Monday, December 27, 2010


It;s such a simple question. But such a difficult answer to give.

Why do you do what you do?

It's not just about knowing what you, it's also knowing about your reasons.

I tried to use it in conversations with total strangers. I asked them why they're doing what they do. Most of the times, the answer is 'because it's my job', of 'just because'. But that's not the point. One can be apart from the other. Mostly, the answer has to do with income, a job. But that can be something different from what it really is that you're doing, and why you're doing that.
You can clean toilets every day, but still just be focussed on giving people some comfort, no matter how. Or you can be an important lawyer but actually, you just want to have fun. Everything is possible.
Just asking this question can get you some terrific answers. And even better conversations.

Online, there are innumarable photo's, collages and cards on which people try to answer this question as honest as possible. I recently heard about it when my friend J edited the video you can find below. At Burning Man, the same artist was asking the same question. It took me days to come up with a good answer. And I'm not sure if I would answer the same thing if you'd ask me know.

I can only ask you: why do YOU do what you do?

Js stop-motion video:

Find more videos like this on wdydwyd?

Saturday, December 25, 2010


Aren't we all looking for safety and security? Isn't that why we get married, become parents and cycle to the same desk every day for years to do our job? Isn't that why we always go on holiday to the same French village, where the backery at the corner has fresh croissants on Sundays? Why would you go into unknown areas on adventures that have unsure endings, without knowing if it will be fun? Why would you put yourself in scary situations?

Because you never know hoe it will enrich your life.
Because you can amaze yourself.
Because afterwards, you can often conclude that those were the moments you remember.

For me, it was leaving Limburg years ago to study in Amsterdam, years ago and fall in love with a city for the first time. It was pacing my backpack and traveling to the other side of the world, to find out I could have fun and make new friends everywhere. It's traveling to other continents and realizing that all those prejudices are only prejudices. It's putting my blog on Facebook and finding out that people actually read it. It's saying 'yes' to weird proposals and ending up in surprising situations. It's doing a stand-up comedy course and tell jokes to an audience for eight minutes.

Not everything has to be successful though. Sometimes, the situations that follow from weird proposals are just weird or boring and joking for eight minutes doesn't mean you will become a famous comedian. Not everything I write is great. But that's not the point. The point is that if something scares you, you shouldn't walk away from it. you should walk up to it instead. Towards new adventures, new discoveries.

So, what scares you? When are you going to walk, and which way?

Monday, December 20, 2010


I just want to talk again about one of the best things of November: the IDFA. One of my favorite programs is the DocLab, the new media program. On one hand, DocLab shows the new technologies in the world of digital storytelling (like mobile phones, cameras that capture 360 degrees etc) and on the other hand, DocLab brings to bring digital media to the big screen.

I'm frightened by the amount of inspiring projects that can be found online. Even by knowing just a small amount of everything that is offered, I'm overwhelmed. This year, just like last year, DocLab showed several special websites that are worth visiting.

For instance, Zach Wise, who works on the multi media department of the NYT, talked about his bookmarks. Like Everynone, where you can find beautiful films, The Archive, a film about dedication and music and a little film about stoopsitting, a typical American habit that I would love to introduce in Amsterdam. Or the film about the The Lost Tribes of New York. Things that make a person happy.

One of the most beautiful projects in my opinion, is Highrise, Out of my Window. A project that shows different high rise buildings on the inside and outside, in different cities in the world. It has beautiful collages of the surroundings, where you can scroll through and click on films and stories.

Telling stories can be done in a thousand different ways, as is shown by DocLab. Why would one restrict themselves to just words or images? All stories ask for their own form, it's up to the stoy tellers to find the right form and use it as good as possible to give the story its true value. That's why it was, in my opinion, so inspiring to be treated to a real story telling evening, on one of the DocLab nights.

I must shamefully confess that I never heard of it before, but I immediately fell in love with the concept: brought to Amsterdam from - of course - the US, once a month in comedy club Toomler, and for one time in Tuschinski: Echt Gebeurde Verhalen told stories. Real stories. Of all the stories and all the different possibilities to tell them, that DocLab offers, this is the most honest and simple one: one person, one microphone, one light. And then, just tell the story.

The Lost Tribes of New York City from Carolyn London on Vimeo.

Sunday, December 19, 2010


Tuesday night, six thirty in the queue at the register:

- Are you planning to put all those oranges on the counter, miss?
- Yes, actually I was.
- But miss, you cannot do that! You have to put them in a plastic bag!
- Well sir, I'm actually trying to use as less plastic as possible.
- But that will bother other people, if you refuse to use plastic bags.
- I think it will work out fine and it won't bother other people that much. We'll see when I put them on the counter, I guess.
- To be honest, I don't get why you don't want to use a plastic bag. This won't work!
- Well, sir, I have my reasons.
- But it won't work! This will cost too much time!
- Sir, if it bothers you that much, I'm happy to let you go first. So you don't have to be afraid of waiting longer than needed.
- Well, yes, please. But I understand you refuse to discuss this with me?
- Sir, I'm tired and indeed, not really up for this discussion.
- So you're tired and now other people will be bothered by that as well.
- As far as I can see sir, you're the only one who is really bothered by it.
- So if I understand well, you're about to put all those oranges on the counter without putting them in a bag, and you don't want to discuss that with me.
- I think you nailed it there sir.

Short siilence
- I don't understand why you don't want to discuss this.
- Sir, I would never even think of talking to people the way you do. I think you're extremely negative and I don't want to behave in the same way. If I could be bothered, I would have enough arguments for an interesting discussion, but unfortunately, I'm just to tired today.

The girl at the counter weighs the oranges without any problem and takes another item to check out.

- Thank you miss for that. And you sir, have a good night. And good luck with packing your groceries.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

IDFA: Music

Every year, it's the same story. Or song in this case.
There are shocking, moving, unbelievable and inspiring documentaries, but the best are still the music documentaries. I remember To Tulsa and Back, a road movie about J.J. Cale in 2005, The Power of Song about folk singer Peete Seeger in 2007, The Audition of last year about young singers that participate in an opera contest and of course, I'm your Man, the film about Leonard Cohen that literary changed my life.

This year too, IDFA presented some music surprises that made me forget about all the bad things in this world.
Staring with Kinshasa Symphony, a film about an amateur orchestra in Congos capital city, a country that is torn by wars and crimes. This film doesn't show all of that. This film shows how music brings people together. The Orchestre Symphonique Kimbanguiste started fifteen years ago and now exists of two hundred musicians and singers. We meet a few of them, who talk about their instrument, about rehearsing seperatly (by listening to a cd) and about the role of classical music in an African society. The film ends with a performance of the Ninth Symphony of Beethoven, and when the singers sing, in German, All people will be brothers, you realise that it's the post colonial mind of the Europeans that is surprised by the combination of people, location and music. The performers are performing their music. That's it.

Music brings people together, as Socalled in The Socalled Movie also proofs. Socalled is a Canadian artist whose versatility can only be showed in eighteen short films. This musician invented klezmerhop and klezmerfunk, the magician shows several tricks that he learned by endless rehearsals, and the film maker takes over a part of the documentary himself.
Socalled made me happy. He's someone who seems to be afraid of nothing and who can bring people together who otherwise never would have met. A lot of inspiration!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

IDFA: Facts

Some documentaries carry out a clear message, a one-liner that often is part of its title, of subtitle. Other documentaries need a whole film to explain their point. Those are documentaries that try to explain an event, a theory or a phenomenon. Films that need to use statistics and graphics to prove what they're saying. I've seen several this year, that made me happy I was carrying my notebook so I could write down all the numbers to remember later.

Inside Job talks about the financial crisis, and mainly the road towards it. It's about how in the Eighties under the Reagan government and its policy to deregulate, American banks could start making a profit. It's about the greed that followed and how that greed caused the terrible situation of this era. Banks could turn loans into CDOs (Collateral Debt Obligations) that were sold to other investers, who got rating agencies to give these loans a tripple A status. AIG traded in Credit Default Swaps, insurance that would give the banks back their money, if a CDO would lose it's value. But, even if you didn't have a CDO yourself, you could buy the CDS of AIG, and earn money if others would lose money. More shocking is that not only the FBI but also the Federal Reserve knew all of this and deliberately helped keeping in keeping this policy. In the end, we saw on television the suited men who were attacked on the streets, but who, in the meantime, earned billions of dollars and got away with bonusses. Many of them now work at their new well payed jobs at Harvard, Columbia, or for the Obama administration, where they included a special clausule that says that they can perform other jobs - like consultancy - without losing their salary.

In American Coup, the story is told about the coup that America comitted in Iran in 1953. The democratic elected president Mossadeq decided that the British Oil Company, who owned all the Iranian oil wasn't the actual owner of the oil and that they aquired these right under the wrong, colonial, circumstances and therefor they were illegal. England accused Iran of breeching the contract and first stopped all ships that tried to collect Iranian oil. Eventually they asked the help of president Eisenhower, who send Kermit Roosenveld (grand son of the former president) to Iran. His job was to create chaos, by bribing several people, by pushing different groups to fight eachother and to seduce the press to discribe Mossadeq as a communist. After receiving five million dollar of the CIA, the shah returned to Iran and gave the British and their company BP back their rights to use the Iranian oil. One of the interviewees wonders at the end of the film how Iran and the whole region would have looked like, if Iran would have been a democratic country all that time.

Freakonomics is based on the famous book, and shows in simular ways in a quick and funny way how:
a) your name has no influence on your future. You background, upbringing, the neighbourhood you lived in, they do. And those, or at least you parents ones, influence the name you get.
b) you can find patterns everywhere, and economists can retrace everything, based on them.
c) the reduction of crime rates in NY aren't connected to the strict policy of Giuliani, but primarily with a new abortion law that was installed fifteen years earlier, that reduced the rate of unwanted childbirth in the poorer areas.
d) how everyone reacts on incentives that encourage a certain behaviour.
In other words: bring a notebook. So if you end up in a discussion later, you can use all the new knowledge you just gained (if your memory fails as mine does).

Sunday, December 5, 2010

IDFA: Afghanistan

in the end, everything is connected. It seems that way anyway, when you watch hours and hours of documentaries about so many different subjects. In the end, you keep hearing the same names, you see paterns that were never seen before and you realise that the world is smaller than it seems. There are small connections, farfetched connections and obvious connections.

In this case, it's the last one: Afghanistan. Two films, one land. The land I want to visit since I first flew over it in 2002. The land that, after seeing several documentaries about it and reading those two famous books, only seems more appealing to visit. The problem is, it's not a lot of fun. At least for a lot of people.

In The Dancing Boys of Afghanistan, an old but illegal tradition is shown. Little boys of the age of ten are, with or without the permission of their parents, are being taken by... how should I call them? Criminals, wealthy mafia, dirty old men? The boys are being trained to become dancers, are dressed up like women and have to dance for the older men. They get an 'education' and 'food and lodging', but they cannot leave. They are not allowed to go on the street without their owners - because that is what they are - and they cannot talk to the interviewer seperately in a room. They are being told what to answer to the questions they're being asked. It's scary and alarming. Beautiful boys, who have to serve people not only with their profession, but also in other ways. "Some ask for sex themselves,' says an army leader, who got rid of his own boy when he got married.

At first, you're happy that both Jabar and Zahir are not in that situation. At least, for the first minute of Addicted in Afghanistan, because afterwards you witness their heroin use for more than an hour. They lie in their houses, sit in the streets, order their sisters. But they are mostly high. With sunken eyes, they sit next to eachother. Their knees pulled up to their ears, their thin arms around their legs. They repeatedly try to get clean, but they fail every time. Their friendship brings them down. Every time, one seduces the other to take another shot. Professionally, they heat the almuinium, breath in the smoke and fall asleep.

The IDFA shows you the faces behind the small articles in the news papers, the ones you barely notice and forget about before you've turned the page. But they are there: Zahir, Jabar and all those boys that right now, while I'm writing this, are dancing like a girl in front of old men, not knowing what this night might bring for them.

The dancing boys of Afghanistan

Addicted in Afghanistan

Friday, December 3, 2010


Imagine, you're a British explorer. You are one of the sixty-eight British explorers that can be found on Wikipedia. King George IV gave you a ship to sail the seas of the world. On that ship, together with a crew of a hundred men, you sail away on the Thames. Even before reaching the Northsea to sail down the coast of France, you enter a big storm. You realise that this trip won't be easy.

For days, you and your crew sail southwards. When you've reached the southern part of Spain, you can see Morocco from afar, and you turn to the East. You know this area, you've been here before. This time, you go on, to the Nile delta. There, you go ashore and you work on the preparations of an expedition for weeks. You hire carriers, mules and materials and finally you can leave. In the unbearable heat, that seizes you every day and makes you wonder if you're even going to see the Big Ben again, you travel to the desert.
The stories about geometrical buildings already reached England a few years before, but it took some years before the king finally raised all the money from the conquerred areas in France in order to pay for this expedition. You know what you should be looking for, but when the triangles appear in a far distance, you finally understand what people were talking about. the closer you get, the bigger they become, and the smaller you feel. These are real miracles!
When you reach your destination, you put up your camp on the base of on one of the piramids. The strange scientist, who was also on a mission for the king, and who hadn't said anything during the trip, started his work. He orders some of the men to force one of the doors and enters the magical building. You are scared that he won't come back, but after several hours, he returns with the men. They carry strange attributes and keep going back into the black hole to bring out more stuff. You wait for weeks and let the scientist do his job. Then, you break up the camp and start with the long journey back to the ship. The men carry all the stuff that the collected from the piramids on your ship. Not only vases and spoons, but also dead animals and tombs are brought on board. You put everything in the hold below the deck. You don't think about it, you just want to return home, to see your wife.
You sail back as fast as you can, to get rid of this strange freight. At night, you dream of the looks of the egyptians who stood besides the road where you and your men passed through their villages. Sometimes they were frightened, sometimes aggressive. You didn't understand the things they said, but you know what they meant.
Back in London, you offer the king the treasure you found. You shake the hand of the scientist and hurry back home where you kiss your wife.

It was this scenario I had to think about, when I saw all those treasures in the Brittish Museum. While the public slowly passed the showcases, and whispered jokes about the teeth of the mummy, I stood there for ten minutes, wondering how it was possible that I was looking at a dead person, who ate a loaf of bread about three thousand years ago. A person that died and, in hope of an after life, had its body embalmed. Now he was lying there: in a showcase of glass, in a huge museum in a rainy land in Northern Europe. I don't think this was the idea of incarnation that they were thinking about: the after life of the twenty first century.