Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Closing Ceremonies and other points of departure

I watched the closing ceremonies in bits and pieces in the town of Lijiang, first in a tiny, delicious little Chinese Muslim restaurant where Sarah and I ate delicious mutton stew, eggplant, and greens and sat and watched the young 7 year old waitress and her very old, adorable grandmother the cook both attend, attentively, to the barely perceptible image on their tv screen... Then, as we walked through the twisty, touristy streets of trinket-selling booths of old town, we watched locals watching the ceremonies in virtually every stand that had a tv...
So, ceremonies closed, I have taken to the air, land, and water, to get away and think about this all for a little while in southern Thailand, specifically Ko Ya Kai, an island off of the island of Phuket... a place mostly without internet... for now.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Keeping It Light?: Thoughts On Cheryl's Competition

Many people have emailed me to ask how Cheryl did and how she is feeling about her competition, which is kind of a tricky question to answer, I am finding, especially in the format of this blog. Of course, it is my intention as a filmmaker to answer this question in a thorough and compelling way that goes far beyond the types of answers one would normally provide in simple conversations (ie, "She's disappointed, but doing well; she's determined to come back for London 2012; she's done with the sport and relieved that it's over, etc...)... The great thing about documentary making, is that the answer can be all of those things at once, that a complicated, visceral, moody, poignant sense of things can be developed given enough time, skill, and footage. And so the answer to the question will therefore have to wait (and weight) until the film is complete.

But, in order to do justice to the event here in the blog, I will say this:

I think that for all of us who felt the stakes of Cheryl's competition in Beijing, including and especially Cheryl herself, the results were disappointing. We all know that Cheryl can lift, and has lifted, much more weight than she did on August 16, 2008. We feel frustrated at the injuries she's experienced in the past year and a half, and at at those injuries' evasive demands to move slowly with the training - too slowly to allow Cheryl to hit her maximum potential last week. There is speculation: was it all the walking at the Olympic Village that hurt her? Was it the cold she developed the day before her competition?

It's easy to think about these things and harder to feel about them. How does Cheryl feel? I think that this is something that will take some time for her to sort out. There is always to tendency for most people including Cheryl to smooth over pain and difficulty, to not admit the real challenge of things as they are happening.

My job, as documentarian, is to witness as honestly I can and to not get too involved in trying to insist on keeping it light, though it's temping sometimes, to remind myself and the others who might not know so much about what elite weightlifting means that Cheryl placed 6th - highest of any American lifter male or female, and that in spite of the disappointment there is certainly a huge amount to be proud of too in what Cheryl has accomplished both on and off the platform.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Admiring in Lijiang

I've fallen from the sky into some kind of heaven here in Lijiang. 

Sarah can't believe how lucky I am to be greeted with this day: the first sun in many, many days, and only the second time in 2 months that Sarah has seen the "Snow
 Mountain" in the distance.

Next door to this artists' complex called Lijiang Studios are some Naxi neighbors, one of whom is an adorable old woman known simply as "Grandma." 

When she came over this morning to get some water I believe, Sarah introduced her to me and she immediately responded to Sarah with the clear observation stated in Naxi language (or was it Chinese?) but still totally comprehensible to me: "Her butt is bigger than yours." To which I agreed heartily.

Shortly thereafter, Grandma came back with breakfast - a stack of flatbread, and talked to us, pointing to my butt. I imagined that she said something like, "your butt is hungry, and very large. Please eat some breakfast." And she seemed very pleased when I did a little butt-shaking dance to indulge her. We understand each other, Grandma and I.

The Force of Deliciousness

I am recognizing a certain inevitability here: It seems that blogs written by me would evenually land at the topic of food. Here are a few pictures of things we ate in Beijing.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

A Sense of Scale

photos courtesy of Beth Haworth, Cheryl's littler big sister.

Breakfast at 7-11

Walking into 7-11 the first time on our arrival day, purely for the purposes of buying some water: a huge wake up call to our days in Beijing.

I should, and maybe I will, post pictures of the delights within the aisles and refrigerated cases within. And then, the two counters of various bundles of noodles, dumplings, tofu in about 12 different formations. Each one costs about 1 yuan (15 cents) and whichever collection you chose comes swimming in little container of delicious broth...

Game Face

August 16th: at the lunch table, Anne and I are overcome with pre-competition anxiety. Or at least I am. Do you know how it feels to be full of delicious dumplings and nervous at the same time? I recount to Anne and Fairy my experience of tapping in to "the Zone" to find my inner determination and calm at the recent Creative Capital Retreat, and we decide to do it here and now: go into the Zone for Cheryl's competition.

And so we did. These images are from early in our training cycle. You can see that Anne is cultivating her inner fire, whereas I'm about the Zen (or is it Yin) approach to the game.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

DROPPING THE BARBELL and other weightless victories: allowed to bring camera into the venue!, scored interview with korean world champion!, filmed magical tea ceremony and tons of other rich beautiful stuff with the hero of my film and her family; for those who are wondering- Cheryl placed 6th, still and again the highest ranking of any team usa lifter.. Tomorrow the great wall...

Friday, August 15, 2008

Does a picture weigh more than a thousand words?

The girl at the internet bar has informed me, via a conversation with no words understood by either of us, that I cannot plug in my USB card reader to share some photos with you, so I will have to opt for descriptions...
(but first, the internet bar: worth describing in its own right: pardon this digression: a dark, smoky set of about 5 rooms filled with about 200 computers total. Young teen and early 20's kids sit at more than half of them, wearing headphones, smoking. They seem to be watching tv online, chat via webcams, and other secret operations. Technoculture indeed.

Two pictures - which might be augmented by uploaded images in the future:

1. Interview with umbrella
After a series of sign ins, clearances, and disorienting van-rides through the treelined alleyways of America's own training center in Beijing (in which my DP Anne happened to accidentally send a giant switchback knife through the x-ray machine. Oops.), we arrive to a spot where we are allowed to meet up with and film Cheryl two days before her competition. The weather is sticky and hot, but we are not cleared to film indoors, so we position Cheryl's chair directly outside the open double doors where refeshing American Coldness (A/C) rushes outside plentifully. (Spreading the green lifestyle over here...)

After our usual painstaking setup, this time with the additions of - I'm not kidding - Kobe Bryant and his team walking by and saluting Ms. Haworth, as well as an appearance by a famous soccer player (Julie Foudy) and an even more famous football star (sorry I don't know his name, but perhaps one of my avid readers can supply this info?), we begin the interview.
And, just as Cheryl is telling us that she's doing well and moving into the Zone in preparation for her moment on Saturday, it begins raining.

The picture, taken by our FANTASTIC young helper/ interpretter/ guide whose name is, I'm not kidding, "Fairy," depicts us conducting the interview anyway. (this is, of course, well before the incredible deluge that happened shortly after we finished our interview.

Interjection before the next pictures:
Cabs here are:
a. amazingly cheap (30 minute ride costs about $3)
b. very interestingly scented: every single one is very distinctive and mostly good, but intensely fragrant. I should do a post about the smells of the cabs I've been in.
c. driven by a wide range of people: from the kindest you can imagine to one who was verging on insanity because I put a raindrenched bag down on his seat. Avoid that cabbie.

2. The spectacular spectators
We are filming location shots in the midst of the busy street and it turns out that we are very interesting to the onlookers we're looking at, which is a situation that raises many issues of privacy all at once. The image depicts Anne at work and at least a few men standing around her, craning their necks to get a look in the monitor. It's a bit too close for comfort at times, but then perhaps so is our presence...

Upcoming pictures: What I am learning about Chinese business people, turning myself into the authorities, the Birdsnest in person and the athletic performance of tourism and why world domination could come to pass.

Tomorrow is August 16th: why I'm here. And Cheryl competes at 7 pm!! People around the world: ROOT!!!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Hitting the Ground

not exactly running... time is passing quite slowly since Anne and I got off the plane and entered into a world of being passed off among a total of 4 different translator/ assistant people from the company that's renting us our apartment.
Amidst it all - an adventure at a gigantic seafood restaurant where turtles, eels, and other things swam live awaiting the kill alongside baskets of fresh veggies and dumplings, also offering themselves up for the slaughter at reasonable rates.
We chose some tofu that ended up to be amazing and both fluffy and custardlike at the same time but crispy on the outside and bok choi (which is not referred to as such in chinese, fyi) and a huge plate of these amazing dumplings.
first things first: of course my first post must detail the food experience.
Oh, one more thing: as we were eating our table was attended by about 3 people, one of whom kept making subtle rearrangements in the location of our various serving dishes on the table... Not sure exactly whether she was going for symettry or something else... but it added to the sense of being somewhere new...
now in a crazy smokey internet cafe (nice addition to the campfire smell of the air here...) waiting for firefox to download so that I can read my mobile me mail. Mobile me unless you're in China or somewhere that still uses internet explorer... oy.
signing off - one world one dream!

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Strong! and the Cyclorama: a bit of background

(working title)
is my documentary-in-progress about weightlifter Cheryl Haworth and the past four years of her life. The film looks at a lot of themes: life as an athlete, as a weightlifter, and as a big, strong woman. These are a few images from my shoot with Cheryl and Director of Photography Anne Etheridge in Colorado Springs this March.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

7 Days Before Beijing

Gravity is pulling me around the world.

A particular form of gravity, that is...

Not the usual force that holds things like refrigerators, and sofas, and people and dogs in their usual grounded position,

The force that's making me leave town next week is the gravity of a story of an unusual (and awesome) athlete who will soon step onto the international platform.

I'm going to Beijing to follow the life of USA superheavyweight weightlifter Cheryl Haworth: one of history's masters in the practice of outwitting gravity.

This blog will record my experience of traveling, documenting, and engaging with forces, places, (and sometimes people) larger than myself...

I leave on August 12 - arriving Beijing on the 13th.