Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Art of Language

Stephen Fry
Originally uploaded by TGKW
There are some things that I absolutely love in the English. One of them is the existence of people like Stephen Fry. People who remain authentic, peculiar and unconventional and still loved by the nation. Fry is one of the leading forces in the British public eye when it comes to cherishing the English language. I highly recommend his autobiography Moab Is My Washpot, which functions as a verbal aerobics class without falling into the common trap of trying to be pretentious. The book is an extraordinary caption of the peculiarities of English public schools.

My admiration for the gentle giant Fry re-emerged yesterday evening when watching Stephen Fry in America, a wonderful BBC series where the actor/writer/presenter travels through 50 American states with a black English taxi. The journey takes him from mansions of East Coast and hippy groups of the deserts to Thanksgiving celebrations in Deep South. The programme is entertaining while respecting the people who take time to show him their daily life.

His approach is something I truly love, not laughing at the common man but really making the effort to understand what drives people. So less Borat-meets-Michael-Moore and more Sir-David-Frost-meets-Oscar-Wilde. He makes fun of phenomena, not of the people and really lives up to his promise: understanding the American soul. He finds new stories of America and with his trip writes a new narrative of the great nation with a Can Do attitude.

My next Fry project will be the podcasts of him reading short stories of, indeed, Oscar Wilde.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Right Move

In two days the van will head back to Finland. The boxes and bags are packed and tomorrow is my farewell party from work. Today I carried two bags of stuff home from the office. This evening when packing the last boxes, I was once again quite surprised by amount and sort of stuff I have collected in the last four years - seriously, 20 sorts of tea...

This video link from the one I am heading to is once again a proof that this is the right move now. Not that I would have doubted it for a second. Even the tough Nordic winter is bearable when you are surrounded by the ones you love and who love you right back. Christmas is a good time to return.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Coolest Damn Video Festival on the Planet

Strangers testing
Originally uploaded by amsterboy
I love my job. I just really really love my job. It is maybe weird to make that statement 5 days before leaving it but this weekend it once again became very apparent: this work is amazing as you get to work with top notch people. This weekend also made concrete all those books about collaborative creativity I have read lately: together we make better ideas.

We started StrangerFestival around two years ago on a couple of PowerPoint slides. Along the way came the visuals, the partner organisations, first videos uploaded on the site, first marketing material, more partners, more videos, an international festival and loads more. It is already a great project which has given loads of people their first time on a plane, their first video-making experience and their first international friendship.

This weekend we had a meeting first with our European partners and continued right away with the first meeting of TheStrangers, a group of young video makers acting as our expert group. Both of these meetings made it clear: this project belongs now to more people. It is not just our project. It is a bloody fab feeling when you start hearing more and more people using the word ´we´.

I am happy I get to continue in the project also next year, although in another role. Having these meetings in the beginning of the year would have made sense but then again TheStrangers group was really possible only after the first entries. It is fantastic that we can now learn from 2008 and make things better in 2009.

The people and issues we work with are amazing. Just a testing session on the website generated already a list of small things that would help make joining easier. You get to see some of them in the coming months. We came up with ideas for great workshops, created new categories, wrote down lists of possible jury members, brainstormed on prizes and even made some videos. TheStrangers showed us in the team and to each other already several videos which we had not seen before but which were winning material. It has now been proved that having young video makers owning the project with the team brings in great content. It is therefore clear now that in 2009 StrangerFestival will be even more special, even more fun and even more meaningful. I cannot wait.

Here are some of their findings:
Beautiful childhood memory from Slovakia
Role of video making in one´s life
How making a video important to you always does not need to be about you

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Building Blocks

Very often in this blog I have made critical remarks on the employer I am about to leave behind, many of those remarks deserved. However, it is essential to also give praise when it is deserved. Today's Princess Margriet Award for cultural diversity was one of these occasions.

I was highly impressed by Stuart Hall, a British thinker I remember reading during my studies. Hall is one of the leading thinkers in the world when it comes to cultural diversity and very much deserved the award handed to him today. His short address to the crowd was very moving on the relationship of many immigrants to their place of origin as a place that does not offer comfort.

The programme stated that his speech would be commented by the Dutch Minister for European Affairs, Frans Timmermans. He very much impressed me with his clarity, his sophistication and his urge to build societies where the majority feels that newcomers do not threaten their belonging. Timmermans quoted well the old notion that if you build a society focusing on the fear of the barbarian, you end up creating a barbarian society without the barbarians. Valuable warning for the European project. It happens too often that ministers use these kinds of occasions for just arrogantly stating the importance of their own presence.

The event also proved that we can create and we need settings where sophisticated art and insightful thinking actually complement each other and where both are needed for making the argument. Thai dancer Pichet Klunchun and French choreographer Jerome Bel's dance performance Pichet Klunchun & Myself on understanding the essense of different traditions of dance and their relationship to their countries of origin was needed to cristallise Hall's speech on the importance of listening.

Moving, straight to the point and warm. Well done, European Cultural Foundation.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Moving Boxes, Moving On

moving boxes
Originally uploaded by movingcompanies
On Saturday it finally started feeling real. I was cycling home from Westerpark with 10 folded cardboard moving boxes. In less than two weeks they all should be filled. My Dad and brother will be arriving in two weekends from now, we pile them all into the van and head back to Travemunde for a 26-hour ferry trip to Helsinki. Home for Christmas.

I am glad that the move takes this form. Schiphol airport for me is a place that means short trips abroad. I know how it functions and it does not link to anything permanent. The car ride and the ferry make it concrete: time to move on, time for a change and most sadly, time to leave.

It is not yet clear what my days will be filled with from January onwards. I have sent papers for a company to the authorities and made some contacts but that is where we are. I have decided to allow myself to take some time to figure out what is the next step, what I want to do and what gives me the kicks. It is also essential to reserve time for the primary reason for packing these boxes: building a joint home and being closer to me family and friends.

With the risk of sounding to obamaesque, change feels good. Four years in one organisation is a long time. Having now the possibility to work for myself and focus on content generates a lot of excitement. After I made this decision to jump and start something new, I have not regretted it for a moment. I feel it is made for the right reason: not for the sake of leaving something but for the sake of wanting something.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Safe in the Hands of Visa

Originally uploaded by DeclanTM
Last Friday my phone rang unexpectedly:

"This is XX from Nordea Bank. I am calling about your Visa card. I wanted to check a payment made yesterday. Did you make a purchase of 700 dollars in a department store in the United States?"

My heart started beating faster:"No..." I had flown from Amsterdam to Helsinki on the previous evening so making payments in the US would qualify me to play Superman in the next film.

"Sir, it seems that someone has gained access to your credit card information. We would recommend that we close the card immediately and we send you a new one. We apologise for the inconvenience."

I must say I was amazed. I have read numerous articles about credit card frauds but never thought it would hit on me. It occurred that two payments had already been done on my card.

But more than that, I was highly impressed by VISA. The friendly woman from Nordea explained to me that they have algorithms that monitor purchase patterns and the system had alerted that this payment was not in line with others. And what made the experience even more pleasant was that the woman from the bank was extremely friendly, assured me several times that I will only pay for the purchases I have made and wanted to make it work quickly that I would receive my new card. As I checked now online, my card has been blocked from Friday on.

These things happen, we don´t live in a risk-free society. But the more important fact here is that this experience makes me an even more committed Visa customer and stops my hesitation on changing into a MasterCard (promoted heavily from all directions). This is the competitive edge of today. Job well done.