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On Being with Krista Tippett is a public radio project delving into the human side of news stories + issues. Curated + edited by senior editor Trent Gilliss.

We publish guest contributions. We edit long; we scrapbook. We do big ideas + deep meaning. We answer questions.

We've even won a couple of Webbys + a Peabody Award.

Murmuration: A flock of starlings. 

Full of wonder and amazement finding this short film again while searching for an image for this week’s show with Avivah Zornberg — The Transformation of Pharaoh, Moses, and God.



It doesn’t get much hotter than this! A short film by Chris Bolton that captures the art of fire breathing at 2000 frames per second and truly does offer “a rare glimpse into a world outside the human perception of time.”

~Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Adore that kameelahwrites is still packing analog:

Bag of film for upstate. Sleep, reading, and lots of creating….soon come (Taken with Instagram)

~reblogged by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Adore that kameelahwrites is still packing analog:

Bag of film for upstate. Sleep, reading, and lots of creating….soon come (Taken with Instagram)

~reblogged by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Their goddess of love is a very fascinating and complex idea. She is in fact goddess of all the luxuries which are not essential to survival. She is the goddess of love which, unlike sex, is not essential to propagation. She is the muse of the arts. Now man can live without it but he doesn’t live very much as man without it. It is strange that one would have to go to an apparently primitive culture such as Haiti to find an understanding in such exalted terms of what the essential feminine – not female – feminine role might conceivably be – that of being everything which is human. Everything which is more than that which is necessary. Taken from this point of view, there is no reason in the world why women shouldn’t be artists. And very fine ones.

Maya DerenMaya Deren (1917-1961) describing the Vodou spirit Erzulie.

The experimental filmmaker was the first person to win a Guggenheim Fellowship for film. She used her grant to travel to in Haiti during the 1940s, immersing herself in Vodou rituals. Her 1953 book Divine Horsemen: The Voodoo Gods of Haiti introduced many Western readers to the complexity and depth of Vodou for the first time.

Photo of Maya Deren by bswise (Flickr, cc by-nc-nd 2.0)

-Nancy Rosenbaum, producer


Greenland’s First Dawn

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Photo Still from "Return of the Sun"Photo still from “Return of the Sun”

"No matter what the weather is, we always have a will to live."

~Kaaleeraq Mathaeussen, Inuit fisherman

In a village of 4,000 people in northern Greenland, the sun rises for the first time after 43 days of total darkness. Juxtaposed against the beauty of this landscape of limited light, Return of the Sun explores the plight of an Inuit fisherman who finds himself adapting to the changing climate. Although his livelihood and that of his Inuit community is changing, the film shows their spirit remains rooted in kindness and of possibility.

Proposition 8 encapsulates so many elements that intrigued me: a story of love, of struggle, loss, and redemption. It just so happens that the main antagonist to those seeking equal rights in California was the Mormon church. And, well, I grew up Mormon myself. I served a Mormon mission to Venezuela and my entire immediate family are Mormons. So, not only was I going up against very powerful political powers, but I was literally critiquing the very culture that I grew up in. So it was a unique experience for me. On one hand, I offered a ‘insiders’ knowledge into the workings of the church’s political dealings, and on the other, it was a cathartic examination of my own past. The church itself was very dismissive of us and refused an interview. We tried for months to offer them a chance to tell their side of the story. They told us, ‘We just want to ignore this and hope it all dies down.’

Steven Greenstreet, from his interview with ReadysetDC

With all the discussion swirling about the filmmaker’s controversially titled Hot Chicks of Occupy Wall Street, it’s intriguing to learn that he’s also the director and producer of 8: The Mormon Proposition, a very good documentary that was selected for last year’s Sundance Film Festival.

Untitled Light
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Just love Hudson Gardner's work and how he captures how I'm feeling right now as the summer sun fades into shadow and the rapture of light sheds its skin.

Untitled Light

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Just love Hudson Gardner's work and how he captures how I'm feeling right now as the summer sun fades into shadow and the rapture of light sheds its skin.


The Purest Bicycle Rider

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

How many of us have passed by a stranger on the street or sat near a person on a bus or a train so many times but we’ve never really known much more about that person than the judgments and stories we’ve created in our heads? For some Bostonians, this documentary makes that introduction. The film does a lovely job of introducing Louie the bike rider and shows you his passion for one thing — riding bicycle.

If any of you Bostonians see this, comment or drop us a line if you recognize Louie. I’d love to hear what you think.


Fashion Photographer Bill Cunningham Finds Beauty on the Street

by Nancy Rosenbaum, producer

"The wider world that perceives fashion as a frivolity that should be done away with. The point is fashion is the armor to survive the reality of everyday life. I don’t think you can do away with it. It would be like doing away with civilization."

Fashion photographer Bill Cunningham is a personal hero, and I’m not that interested in fashion. I’m inspired by who he is as a person. I keep a photograph of him tacked up in my cube with the caption "I’m looking for something that has beauty."

Cunningham is compelled by clothing — not the celebrity status or pedigree of the wearer. He champions lively personal style wherever and whenever it captures his highly-trained eye. On Sundays, I like to soak up his weekly "On the Street" feature in The New York Times. Now he’s the subject of a new documentary, Bill Cunningham New York. It’s the best film I’ve seen this year. 

The documentary reveals Cunningham’s incredible work ethic and the ferocious joy of his work. Now in his 80s, he spends his days riding around Manhattan without a helmet on a beat-up bicycle. His film-loaded camera is always at the ready (no, he does not shoot digital), cocked to shoot someone’s interesting hat or low-rider pants.

In the evenings, he tours New York’s society circuit, snapping photos at charity benefit functions. He never eats the food at these events, and even refuses to accept a glass of water. He says this would compromise his objective stance.

While fashion has been the driver of Cunningham’s life and career, he describes his own personal style as dreary. While working, he wears a signature royal blue workman’s jacket. For years, he lived in a monk-like studio above Carnegie Hall stuffed with filing cabinets for all of his negatives. It didn’t even have a bathroom (it was down the hall). More recently, he has relocated to a bigger apartment. He asked to have the appliances and counters removed to make room for his files.

Bill Cunningham found his passion and calling in life. And because he did, he’s given a gift to the rest of us. Here’s a reminder from Cunningham to pay attention to what we see, and to look for beauty in our everyday encounters: ”Fashion comes from everywhere. It’s all here and the streets are speaking to us.”


Alec Soth’s Photographs Capture Our Desire to Run Away

by Nancy Rosenbaum, producer

"It’s not really about running away. It’s about the desire to run away."

Growing up in Minnesota, photographer Alec Soth fantasized about having a secret cave-like hideout where he could escape from the world. Now in his early 40s, Soth’s captivation with retreat and solitary adventure is revealed in a new documentary, Somewhere to Disappear, which screened Monday night at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival.

Filmmakers Laure Flammarion and Arnaud Uyttenhove drove over 20,000 miles with Soth in 2008 and 2009, capturing his quixotic search across America for monks, hermits, survivalists, and others living a mostly solitary off-the-grid existence. One of the film’s most endearing subjects is a middle-aged man named Clyde Garth Bowles. He lives on a self-created compound in the California desert where he cares with great tenderness for horses, birds, and other animals. “My spiritual theory is my life,” he says.

Clyde Garth BowlesA production still of Clyde Garth Bowles from "Somewhere to Disappear."

Soth prefers to travel by car when working, rather than fly into a location. It ups his chances of stumbling upon a serendipitous moment. He also speaks in the film of his longing “to feel carried” when he’s on the road — a reminder that there’s only so much we can plan. But, when we set an intention on the steering wheels of our lives and give way to mystery, we’re gifted with transcendent moments of beauty we couldn’t orchestrate on our own.

The photographs Soth made from these travels are part of a body of work published in Broken Manual. As Soth drove across the country, he kept a list of things he wanted to photograph taped to his car’s steering wheel. It’s a way, he says, of “transforming these ideas in my head into some sort of path in the world.”

Alec Soth DrivingPhoto by Alec Soth

For Soth, the film is as much a meditation on a longing to run away as it is about our ultimate need for meaningful human connection. “I don’t want to move my family, and go live in a cave,” he assured the audience.


Cinema as a Moral Compass

by Susan Leem, associate producer

Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale in "The Fighter" (2010)
Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale in a scene from “The Fighter.”

"We are a storytelling species, and we have always used our stories to teach one another how we should live, and how we should not."
— David Gushee, "Teaching virtue at the movies in 2011"

In a recent article from the Associated Baptist Press, David Gushee, a professor of Christian Ethics at Mercer University in Atlanta, highlights four recent films, including The Fighter, that have narratives with accounts of moral virtue. This is a fresh way for me to share and evaluate new films.

I want more meaningful categories with which to talk about films rather than discussing whether it goes on the holiday viewing list or is an Oscar contender. Though I trust Roger Ebert’s judgment implicitly, the number of stars doesn’t tell me anything about how to live well or how to treat other people. Gushee’s language does.

What four films come to mind that have provided you with some teaching moment in the shape of a moral compass?


Walking. Without Words.

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

For this Friday afternoon, a throwback video snack from 1968. Artistic renderings of being through ambulatory expression. The film as described by the National Film Board of Canada’s website:

Animator Ryan Larkin uses an artist’s sensibility to illustrate the way people walk. He employs a variety of techniques—line drawing, colour wash, etc.—to catch and reproduce the motion of people afoot. The springing gait of youth, the mincing step of the high-heeled female, the doddering amble of the elderly—all are registered with humour and individuality, to the accompaniment of special sound. Without words.


A New Dialogue?
Colleen Scheck, senior producer

In preparation for this week’s program, "No More Taking Sides," we’ve been following the recent developments in Robi Damelin’s life. Our show includes this film clip from the documentary Encounter Point of Robi reading the letter she wrote to the family of her son’s killer.

In 2005, just a few months after Ta’er Hamad had been arrested, she wrote:

After your son was captured, I spent many sleepless nights thinking about what to do, should I ignore the whole thing, or will I be true to my integrity and to the work that I am doing and try to find a way for closure and reconciliation…

…I understand that your son is considered a hero by many of the Palestinian people, he is considered to be a freedom fighter, fighting for justice and for an independent viable Palestinian state, but I also feel that if he understood that taking the life of another may not be the way and that if he understood the consequences of his act, he could see that a non-violent solution is the only way for both nations to live together in peace.

Over three years later, Robi indirectly received a defiant, militant reply from Mr. Hamad via its publication by a Palestinian news agency:

"Just as I refused to directly address the soldier’s mother, I cannot wish to meet her. I cannot meet with the occupier of our land on the same land. I carried out the operation as part of the struggle for freedom, justice and the establishment of an independent state, not out of a lust or love for killing. Acts of violence are a necessity imposed upon us by the occupation and I shall not abandon this path for as long as the occupation continues."

In response, Robi wrote:

"Ta’er, how ironic, the people who most wanted to protect me from the words in your letter were my Palestinian friends and other bereaved parents in our group. They of all people have the right to talk about my actions and who I am for we have worked together for more than 6 years to try to end this terrible conflict and to give both sides a chance to live with a sense of dignity free from the terrible fear which engulfs us and gives us all the excuse for violence. The tears I saw in the eyes of my Palestinian partners in the Parents Circle when they met me after you chose to publish the letter were tears of understanding and yes friendship and love…"

"… The wisest reaction I had to the words of your letter came from my wonderful son Eran, who I thought would be terribly angry. Well he said, listen mum, perhaps this is the beginning of a dialog."

In the audio embedded up top, Trent recently spoke with Robi from her home in Tel Aviv to learn more about how she’s reflecting on this exchange, and what it means for her work with the Parents Circle - Families Forum. It’s worth a listen to hear her ongoing tenacity.


The Impressionable Faces of Buddhist Silence

by Trent Gilliss, online editor

Tomorrow, our latest production with Matthieu Ricard will be released via our podcast. His journey to the Himalayas and studying under some of the great Tibetan Buddhist monks and the current Dalai Lama was inspired by the films of Arnaud Desjardins.

What struck him and became the catalyst for his lifelong journey, as he told Krista in a hotel room in Vancouver, was a particular point in one of these documentaries when he saw “a series of faces, of contemplatives … in silence” — of all shapes and sizes.

I wanted to see those faces. The video above is excerpted from the 1966 film, Le Message des Tibétains: Le Tantrisme (deuxième partie). For the quick skinny on the portrait sequence Ricard mentions, skip to 50:05 in the clip.

Ricard describes the influence of Desjardins’s films in greater depth in The Monk and the Philosopher, a dialogue between him and his father, Jean-François Revel, a French intellectual who is well-known for his challenging critiques of Communism and Christianity:

Matthieu Ricard: …what triggered my interest in Buddhism was in 1966…

Jean-François Revel: You would have been twenty then.

M.R.: I was still at university, and just about to go to the Institut Pasteur, when I saw some films made by a friend, Arnaud Desjardins, as they were being edited. They were about the great Tibetan lamas who had fled the Chinese invasion and taken refuge on the souther side of the Himalayas, from Kashmir to Bhutan. Arnaud had spent several months on two trips with an excellent guide and interpreter, filming these masters at close quarters. The films were very striking. Around the same time, another friend, Dr. Leboyer, came back from Darjeeling where he’d met some of the same lamas. I’d just finished a course and had the chance of taking a six-month break before starting my research work. It was the time of the hippies, who’d set out to India overland hitchhiking or in a Citroen deux-chevaux, through Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. I was also drawn to the martial arts and had thought of going to Japan. But the sight of the pictures brought back by Arnaud and Frederick Leboyer, what they told me and their descriptions of their encounters there, all helped me make up my mind to head for the Himalayas rather than anywhere else.

J.F.R: So it was Arnaud Desjardins’s film that started it all off.

M.R.: There were several films, The Message of the Tibetans and Himalaya, Land of Serenity (which included The Children of Wisdom and The Lake of the Yogis), four hours in all. They include long sequences of the great Buddhist teachers who’d just arrived from Tibet — what they looked like, how they spoke, what they taught. The films gave a very alive and inspiring account of what it was like.

J.F.R.: You said they left a strong impression on you, personally. Why?

M.R.: I had the impression of seeing living beings who were the very image of what they taught. They had such a striking and remarkable feeling about them. I couldn’t quite hit on the explicit reasons why, but what struck me most was that they matched the ideal of sainthood, the perfect being, the sage — a kind of person hardly to be found nowadays in the West. It was the image I had of St. Francis of Assisi, or the great wise men of ancient times, but which for me had become figures of the distant past. You can’t go meet Socrates, listen to Plato debating, or sit at St. Francis’ feet. Yet suddenly, here were beings who seemed to be living examples of wisdom. I said to myself, ‘If it’s possible to reach perfection as a human being, that must be it.’


La Convivencia and the West-Eastern Divan
» download [mp3, 2:57]
Marc Sanchez, associate producer

Ibrahim Al-MarashiThe audio above comes from one of our "Revealing Ramadan" participants, Ibrahim Al-Marashi, who appeared in our podcast and radio program. He’s an Iraqi-American who currently lives and teaches in Spain, and has lived in California (Los Angeles and Monterey) and Turkey. During his interview, he talked about one of the things that attracted him to Spain: La Convivencia. This idea, which translates as “the coexistence,” describes a cultural harmony between Muslims, Jews, and Christians and was first coined when Spain came under Muslim rule beginning in the 8th century. Al-Marashi goes on to talk about his Lebanese-Christian grandmother and his interests in shared Muslim-Jewish-Christian ideas.

Al-Marashi’s interview was fresh in my mind when I happened to catch an airing of the documentary, Knowledge Is the Beginning. The movie follows a season of the West-Eastern Divan, an orchestra conducted by Daniel Barenboim.

The orchestra is made up of young Israelis and Arabs, and Barenboim’s hope is to show how music can bring people together. The idea for the group was born out of Barenboim’s friendship with Edward Said.

Edward Said and Daniel BarenboimBarenboim was first raised in Buenos Aires, the son of Russian Jews, and he began studying piano and giving performances at an early age. His family relocated to Israel 10 years after Barenboim was born, and he was on the conductor’s track before his thirteenth birthday.

Said was born in Palestine before the founding of Israel. His family moved to Egypt after the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. He went on to study at Princeton and Harvard and to teach English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University. He was a prolific writer, and staunch advocate for Palestinian rights. He passed away in 2003.

West-Eastern Divan Rehearsal

In addition to his political writing and cultural criticism, Said was a passionate fan of classical music. So much so that he was the classical music critic for The Nation. It was through music that he and Barenboim first bonded. And, it was music that opened a dialogue to their differences. Said and Barenboim knew that coming together — just bringing your ideas to the table to talk — can open a lot of doors. From the orchestra’s Web site:

"Music by itself can, of course, not resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict. Music grants the individual the right and obligation to express himself fully while listening to his neighbour. Based on this notion of equality, cooperation and justice for all, the Orchestra represents an alternative model to the current situation in the Middle East."

(Top photo: Ibrahim Al-Marashi.

Middle photo: Edward Said, left, and Daniel Barenboim, right, chat during an awards ceremony in Oviedo, Spain in 2002. Photo by Pierre-Philippe Marcou/AFP/Getty Images.

Bottom photo: The West-Eastern Divan rehearses at Royal Albert Hall in London for the BBC Proms in 2009. Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images.)