American Autumn: An OccuDoc

All of our grievances are connected.

There are individual heroes doing great things in this country, and they don’t make it to the news every night. A doctor who storms a panel on healthcare to demand that her colleagues join her in the streets. A woman who stands up in a Congressional hearing on deficit reduction to admonish her legislators: we all know how to end the deficit! End the wars! Tax the rich! A woman who bravely speaks to a crowd about her father, who had literally shot himself to death to avoid burdening his daughter with insurmountable hospital bills. This is the country we have made, and it is up to us to re-make it.

[UPDATE 2012-11-03: This movie is no longer available on Vimeo. Here is a trailer below.]

Occupying the Brooklyn Bridge

You may have heard about a little event a couple of weeks ago at the Brooklyn Bridge, which ended up being one of the largest mass arrests in American history. Your faithful blogger was a participant – although not brave enough to risk arrest on the road, I was on the bridge and watched the whole thing go down. Here is a short vid I took:

Occupy Everything

And here is a much better video, edited for artistic beauty and editorial bias:

Festival of Lights

We returned from Chengdu last week, safe and sound. I was back at work Tuesday, but Xianyi had taken an extra day’s vacation and so she went back Wednesday. She’s more than made up for it since then, however, as her boss has put her in charge of a new project that has kept her in the office late all week and most of the day Saturday.

Parents
Parents

Our last days in Chengdu were spent bowling with Xianyi’s parents, and then traveling to Qing Bai Jiang, where we stayed over with her Aunt and ten-year-old cousin Dodo. We had a nice lunch prepared by Auntie with some of her friends: an old guy we called Uncle Pang, and a co-worker of Auntie’s named Bing. Uncle Pang brought over a huge jug of homemade paojiu, which he and Bing and I toasted with repeatedly. After lunch we spent the rest of the day at a local tea garden, where Dodo and a boy her age collected tadpoles from the pond, and we all flew a kite.The next day we returned to Chengdu and had dinner with some of Xianyi’s friends from middle school. We met Si Lu, one of her best friends from the old days, at the same bridge where the two of them used to meet when they were cutting class together. Soon we were joined by several others, and we went to a nice little homestyle restaurant. It was here that her friends discussed whether this year is truly the year of the golden pig, as everyone says, or if it is in fact the year of the earth pig – as they had read in a local paper. They say people are lying to themselves because they want to reap the rewards of a golden pig year. Or maybe the government is pushing the idea to get people to buy more stuff?

Whatever year it is, it’s here. Tonight is the Lantern Festival, the last night of the New Year festivities, 15 nights after the New Year. People are lighting fireworks all over the place, right outside our house. It’s so loud we can’t hear the TV. Car alarms are going off. We’re eating tang yuan. Happy New Year.

Child Killer

As earlier promised, here it is, in all its glory. The original 1993 production from HanftPort pictures, Child Killer. A bit of background:

Dave and I started making movies as soon as my dad allowed us to touch the 8mm family video camera. We were around 10 years old. Naturally, much of what we shot was complete garbage. Not so naturally, my dad was completely frank in telling us this when we showed him our work.

“The lighting is terrible, you can hardly hear what anybody’s saying, the camera never moves – I mean really, this one scene is like 20 minutes long with the camera in one place – and there’s no plot. It’s awful!”

This encouraged us to improve production. Child Killer, filmed when we were both about 13 and, I believe, about to begin the eighth grade at George Washington Middle School in Ridgewood, NJ, represents the height of our output.

To be sure, the film is incomplete. As were all our films. Usually we would work on a project without a complete script, just filming as we went along, and taking scenes into the editing room as they were finished. Eventually we got bored and started a new movie entirely. We never finished a single film, to my knowledge.

Child Killer shows us in our prime, bringing all our technical knowledge to bear. We had saved up money for editing machines which we used to write text, lay over sound, and distort the video with primitive effects like strobe, paint and mosaic. We even added sound effects to amplify the punching, and of course, the gunshot sound was taken from Sniper.

When we laid this on our family, everyone, including my dad, was blown away. Everybody jumped at the part when Dave shoots Gia, with its vivid bloodtrail and loud gunshot (thanks, Tom Berenger). And then they all laughed and laughed, because the whole thing is just ridiculous.

The “plot” is pretty simple. Juvenile psycho Joe Didley (Dave) goes on a killing rampage in which he brutally murders his best friend Joshua (Rindy), Joshua’s sister Susan (Gia), Susan’s friend Cameron (Cameron Hanft, Dave’s sister) and some kid who witnesses Cameron’s murder, presumably her brother (Will Portfolio). There is no rhyme or reason to the killings, other than violence being the best situation in which two young, aspiring filmmakers could convey their teenage angst as well as their technical skills. Oh, if only we’d had iMacs in those days…

Major props are due to my dad, for letting us use the camera, for rightly deriding our poor intial efforts, thereby inspiring us to do better, and for digging this video up somewhere last year and burning it to DVD as a Christmas present for me.

UPDATE, Jan. 8, 2008: Child Killer has been removed from YouTube for violating copyright. A fine legacy for HanftPort pictures. For more read this.

UPDATE July 2012: At some point, they put the video back online but removed the sound, which offended the copyright lords:

Sitting on Top of the World

Recently we had a new air conditioner installed in our apartment. As we are on the 21st floor, this unfortunately (for the workers) involved a bit of tight-rope theatrics. A team of two men came to our house to install it, a few hours after the hole-drilling guy had punctured through our wall a column of four inches in diameter, for all the wires and tubes that need to be connected between the indoor and outdoor apparatus. When everything was set, it came time for one of the men to climb out our window and sit on the A/C itself, in order to attach it firmly to the outer wall. I asked if it was always him who went out the window, or if his partner ever took a turn. He said only him. He wasn’t worried about the height, because, as he said, he was wearing a harness. I neglected to inform him that if he did slip, the window frame to which he had attached the harness would accompany him on his long descent. He completed the task with aplomb.