Saturday, May 31, 2008

Belgian jumpers & European Tour

Maarten Goedemé -- a former world champion jumper from Belgium -- sent me this clip of his team performing on TV show "Le Plus Grand Cabaret du Monde". Unfortunately, I can't translate what the hosts are saying. You can learn more about this team on their multilingual website.

Recently, Maarten and his team also organized a European double Dutch tour. Jumpers from Belgium, Denmark and 7 different Japanese groups will perform and teach all over France, The Netherlands, and more. And in July, Maarten will return to South Africa -- where he started several clubs a few years ago -- to serve as coach of their national team at the upcoming World Championship in Capetown.

Thursday, May 22, 2008


Smiling jumper George Smoot, who won the Nobel Prize in Physics for
helping to prove that the universe originated with the Big Bang, knows the
importance of unpredictable exploration in both work and play.

I was invited to speak and screen clips from JUMP! at the biennial Art Center Design Conference in Pasadena, California -- a 3-day international gathering of entrepreneurs, thought leaders, and innovators. The 2008 Conference, themed Serious Play, explored the important role of play in business, the arts, science, technology, and more. We were such a synergistic match!

There was an absolutely extraordinary group of speakers (more below)-- utterly inspiring and also intimidating, actually. This was one of the coolest events I have ever attended and it was truly an honor to be a part of this amazing program.

Target sponsored me and 4 jumpers featured in the film -- Kelsy & Lee from the Summerwind Skippers in Idaho and Nick & Jeff from the Houston-based team RazzMaTazz. The jumpers were surprise performers on the opening evening and then entertainers and teachers that night and the following day. They stole the show! I mainly spoke about collaboration and obsession...both that of the jumpers and my own.

The Master of Ceremonies, journalist John Hockenberry, asked what it was about me that was drawn to the main subject of my film, competitive jump rope. It was a personal question, situating my sensibilities at the center of it. I answered the question too quickly, spinning my answer to what I could most easily address in that moment: why jumpers are attracted to the sport and what they are learning thru it. As soon as I walked off stage, I wished that I had given a more revealing response that was linked to the "Serious Play" gist of the conference.

In addition to what I did say, I would have liked to have answered something to the effect of: I was initially drawn to competitive jump rope because I was captivated by the exuberant creativity, athleticism and obsession of the kids – and that they all seemed so unbelievably happy. The motto of the sport is “sharing and caring” and I could see that thru jump rope, they were having fun while learning to truly value fearless determination, collaboration and innovation – qualities that we learn as kids and often struggle to maintain as adults. Watching the kids define their successes by these traits intrigued and inspired me. And frankly, I felt a bit jealous; as a person and as a filmmaker, I want to achieve more of all of this exuberance in my own life. The jumpers quickly became both a muse and a mirror. Making this documentary (my first) has caused me to reconsider what it means to be successful and also to embrace that challenge and risk are their own reward.

In the reddish light of the closing night party, this artist showed me
his sketches of several conference speakers (including me,
far right in the photo on the left, from the waist down) and the jumpers.

I loved what so many of the speakers had to say. Some notables were:

+ Dr. Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute for Play, whose studies found that "normal play behavior was virtually absent throughout the lives of highly violent, anti-social men." He believes that play is important for our survival and said that “The opposite of play is not work, it’s depression.”
+ Aimee Mullins, an intellectual and physical marvel (pictured left) who said "You have to practice your curiosity like it’s a sport."
+ David Macaulay, whose forthcoming illustrated book explains our bodies, from the smallest cell on up, using metaphors like factories and rivers. He clearly communicates massively complex systems.
+ Joshua Klein's talk about the cultural adaption of crows and how they learn from each other. Watch this video!
+ Paula Scher, artist, distinguished serious (good, engaged) from solemn (bad, joyless)
+ Robert Lang, whose profound applications of origami are being applied to pressing contemporary problems of all stripes. Learn more about him here.

Early in the first night's presentations, Hockenberry, said something about the relationship of play to education in Plato's Republic which led me to this quote attributed to the ancient philosopher: "You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation." Humm. We don't learn or practice play enough. I, for one, am going to start.

Educational Screenings in San Francisco & Oakland

middle school students in Oakland, California talk about
what they got out of watching JUMP!

JUMP! was selected to launch the San Francisco International Film Festival's Schools at the Festival. Each year, this landmark educational program, produced with the San Francisco Film Society, brings 4,000 students of all ages and teachers to the movie theater to participate in the Festival experience. In addition, they bring filmmakers into schools to meet and discuss their movies with kids in a more intimate setting. Their overall aim is to develop media literacy, broaden insights into other cultures, enhance foreign language aptitude, develop critical thinking skills and inspire a lifelong appreciation of cinema.

I'm about to get heady here. If your eyes are already glossing over -- and even if you're thoroughly interested in educational outreach -- please watch the video above to see what students in Oakland said that they learned from watching JUMP!.

The SFFS educational programs are designed to meet the Visual and Performing Arts Content Standards for California public schools. They provide key media resources for teaching artistic perception, creative expression, aesthetic valuing, historical and cultural dimensions of the arts, and the means for connecting and applying what is learned through film to other curricula and careers.

With their generous assistance, we will be able to make study guides available to educators who buy the film. Coming from such a prestigious institution, this is a valuable resource for us and it will hopefully reinforce the utility of this film.

JUMP! is certainly a lot of fun and about a sport, but it's also packed with good stuff about the core building blocks of learning; it's appropriate for student screenings (and has been shown for dozens of schools to date) and for use in a classroom setting across all disciplines. Without stooping to the saccharine, JUMP! is about kids developing character. Through competitive jump rope, they learn to think outside the box, set and achieve goals, cope with disappointments, and cooperate with as well as to compete against other people. In the face of tremendous devotion and ambition to win, these athletes have formed an international, collaborative community unimaginable in any other competitive arena. These are meaty, important themes.

How cool is it that they picked JUMP! to kick off this year's program? First, they invited several hundred Bay Area teachers to a free screening of the film in March. Then, at the end of April, just under 300 middle-schoolers got to come to the theater to see the film and a live interactive jump rope performance by Jumping for Joy at the San Francisco International Film Festival. And then, with additional sponsorship by Luna Bar, we visited 3 schools, including an after-school YMCA enrichment program.

Kids were thoroughly engaged with the movie, the post-screening Q&A, and the jump rope demonstration. Several chose to stay about an hour after school to learn more. Teachers were excited to see their kids so curious and empowered. The pictures to the left and right show short essays by 6th graders, written before they got copies of the study guide. Click image to enlarge.

All of this outreach was very successful and gratifying. Thanks to everyone who planned and participated! We hope to be a part of the SFFS year-round program beginning in the fall of 2008. Sign up for our mailing list for updates.

PS: Bay Area educators can contact Coach Cindy Joy if they want to learn how to teach jump rope. She and her team want to help new groups get started. Find out more here.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

JUMP! gets props in Boston

We're psyched that JUMP! won the Marketing Award at the Independent Film Festival of Boston! And we were the first runner-up for the Audience Award for Best Documentary.

With the help of jump rope teams all around the country, we've been volunteering to do an extraordinary amount of educational and community outreach at just about every festival we've attended (20+). Thanks to IFFBoston for seeing the value in our approach and for validating our efforts and abilities. As an indie film sans distribution and working a grassroots campaign, this award is especially meaningful to us. Distributors keep telling us that this film is a huge challenge to market, thus they pass. Though there are understandable obstacles, based on the reactions we have received from audiences around the country, we think that there is broad base that would watch JUMP! if given the opportunity. Viewers are wanting fun, energetic, family-friendly movies like ours, which make viewers feel as good. That's my rant.

Moving on. IFFBoston has only been around for a few years, but it already packs a huge wallop, in large measure to their own ingenious marketing efforts and the tireless efforts of program director Adam Roffman (pictured with me at right), who works his tail off on big budget movies most of the year so that he can take 3-4 months off to plan this fest.

There's a lot to love about the main venue for the IFFB, the Somerville Theater. Here's some of what strikes my fancy: they host town meetings, you can buy a beer there and bring it to your seat!, and they have great old signage.

Boston is also filled with smarty pants people, which might explain the Boston Globe's story headlined "Marquee Geek". You can find the full story here. Excerpt:
"Geek culture is the thing that drives popular culture," said Nancy Campbell, an IFFBoston managing director. "Anyone who's ever been a geek knows at some point the mainstream co-opts it." The festival's film-selection committee comes from that culture, she said. "Being a movie lover, you're relegated to the not-norm. You see seven to 10 films a week and you're [not considered normal]."

This not-normalcy gets expressed as geeky folks obsessed with acquiring specialized knowledge or mastering odd pursuits. There's the doc "JUMP!," directed by Helen Hood Scheer, which explores the world of competitive jump roping…. Lives in these movies revolve around infatuations. The trick, say some filmmakers, is not to pass judgment or make fun of their subjects, no matter how seemingly dorky or trivial their pursuits."
I love it. We got another nice press mention in The Boston Metro newspaper -- they called us one of "the fest’s most intriguing prospects." Nice to be selected along with Werner Herzog!

Other highlights of our short but sweet time in Boston:

+ Seeing "At the Death House Door", directed by the great Steve James and Peter Gilbert (of "Hoop Dreams" fame and more). This moving documentary offers an intimate look at the death penalty in the state of Texas through the eyes of Pastor Carroll Pickett, who served 15 years as the death house chaplain in Huntsville -- before being the former director of the jump rope league my doc follows. Stunning coincidence, no? During Pickett's remarkable career, he presided over 95 executions, including the world’s first lethal injection. After each execution, Pickett recorded an audiotape account of his trip to the death chamber. Pickett's wife was a jump rope coach and they describe driving off after their wedding with beaded ropes tied to the bumper. No doubt jump rope brought much needed joy to their lives after witnessing so much hardship. Incredible story.

+ Seeing Art in Bloom at the Museum of Fine Art. About 100 garden clubs all over Massachusetts were invited to make flower arrangements inspired by paintings & sculptures in the Museum and display them by the works of art. Some were abstract and some had very clear depictions. What a fun way to see the collection. The one at the left is inspiring what I want to make for my pal Anya's wedding bouquet.

+ Delicious Seafood

+ Seeing Prince Paul spin at the closing night party. PP's own song "Showdown at the Hoedown" is featured in the film and is on our soundtrack. He's also a major hip hop producer for the likes of De La Soul's "Three Feet High & Rising" album and tons more.

PS: Thanks to teams that came out to do jump rope demos: Forbes Fliers from Torrington, CT and Brewster Bayside Skippers. Rumor has it that some new teams will start up in Boston thanks in large measure to you guys!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Cleveland -> "someone to watch" award

This entry should have been posted in March, 2008.

A huge, heartfelt thank you THANK YOU to the Cleveland International Film Festival for giving me a "Someone to Watch" award. What an auspicious beginning! I'm honored, proud and humbled to get this recognition. Although I still cannot imagine finishing JUMP! completely or moving on to my next projects, this award definitely renews my desire to continue. Thank you, CIFF, for believing in me.

Now onto a recap of our experience at the fest... which began with them booking 2 extra screenings of JUMP! because advanced tickets were selling so well. This brought us to 5 screenings -- 3 public + 2 Film Slam (a special program for students). We were psyched that there was great word of mouth building already and strong demand for the film -- at this point, we're considering our festival run to be our theatrical release.

Upon arrival, I was greeted with a fleet of nice festival volunteers. All for me?? Not really. Turns out there was a gi-normous blizzard and tons of other filmmakers' flights couldn't get in. The snow was major! I did not go outside for 4 days. The strange part was that I barely noticed. We were having so much fun and staying in one of those mid-western super-malls that is like a contained village -- the hotel, movie theater, jump demo area, restaurant and bars were all there under one roof.

The weather also made it tough for audiences -- though die-hards still came in droves. Tori, her cousin Brooke (who also jumps and is an all-state soccer player), and Tori's mom Rochelle braved the storm, driving in from West Virginia, to do interactive jump rope demonstrations on Saturday. Sunday, they were joined by the Heartbeats of Ohio (based in the greater Cleveland/Akron area), Tori's cute older brother (who's training to be a professional soccer player and also learning jump rope tricks from sis), and loads of her teammates on Jump Company, who chartered a huge tour bus to come in!

Our weekend screenings and interactive jump rope demonstrations before & after each show were such a hit that we were asked to do a 6th screening the following weekend! Yay! I couldn't stick around in Cleveland, but Tori was able come back to do a post-screening Q&A -- which by all accounts she rocked. And then 450+ people gathered to watch our final interactive jump rope demonstration! They were surrounding the jumpers on the mall's ground floor and also crowding each of three floors overhanging above.

LOCALS: if you want to start a new team, join an existing one, or book a jump rope performance, contact the teams linked above and also USA Jump Rope! They will help you. Also -- a couple of people asked us to do special event screenings in Cleveland in the future. Please sign up for our mailing list for updates.

Another cool thing: for our final school screening, Emily and Coach Mod came to see the film and perform with their new jump rope group. It was great to catch up. They all loved the movie and kept saying how accurate it was. As some of you probably remember from the film, Em and Mod were key peeps on the River Valley Skippers, same team as Tori. Before the world competition showed in the film, they decided to dissolve RVS and focus on performing and teaching jump rope instead of competing. Tori then spearheaded the formation of a new team, Jump Company. (Side note: editor Scott and I lovingly and jokingly describe Tori as the CEO of Jump Rope, so we think this team name is perfect!) Mod & Emily's group is called High 5; they're interested in spreading the sport all over the mid-Ohio Valley region (and the world, of course!).

Other Highlights:
+ Nice, nice, nice staff and volunteers
+ Overhearing people say JUMP! was hot.
+ Reconnecting with a former boss and mentor, Morgan Neville, who's film "Cool School" was also playing at CIFF.
+ Seeing a diverse other docs, especially "Up the Yangzte" and "Spine Tingler"

Crowd gathers for our first demo...and grew to 450+ people
by our last demo •
Tori & Brooke get 'em goin' • JUMP! director/producer
Helen with Emily (former World Champion jumper and film subject) & Coach Mod

Monday, May 19, 2008

Texas homecoming @ AFI DALLAS Int'l Film Fest

This entry is long overdue, especially considering that screening at the AFI Dallas International Film Festival was such an important homecoming for us. USA Jump Rope (the league that the film follows) is based in Huntsville, RazzMaTazz (one of the key teams followed in the film) hails from Houston, and Texas is home to more jump rope teams than any other region in the world. All of this combined to give us a real Texas style premiere...meaning hospitable and BIG!

PUMA made it all the more special by sponsoring us. They outfitted almost 20 jumpers in super slick track suits and hosted a jump rope show at the Puma Store in North Park Center. Here is a link to a cool video VIMBY produced at the event...16,000 people watched it the first week they posted it on myspace.

Our first screening kicked off Family Day. They played JUMP! outside on two gigantic screens simultaneously (awesome!) in a fair-like atmosphere with face-painting, games, clowns, etc. The extravaganza took place at Victory Plaza, where the city's biggest sporting and entertainment events take place. A festival producer said that our screening was the second most well-attended ever in this spot...behind "Raiders of the Lost Ark". Someday, maybe a jump rope competition will fill the stadium??

After the screening, jumpers from five different teams in Texas
-- RazzMatazz, High Velocity, ZZ Skipers, Jumpin' Jammers and Palpitations -- put on a big, high-energy show followed by a workshop to teach locals -- both were projected live on the big screens around the plaza. Thanks to all who participated & helped organize. Turns out that this was the first time that Nick's grandma ever saw him jump in person!

Other festival highlights: seeing MC Frontalot perform, watching the wickedly funny doc Nerdcore Rising (request a screening in your area on their website!), a raucous post-screening Q&A for "Battle in Seattle," and seeing the truly spectacular The Polyphonic Spree. Holy cow. I wish I could hold on to -- and share -- that exuberant radiance.

polyphonic spree @ house of blues,
afi dallas international film festival closing night party

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Update about Tori

At the risk of embarrassing Tori, I want to share with you a little update about her....

Last weekend -- after trekking to some of our screenings at the RiverRun International Film Festival in North Carolina -- Tori returned to her home in West Virgina to compete in the state math competition. As a 9th grader participating in the senior high tournament, Tori placed 15th statewide.

Altho she said she was a little disappointed not to have placed higher, we are utterly impressed! Tori is remarkable all around -- from great grades in school to shooting marbles, from creating practical jokes, spoofs and super-creative Halloween costumes to teaching younger jumpers on her team.