Cleveland International Film Festival: One Day in Africa

The Cleveland International Film Festival, from March 19-29 is the largest film festival in Ohio. That’s merely one reason to attend this kaleidoscope of images and stories from around the world.

The other reason is that Brook Silver- Braga will be at the premiere of his film One Day in Africa. Brook wrote the Gadling series Across Northern Europe. Back in January, I wrote a post about Brook’s film and he promised to keep me up to date about the schedule. Now the news is out, and he has added the details to the One Day in Africa Web site.

I’ll be at the screening on Saturday, March 28th at 9:15 a.m. There is an earlier showing on Thursday, March 26th at 7:25 p.m.

Along with Brook’s gem are dozens of others that span subject matters and countries. I’m going to the preview party this Friday in Columbus at the Wexner Center for the Arts so I can give you a heads up on what other films to look for.

In the meantime, here’s a link to the complete film listing and schedule. To help wade through the offerings, some are divided out as being teen friendly.

If you do head to Cleveland, the film festival takes place at Tower City. Take some time to go to Terminal Tower, the original part of the building. First of all, the art deco atrium is stunning. Terminal Tower was the 2nd highest building in the United States in the 1960s after the Empire State Building. The Prudential Building in Boston took its 2nd place status away from it.

One Day in Africa: Lives of six ordinary Africans

When I watched the trailer of One Day in Africa, the latest documentary of Brook Silva-Braga, the resonance of village and city life in most African countries was immediately evident. It’s a resonance that often doesn’t make headline news. It resides in the pattern of each day that starts before the sun comes up when Africans, in particular women, get busy.

The shot of women pounding grain comes to mind. When I lived in a Gambian village for two years as a Peace Corps volunteer, the thwack of a wooden pestle against a mortar as it removed husks from grain was like a heartbeat.

What Silva-Braga shows about African life is that it has rhythm and cadence and is not totally embroiled with AIDS and poverty. There is another theme to explore, one that involves the complex melding of African traditions with the modern world.

Sure AIDS, poverty and violence do exist, but they are not what Brook Silva-Braga set out to show in his second film project. His first film, A Map for Saturday, was a documentary about around the world travel–his and others. That film included every continent except Africa.

One Day in Africa is a companion project in a way, but the focus is different. In this latest project, Silva-Braga got up close and personal with his subjects– six Africans, both men and women, whose stories are typical of the stories of others who live in this vast continent. [For the trailer, keep reading.]

These six could be like any other six, but in their typicality, their uniqueness also comes through. Athough their lives may not look anything like ours, the essence of what they are after is recognizable. How they resonate in their own lives is an alluring tale.

  • Titus, a store owner in Kisumu, Kenya has just reopened his store after it was ransacked during the presidential election. For him, life is about moving forward.
  • Howa, a young woman in Farge-Fundu, Niger starts her household chores at dawn in a place where it’s hard to imagine that anything could grow in the dry landscape.
  • Bridgete, a pregnant woman in Lilongwe, Malawi is hoping for a son and is unsure how she will get to the hospital since her husband is a bit lackluster about the idea of driving her to the hospital in his taxi.
  • Sali, a university educated woman in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, has high expectations despite living in a mostly male dominated culture
  • Osman, a merchant in Fez, Morocco, has many “brothers” who help him sell his goods to tourists.
  • Brahim, a farmer in N-8, Mali, feeds a family of fourteen from his efforts

From the snippet I saw, part of the film’s charm and interest lies with Silva-Braga’s questioning of the subjects. As they go about their day, his voice is heard asking them questions about how they see their lives. Through the interactions, the viewer is led into the intimacy of conversations that are similar to the swirl of dialogue that happens around us every day. Conversations about life, hairstyles, work and the mundane.

Look for the film’s screening schedule on March 1 at the One Day in Africa website. It will be making the rounds at various film festivals.

Brook Silva-Braga graced Gadling with a stint as a guest blogger in 2007. His posts, grouped together as the series “Across Northern Europe,” are a thinking person’s missives about aspects of travel. Reading them is also a look into Silva-Braga’s head, not a bad place from which to view the world.

Across Northern Europe: I Traveled Europe Without a Watch

I traveled Europe without a watch.

No one uses watches now and my cellphone doesn’t work in Europe so when the sun woke me in Iceland it might have been noon. But when I scrambled out of my tent and checked the clock at reception it was half past three in the morning.

In Berlin breakfast ended at 9:30 so I put my jeans on and went out to the street to find a parking meter with the time on it. Barely 8:00. (In Brussels they don’t want to serve you breakfast so they close the kitchen at 9:00 and you wake up at 9:10.)

At a flea market in Berlin I finally bought a five euro watch in need of a battery. But the battery seller couldn’t get the watch open so I returned it and soldiered on with a loose sense of time.

I didn’t need a watch to know I had a month in northern Europe. Denmark, Iceland, Germany, Belgium, Holland.

I remember meeting a Swiss guy in Delhi, India a couple years ago who wore languid, linen clothes and spoke with a certain calmness. He never travels for more than three months, he said, because for him the most important part of traveling is coming home.

When I landed last night in New York I hadn’t showered in 70 hours and three currencies. And as I walked east on 34th St what I noticed first were the faces. Northern Europe is a fairly homogenous place and the people looked like flowers of a certain species, all different but alike. But back in Manhattan last night the faces looked to me as if they’d been formed from chunks of clay, the lumps sculpted with determination into a face. You could see in the sculpting all the complex ancestry, assimilation and reunification of America.

In that walk I felt proud, or at least privileged, to be part of the group; as if the rest of the world were stuck back in a time warp of segregated DNA and we were living in the globalized, multi-cultural future. I thought maybe that was why the US is so rich and then I thought how much more complicated it all is.

Maybe that is what I get for my month away: a different perspective on a Manhattan street I’ve walked across a thousand times.

A SHORT LIST

I wrote last week that part of this trip’s purpose is to figure out if I want to keep traveling, so maybe I should think of what else I liked and didn’t like. I liked the canals in Amsterdam and loved the beer in Belgium. I liked very much meeting new people and becoming fast friends. I think I should stop the list there because I guess that’s the point; for me it is the alchemy of instant friendship that defines solo travel. It is a peculiar experience made possible by the hunger for connection you feel when you’re away for a long time.

I understood that more completely as I re-united this month with some of the friends I first met on my long trip. It was good to see them, but it was different. We weren’t held afloat by the common excitement of being somewhere strange and wonderful. There were jobs and boyfriends and appointments in the way now. The allure of someone’s spontaneity on the road became the annoyance of their indecisiveness at home.

“I wouldn’t travel alone again,” my travel friend Jens told me when he got back from 18 months out. “I just got so sick of having the same conversation; ‘Where are you from? How long you traveling?’ I hated it.”

I didn’t hate it, I told him. I never disliked meeting new people for a very short time. And if I look back at my favorite moments from the last month I think of an early morning campfire in Iceland with pork cooking slow and smoky and the group trying to define their country. I think of a couple Swiss girls trying to play it cool in front of the older American and the American trying to play it cool in front of the babyfresh Swiss. I think of the Dutch immigration officer driving me west from
Germany; he told me he has a heart, but at work needs to pretend he doesn’t.

I think now of the south Indians on the subway platform last night in Newark, who complimented my English. “You are very easy to understand,” they told me.

“I’ve been away from the U.S. for a month,” I said. “So I’ve gotten used to speaking slowly.”

Just then, waiting for the train, I hadn’t walked across 34th St yet and I still felt like I was traveling. The world was floating around me as it does while you’re away, like you’re swimming in the ocean far from shore. When you get back home your feet touch bottom and then the water recedes and you navigate that familiar, stable little world.

WHEN IT ENDS

Sometimes I search the web to see what people are saying about my documentary and I stumbled upon an interesting one the other day. An American woman in her 20′s had bought the DVD and liked the movie and felt somewhat inspired to go traveling. “I have struggled between the desire to wander around the world for a while in my “youth,’” she wrote, “and the even greater desire to be creating a life right NOW…that gives this gift to my family one day- a lifestyle.”

And perhaps partially as justification she noted two side effects of long-term travel mentioned in the movie: “They became numb,” she wrote, and “at the end of the trip they inevitably returned to ‘true reality.’ What a sad perspective.”

I wanted to scream–or at least post a rebuttal–but I refrained.

Maybe I’d like to tell her about the night two weeks ago when the German couple and the Nepalese couple took me out for drinks after a screening of the film. Nikki, an American on the last night of her summer in Europe, tagged along too; her flight didn’t leave until early the next morning.

It was the Nepalese couple’s third wedding anniversary and I was flattered they’d spent it with me and happy to offer them tips on cameras and computers. The Nepalese talked about the Maoists and the Germans spoke of the DDR and I’m sure at some point someone asked me about Bush. But we were in Potsdam and the bar finally emptied until we were the only group there.

Nikki and I walked to the train station and picked up a kebab and a beer for the ride to Berlin.
She had left her stuff at a giant Berlin hostel that didn’t know she wasn’t staying there anymore because it was so big. They didn’t know I wasn’t staying there either and we sat in the common room waiting for morning.

Nikki didn’t have a watch either and we didn’t need one because there was a clock to help her catch the 4:30am bus to the airport.

When she left I felt lonely and alive to know I liked her and would never see her again. It was cold and I’d been drinking but I didn’t feel numb.

Now I’m home and writing this on a bus that’s about to pull into Providence, RI. I flew home yesterday because my ten year high school reunion is tonight. I’m guessing that many from the class of ’97 have spent this decade creating a lifestyle for themselves and on this night they can be forgiven for displaying that lifestyle to the rest of us.

I think I might like to have a lifestyle some day. I think there will come a time when the allure of owning one pair of jeans becomes the annoyance of not really looking like an adult. “You can’t do this forever,” my British travel friend Jason said in New Zealand two years ago. “You can’t just leave your stuff at your parents place and keep traveling until your 40.”

But these days Jason is sending group e-mails from South America, having reconsidered appare
ntly.

I’m not sure when it will end, or when it should end or even what will make it end. But whenever the time comes to stop doing this I know I won’t find out from a watch.

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Previously on Across Northern Europe:

  1. Shining a Light on Iceland
  2. Lonely Love on Iceland
  3. Iceland Gone Wild
  4. A Trip to the Airport
  5. Why Bother Going to Berlin?
  6. A Perishable Feast
  7. Globians Film Festival
  8. The Elusive Dutch Drivers License
  9. Terror in Berlin
  10. Authentic Belgian Beer
  11. Two to a bed in Bruges
  12. A Coda to Travel Love in Amsterdam
  13. A second thought on museums in Amsterdam
  14. Couch Surfing Europe

Brook Silva-Braga is traveling northern Europe for the month of August and reuniting with some of the people he met on the yearlong trip which was the basis of his travel documentary, A Map for Saturday. You can follow his adventure in the series, Across Northern Europe.

Across Northern Europe: Couch Surfing Europe

Europe is the world’s great couch surfing destination since so many travelers everywhere call the continent home. On my around-the-world trip I theorized you could spend 80% of your European nights crashing with friends you’d met elsewhere. On this trip, which ends today, I’ve spent just over half my nights sleeping gratis. But the last night riding the wave of others’ kindness had to be the most interesting.

I met Lonnie and Tania on the bus from the airport in Rio de Janiero. They thought I was French and a bit forward but they didn’t know where they were going so they got off the bus with me at Calle Nove and we spent a week at the Wave Hostel playing cards and drinking acai together. A couple months later they had an apartment in Buenos Aires with a spare couch. It was a small couch to be sure, so I found a folding chair to position at the end of the couch and rested my legs on it when necessary.

But Lonnie and Tania left South America and came home to Copenhagen where I found them here this month using just half their beds.

Speaking of Copenhagen friends, I met Emily on a ferry to Santorini, Greece where her family has a house which I haven’t had the pleasure of. But she came back to Denmark too and I met her for drinks last night. Lonnie and Tania were resting up for a night out and I was going to call them from Emily’s phone a bit later.

Emily and I sat down for a drink near Norreport and when I asked to use her phone it was gone.

“I’ve never lost a phone, how strange,” Emily said, taking it amazingly well.

This development meant Lonnie and Tania couldn’t call me and they weren’t answering my payphone calls either (turns out they were set to silent, sadly). The thing about relying on the kindness of strangers is it doesn’t leave you a lot of options at 2am when you can’t reach them.

Maybe it’s worth mentioning that Emily and I had hardly traded an e-mail in the last two years. But since I was in Copenhagen I figured I’d say hello and she had a little free time so we decided to meet up. But now she was without phone and I was without couch. So she hailed a cab and took me to her guest room and in the morning Lonnie answered her buzzer and made me some toast.

###

Previously on Across Northern Europe:

  1. Shining a Light on Iceland
  2. Lonely Love on Iceland
  3. Iceland Gone Wild
  4. A Trip to the Airport
  5. Why Bother Going to Berlin?
  6. A Perishable Feast
  7. Globians Film Festival
  8. The Elusive Dutch Drivers License
  9. Terror in Berlin
  10. Authentic Belgian Beer
  11. Two to a bed in Bruges
  12. A Coda to Travel Love in Amsterdam
  13. A second thought on museums in Amsterdam

Brook Silva-Braga is traveling northern Europe for the month of August and reuniting with some of the people he met on the yearlong trip which was the basis of his travel documentary, A Map for Saturday. You can follow his adventure in the series, Across Northern Europe.

Across Northern Europe: A second thought on museums in Amsterdam

You should never agree with yourself too often, at least that’s what I’m thinking today, so I’d like to mention a few museums that are worth all of our time. Some readers may remember an anti-museum post a little while ago, though more readers may have stopped reading after that one and are missing out on this mea culpa.

There are plenty of very good museums in Amsterdam, but the three I visited were Van Gogh’s, Rembrandt’s, and Anne Frank’s. Museums dedicated to one person tend to be really interesting; Picasso’s museo in Barcelona may be my favorite anywhere with work spanning from his childhood to old age.

But in Holland’s capital I first stopped into Van Gogh’s temple with work spanning seven of the ten short years he worked. In contrast to my experience with Picasso, I came away from Van Gogh’s museum with less awe rather than more. The work we always see from Van Gogh (Starry Night, the sunflowers, the self portraits) hews to a familiar and wonderful style. But a fuller sampling of his work revealed a scattershot, groping attempt to find that style. One portrait looked like a rough Rembrandt, many like so-so Seurats. But they also helped you understand the steps he took to reach his own iconic style. Most striking to me was Pietà (naar Delacroix), a painting of Mary and Jesus with a pallet so identical to Starry Night that it had to be put to canvas with the same physical paint (both were completed in 1889 but that’s as far as my scholarship goes on this one).

A couple canals away is Rembrandt’s house, where the master lived for two decades before creditors came calling. There are only a couple Rembrandt paintings here, but dozens of his etchings are on display and many are amazing. The various rooms of his multi-story house have been restored to approximate the furnishings he knew but it has a slightly sterile, fake feel. At one point a security guard started fiddling with the painting tools in the studio, underscoring that the original items are long lost. Still, the studio where most of Rembrandt’s work was created is inspiring. The light in the room has the soft, flattering quality of his portraits.

Another excellent display is at the entry, where a broken vase and other items sit just below a painting of the same items. Comparing the vase and the painting reveals the hyper-reality of the art and also the natural imperfection of the pottery which you might otherwise hold against the painter rather than the sculptor.

If you’re walking through Amsterdam and see a thick line snaking around the corner, you’re probably at Anne Frank’s House. It was after 8pm when Sabrina and I got there but the line persisted. Better a line than an over-stuffed museum.

“I feel really bad being German here,” Sabrina said. I tried to commiserate by mentioning the War Crimes Museum in Vietnam.

Still, I thought I’d make the most of her presence by using her as a translator but we were both surprised to learn the diary is written in Dutch rather than German. Anne was just four when the family moved to Amsterdam, it was another seven years before they went into hiding.

The first most striking thing about the Frank house is how big it is. Most Amsterdamers would be happy to have an apartment as big as the secret annex. Most Amsterdamers, of course, don’t share their flat with seven others without leaving for five years. When we’re talking about experiences as horrific as the Franks we’re apt to think of it as an unmitigated hell, but the relative spaciousness of the annex is maybe an example of our narrow conception of hell (and/or the way its been presented to us in film and story). Regardless, it didn’t have to be small to be awful.

It was a pleasant, wet night in Amsterdam when they closed the museum on us. Sabrina sat on the back of her bike and I peddled hard up the little canal inclines, proud to keep the bike upright with someone on the back. I flew to Copenhagen the next morning and I’m no Tony Bennett so I took my heart with me. But the airline must have been more sentimental, cause they left my bag in Amsterdam.

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Previously on Across Northern Europe:

  1. Shining a Light on Iceland
  2. Lonely Love on Iceland
  3. Iceland Gone Wild
  4. A Trip to the Airport
  5. Why Bother Going to Berlin?
  6. A Perishable Feast
  7. Globians Film Festival
  8. The Elusive Dutch Drivers License
  9. Terror in Berlin
  10. Authentic Belgian Beer
  11. Two to a bed in Bruges
  12. A Coda to Travel Love in Amsterdam

Brook Silva-Braga is traveling northern Europe for the month of August and reuniting with some of the people he met on the yearlong trip which was the basis of his travel documentary, A Map for Saturday. You can follow his adventure in the series, Across Northern Europe.