Off to Istanbul

Sultan Osman II with Janissaries and Guards, from LACMA

Sultan Osman II with Janissaries and Guards, from LACMA

Evliya Çelebi, self-proclaimed world traveler and boon companion to mankind, was a child running around the streets of Istanbul when Osman II was Sultan (1618-22).  In little more than a week, I’ll start following Evliya’s footprints, but at a slower pace.  More images and reports to come of Istanbul and Turkey then and now.

Others have described Evliya as a Turkish Pepys, a Muslim Montaigne or an Ottoman Herodotus.*  While he may combine elements of all these writers, his wide-ranging interests, cosmopolitan wit and dedication to travel puts him in a category of his own.

* those comparisons come from the liner notes of “An Ottoman Traveler,” which translates a treasure trove of Evliya’s stories to English.  It will be one of my constant companions on my own travels in Turkey in the months to come.

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Coming soon: more links to film clips, and news about a new project

Spring forward in 2015

It’s been fun to work with my old friend Rick Goldsmith again (I worked with him on Tell the Truth and Run almost 20 years ago.)  He’s completing his latest film, Mind/Game, about a remarkable woman basketball player, Chamique Holdsclaw.  If you’d like to know more, here’s the website, and if you’re so inclined, please contribute to the film’s Kickstarter campaign.

I look forward to attending the world premiere of Felicia Lowe’s autobiographical Chinese Couplets at CAAMFest.  It’s been a pleasure to work with her on the film and help bring it to completion.

Maureen O'Hara

Maureen O’Hara

After screening every Oscar film to select scenes for And the Oscar Goes To . . .  in 2013, I was able to watch some films in their entirety this past fall.  I worked with Rob Epstein, Michael Ehrenzweig and Bill Weber to make a four minute tribute film for actress Maureen O’Hara, who received an honorary Oscar.  Films I saw and selected excerpts from included The Hunchback of Notre Dame, How Green Was My Valley, Miracle on 34th Street (what’s schmaltz in Gaelic?) and The Parent Trap.  It was great fun, and she’s a great beauty.

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amfAR and Oscars

logo-battle-amfarIt’s been a busy two years, producing a documentary short, “The Battle of amfAR,” and writing and co-producing a feature, “And the Oscar Goes To…

The Battle of amfAR is currently airing on HBO and available on HBOGO. Educational distribution starts in early 2014.

The Oscar film will air on TCM starting in February.  It’s lots of fun, so check it out.

Happy New Year!

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Manifest Destiny

We’ve got an educational distributor for our three part series, Manifest Destiny, which was released to public television stations in July (thanks to Oregon Public Broadcasting). Films Media Group is doing the selling.  Buyers can order the full series or individual episodes.

I have to admit I really liked the American Historical Association review of Part I of the series: “Utilizing some remarkable historic footage and revisionist approach, it’s a work that guarantees you’ll never again see William McKinley as a kind of innocent victim of circumstances.”

Please check with our presenting station, Oregon Public Broadcasting, for future rebroadcasts of Manifest Destiny. Link to the FMG purchasing page here, and here’s a summary of the series:


A documentary mini-series on U.S. Foreign Policy

What does a City on a Hill have to do with Gitmo? How are American exceptionalism and democracy promotion related to foreign wars? Why does the 19th century rallying cry of “Manifest Destiny” still influence American foreign policy today?

These and other questions are addressed in the powerful stories featured in MANIFEST DESTINY, an historical series produced by the documentary unit of JAK Films, a division of Lucasfilm. The series is comprised of three 90 minute episodes.

Part 1, “To Conquer or Redeem,” focuses on the Spanish-American War of 1898 when the United States under President William McKinley and Vice President Theodore Roosevelt set out to free colonial Cuba from the cruelty of imperial Spain and ended up, after a brutal guerilla war, with a colony of its own – the Philippines.

Part 2, “Making the World Safe for Democracy,” considers the consequences – intended and otherwise – of Woodrow Wilson’s call for a world shaped by American style democracy. Tracing the Cold War struggle between the US and the USSR, this episode tells the dramatic story of how America moved from inspiring the young Ho Chi Minh at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 to fighting him nearly half a century later.

Part 3, “Monsters to Destroy,” begins with the tearing down of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War. As the sole superpower, the United States under George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush inserts itself into a series of unpredictable and deadly military actions, from the Gulf War to Somalia, the Balkans, Afghanistan and Iraq, each with compromised objectives and unforeseen consequences – raising questions about US foreign policy goals in the 21st century.

Clear-eyed and probing, Manifest Destiny addresses key foreign policy concerns that affect every American. In-depth, insightful commentary by nationally respected historians and diplomats fill in the dramatic stories each episode tells. Over two decades after the end of the Cold War, one decade after the tragedy of September 11th, now more than ever is the time for national dialogue about the role the United States should play in the increasingly interconnected world of nations.

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The Art of Nonfiction Movie Making

The Art of Nonfiction Film MakingI am excited about the release of The Art of Nonfiction Movie Making, a collaborative work written by Jeffrey Friedman, Rob Epstein, and yours truly.

IDA, the International Documentary Association, gave our book a big thumbs up. Thanks, IDA!

“Great filmmakers don’t necessarily make for great authors or teachers of their craft, but in the case of The Art of Nonfiction Movie Making, Jeffrey Friedman, Robert Epstein and Sharon Wood manage to bring all their expertise as award-winning filmmakers and weave it, seamlessly, into this excellent and practical guide to documentary-making. . . .

In each section the filmmakers use their own work as valuable case studies to either prove their points when things went as planned, or, more often, to illustrate how they managed to deal with adversity, persevere and find success at the end. The book is full of sage advice such as, “A very large part of producing and making films in general is talking people into things–convincing your subjects, your funders and your crew that you are trustworthy and that your project is worthwhile.” If you have difficulty in the art of persuasion, you should perhaps rethink your career, or work with a partner who does possess those skills. . . .

The authors also delve into such subjects as writing for film, storytelling strategies, defining style, developing proposals and budgets. At the end of each chapter there is a comprehensive conclusion and summary, reinforcing the basic concepts that you discovered by reading the case studies, and pithy advice that went before. This book is the best example I’ve seen of truly combining the “Art” side of filmmaking with the more pedestrian “How To” side. While both are important, the authors leave us with the thought that commitment trumps all: “If commitment is there, with perseverance, blind faith, commitment to craft, and direct, honest storytelling, you can make your dream a reality.”

The book has received a nice review from ABC-CLIO:

The past few years have featured such blockbusters as Super-Size Me, Fahrenheit 9/11, Sicko, March of the Penguins, and An Inconvenient Truth. And as news articles proclaim a new era in the history of documentary films, more and more new directors are making their first film a nonfiction one. But in addition to posing all of the usual challenges inherent to more standard filmmaking, documentaries also present unique problems that need to be understood from the outset. Where does the idea come from? How do you raise the money? How much money do you need? What visual style is best suited to the story? What are the legal issues involved? And how can a film reach that all-important milestone and find a willing distributor? Epstein, Friedman, and Wood tackle all of these important questions with examples and anecdotes from their own careers. The result is an informative and entertaining guide for those just starting out, and an enlightening read for anyone interested in a behind-the-scenes look at this newly reinvigorated field of film.

And here’s some praise from James Franco on our Amazon page:

Rob and Jeffrey’s documentaries have been inspirations for me since I first became aware of them as a teenager watching The Celluloid Closet at my neighborhood movie theater. Their work reflects a deep commitment to craft and to authenticity—qualities I experienced first-hand when we worked together on HOWL. This book—a guide-book, a how-to manual, and a filmmaking memoir—is a gift to anyone interested in making nonfiction films.


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