Road Trips, Instagram and a Random Encounter with Jack Kerouac

I’ve always been a gypsy at heart, but last week an Instagram photo revealed that Jack Kerouac was my first boyfriend’s uncle. Huh? Let me explain.

Cross country road trips, camping, travel and moving house have all been a big part of my life. By the time I was 8 we had lived in 4 countries on 3 continents. When I was 11, I saved up my pocket money and bought a tent, which I pitched in the garden. And now, finally, after years of longing, I’m on the verge of buying a VW Westfalia campervan. It’s my dream come true!

Toy Westie with street in the background

On the Road

By way of encouragement, friends and family have recently been giving me little tokens to keep my vision alive until I can drive away in my very own Westie. Earlier this month, my brother bought me an awesome ‘On the Road‘ leather keyring and luggage tag. I love the nostalgic classic orange penguin cover, it’s so iconic of a more innocent time, when travel and communication was purely mechanical and analogue, before the Internet catapulted us into a complex digital paradigm.

Last week I decided to go camping to escape the September crazies*, so I headed for the woods. An Instagram photo seemed the simplest way to inform my online peeps that I was out of town.

Keyring that looks like a penguin novel "On the Road" by Jack Kerouac

The Plot Thickens…

Screen capture of Facebook exchange about Jack Kerouac's nephew

Within a few hours, my status update was seen by an old highschool pal in Chelmsford, England and she had news for me! Mima and I both went to the British School of Brussels in the 70’s, a fantastic school that was popular with British and American ex-pats working abroad in Europe.

Well, as you can see from the conversation that unfolded (right), it turns out that Jack Kerouac was my first boyfriend’s uncle. Who knew? I guess George and I were preoccupied with other things, but somehow the subject of the Beat poets and Uncles just never came up.

There are so many things to love about this exchange! Of course, there’s the obvious thrill of a personal connection to an immortal cultural icon. And the thematic relevance of the novel’s quest for freedom to my own unfolding journey of discovery is delightfully poignant. But perhaps most intriguing is the random juxtaposition between the old and new, a contemporary digital echo of the novel’s core theme expressed via Instagram and Facebook: a clash of opposing forces. Route 66 meets the Information Highway. The Beat Generation shakes hands with Digital Natives. Layers of storytelling traveling across time and space on real and virtual freeways. Trippy, man!

The Unbearable Randomness of Being

What are the odds against this strange factoid ever reaching me, 35 years after the fact? It seems so deeply random, predicated on a whimsical gift, photographed and seen across the world by a particular person at a specific moment in time. I might never have discovered this minor plot point, if it weren’t for the always-on exchanges facilitated by Instagram and Facebook. It boggles the mind.

Six Degrees of Digital Separation

This curious little story got a few digital media storytelling pals and I thinking…how can we use photos, and specifically Instagram, to share stories and engage people in real time? We brainstormed a few fun ideas that you’ll be hearing more about soon…

Has digital sharing revealed new facts or opened up storylines for you?


* The September Crazies follow the August Lazies – suddenly everyone is back at work after the summer and it can be a little overwhelming.

 

Is Documentary Canada’s National Art Form?

If you know me or read my blog, then it comes as no surprise that I have a lifelong passion for documentary. Way back in 1984, my first film was a 16-minute experimental documentary: Citizen Soldier. In 1989 I emigrated to Canada specifically to work at the National Film Board of Canada, the worlds oldest government film agency and the birthplace of the documentary.

I’ve worked on dozens of social justice documentaries and hosted hundreds of OPEN CINEMA screenings in café-style venues with discussion, using documentaries as a catalyst for community engagement. And I’m now in my second term serving on the Documentary Organization of Canada‘s national Board of Directors. Yep, I’m a feature-length docuphile!

Documentary is a uniquely Canadian art form

But did you know that the documentary genre was actually born and nurtured in Canada? The world’s first documentary, Nanook of the North, was made near Inukjuak, Quebec in 1922, before the term documentary was even coined. in 1939, John Grierson launched the NFB, arguing that portraying reality on film was essential to saving Democracy from the rise of fascism in Europe.

poster for documentary If You Love This PlanetCanadians have made dozens of award-winning, popular and important documentaries. Most notably is Terre Nash’s Oscar winning If You Love This Planet (produced by Edward LeLorraine, who I worked with on the worlds first non-linear editing system EditDroid – another story!). Other well-known Canadian-made docs are Up the Yangtze, The Corporation, as well as Toronto’s Hot Docs, one of the biggest documentary film festivals in the world. You can read a comprehensive list of Canadian documentaries here.

Let’s protect our national heritage

Sadly, the documentary is facing a perfect storm that is currently threatening its very survival. The economic downturn, shrinking arts budgets, the advent of Reality TV, changing technology, YouTube and the riddle of Internet monetization are all conspiring to turn a once thriving industry into a flickering archival memory. I, for one, am not about to let that happen.

As Jazz is to America, so Documentary is to Canada.

Earlier this year, Kevin McMahon wrote an inspiring article that proposed making documentary Canada’s official art form. In response, POV Magazine has just published the first in a series of in-depth interviews with Kevin to further explore this idea. And the Documentary Organization of Canada has issued a petition to Minister James Moore.

You can help – please sign the Petition!

If you love documentaries, then we need your help, please! Read more about it, discuss with your peeps on social media and IRL and please, by all means, sign the petition.

Do you think documentary should be Canada’s official art form? I’d love to know your thoughts.

Crowdfunding, Collaboration and the Blind Men and the Elephant

This week, five key media-making organizations in Victoria are joining forces for the first time to present Ian Mackenzie’s popular Crowdfunding 101 workshop, and Media Rising (yours truly) has helped to make that happen. As part of a new move towards increased collaboration across media sectors, MediaNet, CineVic, the Victoria Independent Film Professionals Association (ViFPA), Media that Matters and the Vancouver Island South Film & Media Commission are coming together to offer a workshop that is all about participatory thinking inspired by online engagement. Read more about the workshop in this Times Colonist article.

Tearing Down Old Structures

While the new 24/7 everywhere media environment is presenting a whole host of funding, production and distribution challenges, it’s also thankfully breaking down worn out silos and hierarchical ways of doing business. The distinction between amateur and professional media creators becomes blurred, and even irrelevant, when everyone is struggling to make a living in the field.

Cooperation in a fractured media landscape

This became very clear when ViFPA, Media that Matters, NFB and Media Rising offered a workshop called Making Films, Making a Living in March 2012.  We brought a wide range of local screen media professionals together with the hope of forging a new collaborative future out of the fractured media landscape. What emerged was a renewed spirit of cooperation and shared learning that transcends age, experience, job titles and sectors.

drawing of the Blind Men and the Elephant

The Blind Men and the Elephant

If you’re planning to make a living telling a story or message to an audience, the game is changing beyond recognition, no matter whether you work in film, video, TV, the Web, social media or even writing. The cult of the individual has encouraged us to try to figure out things out on our own, but the problem is too multifaceted for one person to solve. It’s like the story about the blind men and the elephant: individually they couldn’t make sense of their different experiences, but with the perspective of their collective understanding comes the possibility of greater knowledge and insight.

Collaboration is the name of the game

So, waddya say.. Let’s work together across our differences to find bold new answers to mind-bending media questions.