TWNN in the midwest and even in your computer

A glorious spring has lured my toes from their socks, the blossoms from the trees and it's snowing petals downtown, now. A week ago, Sarah and I were blissfully reunited (albeit for a mere 50 hrs!) when TWNN was nominated for the Greg Gund Memorial Standing Up Film Competition at the 33rd Cleveland International Film Festival, directed by the multitalented Bill Guentzler, who set a new record for attendance this year. Our screenings were generously sponsored by The AIDS Funding Collaborative and The Cobalt Group, which hosted a Women of the World series. We met up once more with our good friends from festivals past, who continue to accumulate well-deserved honors and recognition. It makes me so happy to think about what an unbelievable year it's been for all of us, despite the troubling times ahead for the arts industry.

We are also thrilled to report that the film is now available on iTunes! Pass it on...if it's anything I've learned from the past five years, it's that so much time, love + work is put into movies that it's a shame if they're not seen by as many people as possible...thank you.


up in the mountains again

Woodstock was warm and welcoming, from the gigantic fireplace in the main lounge hall to the cozy home of a local resident who kindly let us take it over for the weekend. I loved being home for the brilliant leaves and for my birthday, and to see my folks, who shlepped three hours to experience what this film festival business is all about. We were honored that Thing With No Name was nominated for the Haskell Wexler Award for Best Cinematography, and very happy to be reunited with LAFF friends, notably the geniuses behind Trinidad and Prince of Broadway. Jeremiah Zagar's In A Dream and Ellen Kuras' The Betrayal (Nerakhoon) were two new films I got to see here, and were some of the most gorgeous and sensitively made documentaries that I've seen yet; it is only fitting that they have been shortlisted for Academy Awards.

It was back to the mountains last weekend for The Starz Denver Film Festival, where our two screenings and panel were sold out! This happened with many thanks to the amazing publicist Rachael Tucker, Ashara Ekundayo of The Pan African Arts Society, and Barbara Bridges of The Denver Film Society and Wildblue Entertainment. During the panel that Barbara arranged on Women in Transition in Africa, it was uplifting to hear the experiences of the women that both Abby Disney (Pray the Devil Back to Hell) and Lisa Merton (Taking Root: The Vision of Wangari Maathai) had followed; you can listen to the podcast (including my mic malfunction) here. Our schedule was filled, but a few minutes here and there with good friends, family, family friends, and even friends of friends (thank you for spreading the word, everyone!) was golden; these festivals are so good for reconnecting with the world that too often tends to drop away during the film production process. There's so many people to thank...Britta, Adam, Carla...cue the music and cut me off now...


*fall screenings*

With the generous support of The Pangaea Global AIDS Foundation, The Peace Corps, and RPCVs Brooke and Tom Nagle, we had an incredibly successful screening at the LGBT Center in San Francisco this past August; Thing With No Name played to an audience of over 150 people, a standing room only crowd that raised funds for The Mpilonhle Project and Philakahle, two fantastic organizations that serve the mountainous regions of KwaZulu Natal. We were fortunate enough to coincide the screening just following the World AIDS Conference in Mexico City this year, and to have Nomsa and Mpume from The Mpilonhle Project there to take questions from the crowd. We'd met Brooke and Tom at the last screening at the Los Angeles Film Festival, who had volunteered for two years in Okhahlamba and had driven up from San Diego to see the film; we are too fortunate to have crossed paths with these great activists.

If you are in the area, come wish me a happy birthday and join us at the Woodstock Film Festival (Oct 4+5) and The Starz Denver Film Festival in November (screenings TBA, though we will be present Nov. 15+16th). We're extremely grateful to have participated in many great festivals (and met many invaluable friends) this year, and excited for more...I've fallen behind on the postings since moving to Santa Cruz, where I'm busy beginning my masters/the next film; I'm thrilled to begin collaborating with a number of notable documentarians and overall veterans of the independent film world, but just concentrating in this pretty place is proving to be the biggest challenge so far...



Why yes! Those are in fact paparazzi photos of Sarah and I attending one of the three screenings we were blessed with at the LA Film Festival a couple of weeks ago, now. LAFF graciously hosted a mess of independent filmmakers from all over, fostering an incredibly stimulating environment; kind of like the best summer camp you could ever dream of. We made many new friends and helpful contacts, got some fantastic reviews from Variety and indieWIRE, watched some beautiful movies, and suffered many hangovers from the free mojitos and all-night karaoke and pho. It was the most perfect 1% glamour to the 99% grit of filmmaking, which made it *that* much more appreciated...

But now I'd better back up; after returning from South Africa, we did a Q+A at the final Brooklyn International Film Festival screening at a superb new facility called the Lumenhouse, catching up at last with some great old friends and meeting some new ones. Then it was on to Boston, where Gerry met up with us and helped out with the more medically slanted questions, and I reunited with the brilliant Julia Przedworski of Ecuasana, who works in the similar vein of increasing access to medical treatment in Ecuador.

I am now home, back in my own space, with the windows open, the orchid in full bloom and the artifacts of familiarity all around. My head is still reeling from these past two months, of so much noise and nervousness bursting in on a normally quiet life...good to get jolted by the electric minds of others from time to time.



that perfect fog that silhouetted everyone and everything that first time around covered the morning once more today, as we headed for Ogade to watch the film with MamDlalisa, Danisile's Home Based Carer. white flowers adorn the crevices around her house, overlooking the flames and laundry and cattle tending that happens below, where all of the families she looks after live. she is truly a queen among them, and among the other Home Based Carers, being the first to publicly test for HIV, and then the rest followed suit.

so the queen's approval was granted, save for her only comment that maybe next time we could follow the story of someone who lived?

they all become my family, she said of the ARV support group she keeps together; and they become family to one another, a system of checks and balances that maintains the regimen required by this fussy medication. 

we left after a meal of fresh zulu chicken and boiled bread; on to another screening with the few extended members of the Mlangeni family who wanted to view it. again, it went smoothly, without the overpowering emotions and fainting that we feared, and approval that it was a good, balanced representation of the situation. it was an enormous relief to get this feedback from both sides; in time, hopefully the daughters and sons will be ready to let us know their thoughts, too.

so the main mission to return is complete; in the meantime, we've been busy acting as the IT group of the area, setting up websites, shooting events and giving computer program advice, though we are still learning in these areas too...you can give what you can, when you can't give the money or time that you wish you could...

the weekend was spent hiking/strolling in the mountains with Cazie and the Moll family (who run the greatest hope of a hospice Philanjalo in Tugela Ferry), and Phum canoed for the first time in the pond near the picturesque house that they've spent the past decade or so building; turns out i'm not the only one who spent school breaks mixing concrete. sunday was a ride through the game reserve, my horse this time was named warrior, who proved himself to be one while cantering much faster than my usual favorite, muffin. Sarah shot giraffes with her super 8, and the rhino family we got a little too close to. then a birthday lunch for Carol at the waffle hut, and a visit to a pottery studio that showcases local HIV+ artists. animals grew out of spouts and handles, eating and chasing one another around the perimeters.

we also learned that certain members of the Bergville community have decided that i am a spy for the BBC, falsely reporting how all of the Blacks in SA are poor and the whites are rich. sarah was disappointed that she was not included in these charges. i've never felt so flattered.

we visit with Dani's family last before we head to Durban, where the mood will be more somber. Ntokozo cried at seeing us, releasing a torrent of sadness that all of us had been keeping in for these past two years, being the death that never had the closure that Ntombeleni's funeral had given us. it's been troubling me, what to say to her, when i know that she's thinking that we cannot possibly know how she feels. it's true, and it's all that i can say.



...those three kids, running through the bright gold grass, three little dots that grew larger and larger at the first distant rumbling of imoto, our car. It has made its way onto my list of top ten best memories of this lifetime.

Ntombeleni's family is doing wonderfully, I am happy to report, and though there are hints of fresh sadness from the passing of the elderly uncle (the first man seen in the film) just three weeks ago, a new baby girl, Ntombeleni's granddaughter, is a happy new addition. Tshengisile, her mother, and Ntombeleni's eldest daughter, grabbed us both in a rough embrace, and we were led to the main rondavel, the one we had helped to paint, now a bright acqua on the inside. The children are in school, and cared for by the government foster care grant, R800 ($104 USD) each per month, for the time that they are still young.

Both families have let us know that they do not wish to see the film; too intense, too personal, too soon. We understand this; I don't think I could bear to experience my mother's death a second time around. There is also the custom of not really mentioning the departed around the house; it brings up too much sadness. Tomorrow, we see Danisile's family...it is so exciting to reunite, but it will doubtless be heavier...

It was also a great relief to hear that my postcards had been reaching them, and that I can continue my one-way communication through drawings and photos (since my Zulu will never be fit) this way. I'm leaving a pack of stamped, addressed postcards here, to see if we can continue this way. Though Ntombeleni's sister-in-law now has a DVD player thanks to the recent introduction of electricity to KwaMaye...email should only be steps away, especially with this newfangled doohickey that picks up connection via satellite, that I only learned of months ago...

As we left, Phumlani and I drew pictures to one another in the sand. Then he wrote 'simangaliso', over and over. When Phumzile came around, I asked her what it meant. 'Miracle', she said.


special report: back in the drakensberg

We lifted off Friday, letting the city break down into a pixelated array of rectangles, squares, and intersecting highway lines, thinning to a strip of coast, and then dark blue sea for the next ten or fifty hours. The dark blue greyed to black, and it's a shame there's still no camera fit to catch the brightness of those lonely stars that only one shining ship below could appr
eciate. It was startling just to see a light in the middle of so much cold sea, and unthinkable that a friend of mine had crossed that. I thought of the distance growing between myself and the warm little cat that sleeps curled against my body, now half a world away. Those friends, too.
Dawn came pale and orange through the plane window in Dakar, where we stopped to refuel, refood, and get sprayed by a substance that was deemed harmless by the World Health Organization. It smelled like Lysol. We rose again, and I awoke over Namibia, just past the Angola border. straight roads, dirt roads, and not one house. Johannesburg happened unexpectedly after the mountains, tiny windows glinting as we angled down, over fires and exhaust. The air felt warm and smelled grilled.
The transition to Durban was smooth, and the friendly Afrikaner man beside me, and twice the size of me, attempted to discuss 
water polo before I confessed I had no idea that the US had a national team(?); I come from a land too plentiful in sports, beliefs, and toothpaste brands than I will ever comprehend.

We spent a perfectly comfortable night at a lovingly designed b+b with good old friends of Sarah's father Gerry, and picked up a glowing Phumzile (literally, in a bright golden scarf) at the airport from where she is currently studying in Cape Town. A three hour drive north took us back past the giraffes, the doctor's clinic, the naartje/ butter-avo vendor, past the adjacent road to the hospital, and to Carol's door, where all of the dogs, the cats, and the Zulu-fluent parrot were there to greet us.
It's two years to the month we arrived for the first time. Each ridge in the horizon line, each curve of the road, and each bite of Carol's pudding was/ has been/ and continues to be real. I can't explain it, but there is great relief in all of this.