Jewish Filmmaker of the Week – Lance

Lance Kramer, Partner and Executive Producer at Meridian Hill Pictures, is a busy guy these days. Between winning a Webby, promoting his award-winning documentary, City of Trees, and being tweeted about by Raffi, we were impressed he had the time to talk with us at GatherDC…

So you just won a Webby! 

We were really excited to get this news last week. We won the Webby Award for The Messy Truth. Our production company, Meridian Hill Pictures, co-produced the series last fall with Van Jones, his wife Jana Carter and their production company Magic Labs Media. We had built a relationship with Van and Jana as co-producers on our feature-length documentary film, City of Trees. During the 2016 election season, we felt like Van was one of the few people on TV who was cutting through the noise and toxicity with a kind of much-needed emotional nuance and empathy. We all talked about the idea of having Van go into a community divided by the election and try to model how to have meaningful, respectful dialogue and disagreement. Though we had no budget for the project, we were able to mobilize an all-volunteer crew (many of whom the people who worked on City of Trees). And we were fortunate that several families in Gettysburg, PA let us into their homes and businesses to have the hard conversations that we ultimately documented in The Messy Truth. We initially distributed the three original webisodes solely on Facebook. They were viewed collectively more than 4 million times the weekend before the Election. Thousands of people were talking about the series, – online, in-person and in the media. The impact was profound. When Raffi started tweeting about the series, I knew we were onto something.

How did you first get into film?  What about documentaries is particularly compelling to you?

Since we were little kids, my brother Brandon and I have always loved watching and making movies together. We played with our parent’s camcorder all the time and made spoofs of our favorite films with our friends in the neighborhood. In hindsight, I think from an early age, becoming comfortable filming with regular people, with no money, and without permission, was actually kind of good training for becoming a documentary filmmaker. I majored in history and minored in film, but I really had no idea what I wanted to do for a career. In high school and college, I had developed an interest in journalism and nonfiction storytelling. I decided to move out west to Oregon after graduation to try my hand as a print journalist.

It wasn’t until I moved back to DC in 2008 that I got interested in documentary film-making. My parents were incredibly supportive in encouraging both my brother and I to cultivate this interest and develop it into a career. It seems fairly obvious now, but it was a revelation to me that this art form could be a kind of storytelling that combines the strengths of film and journalism to work toward social justice. I love how documentaries can be a space to search for the truth through the messiness and subjectivity of real people’s lived experiences. This will never get old to me.

You run your company alongside your brother. What is that like? What are the advantages and disadvantages of working with family?

The best part of working with my brother is having the chance to collaborate and create with someone who I love dearly. He knows me better than anyone else in the world. We understand each other in profound ways, and we share the same values. This means that we can quickly reach places of great depth and complexity in our collaboration that might otherwise be very difficult. One of the hardest things about working together as family is the way every decision and interaction can take on an emotional quality. We have to work very hard to be clear with each other, otherwise passive aggression can easily become our worst enemy. From the very beginning, we decided that as much as we care about our work, we would never let filmmaking or anything related to work get between our relationship as brothers. We literally wrote this into an operating agreement we signed when we started the company in 2010. I would rather walk away from the company than walk away from my brother.

Many people don’t think of DC as a big town for filmmaking. Why did you choose to set up shop here, and what have you learned about the local filmmaking community?

My brother and I were born in DC and grew up in Bethesda, MD. Our family has been here since the 1920s. My great-grandfather Isadore started one of the first shops in the Union Market called Kramer & Sons (we’ve actually been working on a film about the family’s history in the market). Our roots are pretty strong here; most of my extended family is in the DMV, and it just seemed like everyone stayed here.

I have always been pretty stubborn. As a kid, I thought that in order to be my own person, I had to get out of this area and do something different. Even though my dad was an artist himself, I thought DC was not a place to be creative. After living in Portland, I decided to move back here to be closer to family. I found that I had really taken the city for granted. I was immediately impressed by the film community that I had entirely overlooked when I was younger. I particularly appreciated how so much of the film created here was nonfiction and had deep social justice roots. I got to know people like Erica Ginsberg and Sam Hampton at Docs In Progress, Melissa Houghton at WIFV, Jon Gann at DC Shorts, Herby Niles at the DC Film Office. I grew to care deeply about this city and wanted to reconnect with my roots here. I feel like something important is happening here, and I want to be a part of building the community.

What are some of your favorite documentaries?

I love the filmmaker Robert Drew, who was one of the early pioneers of cinema verité. He is probably best known for his films about John F. Kennedy — Primary and Crisis: Behind a Presidential Commitment. When I first saw these films, they really blew my mind. I was in awe of the way they took the elusive magnitude of the presidency and brought them down to such a gritty human level, especially at a time when television was still a relatively new phenomenon. These kinds of films taught people about the mechanics of how our democracy works and helped to create empathy and understanding during crucial moments of the Civil Rights movement. I am also a big admirer of the films by Kartemquin (KTQ) in Chicago. Over the course of more than 50 years, they have made dozens of exceptional films like Hoop Dreams, Stevie, and Life Itself. About five years ago, we met Gordon Quinn, the co-founder of Kartemquin, and Justine Nagan, the former executive director, at an event at the Hill Center in DC. We stayed in touch with them and eventually they effectively mentored us through the process of making our first film, City of Trees.  I don’t know where we would be without their guidance and support.

Your latest film, City of Trees, has garnered acclaim, been selected for film festivals around the country and picked up by PBS. Tell us a little bit about the film and what inspired you to make it.

City of Trees follows the directors and trainees of a green job training program — the DC Green Corps — during the last six months of a major stimulus grant. We first met Steve Coleman and Washington Parks & People just weeks after we started Meridian Hill Pictures. We had moved into the Josephine Butler Parks Center right as Parks & People had received a major stimulus grant to start the Green Corps. We quickly got absorbed in the ambitions and idealism of people like Steve and Charles. We could also feel the intense stakes mounting and the tensions of the real world standing to threaten their dreams. We grew to care deeply about the people we were getting to know. We wanted to make a film that dove into the complexities, nuances and paradoxes they faced as they attempted to make changes in their lives and communities under an incredibly tense and stressful set of circumstances. Rather than shy away from these challenges, we tried to let the film ethically navigate the difficulties real people were facing in their lives. City of Trees was our first feature-length film. It took about five years to make. Everything about making the film was new and difficult for us. But I am very grateful that the film has been well-received and screened for so many people in all kinds of meaningful contexts.

How can I watch City of Trees?

Last year we focused almost exclusively on film festivals and the PBS broadcast. This past fall and winter we put a lot of effort into screening the film at universities and conferences. Recently we’ve been more focused on community-based, grassroots screenings and distributing the film via a new community screening kit we developed. Nonprofit organizations and public agencies can purchase the kit — which includes the DVD, discussion guide, and outreach materials — and host their own screening and dialogue in their community. Starting next month, the film will finally be launched on VOD streaming services, including a few platforms that you have definitely heard of 🙂 Editor’s Note – Moishe House DC will be hosting a Screening and Panel Discussion for the film next Thursday, May 11th at 7pm.

What’s next for Meridian Hill Pictures?

Over the course of the last seven years, we have experimented with many different versions of Meridian Hill Pictures to function as a sustainable production company: we’ve produced independent films, run a youth documentary film program, video trainings for educators, a monthly pop-up film screening series, produced client films, even experimented with building our own app. We continue to return to one thing: the desire to make films. I have such a deep respect for the craft of documentary filmmaking and feel like we have so much to learn. I am also constantly confronting the reality of the substantial time, talent and financial resources required to make a film. I’m proud of many things we have accomplished with Meridian Hill Pictures, but it is still not sustainable. Through conversations I’ve been having with other filmmakers, I am regularly hearing how much other people are also struggling with sustainability. Especially in this moment, when we are living through where fake news and polarized media are so prolific, I have a firm belief that independent documentary filmmaking plays a vital role in the democracy. Right now I’m very committed to playing a part in making the field more sustainable so important films can be made and distributed more easily and the field of filmmaking can be open to more diverse voices.

How do you connect with the DC Jewish community?

For me, most of my connections to the Jewish community are still through my family. Many of my cousins, aunts and uncles live in the area and we have close relationships that I really treasure. We still get together for many of the major Jewish holidays. I’m grateful for all the ways my childhood in Bethesda — especially the Jewish influences — have shaped who I am today.  To be honest, I have not connected with the DC Jewish community as a single adult in my 30s as much as I would like to. This has been harder for for me than I would have thought, but it’s something I am actively working on. Food also plays a big role along with family. I go to Parkway Deli at least once a month with my grandma. Two words: pickle bar.

Recent Kramer family Seder

What is one thing you can’t make it through the day without?

My dog. Last year, I adopted a little Aussie-mix pooch named Sadie. She’s quickly become my sidekick and pretty much accompanies me wherever I go. I take her to the studio every day. She’s the official studio dog.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization GatherDC, the GatherDC staff, the GatherDC board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

From Mourning to Celebration in 2 Days

Today is Yom Hazikaron, the memorial day for Israel’s fallen soldiers. Its scope has evolved and expanded since it was passed into Israeli law in 1963. In 1980, it was expanded to include Jewish fighters killed in pre-State battles.  In 1998, the commemoration was expanded to include Israeli victims of terror. Beginning 12 years ago, some have chosen to participate in an Israeli-Palestinian Memorial Day Ceremony to remember the losses on both sides of the conflict. Just as the pain from the loss of a life ripples outward and affects many beyond the inner circle of friends and family, so too the collective consciousness of suffering has been extended in Israel throughout the years. These losses are commemorated most notably by a siren that brings the country to a standstill for 2 minutes of silence.

Yom Hazikaron immediately precedes Yom Ha’atzmaut, the day of Israel’s independence. The juxtaposition of mourning and celebration can be jarring, but it is also reflective of Israel’s and the Jewish people’s resilience. The idea of moving from sadness to joy is also found throughout the Jewish tradition, reminding us that – though one cannot exist without the other – we believe that “those who sow with tears will reap with joy” (Psalms 126:5).

The Diameter Of The Bomb

By Yehuda Amichai
The diameter of the bomb was thirty centimeters
and the diameter of its effective range about seven meters,
with four dead and eleven wounded.
And around these, in a larger circle
of pain and time, two hospitals are scattered
and one graveyard. But the young woman
who was buried in the city she came from,
at a distance of more than a hundred kilometers,
enlarges the circle considerably,
and the solitary man mourning her death
at the distant shores of a country far across the sea
includes the entire world in the circle.
And I won’t even mention the crying of orphans
that reaches up to the throne of God and
beyond, making a circle with no end and no God.

 

The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization GatherDC, the GatherDC staff, the GatherDC board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Top Picks at the 27th Washington Jewish Film Festival

The Washington Jewish Film Festival is back from May 17th to May 28th with a brand new lineup of films, special events, and filmmaker guests including industry titans Amy Heckerling (Clueless, Fast Times at Ridgemont High), Barry Levinson (Rain Man, Good Morning, Vietnam), and Agnieszka Holland (Europa Europa, In Darkness). Check out the top five event picks from this year’s Festival!

As If, A Clueless Night!

Dress to the nine(ties), and join the WJFF and EntryPoint DC for trivia, photo booths, specialty cocktails, and a rockin’ 90s soundtrack followed by a screening of cult classic Clueless! Stay after the film for a special Q&A with legendary filmmaker Amy Heckerling. For more, click here.

2 Jews Walk into a Bar (and a Deli)

The WJFF’s cinematic bar crawl comes to Chinatown! This year’s stops include On Rye and Bar Deco, paired with their Walk a Mile in My Shoes short films program. Drinks + Food +Movies + Friends = Win.

People That Are Not Me

Heralded as the Israeli answer to Girls and Frances Ha, Hadas Ben Aroya’s debut feature is a tour-de-force that tackles modern romance in all of its technological confusion, forced aloofness, and loveless sexuality.

Doing Jewish: A Story from Ghana

When Gabrielle Zilkha gets a call from her mother telling her that she’s found Jewish people to celebrate Rosh Hashanah with, Zilkha sets off to find the tiny but vibrant Sefwi Jewish community. Filmed over five years, Zilkha observes this small African Jewish community, offering a fascinating investigation of identity and connection.

Doing Jewish: A Story From Ghana (Official Trailer) from Gabrielle Zilkha on Vimeo.

Family Commitments

After two years of dating, David pops the question, and Khaled’s answer is unequivocally, “Yes!” Tying the knot proves challenging however, courtesy of a homophobic Arab father and a pseudo-orthodox, overbearing Jewish mother. Catch this German comedy as part of the Festival’s Rated LGBTQ series.

Honorable mentions include the quirky, upbeat Dutch comedy Moos; Israeli Scifi comedy OMG, I’m a Robot; and French thriller Thank You for Calling, inspired by the true story of con-man Gilbert Chikli. To see the full lineup of over 130 events taking place during the 27th Festival, visit WJFF.ORG.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization GatherDC, the GatherDC staff, the GatherDC board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Rabbi Rant: The Real Lesson in “S-Town”

If you haven’t listened to the S-Town podcast yet, you should.

Not only because everybody else is doing it (though that does seem to be the case – it’s the fastest podcast to ever reach 15 million downloads or streams on Apple Podcasts).

And not necessarily because it’s the greatest podcast of all time. (I think it’s a great piece of storytelling through journalism, but it’s neither revolutionary nor profound.)

Its beauty stems from the simplicity of its aim – to get to know someone else as best as possible, without judgment.

This endeavor is perhaps best encapsulated in a short dialogue between Brian Reed, the host and journalist, and a man named Tyler.

Tyler: Do you see me being a bad person?
Brian: Do I?
Tyler: Yeah.
Brian: No man, I see you as a complicated, normal person, you know?
Tyler: Yeah.
Brian: I mean, I, I disagree with some of your decisions, but you also, you’ve had a very different life experience than I’ve had.

This attitude, of openness to others’ unique stories, is the key to good journalism.

It’s also one that Jewish sages encourage and that more of us should embrace.

By prioritizing curiosity over judgment, we can let go of both the illusion that we understand each other and also the need to force each other into our ideological boxes.

Perhaps this is why the rabbis of the Talmud offer a surprising blessing for one who sees a large congregation of Jews:

Blessed are you God Who knows all secrets. [Why this blessing? Because] their minds are unlike each other and their faces are unlike each other (BT Brachot 58a).

When confronted with differences, our tendency is to try to focus on similarities. This blessing reminds us to lean into our differences. We may all be in the same place, but we’ve all taken a different path to get there. Remembering this, paradoxically, may be the only way to keep us together.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization GatherDC, the GatherDC staff, the GatherDC board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Jewish Newbie of the Week – Sammy

As a part of GatherDC’s Jewish Person of the Week feature, we will be highlighting one Jewish “newbie” each month. (Are you new? Do you know someone who is? Nominate them––or yourself––today by emailing Shaina!)

Meet this month’s Jewish Newbie of the Week, Sammy!

Sammy and I met in 2010 at – you guessed it – Jewish summer camp (yes the photo is us during that summer). Between then and now we had barely kept in touch, except to play quick games of Jewish geography for people we went to college with. I hadn’t realized she was in DC until I spotted her walking up Connecticut Avenue while I was on the bus, so I sent her a text. She didn’t have my number anymore, so my “I see you” didn’t land as well as I had hoped (she was slightly confused). However, once I told her it was me, she was really excited to hang out again! Part of the beauty of GatherDC is our love of reconnecting with old friends and making new ones! Learn more about Sammy in this week’s interview.

Shaina: I heard you’re basically fluent in French. Have you been to France before?

Sammy: Yes! The first time I went to France was in 8th grade, with a school trip. I also lived in Paris for five months during my junior year of college. I loved it and can’t wait until I go back next.

Shaina: Where else have you traveled? Which place was your favorite?

Sammy: I was really lucky that my undergrad experience took me around the world. While I lived in Paris, I traveled to Spain, Italy, and Greece. I have also been to Madagascar and Peru through college-sponsored trips. My favorite place is hard to choose because every single place was so distinct, but I LOVED Florence, Italy. (That might have to do with all the delicious pasta and gelato.)

Shaina: You moved to DC the day after you graduated from college with no job. What was that like?

Sammy: Honestly, that is one of the craziest things I have ever done. My parents and friends all thought I had lost my mind. Somewhere along the way–during second semester of senior year–I decided that I wanted to live here, so I committed to moving. I convinced two friends to come with me, we found a place in Van Ness, and I packed my car and drove down. I was really lucky that I was able to start temping really quickly and then found my current job! I don’t regret it at all!

Shaina: What’s your advice to someone who is new to DC?

Sammy: Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there! There is so much happening 100% of the time in this city. It is always worth it to go see the monuments at night and meander. If something sounds interesting to you, go! Don’t be afraid to arrive at an event without a big group, I’ve found that people are incredibly welcoming.

Shaina: What does a typical Saturday in DC look like for you?

Sammy: I actually like to do brunch on Saturday because it is WAY less crowded than a typical Sunday brunch. My favorite places are Open City, District Kitchen, and Scion. I also love to just relax and find something fun to do around the District.

Shaina: Complete the sentence: When the Jews of DC Gather… 

Sammy: it’s always a good time!

As a part of GatherDC’s Jewish Person of the Week feature, we are highlighting one Jewish “newbie” each month. Are you new and want to talk about getting more involved in Jewish life in DC? Sign up to grab coffee.

Spotted in Jewish DC – Israeli Iced Coffee

Unicorn Frappuccino

Unicorn Frappuccino

Our newest feature – #SpottedinJewishDC – will highlight something we or our readers find in DC that is particularly Jewish. It can be a product, store, bumper sticker, whatever! If you spot something Jewish and want us to mention it, just snap a photo and tag it with #SpottedinJewishDC or email it to us!

While the Unicorn Frappuccino may be winning the Instagram game, our newest feature, #SpottedinJewishDC thinks that Pleasant Pops‘ newest summer drink wins the flavor game. If you’ve been to Israel during the summer, you know how refreshing an Israeli Iced Coffee can be. Their version of an iced coffee turns this morning essential into the best adult slushie the world has ever tasted. Made of coveted cold-brew coffee, local whole milk and organic raw cane sugar, you’ll be wide awake and dreaming of the next time you can have one.

Past Jewish Entrepreneur of the Week, Roger Horowitz, brings this Israeli treat to his shop in Adams Morgan, with an option for the milk-averse made with almond milk. We suggest you try one ASAP (ask for a coffee slushie), and take a photo with it using #SpottedinJewishDC. We can keep the unicorn on her toes (er…hooves).

Israeli Cafe

Israeli Iced Coffee at Pleasant Pops

Spotted in Jewish DC - Aroma

Aroma Espresso at Montgomery Mall

If you’re looking to do a taste-test of this treat, head to Montgomery Mall in search of Aroma Espresso Bar, an actual Israeli brand specializing in coffee and beyond.

If you’re looking for other Israeli flavors, check out this recent post on The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington’s Jewish Food Experience, “In DC, Israeli Food is On the Rise,” or their recipe for an Israeli cappuccino (cafe hafuch) you can make at home!

 

The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization GatherDC, the GatherDC staff, the GatherDC board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Do Your Money Habits Align with Your Values?

Stokpic

In January, I started an intense coaching training program with the CoachDiversity Institute. (It’s so awesome!) One of the most impactful sessions was when we mapped out our top five values. Once we identified our most important values, we had to admit whether or not we are currently living true to those values.

To be honest, I had never really thought about this before. I always knew I felt better when I was making a difference, but I never sat down to identify the values that are most important to me.

It turns out, one of the key ways to find fulfillment is to make choices that follow our values. Values are beliefs and principles that make what we do in life worthwhile and meaningful to us. Your goals will be a lot easier to attain if they line up with what you believe in most.

So, how can you align your money habits with your values?

1. Choose your top five values

Think about what brings you the most happiness and excitement. What makes you feel like what you’re doing isn’t work? What values might those things be connected to?

My top five (at the moment) are connection, community, impact, understanding, and independence. If I hone into my value of independence, my goal of running my own business full-time feels much more attainable. It even feels inevitable. Once I realized how important connection and community are to me, it also became much easier to make new friends and join organizations that I care about.

Here are some more examples for you to choose from: abundance, acceptance, balance, compassion, courage, expression, fulfillment, humor, learning, power, respect, spirituality… the list almost is endless.

So, what are your top choices?

2. Analyze your current financial habits

Take a look at your last three months of spending. You can do this by skimming through your old bank statements, or through a program like Mint. (It might be faster and easier to use a program that can categorize your expenses.) Identify where you’re putting most of your money. Are you happy with where your money is going? Are your patterns setting you up for success and helping you live your values?

If one of your values is abundance, but you constantly feel stressed and lacking around money, you are likely not living in line with that value. How can you make improvements in this area? Perhaps you need to get a higher paying job, or perhaps you need to reassess how you think about money.

3. Identify how your values translate into financial goals

Now that you’ve figured out what your values are and where your money is going, you can develop new habits and goals! If your current habits don’t line up with what you want to do with your life, you can change that. And, I think you’ll find yourself more motivated to make those changes.

Perhaps you want to spend less on cab rides and more on experiences like concerts or travel. Funnel your money to the things that make you happier. Maybe you’re working in a job that underpays you and doesn’t fulfill your emotional needs. Start networking and job searching.

How can you make your money work for you? What goals can you set that will help you to live a life that is happier and more fulfilled?

4. Work towards those goals!

Now that you know how you want to live your life, and the steps to get there, get started! Need support and encouragement? Join Money Circle!

This post originally appeared on Maggie Germano Financial Coaching. Want to read more? Check out maggiegermano.com/blog or subscribe to Maggie’s weekly newsletter!

Have wisdom to share? Want to be a volunteer writer to share with your GatherDC community?  Email Jackie for more info!

The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization GatherDC, the GatherDC staff, the GatherDC board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

Top 10 Things You Thought You Couldn’t Do as an Adult But Totally Still Can

Camp Nai Nai Nai is Jewish Summer Camp for Adults! It’s taking place this Memorial Day Weekend only 80 miles from DC, and it’s offering all the fun you ever had, or watched your friends have, at Jewish summer camp (but without any of the rules)! Here’s our list of the top ten things you thought you could never do again, but totally still can. [Sponsored by Camp Nai Nai Nai]