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June 27, 2006

Bridging the Cultural Divide

BY CYNDI GREENING, PRODUCER, PHOENIX, USA - As a professor in a Fine Art program, we are deeply committed to guiding students in developing an original point of view and creating unique work. We want the students to share their individual truth with the viewer. The more profound and personal that truth, the more accessible it is to the viewer ... and the more powerfully it touches him/her. It's a delicate task.

It was with this belief system that I approached the Zambia projects. One of my primary goals in producing the first Zambian feature film was to bring the Zambian voice and stories of the Zambian culture to the world. Using the play of Samuel Kasankha, the direction and screenwriting ability of Jabbes Mvula and the music of Danny ensures that the film BAD TIMING has the potential of being an amazing film for Zambia.

vicfallsbridge.jpgThe recent death of Jabbes' son, Kondwani, reminded me that there are often surprises that show up in the making of original work. I am reminded that there will undoubtedly be many more surprises in the making of this film. Why? Because this is a Zambian tale, acted by Zambians, written and directed by a Zambian. It is outside of my experience so many of the things that happen do not match my U.S. frame of reference.

It was surprising for me to hear that Jabbes could not openly claim his son until he had taken care of things properly with the elders. In most of the U.S., this wouldn't have been that big of a deal. It would have been an "oops" ... like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. Oops. Oh well. Things happen. It was an accident. In the U.S., sometimes people get married. Sometimes they don't. It's just different here.

I'm anticipating that this sort of thing is going to happen a lot during the filming process. I've already had a few of those experiences. Early in the production process, I called and emailed a few people in Zambia and discovered that my typical way of communicating was often misunderstood or too abrupt. I had to change my communication style.

This should be very good for the documentary, VOICE OF AN AFRICAN NATION, however. Navigating this gaping cultural divide between Arizona and Zambia will make for good drama. I don't think we have any idea how many of these moments are going to occur.

As an Art Professor, my commitment is to support Jabbes in helping the world to see the true Zambia and understand his culture. It promises to be enlightening for all of us.

June 25, 2006

Confession of a Black Sheep by Jabbes Mvula

"What we eat secretly in the dark, will be seen from our vomits". This is a translation of one of the common proverbs used by elders in my country, Zambia. It just happens that the proverb has come to pass in my life over events that happened lately.

The last one week has been a very difficult period for me as I had to deal with the loss of my only son who passed away during the night of 17th June 2006 in Zambia. Just as the loss of the child was very difficult for me, it was also very difficult for me to announce the death of the child to my friends and peers. It took me half a day of thinking and reflecting on issues surrounding my life before I made the announcement of the death of the child.

Firstly, I lost my first son Jabbes Jr on 23rd October 2001. On 23rd December, 2001, I lost my Dad. Driven by this double loss, my love for the two departed beloved ones, and my wish to keep my son Jabbes Jr in my heart all the time, I decided to come to the United States of America to pursue studies in Film. The end of the road is to make a movie about the ups and downs of my life, the big achievements that I've made as well as the mistakes (especially in my relationships with women). I just want to bring out the passion and drama that I have created through the years of my life. This movie should be coming sometime in 2008, if God keeps me until that time.

The desire to pursue all this will probably show you the strong bond that I have with my children. Other than the late Jabbes Jr, am still blessed with Judith Chikondi, aged 14 and Taonga Thokozani aged 5. I am very close to these two girls, I sing about them everyday just like every other parent does. Almost everyone that has associated with me, the first thing they get to know about me is the fact that I have two great daughters, Judith and Thokozani. With this background, when I got the sad news about the demise of my second son Kondwani (meaning Rejoice or Happiness), I had a lot of difficulties to announce his death to friends when from the onset, I never told anyone that I had another son. What everyone knows is that I had only one son who passed away in 2001, and that I only have 2 daughters, period. The question now has been where does Kondwani come from?

CONFESSION - The late Kondwani was born in February 2005, just two months after I left Zambia for the United States. He was a product of one great mistake that I made before I left Zambia (it was "Bad Timing" for me). There is no other way I can put it other than just this - I made a mistake that led to the birth of Kondwani, and because of this mistake, I was suppossed to present myself before some elders and make things right before I could proudly sing that I have a son. I never talked about the child because of the dark cloud that hung and surrounded his birth. But despite this, let me make it very clear that I was loking forward to going back home to make things right and be able to hold him in my arms and tell my friend that now I have a son to keep my name going, it was never meant to be.

PRIVACY - My culture demends complete privacy to mistakes especially by elders. Where I come from, we never wash dirty linen in public. It is against this background that I kept my mistakes so private, hoping that I would have a chance to make them right, but that chance never came. Despite enjoying a bit of limelight, you may have to bear with me that am also entitled to some privacy. As much as I have tried to be open, I should admit that I never discuss my mistakes openly, unless you are so close to me or unless I feel you need to know. In the same vein, I don't derive pleasure in poking my nose in other people's privacy, unless they willingly feel I should know about their issues. For example, the one and half years I have been here, I have really missed a kiss, but it's not for everyone to know.

By the way, I still need a son, but for now, my energy is on the project, but I hope to channel all my energies to making a son after the film project.

Having made this Confession of a Black Sheep, let me end by appreciating the great love, concern and care that I received from all my friends. Everyone close to me has been very supportive and am so humbled with the kind of support that I received. This has really made my loss lighter, and it is my prayer that God will richly bless everyone for the Love that they have given me.

June 23, 2006

Zambian Singer/Songwriter DANNY to Provide Music

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DANNY, the Zambian singer/songwriter, whose song KAYA was the longest running #1 single in Zambian History (15 weeks) has expressed an interest in doing the music for the film, BAD TIMING A quiet and humble young man with a serious attitude to his work and career, Danny has established himself as one of the leading young musicians in Zambia. In addition to being very talented and disciplined, Danny is not afraid to touch on serious topics such as homosexuality, AIDS, infidelity.

Born and raised in Lusaka, Danny Siulapwa is the last born in a family of six. He studied for a diploma in Electrical Engineering but he had discovered his musical ability at Church and developed his talent while at Secondary School.

In April 2005, Danny released his fourth album KAYA to much critical acclaim. Danny’s high profile and huge fanbase across south central Africa (including Malawi and Zimbabwe) helped consolidate his position as Zambia’s leading artist. Listen to KAYA by Danny and BUY THE ALBUM!

June 20, 2006

Jabbes and Cyndi Interviewed on THE BIG PICTURE

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THE BIG PICTURE with COLIN BOYD on FREE FM101.5

Podcast on Sunday, June 18, 2006
Recorded in Phoenix, Arizona, USA

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By Cyndi Greening. Phoenix, Arizona USA (indieWIRE) -- Film critic Colin Boyd interviews Jabbes Mvula and Cynthia Greening about filmmaking in Zambia. Greening will produce and Mvula will direct BAD TIMING, the first dramatic narrative feature film to be shot in Zambia. Simultaneously, they will produce VOICE OF AN AFRICAN NATION, a documentary about the making of that feature and the establishment of the film industry in Zambia.

BAD T!MING is the story of Chiku, a respected Zambian social activist who is invited to lead the U.N. Task Force to investigate and improve the future of the African Child. As the head of Children’s Paradise, an organization that cares for orphans in the Zambian capital of Lusaka, Chiku is well suited for the task. Chiku is respected by his peers and loved by the many children in his care. During this period, Chiku is also preparing for his wedding. The son of a Ngoni chief, he is to marry Mutinta, the daughter of a Tonga leader. First, Chiku must visit the bride’s village located near Victoria Falls to make the marriage arrangements with her father. Shortly before he marries, Chiku is seduced by a seemingly innocent neighborhood girl. When the police come to arrest Chiku at his wedding, his bride is horrified to discover that the young woman has accused her new husband of rape. Wanting to avoid a life sentence in prison, Chiku begins an epic struggle to restore himself personally and professionally. A tale of failure, corruption, forgiveness and redemption, BAD T!MING reveals the rich culture and social interactions of contemporary Zambians, set against the rich backdrop of Zambian countryside.

The documentary, VOICE OF AN AFRICAN NATION, will explore the educational and creative journey of Jabbes Mvula from Zambian National Broadcast to Arizona, and it will reveal the cultural exchange that occurs between Americans and Zambians. The film crew is comprised of students and faculty from MCC, where Mvula studied filmmaking. The documentary follows them from their relatively affluent, predominantly white community to this economically challenged nation in Africa. It will explain the efforts of Greening and MCC faculty to provide digital filmmaking training and technology to Zambian producers, directors and teachers.

Mesa Community College, located in Mesa, Arizona, has granted the Media Arts faculty the use of their high-definition cameras, lens packages, production lighting kits, audio production equipment and state-of-the-art editing equipment for the production of Mvula’s film and Greening’s documentary. By making these two compelling and exciting high-definition films, Mvula and Greening intend to accomplish several goals. They hope to bring the stories and the voice of a previously unrepresented African nation to the global cinema. They are committed that their efforts support the growth of film industry in Zambia. Through the films, they intend to reveal the beauty of Zambian regions for potential tourists, visitors and investors. With such a varied landscape and rich culture to offer international and native filmmakers, this joint venture promises growth and expansion for all parties involved.

June 14, 2006

Orson Welles Says It Best

The director is simply the audience. So the terrible burden of the director is to take the place of that yawning vacuum, to be the audience and to select from what happens during the day which movement shall be a disaster and which a gala night.

U.S. filmmaker, actor, and producer Orson Welles (1915–1984) in a speech, Nov. 4, 1985, at Hollywood Foreign Press Association.

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Director's Angle

I have spent this week relaxing and chilling while Cyndi and the crew have been having production meetings and team-building exercises. I plan to spend the rest of the week just relaxing because "All work and no play made Jabbes a dull boy."

During this period, am reading some books just to have more insight into what it means to be Director. The first book I looked at as I prepare myself for this challenge, is the $30 Film School. I went straight to Chapter Four - FILM CREW. My heart lept when I read the role of the director, this is what they wrote;

"Is considered GOD. He runs everything on the set. He tells everyone what to do and everyone listens."

I realized the load that I will have to carry as the Director, and for that matter, first time Director. It is not just shouting "CUT CUT CUT." I just have a lot of work on my hands because I can imagine more than 20 people on the set all looking at me for direction and guidance.

I have been asking myself as to what I want people to see from the movie. and I think the following are some insights into my visual aesthetic;

1. I like moving cameras. I would like the cameras to provide rhythms to the motion pictures, and I would be so happy if my DOP would be able to use some good travelling and dolly shots. I do not like swish pans that give the viewer blurred images as if they are watching a movies using broken spectacles.

2. During my "Acting for Film" class at Mesa Community College with Prof. Sandy Ellias, I learnt, and this sank into me, that movie-goers pay at the theatres to watch images of people and not objects. I just do not like shots that capture a small image of a person in the middle leaving a lot of space. What I want are close-up and extreme close-up shots. I will only use long shots when there is a specific message that I want to express in that shot.

3. I like seeing faces on the screen. This means that whether an Actor/Actress is talking or not, I would like to see some action on their faces. I like movies where even the listening shot becomes interesting. As for the Actors and Actresses, I like faces that are captivating and that tell a story. I do not like dull faces.

4. When the dialogue is explosive, I hate shots that miss the movements. Whether this is deliberate in some movies or not, I want the camera to capture every movement that I need, it be a talking head or a listening shot. This means I also prefer an Editor who is able to put together motion picture that tell a story even when there is no talking.

5. The fact that we will be filming dark skinned people, does not mean I would be happy with black pictures. Lighting, especially on dark-skinned people is very cardinal. During my acting class, I learnt that light skinned people do not need a lot of light when in front of a camera, but dark-skinned people normally have problems with little light.

6. Although I like looking at faces and expressions, I do NOT want to make a "talking heads" movie. Filmmaking is visual storytelling. Much of the story is carried in the locations, the set design, the costumes and the movement in the frame. We will use all of the visual tools to make a rich and satisfying story.

This is an exciting time for me. Everyone is busy, working to build BAD TIMING into a powerful film that presents the Zambian people and culture to the world.

My Creative Peak Period

Sometime in January just before the start of the semester, I decided to visit my friend Theresa Mulomba in Michigan. Theresa is one of my friends with one or two things in common, she was an actress in Zambia before coming to the United States, she loves the movie industry, and she dreams of making it in the film industry. She also writes very good poems. I went to visit her so that we could spend some time sharing our ambitious dreams, and I should admit I greatly got motivated and gathered more confidence just before I approached Cyndi.

Last week, I decided to go back to Theresa in Michigan to get away from my computer because everytime I enter my bedroom, the first thing I see is the computer, and I just can't stop working. I just wanted to go and dream again, nothing to do with the film project. Though I wanted a break, I carried two books, The Prayer of Jabez and $30 Film School. One of the reasons I had to go and dream is that between 20th June and 20th July, I try hard every year to develop a new idea. My late son Jabbes Jr. was born on 20th June while I was born on 20th July, and I always try to create something memorable during the time between our birthdays. I call this period in between as my peak period.

I was just about to take breakfast when Cyndi called and told me that we had been accepted to the Sundance Independent Producers Conference. This means we would get a chance to rub shoulders with great names in the movie industry in the United States. Cyndi's phone call just messed my appetite, I felt so excited that I thought "Man shall not live on bread alone." Immediately, I realized that the heights that BAD TIMING may attain requires us to get ready for a follow-up next year. Since I was in the dreaming zone, I did not have any difficulties in thinking of the next production. Am glad Cyndi liked the idea of our second movie, either PERFECT BRIDE or AN ANGEL FOR THE WEDDING DRESS.

My peak period looks promising, coming from Theresa's place, Monday I had an opportunity to talk to some of the people close to my heart. I talked to my Queen (Mum), my Sweetheart (Judy my daughter), my beloved kid Sister Gladys, then my kid friend Patricia Mulomba (Patricia just made me feel so good and appreciated). Judy wished me early "Happy Father's Day" before anyone else. What more with a blessing from the General Secretary of the Council of Churches in Zambia Rev Japhet Ndhlovu who emailed me yesterday? Rev Ndhlovu is probably the most influential spiritual leaders in Zambia today. I felt so good when I got an email from him. As if this is not enough, Cyndi gave me very exciting news today, and I just felt like on top of the world.

In all this, I thank God that he made it possible for me to meet Cyndi Greening, put two crazy people together, then expect an EXPLOSION of energy, activity and creativity.

June 13, 2006

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June 12, 2006

Producer's Dilemna

The last few days, I've been marveling at how challenging it can be to produce a film. It’s a long and complicated process to be sure.

It all starts so innocently. Jabbes came to me right after the 2006 Sundance Film Festival and asked me to Exec Produce his film. I asked him what that meant. “If you could just get a couple of 3CCD cameras, I can return to Zambia this summer and shoot the first feature film in my country. I’m working from a play by a famous Zambian playwright.”

Thinking it will be awfully hard to do it by himself, I say, “Maybe I could come with you and help out. Maybe Jeanette (the other faculty member) would come, too. And, maybe a couple of students.” I think this is a good solution. Christy Beckman reminds me that Innovative Project Grants are due soon. So I decide to write a grant that allows me to take four students and two faculty members to Zambia to help Jabbes make his film.

Why four students and two faculty members? There is a limit to how much you can ask for, so I decide to figure out what I could get for that top amount. Four and two. Not a large crew but better than just handing him two cameras and sending him alone. I start to get supportive emails from citizens in Zambia. We hear the film projects have been presented to the Vice President of the nation.

So, then, I decide it would be better if we had a bit bigger crew. More hands for better lighting, more hands for better sound management. On top of that, it would make the documentary even better to have more students in Zambia. It would create more points of conflict and more drama.

Then, opportunities for education appear. The University of Lusaka and the Evelyn Hone Technical College might like to partner with Mesa Community College to create an ongoing educational exchange. More money, more flights. More interesting documentary footage, more connection.

So, that’s what I think of producing. Whatever you get in terms of money, actors, educators and equipment, you always find that you need and want more. That’s the producing game. More, more, more, more, more.

June 11, 2006

Sundance Producers Conference

BY CYNDI GREENING, PHOENIX, AZ, USA — We got the news yesterday via email! I thought the announcement was going to be made on the 10th so I was surprised when it was there. The acceptance letter. I've applied for the conference before AND the workshops but was never selected. Of course, I think this project is by far and away the best project I proposed to them. It has the most potential to make a difference in the world of independent cinema. It was surprisingly short and direct.

Cyndi Greening and Jabbes Mvula
BAD TIMING, First Zambian Feature Film

Dear Cyndi and Jabbes,
Congratulations! You have been selected as participants for the Sundance Institute's 21st Annual Independent Producers Conference! The Conference will be held at the Sundance Village in Utah from August 3 – 6, 2006. We look forward to meeting you soon!

I called Jabbes in Michigan today. He'd gone up there to relax a bit. Like me, he was feeling a bit stressed out and exhausted from the process of getting this film together. He was beside himself with joy. Our goal of launching the film industry in his country and making a powerful feature film that achieves international distribution seems so much closer now. We'll be getting support and guidance from distributors and financiers of independent film. It's really great to be part of all this.

June 06, 2006

Still Waters Run Deep

The last few months have greatly transformed my life in many aspects. One aspect that I thought of sharing today is "The other side of Jabbes". Most people that have known me here in the United States have known me to be a "very quiet young man". My family, especially my daughter Judith and nephew Johnphan would laugh their heads off if you told them that am a cool guy.

Whereas I have been a quiet guy, I just realized "Bad Timing" has turned me into a crazy guy inside. Everything that I see, read, hear, or experience, to me is a possible visual that I can use in the movie. Am a first time Writer and Director, and all I think of from the time I wake up to the time I go to sleep, is Bad Timing. Here are some of my crazy thoughts;

1. One day a dear friend in Phoenix came complaining to me about her Brother's behaviour when he drinks. The man is a very cool man, but the moment he takes some intoxication, the daughters are "bitches", the sons are idiots. When he sobers up, he hides from everyone. I consoled her, but I remembered one of my former neighbors in Zambia. This became one of the characters in the movie.

2. I have a dear friend who is an Instructor. When teaching, she can be crazy, she will sing, play, tell silly stories, get back to serious work, and just will do anything to keep the students attentive. I like her character and this is the character of the teacher in the movie.

3. My cool friend Jeniece sent me an attachment of what children think of God. One statement reminded me of some questions kids asked me when I was a Fellowship Leader back in Zambia. This helped to remind me of the behavior of children back home.

4. One of my female friends came complaining to me about the difficulties she has been having with her husband. After I consoled her, she felt so good and as we parted, we hugged. While we hugged, her head rested on my shoulder and she whispered in my ears "You are so nice and understanding". The whisper was so sweet that my heart almost melted away. My mind said "this position can work well in the movie".

5. There was this letter that I had to submit urgently, but I had forgotten to print. I went to my friend's office to print. My friend was seated behind her desk and I stood next to her. She tried to print, but the flash drive could not open, so she pushed back her chair and asked me to open the flash drive on the computer. I bended forward and as I worked on the computer, I looked at her. I suddenly realized that she is pretty and she looked young. She had a killing smile, and my heart started to melt. I felt so happy. I complimented her and as she smiled at me, I thought, "I need this position in the movie".

As I sit down on my desk at home at the end of the day, I realized that every time am thinking about the movie, I shift myself into a quiet mode, and yet my thoughts go so deep to places where they have no business. No wonder most writers are quiet. Samuel Kasankha, Francis Magiya Manda, Cheela Chilala, Henry Sakala, Stu Neta, are some of the writers I know, and are all quiet, unless you find them in the wrong company of Augustine Lungu and Jacob Chirwa. Oh yeah "Still Waters Run Deep".

June 05, 2006

The Clock is Ticking

jabbesSuave.jpgBY CYNDI GREENING, LOS ANGELES, CA, USA - Jabbes and I leave for Lusaka three weeks from today. I feel the pressure of the clock now. We've been breaking down the script, prepping the equipment, trying to anticipate anything and everything we're going to run into over there.

I stopped in Los Angeles over the weekend to visit with another friend who is working on a documentary using the Panasonic P2. His footage was awesome! He's been working diligently on his documentary and he's an amazing one-man crew. He showed us how he loads up his camera with Sennheiser boom and wireless microphones and puts spare digital storage in the pack. He's been in quite a few risky situations but he keeps on shooting.

We're a small crew on the two Zambian films but clearly great footage and diligence can create a great product. I realize that one of the big assets we have is Jabbes. He knows the best actors in Zambia, the best playwrights and crew from Zambian National Broadcaster. We have a number of assets in country that will really support getting great projects done. He's been a producer for 16 years; he's got connections and awareness of how to make this happen when we get there. I'm anxious to get going now.