International Artist SPOTLIGHT: Mai Iskander

One of my favorite films is Egyptian-born director Mai Iskander’s haunting and untethered Garbage Dreams, a documentary on the ultra-resourceful lives of Egypt’s Coptic Zaballeen. The documentary is significant not only because it tracks the slow degradation of an already marginalized minority group in a tumultuous nation, but because the issues of garbage and recycling will never, ever go away, anywhere.

Iskander introduces us to Cairo’s Zaballeen, Arabic for “Garbage People,” who recycle more than 75% of the garbage they collect by hand, turning it back into raw materials shipped to manufacturers around the world. The Mubarak-era government replaces the thrifty Zaballeen with wasteful multinational collection firms that recycle less than 25% of the garbage they collect, sending the rest to enormous landfills. The film follows the lives of a few young adults affected by the change: one, a scoundrel, and the others, heroes.

After tracking down the director of this excellent film a year later, I recently discovered, but have yet to watch, Iskander’s follow-up: an elegant, deceptively simple film, Words of Witness, which follows 22 year-old amateur journalist Heba Afify on her struggle to cover her country’s democratic evolution.

Anyone up for a viewing party?

Artist SPOTLIGHT: Robert White

Animator Robert White is wrapping up three episodes of a cartoon he’s created with his brother, Philip. The talented Nipomo, California resident draws inspiration from first-person shooters, dubstep, the ukelele, Steven King, Shinichirô Watanabe and animators the world over.

My friend, Robert White

I met Robert through my twin-soul ENFP, Aimee, while up at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Robert moved temporarily into his best friend’s grandfather’s shag carpet castle near Disneyland to build his animation portfolio, but he’s back up in Nipomo now, half an hour from my alma mater, working on his cartoons outside the LA bubble. The brothers White and their project are a local rarity–a breath of fresh air in an otherwise small, sweet, unassuming coastal town.

Disney study

Disney study

GREAT Quote: Albert Einstein

“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.”

Artist SPOTLIGHT: Joshua Brabo

19 year-old Joshua Brabo works on his family’s farm in a 200-person town on the Mississippi River when he’s not photographing bucolic images of Missouri, Alabama and the Midwest. Josh kept me going when I worked long hours on his family’s Certified Naturally Grown farm last summer. We’d tell stories in funny voices while picking turnips, my least favorite vegetable, and he’d guide me into the basement during tornado storms. His carefully-framed photos are evidence of his natural ability to foster life.

Sheep photo shoot

girl in field

Birdie photo shoot

beetle close-up

Day 329

GREAT Quote: Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

International Artist SPOTLIGHT: Phil Grabsky

I found Phil Grabsky‘s beautiful The Boy Mir–Ten Years in Afghanistan on PBS this fall. Sans narration, the filmmaker unfolds the peaceful village life of the enthusiastic, impoverished Hazara boy, Mir, he filmed for a previous documentary, The Boy Who Plays on the Buddhas of Bamyan.

The Boy Mir

Mir boxing with the camera. Image belongs to Seventh Art Productions (UK).


Grabsky captures no footage of the Taliban.

Americans don’t play a significant role.

And there’s no cry for aid.

But most striking of all is Mir’s smile. This is Mir’s Afghanistan: Afghanistan from the perspective of one child growing up separated from the entire world–including other ethnic groups in his own country–by land mines and mine shafts. Though isolated, he’s neither ignorant nor naive, and though hungry, he never stops relishing life.

International Artist SPOTLIGHT: Ross Domoney

London/Dubai-based cinematographer and Aletheia Photos contributor Ross Domoney‘s “Athens: Social Meltdown,” part of a longer documentary on the Greek fiscal crisis, is an intimate look at chaos. He focuses his attention on half a dozen formerly middle class citizens of Athens, recording their personal reactions and splicing their private dialogues with protest footage and the voice of Dr. Dimitris Dalakoglou, who carefully maps the rise of austerity in colloquial English. Domoney’s camera sees Athens like its newly impoverished citizens do: from the gutter, staring above the heads of policemen into government windows.

Though the young filmmaker has contributed footage to Channel 4, The Guardian and The Wall Street Journal, this version of the Greek capital’s story is special: it’s beautiful, easy to follow and provokes empathy; it’s not news–it’s art.