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Storytelling, at a Crossroads

Do you know a good storyteller? She’s the life of the party. The one who gets everybody rip-rolling, turns us deathly silent, then provokes a tear or two. We gather around. She regales us.

Now, imagine 25 of the most amazing storytellers you’ve ever met gathered in the same square mile, performing to circus tents full of 500 enthusiastic listeners. But it seems like they’re talking straight to you. That’s the National Storytelling Festival, in its 39th year.

I spend the weekend in Jonesborough, Tennessee — the oldest town in the state. It was founded in 1779, before the Volunteer state became a state. Almost 8,000 people prowl the town with me, on the hunt for stories. It’s like a film festival, only better. Tellers duck and weave by synapse and whim, bending narratives in response to giggling children, passing trains, or thundering applause.

It’s “night at the improv,” but better. David Holt plays 10 acoustic instruments; Bill Lepp gives me cramps as he invents insane tall tales; Elizabeth Ellis slows it down – I shed a tear. Antonio Sacre is energetic, yet tender. Clare Murphy is protean, spinning morality tales from the dawn of time. Donald Davis pays homage to Kathryn Windham; Holt remembers Ed Hicks. Tellers know they stand on the shoulders of those who came before them.

Billed as “One festival, three days, a world of stories,” it was much more. A time to reflect on the nature of stories themselves, and how they move and sustain us.

Jane Goodall LIVE

 

Today was the second time I filmed Dr. Jane Goodall recently for an upcoming movie, and each time she has taken me off guard (in a good way) with an extraordinarily gentle spirit, iron resolve, and tendency to break into impromptu primate calls.
Dr. Goodall is 77 years old. She moves lightly; the years exert no visible weight on her. She talks in a whisper, not out of reserve or infirmity, but from the quiet confidence of somebody accustomed to her own authority and eloquence. People listen.
This morning, Dr. Goodall speaks with the crew at the International Space StationCommander Mike Fossum and Flight Engineer Satoshi Furukawa join in. I film her side of it. The astronauts are inspired by Dr. Goodall’s life-long conservation mission. She finds common ground, learning about their science and their thoughts about the Earth from their perch.

In orbit, the world’s most accomplished astronauts are zipping at more than 17,000 miles per hour, chatting with the only person who’s ever been accepted into chimpanzee society. As I type this, Jeff Orlowski is putting the final touches on Jane Goodall: Live, which is playing one night only, September 27, in 500 cinemas around the country.

Afterwards, Dr. Goodall and I discuss Roots and Shoots, a youth-oriented program of the Jane Goodall Institute that is in 100+ countries and all 50 states. It’s her passion; it’s visceral how intent she is on getting the next generation to care. She leans in: “I bet you need a chimp hug,” she says. I mutter something far less poignant than how David Graybeard might have responded. She utters a chimp call, and tenderly squeezes. I smile.

 

Innocuously named “Chef’s Salad”


What comes to mind when you think “Azerbaijan” and “food”? If you’re like me . . . nothing. So, what a surprise to arrive here Sunday and discover . . . some incredibly fresh, tasty cuisine! Here’s a photo of the Chef’s Salad that I had for lunch Sunday. It was maybe the best salad I’ve ever had. Most salads in the US are lettuce-dominated. Unless you LOVE lettuce, that’s not awesome. The good salads have an overpowering dressing, like a gorgonzola or blue cheese. These are yummy, but overpowering . . . Today’s “Chef’s Salad” at the “Restauro 90A” on the first floor of the Landmark Hotel blew my socks off. What you see is a perfect balance of: mixed lettuce, grilled chicken, artichokes, sun-dried tomatoes, cucumbers, tomatoes, capers, parmiggiano, parsley, dill, mint, and purple and green olives. The only dressing is a subtle olive oil. Everything was in harmony. The tomatoes were sweet. The artichokes were the best I ever had. The capers were the largest I ever saw. . . . I’ll let the economists argue over the “WHY,” but all I know is that all these veggies taste awesome and the veggies in my country don’t. . . . Now tell me: Which country is “developed”?

Carbon Age Over Tandoori Chicken

So, I’m eating lunch at my favorite local Indian place with my friend Eric Roston today. Roston’s the author of The Carbon Age, a brilliant, definitive book about carbon as a structural element in life and civilization. So, over some tasty Tandoori Chicken, the conversation fortunately veers away from molecular composition and astrophysics to something I can at least talk about: ethics. Roston makes the point that the climate issue is the perfect moral quandary: any actions you and I take to try to arrest the build-up of CO2 emissions in the atmosphere will have little to no impact during our lives. We simply won’t see it, since CO2 emissions have atmospheric lifetimes of 100-150 years, and sometimes a lot more.

Are our political and economic systems equipped to handle long-term, complex, moral issues? So far, no.

Check out this nice blog post, with a video of Roston on the Comedy Central’s Colbert Report. Roston holds his own pretty well. Funny!

Google 2030: How’d a Tech Company One-Up the Gov’t?

Google’s Energy team put out a strategy in October called “Google 2030,” which makes a strong case for smart investments in clean energy. Like most everything Google does, it is smart, thorough, and transparent — they’ve improved it quite a bit with public comments in the past six months (why can’t the federal government work this way?). It targets some aggressive but realistic goals, which not only help address climate change, but reduce pollution and get us well on our way to using renewable energy at scale. Some highlights: it aims to reduce fossil fuel-based electricity generation by 88%; reduce vehicle oil consumption by 44%; reduce dependence on imported oil (currently 10 million barrels per day) by 37%; reduce electricity-sector CO2 emissions by 95%; reduce personal vehicle sector CO2 emissions by 44%; reduce US CO2 emissions overall by 49% (41% from today’s CO2 emission level).

Does everyone have an agenda? Sure. Google’s is to have cheaper, sustainable energy in the long run so their massive server farms don’t become a PR nightmare in CA during the next generation. Oh, and it might help their bottom line. And Google knows that utilities are essentially monopolies, so we need government intervention in making the move toward cleaner alternatives. Is the US federal government up to the task?

What’s one way forward? Read Google’s HOW TO.

Kiva: Direct Development

As a documentary filmmaker, I know what it’s like to have a vision and passion — and then have to go out and raise funds to help me make progress on that vision. That’s why I like Kiva, which does a great job of connecting people through lending for the sake of alleviating poverty. Their website gives you a chance to learn about entrepreneurs around the world. They have a vision, and are just lacking the funds to make good on it. Given global income inequality, even $25 from me can make a difference. Today, I funded my 35th individual through Kiva; and once they pay me back, I just recycle the investment to another worthy entrepreneur.

Anybody else have good experiences about Kiva? Let me know. Or if you know of other organizations like this one – using technology for “direct development” — please let me know too!

Dibusse on Volcanic Sprint

My favorite Cameroonian blogger covers Volcanic Sprint: Mount Cameroon Race: “Volcanic Sprint” Now Available on DVD. Other media coverage: Cameroon: The Race – Down Memory Lane from the Buea Post on February 21; Cameroon: Epoch Making Innovations from the Cameroon Tribune on February 19; L’ascension du Mont Cameroun vue par Steve Dorst from the February 15th edition of Le Messager.

Some bloggers covered the film as well. Thanks, and I enjoyed reading your blogs! blogmyruns, Albert Caruana, Constintine Njeru, 21st Century Mom, Complete Running, Rick Gaston, <a href='http://journeytoendurance.blogspot.com/2008/02/volcanic-spirit.html
‘>Brian Hawkinson, and Ian “Vanilla”.

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