishing a film, especially here, in Hyderabad, in such a short period of time, feels superior to many other films I have worked on.  When I say reward, it is not so much about the film.  I’m sure all of our films are enjoyable despite a consistent air of doubt flowing through our camp, but it is the experience that I really learned from and appreciate.

AISFM directing student, Akshat Sharma and I.
AISFM directing student, Akshat Sharma and I.

Both the students from NU in Evanston and Qatar, as well as the AISFM students were given lessons in teamwork and cinematic style.  For me, I have always believed that while some elements are different – style, approach, etiquette – cinema is a universal medium.  That still holds true, but learning about Indian cinematic culture, especially in production, has really opened my eyes to another mentality that honestly is quite different to the ‘Hollywood’ way.  It’s not bad, it’s just different.

As someone hoping to be involved in production in India, I have been constantly assessing these two mentalities, nervous of the acclimatization I may need to make one day, but excited to serve as a bridge between the two cultures.  This 48-hour film festival has been a glimpse at that cross-cultural synthesis of style and work ethics that has given us as Gandhi, Slumdog Millionaire, Life of Pi, and even Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (fun fact: most of the film was actually shot in Sri Lanka!).   It is fascinating and gratifying to see cinema filling the divide between India and the US, and whether my group wins or loses, that is what I will take away from this experience most.

Day Four! Advertising, Democrats, and Radio, Oh, My!

Hello! My name is Rachel Geistfeld, I’m a senior Performance Studies and French major from outside the Twin Cities. I’ll be serving as the Student Live-Blogger for this year’s IMS trip, updating you daily about the SoC’s time in Paris.

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Today we only had 2 speakers and a tour, but we got a ton of new information. Also we got a ton of food during our free time. Victory all around!

The two speakers we had this morning were Kay Rolland and Eileen Bastianelli.

The first speaker, Kay Rolland (an NU alum, go ‘Cats!) has  a long resume. She’s worked for The Wall Street Journal Europe, the International Herald Tribune and she is  the publisher of Where-Magazine-Paris. Currently, Ms. Rolland is an Independent Advertising Representative. Her job is to persuade local hotels and businesses to subscribe  to her clients’ publications. She had a different outlook on the future of journalism. Although the shift to online news is obvious, Ms. Rolland  argued that there is still a place for magazines and newspapers, especially for travelers. Magazines and newspapers are still more convenient for travelers because expensive data plans and different countries’ censorship laws limit readers’ ability to access the news anywhere. A magazine or a newspaper, however, you can take with you wherever you go. She showed us some of her work with Asian Aviation and USA Today and talked about how important it is to have a target audience. She also showed us an article about Warren Buffett (stock buying genius and world-renowned adorable grandfather) and his self-confessed “love” for local newspapers.

25dfe53e27faea17c4cc423905cd0167Our next speaker was Eileen Bastianelli. founder of Milestone Media, former executive at BBDO Advertising Agency, and now an adviser and producer. She showed us a very recent project with Democrats Abroad.

For the past two presidential campaigns, Democrats Abroad  (run by the Democratic Party) has been at the forefront of getting Americans living abroad registered to vote and then getting them to send in their absentee ballot. When you stand back and think about it, this campaign must be a beast to run. There are about 10 million Americans living abroad in 160 different countries. That technically makes them the 8th or 9th largest state. It was a very compelling campaign. I don’t even live abroad and I felt moved to register to vote.

We then went to Radio Nova and went on a tour/Q&A session led by Marc H’Limi, head of programming. Radio Nova is more of an indie radio station, and it was interesting to hear about how they search for new music and also how they involve politics in their shows but try to remain neutral. One of their DJs had the opportunity to spend Election Night in Columbus and report back to Radio Nova. Not many of us were particularly interested in radio, but Radio Nova may have changed some minds. It was a really cool tour.

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Overall, today didn’t really have one overarching lesson other than that there are some really cool jobs you can get in communications. Also, delicious food and cool sights. Definitely a theme for today.

Adventures in India: Sunburn for Cinema

My name is Greg Uzelac and I am a senior Radio, Television, and Film and Asian Language and Civilizations double major.  I will be updating you on the adventures of the Indian Cinema Seminar in Hyderabad, India.

I am currently writing to you from our group’s makeshift cutting room. After a full day of shooting for the bi-partisan 48 hour film festival here at Annapurna Studios, we are in our initial stages of editing.  Our film, “Swept Away”, will take some time to finish, but as director, I am already incredibly pleased with our work so far.  It is too early to begin thanking people, but I really have to give credit to the rest of the team.  Both my NU peers and our new AISFM friends were absolutely stellar to work with and even if our film turns out poorly, which it wont, I am so proud of our efforts.

The films themselves, while original, must incorporate three prerequisites ingredients.  Firstly, our buzz word is karma.  Secondly, our required prop is a broom. Thirdly, we must incorporate the temple set piece at the Annapurna Studio.  We’ve all used these elements in such creative ways.  This film festival is sure to turn up some fun and fascinating movies.

We started shooting at around nine o’clock AM after working into the night on our pre-production.  We shot for six hours in the Hyderabad heat and for us fresh-from-Chicago NU students, we now know the true meaning of sunburn.  I just keep telling myself our reddened necks and arms are signs of our dedication.  True RTVF tenacity!

The cast and crew of our 48 Hour film festival entry, "Swept Away".
The cast and crew of our 48 Hour film festival entry, “Swept Away”.

My group, For8 Productions as we have named ourselves, is working on a satirical short.  It is an interesting experiment.  With an Indian story, but an incredibly American tone, “Swept Away” is a gaze into the life of a poor girl who is in love with a higher class boy who prays at a temple she sweeps near. As a director I’ve been greatly inspired by Christopher Guest, Ricky Gervais, and Woody Allen, which has definitely been a bit new for our Indian counterparts. However, it also uses Indian narrative elements and cinematography.  It has so far been a really cool cultural and comedic hybrid type of film.

The other groups are also working on some interesting projects, though as we are technically competing I do not know exactly what they are all about.  I have heard rumor of black and white  silent films and mockumentaries, relationship dramas and bizarre comedies.  Who knows how these will all turn out, but either way I am loving every minute of it…besides the sunburn of course.

Day Three: Countries, Cooperation, and CNN

Hello! My name is Rachel Geistfeld, I’m a senior Performance Studies and French major from outside the Twin Cities. I’ll be serving as the Student Live-Blogger for this year’s IMS trip, updating you daily about the SoC’s time in Paris.

Today was a really interactive day! We spent most of it at the OECD – the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Confession: I did not know what the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development really was before we arrived. I had done a little bit of research before our trip, but it still wasn’t really clear to me from the website. Let me just tell you –

This place is a big deal. It’s like the United Nations of Economics. We had to walk through a metal detector at the front door and everything. Our speaker for the day was Andrew Gentry, who gave us a bit of history about the OECD as well as how it works. Basically, the OECD works like an economic consulting firm for its member countries. More than 100 countries benefit from the insight of  nearly 300 expert committees and working groups. The OECD also has programs like peer reviewing and consultations with businesses, labor unions, civil societies and parliamentarians so that its member countries can figure out how best to spend and save their money.

AndrewGentryPhoto – Andrew Gentry

The 34 member countries account for:

– 69% of world GNI

-60% of world trade

-95% of bilateral world official development assistance

-44.9% world CO2 emissions

– 56% or world electricity consumption

– 18% of world population

Obviously not all countries are members of the OECD. In fact, one of OECD’s challenges is accommodating for the rapidly growing markets in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. One way they hope to accomplish this is through the Trade In Value Added Initiative. What is the Trade In Value Added Initiative, you ask?

Well. If I understand it correctly, here’s how it works. Say you have a phone that was exported to the United States from China. China makes a large profit off of that phone, but not all of the parts came from China. The buttons were made in Singapore. The graphic design was done in California. The precious metals were mined in Bolivia. Other parts came from other countries. Those other countries do not see the same kind of profit that China does, though, because their individual parts are not as valuable as the finished product. The hope is to draw attention to this problem and to then even out the profit among the contributors.

After this presentation (and a brief talk by Gee, who also works at OECD in external and public relations!) we were split into groups for an hour-long workshop, led by Roger Hobby. The goal of the workshop was to give us a case study and show us the kinds of problems that people at the OECD work to solve, and also how they go about solving them, specifically with social media.

Our four team names were: Team Blue, Team Purple Pride, The Purple People Eaters, and Team Magnifique. From a completely objective and totally 100% unbiased standpoint, I would have to say that Team Purple Pride was far and away the best, especially in the good looks and humbleness departments. Anyways. We were each given specific cases. Team Blue’s challenge was to publicize a scholarship trip to France for young people with an interest in politics and media. The Purple People Eaters’ challenge was to create a social media tool that would help inform citizens of natural disasters. Team Purple Pride’s challenge was to publicize an upcoming economic forum in three target areas: Latin America, Southeast Asia, and Africa. Team Magnifique’s challenge was to develop an advertising campaign for people to receive news updates.

This workshop was the first time on this trip that we really got to see each other do what we all do best – come up with ideas for communication. We’re on the International Media Seminar because we love communications, and that passion was definitely made clear today. There was never a quiet moment in the conference room, and we had a lot of fun!

We then had a bit of free time in the 16th, which, like the rest of Paris, is filled with history.

Photo16th

We then went to Lee and Berna Huebner’s (the people who have generously organized the events and speakers for this trip) house for another speaker and a delicious dinner. The speaker there was Senior European Correspondent for the CNN International  and formerly Paris Bureau Chief for ABC and NBC News, Paris, Jim Bittermann.

He, like many of our speakers on Monday, talked a lot about how journalism and media are changing. He also, though, talked about why he thinks Americans are not as interested in international news. He pointed to the end of the Cold War as being the end of a “need to know” era for many Americans. Because the danger was no longer clear or present, the need for information was defunct as well. He also showed us how he likes to keep his pieces interesting. Americans are more attracted to international news when there is an analogy for them to follow. To demonstrate, he showed us this video.  After his talk, he stayed around to answer our questions and talk to us for a bit. One really great thing about this program has been how generous all of our speakers have been. These people have very busy lives and schedules, but they have all been so kind and gracious with us and our numerous questions about their fascinating lives.

Also – pro tip: if you ever meet Jim Bitterman, ask him to tell you stories about covering the new pope selection in Rome. Incredible.

 

 

Adventures in India: And They’re Off!

My name is Greg Uzelac and I am a senior Radio, Television, and Film and Asian Language and Civilizations double major.  I will be updating you on the adventures of the Indian Cinema Seminar in Hyderabad, India.

Our 48-hour film festival has officially begun! We have all been split into groups of about eight students from both Northwestern and AISFM. My group, tentatively known as “Group Awesome”, is a mix of three NU RTVF students (Myself, Emerson Nosek, and Caroline Schwartz – all SoC ’13), and five AISFM students.  I won’t reveal too much about our movie just yet (nor do I want to jinx its production), but we are going to make a fantastic short film!

I am sure though, you all want to know about our little ‘Bollywood’ dance number from last time.  My last post was entitled “So You Think You Can Dance”, and I think yesterday answered that question pretty easily.  I cannot.  Still, while I fumbled around my peers were absolutely killing it!  Our stand out example was Michael de Marco (SoC ’14), who dances back at NU, and really impressed us all with his moves.

It was the Hindu festival of Holi and the day was bright and colorful from the get-go.  We were all dressed in our multicolored kurtas as we moved to the Bhangra beat. Besides dreading the next dance step, I was actually really interested in the whole process.  While I was never enthusiastic about the five o’clock wake up time, seeing the AISFM students in their film making element was really engaging.  We all really enjoyed comparing and contrasting the style and process of the Hyderabdi students with our own, NU RTVF-based style.

The day also featured two absolutely outstanding presentations.  First, we travelled to the Hyderabad headquarters of Rhythm and Hues, one of the foremost visual effects studios in the world.  Our host, Praveen, gave us a wonderfully thorough look into the studio’s projects, some exclusive content from past films they’ve participated in (including the academy award winning Life of Pi), and gave us an idea of the workings of the visual FX industry as a whole.

After lunch at Chutney’s, a large South Indian vegetarian chain, we were greeted by Preeya Nair, a documentarian and faculty member at AISFM.  Together we screened her acclaimed short documentary, Quamer, which chronicled a day in the life of a young girl who makes bangles in Hyderabad’s underprivileged, Muslim market area. Listening to her speak of her process and her motivations was really inspiring and certainly added a nice sense of dynamic range to the exposure we all were receiving to Indian cinematic endeavors.

Now, as the chosen director of my group, I will be running off to shoot my Indian masterpiece.  I don’t know exactly how, why, where, or when it will all come together, but I have a lot of faith in the rest of incredibly talented group and we’re going to rock this competition’s socks off!

You can see some pictures from our Bollywood shoot below!

 

 

Day 2: Learning About Media

Hello! My name is Rachel Geistfeld, I’m a senior Performance Studies and French major from outside the Twin Cities. I’ll be serving as the Student Live-Blogger for this year’s IMS trip, updating you daily about the SoC’s time in Paris.

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Today was a jam-packed day. We had 5 different speakers at 3 different locations over the course of 8 hours. Every meeting we had today detailed how the field of journalism is changing and how journalists and other communications professionals are adapting. Every speaker today has held his or her position for a few years and so they’ve had the opportunity to see firsthand how journalism and communications have developed and expanded.

Our first speaker was Anne Swardson, editor at large at Bloomberg News. Bloomberg specializes in business news, but Ms. Swardson showed us a recent long-term project, called “Revolutions to Riches”, that detailed the wealth and power of elites’ descendants in China.

Our second speaker was Barry Lando, an investigative reporter who now actively blogs about U.S. policy in the Middle East and Central Asia. He formerly worked with 60 Minutes. Mr. Lando shared a few stories about his time at 60 Minutes, and also detailed how he thinks American journalism has changed.

Our third speaker was Waddick Doyle, a native Australian who is currently the director for the Division of Global Communications at the American University in Paris. He contrasted the different ways that France and the United States report and write and also taught us a few things about the French government and privacy.

Did you know, for example, that it is illegal in France to ask someone what their religion is?

Our fourth speaker was rather quick (because there was a conference call coming up) with Anne Bagamery, senior editor  at the International Herald Tribune. This Fall, the publication’s name is going to be changed to the International New York Times. She spoke about nostalgia for printed news and also shared with us some of the ways that IHT is changing.

All of these journalists made a similar point – nowadays, fewer and fewer people are interested in: a) printed news or b) news that requires payment. Because information is so quickly available online for free, many people don’t feel the need to buy newspapers. Plus, because millions of bloggers broadcast their viewpoints on current events online, there is no need to pay for news. Unfortunately, there are some repercussions, as noted by each of our speakers. For example, because bloggers rarely provide neutral coverage of the news, readers tend to further instill judgments as they read more and more of only one side of a story. What’s more, because bloggers’ news is free, readers don’t see the value in paying for non-biased news. Most of our speakers believe that this trend has contributed to the increasingly bipolar and biting news rhetoric.

But how do we fix this problem? How do we deliver neutral and informative news to people when they don’t want to hear neutral news? The answer, according to our speakers, lies in partnerships with businesses, social media, and advertising. These publications often sell the data that they assemble to numerous corporations. This pushes them to remain factual and unbiased but also helps keep them in business. Social media is becoming increasingly helpful because numerous platforms are capable of sending up-to-the-minute updates and coverage. This attracts new people to their publication, which in turn attracts advertisers to buy and place ads on their website. As social media grows, many publications are also keeping up so that they can keep informing the public.

Our final speaker was Robert Fridovich, director of Marketing Communications for Publicis. Publicis is a huge advertising company in France founded by Marcel Bleustein-Blanchet. Mr. Bleustein-Blanchet basically revolutionized French advertising, and it was really interesting to learn about someone who led such a full life.

While at Publicis, we were shown a case study for Contrex, a popular bottled water brand in France whose “catch” for years has been its ability to help women lose weight. Contrex enters into a “partnership” with women who want to slim down (along with a healthy diet and good exercise) and thus helps them achieve the physique and health they want. We were shown clips from its advertising in the 80s, the 90s, and its recent campaign. These videos were really interesting because of their subtle changes. For example, in the video in the 80s, the catch was Contrex’s unique ability to help women lose weight, whereas the videos nowadays (when it’s no longer “cool” to diet according to studies at Publicis) were more oriented toward overall fitness, not just weight loss. It was interesting to think about how these subtle differences can really change people’s perception of a brand.

After that, we had the pleasure of going to the rooftop of Publicis. Publicis is located right on les Champs-Élysées, so it was a fantastic view from the top. (see above)

It was a fantastic end to a really thought-provoking day. As someone who only started really reading the news and trying to be informed upon entering college, I can safely say that biased and loud news shows are not new to me. I mean, I’ve always known that news is supposed to be unbiased, and I’ve heard my fair share of criticisms against American news outlets, but it wasn’t until today that I heard about how the news has developed. We have some more meetings with journalists later this week, so hopefully we’ll get to talk about this stuff some more because it was fascinating.

 

Adventures in India: So You Think You Can Dance?

My name is Greg Uzelac and I am a senior Radio, Television, and Film and Asian Language and Civilizations double major.  I will be updating you on the adventures of the Indian Cinema Seminar in Hyderabad, India.

Well, day three has concluded and I think I speak for all of us when I say we are pretty darned exhausted.  After a heaping helping of Hyderabad’s booming multimedia scene, we topped off our day with a Bollywood dance lesson.  Our instructors, charsimatic and energized, got us grooving and learning our routine, move-by-move.  As we danced into the humid night, I reaffirmed my hopelessness in my dance moves and ran through our busy day in my head.

We began with a fascinating lecture at the Annapurna International School of Film and Media (AISFM) about Telugu-language cinema, the cinema of Andhra Pradesh of which Hyderabad is the capital. Indian cinema as a whole is almost as old as the American cinematic tradition, with Telugu language films being the second most produced language films under the Hindi films that dominate screens in North India.  Most fascinating of all was the presence and subsequent success of what are known as “folklore” films.  Unlike mythological and devotional genre films, which draw from Hindu liturgy, this exclusively Telugu genre tells stories of fantastical adventures based on these texts or they are completely original.  We learned that Telugu films are famous for their action-adventure films. While our class on Indian cinema at Northwestern this past winter gave us plenty background to draw from, this lecture’s Telugu specific content gave us an amazing insider’s perspective.

Students admiring the "wall of fame" at Radio Mirchi (Photo Credit: Deb Tolchinsky)
Students admiring the “wall of fame” at Radio Mirchi (Photo Credit: Deb Tolchinsky)

When class was out, we headed over to the headquarters of Radio Mirchi, the most popular FM radio station in South India.  From recording jingles to learning all about the DJ booth (they still refer to DJs as Radio Jocks here), we got an amazingly intimate look at the inner workings of Radio Mirchi.  Some of us were even broadcast on the air doing a station ID!

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After a delicious lunch at a Bengali restaurant called Oh! Calcutta, we headed over to the network studio of Maa TV, one of the largest television networks in Andhra Pradesh.  After a presentation and Q&A with the heads of the network, we were shown all over the building.  Some of us were asked to demonstrate the blue screen and green screen sets while others were given an exclusive look at the technology being used within the network studio.  We could really see that television in Andhra Pradesh is incredibly different from American television, in most senses, from programming to production.

The Blue Screen at Maa TV.

From Maa TV we were actually sent to go shopping.  What I saved for the end of this post is that the dance moves that just exhausted us are going to be repeated tomorrow, bright and early, and recorded.  We were sent to Fabindia to acquire our kurtas, Indian style shirts requested specially for us to wear during our dance number.  Hopefully my red kurta will distract from my abysmal dancing.

Now I head off to sleep both nervous and excited about our ‘Bollywood’ debut.  It’s crazy to think we’ve already been here for three days.  We’ve seen so much and yet with every new dish we taste or road we wait in traffic on, I know there is so much left to explore.

Adventures in India: From Forts to Film Fantasies

My name is Greg Uzelac and I am a senior Radio, Television, and Film and Asian Language and Civilizations double major.  I will be updating you on the adventures of the Indian Cinema Seminar in Hyderabad, India.

This morning I skyped with my parents and found myself struggling to perfectly describe the awesome nature of our journey so far.  Similarly, the ability to describe Hyderabad as a city also escapes me.  We have seen, smelt, heard, and tasted so many new and fantastic things and met so many interesting people – and it’s only been two days!

Yesterday many of us hit the ground running early in the morning.  Despite the deadly concoction of lack of sleep and jet lag, a few of us explored the Banjara Hills neighborhood.  What makes this area so interesting for me is that despite the clash of shabby and fancy, the neighborhood seems to function in complete harmony (the traffic is another story).

I even stumbled upon a small cricket match being played in an empty lot across from the Annapurna Studios gate next to our hotel.  Amidst rubble and several resting cows, I watched a group of boys playing my favorite sport and even got a chance to bowl (or in baseball terms, pitch) to some of them.  One of the reasons I have been such a passionate cricket player since I was young (besides my South African heritage) is the sport’s uncanny ability to bridge the cultural and linguistic gaps.  Also, I don’t want to boast, but I think I did the NU Cricket Club proud.

Playing cricket in Banjara Hills
Playing cricket in Banjara Hills

In the afternoon we headed to the architecturally remarkable Golkonda Fort.  Built in the 13th century, this fort has been a symbol of Hyderabad as it was passed down by numerous ruling dynasties, including the Nizams who ruled over Hyderabad until it was incorporated into the current Republic of India in 1948.  Built into a mountain, we couldn’t help but marvel at the design of this great fortress as we climbed up and up.  We also couldn’t help but notice that we were quite the spectacle, as locals wished to take pictures with us left and right.

Our day ended with a great feast of both northern and southern Indian dishes that left us completely infatuated (if we weren’t already) with India’s diverse cuisine. Throughout the day we were introduced to students and faculty from the Annapurna International School of Film and Media (AISFM) and at dinner, we were privileged to meet CEO of AISFM, Kurt Inderbitzen, and Vice President, Chris Higgins, who welcomed us to India alongside our wonderful SoC Dean, Barbara J. O’Keefe.  We finally got back to our hotels, properly stuffed and exhausted, but so ready for another fantastic day.

Today was all about Ramoji Film City, the largest film studio in the world.  This was less a single site than its own geographic entity. Nestled on the outskirts of Hyderabad, Ramoji Film City is a massive expanse of land, and driving through its daunting first gates surely made us wonder what exactly we were in for.  Ramoji did not disappoint.

RTVF Seniors (From left to right) Steph Hill, Ted Pacult, and Emerson Nosek.
RTVF Seniors (From left to right) Steph Hill, Ted Pacult, and Emerson Nosek.

Firstly, we explored an extensive amusement park area, complete with a haunted house and a ride that chronicled what we concluded was the history of film. There were several emotions running through our heads as we glided through time, surrounded by lulling music and animatronics, as if we were riding It’s a Small World’s long-lost Indian cousin.

Alongside students from the NU Qatar campus, we explored Ramoji’s lot-theme park, which was a bizarre impression of 1970s Americana.  There was even a Wild West stunt show and a surprisingly moving and impressive circus-style variety show.  Lastly, our culinary exploration continued, with Coconut Halwa making a very sweet impression at lunch in the “Superstar Café”.

Me getting as close as I will ever get to the legend, Shah Rukh Khan.
Me getting as close as I will ever get to the legend, Shah Rukh Khan.

After our extensive time in the Ramoji Film City, we met with the Dean of Ramoji’s Academy of Film and Television.  In a fascinating discussion of comparable film curriculums and contrasting national industries, we walked away from Ramoji with a heightened sense of Indian cinema’s inner-workings.  For me, as someone incredibly interested in migrating to India to work in film, I was filled with excitement as well as nervousness. Once again I heard India’s tight-knit community of producers compared to an exclusive, royal dynasty.  Thankfully, all of the Indian film students and faculty I have talked to so far have also reassured me that most important of all is drive, tenacity, and self belief. Coming out of the NU RTVF program, I certainly believe that my peers and I are certainly ingrained with this quality.

Day 1: New food and new friends!

My name is Rachel Geistfeld, I’m a senior Performance Studies and French major from outside the Twin Cities. I’ll be serving as the Student Live-Blogger for this year’s IMS trip, updating you daily about the SoC’s time in Paris.

Today was our first full day in Paris, you guys!

Most of us arrived very recently (like, just last night or a day or two before) so we’re not all acclimated to the time difference yet. This makes staying awake a bit of a challenge when we’re on our own, but it’s not at all difficult when we get to hear from interesting speakers.

Tonight we had dinner at the home of Joanna Gordon, co-founder and co-president at DG Global Advisors – a Paris consultancy specializing in strategic marketing, advising businesses on how to leverage events and media. There was a lot of delicious French food. Tiny sandwiches. Quiche. Blue Cheese. The whole shebang.

As it turns out, there are a few more students joining us from Westfield State and Missouri Southern, so we went around and all introduced ourselves. After that, we met our speakers for the evening who will also be accompanying us to several places this week – Tendayi, Gee, and Maha. All of them are  International Scholarship Students from the American University Paris, and they each talked about how their respective governments control the media.

Tendayi talked about Zimbabwe. Because of our lack of knowledge about the country and its politics, she had to give us a history lesson to catch us up to speed on current events.  Robert Mugabe, the current president of Zimbabwe has been in power for 33 years. His office retention violates the constitution, which mandates that a president may only serve for 2  4-year terms. The government has repeatedly, however, either rigged the elections or crafted new constitutions entirely so that Mugabe can keep his spot as the highest commanding officer.

Essentially, Tendayi expained, Zimbabwe is a dictatorship.

As Mugabe’s tenure has continued, and as economic and political conditions have worsened, the government has tightened its grip on the media. The people of Zimbabwe do not often hear government criticisms, and very little anti-government media is allowed to leave the country. In fact, Tendayi told us a story where the reporter depicted Zimbabwe’s recent election (another Mugabe win) as a great improvement. Things could not be further from the truth, she told us.  Tendayi studies Communication at the American University of Paris hoping to one day tell the true stories of people in Zimbabwe.

Our next speaker was Gee, an Istanbul native who is in her final year of studying at the American University of Paris. Istanbul is at a crossroads of cultures and disperses a ton of television shows and movies throughout Eastern Europe and the Middle East. In fact, many people are starting to learn Turkish just so they can watch these television shows and movies! Talk about commitment to your entertainment.

However, though the media is widely distributed, it is also highly regulated. In fact, Gee told us that Istanbul is second only to China in the number of jailed journalists. Because criticizing the government can end up in imprisonment, celebrities in Turkey are not as outspoken about their political views as celebrities in the United States. Gee told us that Turkish celebrities’ fame is about equal in status to athletes’ fame in the United States.

Our final speaker for the evening was Maha, who has spent time in many different countries but feels particularly close to Syria. After working in Washington, D.C for a few years, she moved to Syria to live with some of her family and quickly became involved with political activists. As tightly regulated as both Turkish and Zimbabwean media is, Syria regulates government criticism even on a conversational level.

Maybe that wasn’t the most sensical way to phrase it. I mean to say that the Syrian government has eyes and ears everywhere, not just on the larger media stage. Maha told us that citizens can submit reports about people’s comments to the larger government, and that she herself (several times) had come close to being reported. In Syria, Maha explained, people simply do not share their opinions about politics. As a person with a lot of political interest, Maha found her best friends in political activism.

Unfortunately, though, about a year ago,the Syrian government shut down their operation. “Men came in and took my friends. I was safe because my father is a diplomat, but they locked me in our building for hours and questioned me. At the end, they told me they were going to get rid of my diplomatic immunity and come get me.” Immediately after this encounter, Maha left Syria and went to Paris. Her family has had little contact with her since her move to Paris because of her political involvement.

Recently, Maha was able to make it back into Syria. While there (having jumped the border), she was able to talk to some people in refugee camps and also travel into a nearby city. Although it was quite dangerous, it was also very fulfilling for her to return to this country that means so much to her.

“What happened to my friends was over a year ago, but I still feel so guilty. I know that their conditions are very poor, and here I am with hot water. While I’m here at AUP, I want to learn how to share people’s stories. I want people to learn about what their government is doing. I want to inform people.”

It was remearkable to talk to these women. Before coming on this trip, I knew that AUP was a very well-known and respected institution, but I had no idea what kind of background a typical student at AUP might have. I would never have gotten to meet these people or learn about these nations had I not come on IMS. And this is just the first day! The bar has been set very high for the rest of this week.