Monday, August 10, 2015

Giving HOPE to the homeless in Salt Lake with The Legacy Initiative


Sorry for the long delay! I will be bringing this blog back from the dead. Normally, this is a place where I post things I find that are fun, geeky, interesting (at least to me) and film/tv reviews. However, today I want to post something a lot more serious and very important to me. I want to share with you an experience that I had while serving the homeless in SLC, Utah over the weekend. After this, we'll get back to the geekery, but I ask you to please read and share if it moves you to do so. Thanks!

I have been serving the homeless in Salt Lake City with The Legacy Initiative since November of 2014. The Legacy Initiative of Utah’s mission is to fight hunger, provide humanitarian aid, and educate people through community partnerships—not just for today, but for our future. Our job is to serve others, offer friendship to those who need it most, and inspire others to do the same. We want to give hope to those whose situation seems bleak.

Once a month, we gather together at a commercial kitchen and make 900-1,200 bean-and-cheese burritos, fill up multiple containers of ice water, create hygiene packs, and organize the outreach for the day.

In addition to the burrito outreach, I have been joining Legacy Initiative members at St. Vincent’s Kitchen every Thursday afternoon for their lunch service. The lunch service lasts one hour, and we often serve 400-500 individuals, including veterans, single adults, and children. We buy 300-400 bottles of water, 300+ packages of crackers/granola bars, razors, and basic hygiene items and give them to the homeless as they leave after the lunch.

We also try to talk to individuals about the HOST (HomelessOutreach Service Team) Program that takes place across the street at the Police Resource Center at 1:00 pm. At the HOST Program, service providers can help the attendees find jobs and share information about low-income housing opportunities, and the Legacy Initiative will help them get clothing that fits properly and basic living essentials for those moving into housing. 

The homeless in Salt Lake City have a deep mistrust of the police and are wary of the HOST program. Some believe it’s a setup for a sting operation and don’t want to even go near the building. The former Deputy Chief and his officers would tell attendees to HOST meetings that unless they had a murder warrant or were a danger to themselves or others, the police were not immediately concerned about their past records. Their mission was to help the individuals get off the street permanently, and sending them to jail for minor offenses was a waste of time and resources. The officers would ask the attendees about issues on the streets, what was working, and what could be done better. The results were trust, respect, hope, and dignity.

The Legacy Initiative members have spent the last six months trying to help build bridges between the homeless and the police, and I have personally seen 5 or 6 individuals go from homeless desperation to working full-time jobs and living in their own apartment. Unfortunately, all that hard work and effort may be coming to an abrupt and disappointing ending.

Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker has largely ignored the homeless issue and, to a larger degree, the drug dealing in the downtown area. In his seven years in office, the problem has gotten worse and worse, and his political rivals have been hitting him hard on this issue. With the November election on the horizon, the mayor has begun addressing the issue, but he seems intent on using a sledgehammer instead of a targeted laser. The Deputy Chief from HOST was reassigned to another department, and the word from officers and multiple sources I won’t reveal, say that it was because the mayor doesn’t want police to be involved in any kind of social outreach. His officers were helping the homeless learn about job opportunities, occasionally taking groups of 3-4 to job sites or interviews, and hosted a bi-weekly all you can eat breakfast for those that attend HOST meetings along with an additional homeless person. These actions were restoring hope, dignity, and self worth to the homeless, and the results were clear to see, but the city has decided that now the HOST officers will now be riding bicycles on the street, and the city is hiring eight social workers to advise and help the homeless. There will be more officers on the streets in the Rio Grande and Pioneer Park area who will be working hard to arrest the drug dealers and users.

This all sounds great on the surface, but success will be determined in the execution. The new Deputy Chief is a self-proclaimed “hard a**” and that seems to be the theme his officers are going to take while patrolling the streets.

On our monthly outreaches, we stress to our volunteers that we are there to offer food in a dignified and loving way. As we walk our assigned routes, we simply ask the people we meet if they are hungry, need a hygiene kit, or water. We also collect garbage from the street. We also ask that the homeless throw away the tin foil from the burrito and any fruit cores or skins.

I always meet with the HOST officers the few days before the outreach and let them know that we will have over 100 volunteers on the streets, but we will be organized, friendly, and will move rapidly through the area so as to not cause problems. The HOST officers have approved of our efforts and have actually spread the word to the regular officers about what we are doing. I have been doing these outreaches since November, and I have never seen or experienced a problem with the homeless or the police until last month.

My team was moving north along Rio Grande, and we were nearing the corner near St. Vincent’s and the Road Home. This corner is notorious for drug deals and drug use, and we moved off the sidewalk and onto the street to still serve, but not walk through the middle of this group. A police officer came running over and began yelling at myself and my team. He told us that we were not welcome in the area, that we were doing more harm than good, that we should take our “s***” over to the Road Home and donate it there, and to get the “f*** off his streets.” He yelled that our tin foil would be used for drug use, that we were loitering, and he threatened to arrest us.

I quickly instructed my team to move to the west side of the street to remove us from the situation. The officer yelled that I was “F***ing jaywalking” and he was considering arresting me. I replied that I was just trying to move my team away to de-escalate the situation, and he responded that if I argued with him I could be tasered and arrested. He then saw a homeless woman crossing the street and yelled, “Didn’t you hear what the f*** I told them?! Move your a** to the f***ing crosswalk or I’ll throw your a** in jail!” 

Once we turned the corner, I apologized to my squad and thanked them for remaining calm during the encounter. Homeless individuals told us that they appreciated our help and food and hoped that the police interaction wouldn’t keep us from our outreaches. They told us that the police had been particularly aggressive the past few weeks, and they were worried that it was going to become the normal operating procedure.

This past Saturday, I once again led a team down the center of Rio Grande, and we were once again stopped by the police at the corner by the Road Home. Three officers walked over and asked who was in charge. I replied that I was the squad leader and asked if there was a problem. An officer told me I was breaking several laws and that I was in trouble.

I asked him what laws specifically I was in violation of. He replied that our tin foil that the burritos were wrapped in would be used by the homeless to “chase the dragon” after we left. I asked if tin foil was illegal, and he replied that no it wasn’t. I stated that multiple items could be used as drug paraphernalia, including soda cans that were easy to obtain.  He then said that two months ago, sixty homeless individuals developed food poisoning after one of our outreaches. I replied that the food poisoning actually occurred at St. Vincent’s and it had happened two weeks after our outreach that month. I told the officer that we have a food handler’s permit, the food was made in a commercial kitchen, and that all food safety measures had been taken. He then said that we were loitering and clogging up the sidewalk. I replied that my team had been moving rapidly down the street, and it wasn’t until he stopped us that anything was backed up.

As the officer continued to question me, members of the homeless community walked over to see what was happening, and my team continued to quietly and politely pass out food to those in need. One mother had a small baby, and one of my team members gave her socks for the child and helped her put them on his feet. The mother began to quietly cry and thanked her for her compassion and the socks.

The officer loudly told me that “these people” have enough and didn’t need our food, hygiene kits, or socks. When he told me they had plenty of food, one of the homeless yelled “bullsh*t” and several nodded in agreement. I told the officer that the majority of the homeless eat the burritos immediately, and some even ask for more because they are so hungry, so there is definitely a need. He told me that we were adding to the garbage on the streets, and I pointed out that we had already had two bags half full of garbage we had collected that wasn’t even from our food. He did thank us and say he appreciated that. But, then he then said that I should instruct my team to continue down the street, open the sidewalk, and he would continue to talk to me. I told him that I was their squad leader, that they were volunteers, and I would not abandon them. I then got on my two-way radio and called for the president of The Legacy Initiative to meet me on the corner to help with the situation.

The great thing was, we had a professional camera crew with us from California that were documenting our efforts as part of a new web series about homelessness across the country. The officer was obviously upset that he was on camera, but continued to tell us that we were a nuisance. He said that we may see the homeless as “people down on their luck”, but he sees them as “criminals, vandals, and drug users.” The three officers detained my team for almost twenty minutes, and we were finally allowed to move on once the president of Legacy arrived.

As we began to move, we saw a mother with a small boy. They had both eaten a burrito and enjoyed an apple. The mother told her son to thank us for the food, and he did so with a huge smile and a wave.

For the second month in a row, I had to apologize to my squad for the experience. I told them they had handled themselves with grace, professionalism, and dignity while I was detained. I thanked them for keeping calm and keeping each other safe.

As my team continued our route, I saw four individuals shooting up with needles as well as several drug deals. I rapidly moved my team past those groups and didn’t allow them to stop and offer food.

I learned later that two additional officers joined the conversation with the president of Legacy (for a total of five officers) and detained him for an additional 30-35 minutes. The police ended up harassing our volunteers for almost an hour for offering food and hygiene to those in need, while wasting the opportunity to actually stop those drug deals and other actual crimes in the area. At the end of his route, the President of Legacy saw a man with severe sores on his feet, and Travis stopped to help medicate and bandage this man's wounds. That's the kind of people we have on our team, and why I am so proud to call them family.

After we returned to our staging area, another team told me how an officer accused a young man of stealing a bicycle he was riding. Several homeless told me how they had been stopped, searched, and had their information run through the computers to check for warrants without any probable cause. The police are definitely cracking down, and the result is they are simply spreading the homeless out across the Salt Lake City area. We are seeing them more on Main Street, Fourth South, and the surrounding areas. We aren’t dealing with the causes and the core issues, but rather spreading out the issue over a wider area to make it appear smaller.

In spite of my recent encounters with these officers, I have the utmost respect for the police. I believe they have an incredibly difficult and stressful job. I understand the difficulty in policing the homeless, especially since a lot of them have mental issues that the police aren’t necessarily equipped to handle. On the other hand, I also believe that the police swore an oath to protect and SERVE the community. They shouldn’t view the homeless as criminals and threats, instead of humans that are vulnerable and need hope, compassion, and deserve to be treated with dignity. The homeless are becoming even more worried about the police and the delicate trust is being undone.

Recently, police officers confiscated shopping carts and took them back to the local grocery stores they belong to. This is another example of something sounding good on paper, but the reality of the story wasn’t reported in the media. The officers confiscated the materials from the carts and put everything in a large pile. The homeless were told that if they wanted the materials back, they could climb through the pile and get them. Already embarrassed and scared, no one took the offer, and many decided to just try to replace their items. Who would want to climb through a pile of everyone else’s materials, under the eye of the police, and even if they claimed them, they had no place to put them.

The city has taken an empty building in the Rio Grande area and will allow the homeless to store their items there for free. It’s a great idea, but again the city is falling short in execution and foresight. The homeless are only allowed access to their items for a few hours during the day, and their items are stored in large garbage cans. Nothing helps restore hope and dignity like climbing into a garbage can to get a change of clothes or leave a backpack.

Our city is in a state of flux, and we are struggling with a very large issue of homelessness. There is no easy answer since this is such a multifaceted problem, but I fear we are going to make the situation worse, because those in charge of local government are more interested in scoring political points than helping those in need. We have officers that see criminals instead of people in need, a media that turns a blind eye to the situation, and a local community that is largely apathetic. The Mayor cites record low levels of “chronic homelessness” and while the numbers are true, you have to look at how these numbers are created. To be “chronically homeless” a person must have a disabling condition and has been homeless for at least one year continually or four times in three years. If you don’t fit in this category, they don’t count you. So, they can say we have less than 200 “chronically homeless” and have no “chronically homeless” veterans, but the reality is the homeless population is actually growing in SLC, and all you have to do is come to St. Vincent’s to give food, drive behind Rio Grande and see the camps, walk up Main Street and see people panhandling, drive up 400 south or by the library, and you’ll see what I mean.

So, I will continue to feed the homeless, to distribute water, to give encouragement, respect, and hope to those who need it most. I will meet with them at St. Vincent’s and learn about their needs, listen to their stories, encourage them to attend HOST meetings to learn about the success that others have achieved and how they too can escape the streets. I will stand with my Legacy family and tell the stories for those that can’t. I will do my best with what I have for as long as I’m able. That’s all I can do, but if I can change one life, it will all be worth it.

Our team met InglewoodFilms Allen who was out filming on his own and he joined us for a short while and created this video. Please view and share.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Fault in Our Stars: Christopher Nolan’s ‘Interstellar’ reaches for the stars but never achieves orbit.

"We are explorers, not caretakers. We used to look up at the sky and wonder about our place in the stars. Now we just look down at our place in the dirt." - Cooper

This is a beautiful idea that resonates in a time filled with turmoil, war, and corruption. It speaks to a NASA that is tracking global warming as its main mission and not space exploration. It suggests that humans have greatness, hope, potential, and Interstellar strives to reach this level of aspiration. Unfortunately, Christopher Nolan's 168 minute film is cold, full of plot holes, decent-to-poor special effects, and lacks a human heartbeat.

Interstellar begins on a farm somewhere in Middle America, where a pilot-turned-farmer named Cooper lives with his daughter Murph, his son Tom and his father-in-law Donald. The world's food crop has all been all but destroyed from a disease called "The Blight" and now only corn can be grown. As a result, Earth faces giant dust storms that have rendered Earth all but uninhabitable. Cooper is a family man, and is a man born in the wrong era. A pilot, an explorer, a dreamer has now become a farmer, and uses his engineering background to make machines work the fields. Schools are teaching children that the Apollo missions were elaborate fakes, in order to ensure the children will only want to be farmers and not dream of attempting anything bigger.

 Murph believes that their house is haunted by a ghost, which constantly pushes books off of her bookshelf, but Cooper challenges her to study the situation as a scientist and learn what is really happening to her books. During a massive dust storm, Murph accidentally leaves her window open, and the dust begins to accumulate on her floor in a pattern that resembles morse code. Cooper decides that what’s happening inside of Murph’s room isn’t supernatural; it’s just a curious gravitational anomaly. An anomaly which gives them coordinates to an unknown location through morse code.

So, Cooper and his daughter hop in the family truck, drive towards then unknown, and leave no note or communication for his son or father-in-law. They drive for an entire day, and reach an super secret NASA headquarters where Michael Caine's Professor Brand is building a rocket to take astronauts into space to find a new planet for the human race to live on. It just so happens that Cooper is a former student of Brand's, and everyone at NASA believes that aliens have sent Cooper the morse code coordinates through dust particles; so they entrust the last rocket and the hope of the human race to Cooper. With no training, and with little thought or regret, except with his daughter, Cooper agrees to take on the mission, even though that means possibly never seeing his family again. Cooper's father-in-law and son just seem to accept this news, and only Murph is genuinely upset at his leaving. After promising her he'll return, he boards the rocket and we are blasting off to Saturn where a wormhole has been discovered that can lead to three potential planets humans can use as a new home. The sound of Cooper's truck racing away merges into the sound of a space shuttle lifting off, and Nolan wants us to believe that leaving Earth is almost an afterthought to leaving his real home, his family. Unfortunately, it feels rushed and almost cruel as we quickly transition to the second act of the film.

Fear of never again seeing a parent or a child should be explored much more than it does here.. 

The second half of the film consists of that journey, and the inherent dangers, mistakes and conflicts. Coop is joined by Brand's daughter Amelia, two other astronauts, and a robot named TARS.  The journey to Saturn and through the wormhole was already going to take years, but time spent on one specific planet near a black hole means that each hour there equals seven years of earth time. This allows the magnificent Jessica Chastain to play Coop's daughter as an resentful adult.

The film is obviously inspired by Stanley Kubrick's science fiction classic 2001: A Space Odyssey, a film that gave the science fiction genre a sense of weight, especially compared to the silly B-Movies of the 1950's and 1960's. Nolan appears to be trying to take the same approach to a film industry full of reboots, remakes, and consumed more with bottom lines and less about art and spectacle. Nolan has often been criticized as a cold and distant filmmaker, and his films often lack a human core. He's like a scientist exploring what makes us human: His films study fear, anarchy, memory, dreams, storytelling, but he never gets to the human heart. Nolan is torn between a film filled with hard science of time, space, dimension and a tear-jerking father-daughter melodrama. Nolan focuses heavily on Cooper and his daughter, a relationship where each mirrors the other, obsessed with science and the thrill of discovery. It's a great concept, but like the crops being planted on Nolan's future Earth, it never takes root and blooms.

Once Cooper enters the wormhole, he can no longer send messages back to his family, so Nolan give's Hathaway's Brand monologues about the power and transcendence of love that culminate at the dream-turned-nightmare of reliving the moment he left Murph, and not being able to change a thing. When he finally catches up to his long-lost daughter, a scene that should be heartbreaking and touching lasts mere moments before she sends him away to chase after Amelia who is on the one hospitable planet.

There are a lot of issues with Interstellar, and it begins at the script level. There is a lot of I-am-now-going-to-explan-what-is-going-on-at-this-moment dialogue, and the script often reduces complex scientific theories into way too simplistic explanations like "gravity problems." Early on we’re shown talking head interviews with elderly eyewitnesses who are evidently survivors of the earth’s death, including the first lines spoken by a woman saying "My father was a farmer..." and immediately makes the audience assume she is Murph, speaking of the present in which the film opens about a distant past, and as a result removes any suspense as to the question of humanity’s chances of enduring.

The film uses Dylan Thomas's famous poem "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night" constantly through the film, and as a result, it loses its meaning and power. Michael Caine's character reveals on his deathbed that he was lying the entire film, and there is no way for humans to launch a space station that will carry all of mankind to the wormhole, and the only hope is for the frozen embryos stored on Cooper's ship. Why would a man so concerned with the survival of the human race, waste precious time and resources building a space station that will never take off instead of creating multiple smaller ships like Cooper's and stock each one with people and embryos? Why put literally all of man's eggs in one basket?

When they visit the water planet that is close to the black hole, they realize that each hour spent on the surface results in seven years of time passing back on the shuttle and earth. Time is of the essence, and each moment is a precious as a drop of fuel, or a molecule of oxygen. To make matters worse, the gravity on the surface is much stronger than on Earth, slowing them down even further. Instead of landing the ship right next to the wreckage of the explorer vessel that crashed both moments before and decades ago, Cooper lands at least a few hundred yards away.

Amelia travels out to collect the hard drive of the wreckage of the ship to learn what happened as a giant wave grows behind her. She has no chance on making it back to the shuttle before the wave hits her due to the gravity, but suddenly this point, the  previously slow moving, monolythic TARS suddenly turns into a fast moving wheel that rushes out of the shuttle, scoops up Hathaway, and runs her back to the ship just as the wave crashes around them. Why didn't they send TARS in the first place instead of Amelia? The robot is MUCH faster, saving them that precious time, and wouldn't have risked a precious human life. But Amelia has to leave, because the wave has to hit and carry the shuttle like the Andrea Gail from "The Perfect Storm" and that will leave the engines flooded, forcing Cooper and Amelia to spend more time on this planet, and allows Murph to age into adulthood back on Earth.

Once they arrive back at the main ship, Cooper catches up on the video messages that he can receive but can't reply to.  Decades have passed and his children, now adults, believe him to be long dead. McConaughey breaks down, and it's at this moment where Nolan connects the cosmic and the intimate. The survival of the family of man relies solely in the hands on one man's family. An astronaut searching for a planet, and a daughter searching for an answer as to the mysteries of her haunted room, and a way to get humans to the planet her father might be able to find.

That moment is unfortunately too brief as the crew realizes they have to choose between two other planets, as they won't have enough resources to visit both and still make it back through the wormhole. Amelia whose character has consistently told Cooper "You might have to decide between seeing your children again and the future of the human race." suddenly pivots, not out of a natural progression, but because the script requires it. She chooses the planet to visit, not because it has the best chance to support human life, but because her old boyfriend Edmunds was the astronaut sent to explore it, and there is a chance he is still alive. Suddenly the scientist that pushed for putting personal emotions aside to face hard scientific facts is saying "Maybe we've spent too long trying to figure all this out with theory." and "Love is the one thing that transcends time and space." The survival of the whole human race hinges on a gut feeling and a hope. Moments before, we had that connection of the intimate and the grand, and here it falls flat because the sudden shift in the character and motivation betraying all that came before. She cares less about the human race, and more about healing a broken heart.

The crew then visits the other planet against Amelia's wishes and soon lean that the planet thought most hospitable is instead a series of frozen clouds, and is not what they were told. Matt Damon plays the stranded astronaut, named "Dr. Mann" (groan) who was supposed to represent the best among us, is revealed to be petty, cruel, and somewhat evil. He landed on the planet, realized it wasn't fit, but corrupts the data sent back to Earth to suggest it is suitable in the hopes that a landing party would land and rescue him. Once Cooper and Amelia arrive, and realize the truth, Mann could have confessed and chances are they forgive him, or at least take him with them to the other plane Edmunds landed on. There is no way they would leave a fellow human stranded, especially when there are so few left, and he could be an asset to the mission. With all the high tech equipment available, they can't tell from orbit that it's not going to support life? Once they land, how would one frozen glacier cloud tell you anything about the rest of the planet?  Like the videos that can only be transported one way, the answer seems to be: Technology in Interstellar only works as much as the plot needs it to work.

 Instead the script has Mann turn to his base desires, and after a laughable fight with Cooper which results in headbutting until a helmet cracks, he steals one of the ships and attempts to dock with the mother ship Endurance (another groan worthy name) and will leave Cooper and Amelia stranded like he was. Mann does not know how to dock with Endurance, and Cooper has conveniently changed the computer to allow automatic locking procedures. He continues to tell Mann not to open the hatch, but the warnings are ignored, and Mann's ship explodes causing Endurance to spin out of control. Even though there is a huge debris field after the incident, Cooper conveniently flies straight through with little to no evasive maneuvers, and after matching the rapid rotations of Endurance, he docks safely.

Nearly out of fuel, Cooper and Amelia plan to slingshot Endurance around Gargantua on a course toward Edmunds. TARS and Cooper detach into the black hole, hoping to collect data on the singularity and propel Amelia by dropping mass from the ship. They emerge in an extra-dimensional "tesseract" where time appears as a spatial dimension and portals lead to Murphy's childhood bedroom at various times. Cooper realizes the extra-dimensional beings are future humans who have created this space so he can communicate with Murphy as the "ghost" and save humanity. Using gravitational waves, he transmits TARS's data on the singularity to the adult Murphy through Morse code, allowing her to solve Brand's equation and evacuate Earth. Question: If Murphy never leaves her window open during the dust storm, would Cooper have been able to send him the coordinates to the NASA base?Also, if Cooper is the one sending the Morse code, that means he sent himself the coordinates of NASA, but without the coordinates, he would never have made it to the Tesseract to give them to himself. If Murphy had never left her window open during the dust storm, Cooper would never have been able to manipulate gravity to give the corrdinates For a film praised for it's hard science, it sure overlooks major timeline issues.

Also, we are supposed to believe that Murphy is now a world-class scientist, and she decides that the answer to humanity's fate resides in her childhood's haunted bedroom bookshelf?

Years later, Cooper awakes aboard a NASA space station and reunites with the now elderly Murphy, who has led humanity's exodus. Murphy convinces Cooper to search for Amelia, who has begun work on Plan B on Edmunds' planet. The entire film has centered around Cooper searching for Murphy and she yearns to learn his fate, and maybe be reunited with him. The love of a father for his daughter has been a central theme, and Nolan gives maybe two minutes to them being reunited. She basically says that her "family" is already with her, and he should go find Ameila. Cooper once again leaves Murphy with little remorse, debate, or emotion. Since the script established that you can't communicate from the planets on the other side of the wormhole, Cooper has no idea if Brand and Edmunds are happily raising embryonic humans, or if she is all alone and lonely for Cooper, or if she's even dead. Better yet, how did his 95-year-old daughter who just barely woke up from two years of being unconciousness, know all about Brand?

Nolan's seems to suggest throughout the film that humanity is wasteful, exploitive, cruel, full of liars and even the best among us is corrupt and can't be trusted. From Mann to Brand - the best of humanity lies to achieve selfish ends. Humans have destroyed one planet and now must find another to take control of.

Nolan has said in interviews that he hopes the movie will encourage more public interest in space travel, and I support this entirely. I remember watching Challenger explode as a child in school, and the teacher telling us that it was a tragedy, but the great thing about the human race is we will remember those lost, but it won't stop us from continuing to push forward and explore. I hate the idea that the United States has to hitch a ride on Russian rockets to the International Space Station, and that regimes like Russia and China will be the only countries actively supporting space exploration. Europeans recently landed on a comet, and we watch weather patterns.

Nolan is reaching for the stars with this film, but it never manages to take flight. The sound mix in the IMAX format was brutal, with heavy bass that blotted out dialogue, and the Hans Zimmer score broadcasts every moment with sonic punches about your eardrums, instead of hinting and suggesting and moving.  It's all bombast, and non-stop, much like the film it's scoring.

While it's hard to compare Interstellar to Gravity on a narrative level, I believe you can on a cinematic one. I saw both films on IMAX and there were scenes in the Alfonso Cuaron that took your breath away. The scene where Kowalski floats away from Stone, you are gut punched on how small humans are, how dangerous the universe is, how fragile life is. The camera spins around planets and ships, darting and flying and revealing. Nolan keeps going back to the fixed angle on the back of the ship as it moves through space. The ship flying past Saturn looks like a small model against a painted backdrop, and while the wormhole and blackhole may be scientifically correct, it didn't inspire awe or grandeur. The planets we visit are bland and boring. A planet covered in water only a few inches deep except for giant waves, a frozen ice planet, a black/sooty rock covered planet. We've seen all this before in better movies. Give me something ALIEN, something terrifying, something awe inspiring. The ice planet has less gravity, and we see some arm-based thrusters the astronauts use, but that is the one moment of technology we see. I'm not asking for laser pistols, but give me something on the cutting edge of science, something unique, but plausible.

I am or rather was a Nolan fanboy. There was a time I told my students he was this generations genius auteur, and at the time I thought he could do no wrong. I wonder if the success of the Batman franchise has given him so much creative freedom and clout, that there is no one to tell him no anymore. He can have unlimited budgets and make any story he wants. His wife is the producer, his brother is the co-screenwriter and he is the director. He casts the same actors, composer, and until this film, cinematographer. He seems to be insulating himself, and much like George Lucas, is becoming convinced of his own genius. He no longer has to think outside the box, and create unique and interesting stories that challenge the audience like Momento, or The Prestige. He can do whatever he wants, however he wants, whenever he wants, and there is no one to say "This isn't good." I was severely let down by the Dark Knight Rises, and now Interstellar. I hope this is a rough patch, and he maybe next does a small, intimate, and intricate film. Forget the bombast. Forget the grandeur. Tell me a good story. At the end of the day, that's all I want from a film. Nolan seems to have forgotten that a movie lives and dies with its script, and all the blaring music from Hans Zimmer, all the doe eyed closeups of Anne Hathaway, and all the greatness of Sir Michael Caine, don't matter if the story is flawed.

Just tell me a good story. That's what a lot of Hollywood and sadly Christopher Nolan have forgotten.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Film Review: About Time

I came here to post my review of the upcoming film "About Time" and realized it's been almost a year since I posted here last.  I'm riddled with A.D.D. and usually when I find something interesting, I just share on Facebook and I don't usually take the time to actually blog.

Well, it's ABOUT TIME I change that.  Let's start anew.

The movie “About Time” is a difficult movie to discuss without revealing major spoilers, and I do not envy the marketing team at Universal. The movie is being portrayed as a story about a young man that has the ability to travel back to any point in his life, and relive anything he doesn’t like and make it better. The trailer suggests that he spends the majority of the movie primarily to change the way he romances Rachael McAdam’s character Mary. While that is certainly an aspect of the film, it is but the very tip of a much deeper story.

Romantic comedies are like cotton candy. They are light, colorful, sweet, and since they aren’t filling, they are quickly forgotten about. “About Time” has romance, misunderstandings, love, and marriage, but these things are the appetizer course for a much longer and delicious full course meal. It’s about the journey of life and how hard it is to find the right perspective on it when we focus on the individual moments of our day to day lives.

Early on in the film, Tim’s father explains that all of the men in their family have always had the same secret ability to travel backwards in time. They can’t travel back to a time that they haven’t already lived though, so no going back to kill Hitler or sleep with Helen of Troy. Of course, Tim doesn’t believe it, especially when time travel doesn’t involve a series of chanted words, or a fancy scientific machine. Instead, you climb into a wardrobe, or enter an empty room where no one else can see you, clench your fists, imagine the time in your life you want to go to, and when you open your eyes, you will be there.

Tim’s father tells him that it is up to him to find out what he wants to use this power for, and suggests that you only use it for the things that will create an extraordinary life. There is no one single answer, as each life is unique, and Tim, being a sweet young man who is clumsy around women, thinks that this a good way to get a girlfriend.

The first sign that this movie is smarter than the usual rom-com, is when Tim does indeed meet the love of his life, but it is not through his time traveling ability. It’s when he meets Mary, a quiet American who is a reader for a publishing company in England, at a “dine in the dark” restaurant where you eat in complete darkness. By the time the dinner is over, Tim and Mary have had hours of conversation, laughs, and a spark has ignited before either of them actually sees the other. As Tim dates Mary, he begins to use his time travel ability to try and help those that he loves, but quickly realizes that while he can remake his past and make different decisions, he can’t control how those changes will inevitably make ripples in his timeline and change his future. The longer he lives, he learns that he has to pick and choose what moments to rewind and redo, because he may not like the new outcome he has created.

 Time travel movies often deal with regret, or fixing a past that has gone terribly wrong. Back to the Future, the upcoming X-Men film, etc. “About Time” explores the idea that we rarely “fix” our lives by changing one single item we don’t like. Our lives are not based on one single moment of time where our path changed on a hinge. Life is a series of small moments that build atop of one another like coral in a living sea.

 The one thing that the trailers don’t really suggest, is how this film is as much about the relationship between a man and his father, as much as it is about a man and his wife. So often in film, the father is seen to be evil, or absent, or domineering and the son becomes resentful, or must right his father’s wrongs. In this film, Tim and his father are not two men fighting about replacing a tarnished legacy, or one trying to usurp the other’s power. Instead, these are two men who love each other wholly, and who share genuine bonds of love and respect. Each is trying to help the other achieve greater things, and share time in a beautiful and profound way.

 The other relationship explored in this film, is with Tim’s free-spirited sister named Kat. Through their story, the film reminds us that ultimately, we have an inability to save other people from themselves. An individual will not change unless they decide to make that choice. We can tell them that they are on a bad path, that they are in danger, that they are making mistakes, but ultimately it isn’t our life, or our ability to change them, regardless of how strong our compulsion to try anyway. As humans, we want to believe that we are strong by ourselves, that at the end of the day, we can make it on our own. And while it is possible to live alone, that isn’t really living. Family allows us to thrive, as long as we have the strength of our loved ones to draw upon. That thought alone could be an entire film, but here, it is but one thread of a larger tapestry.

By extending the story beyond Tim’s relationship with Mary, the film examines themes of family and mortality and the way we use time and how we prioritize the people and the events in our lives. How do we spend our time? Why do we think of time as a currency to be spent? What do we want to leave behind when we are gone? What legacy are we creating? How many lives have we touched? How does memory plays a part in who we are?

This film’s overriding theme is love, but it’s not the simple Hallmark greeting card version. It’s about how love can change us, but sometimes not enough. How does the love of other people connect us? How do we become our best selves through the love of another?

I won’t lie….I cried in this movie. By the time the third act was unspooling, I was a wreck and as the story is reaching its peak, it’s powerful, and wonderful, and devastating stuff. Even with his powers, Tim realizes that time passes and nothing is permanent. Life is a limited time offer, and the clock is ticking and it will not stop, no matter how much we wish it would.

See this film with someone you love. Cherish the time you have with them. Reflect on what life you want to live, and then go and make that life a reality. I saw this film in an advanced screening more than a month ago, and I am still thinking about it. It moved me, it engaged me, it challenged me, and it sits among my favorite films I have ever seen.

 Live the life you want to live. Make it extraordinary. Share it with others that love you.

That’s what “About Time” is really all about.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

New Promo for The Walking Dead Season 3.5 is here

The new trailer for The Walking Dead Season 3.5 that returns on February 10, 2013

Thursday, January 17, 2013

It's Significant to me

Five years and two days ago, I had the two longest nights of my life.  Lisa woke me up at 3:00 in the morning, and told me that she was having trouble breathing.  I had been working 60+ hours a week between my full time job and teaching part time at the College.  The weeks leading up to that night had been high stress and had taken a high toll on me, and at 3:00 a.m., I wasn’t in a clear state of mind.  In a moment that I will regret for the rest of my life, I told Lisa that she was having an anxiety attack, to just slow her breathing, and get some sleep.  I then said that we already had an appointment at the hospital at 7:00 a.m. for another reason, and if she was still having issues, they could help her then.  And then, I rolled over on my side and went back to sleep.

At 6:00 a.m. I woke up to find Lisa silently crying, and I asked if she had gotten any sleep at all.  She gently shook her head and whispered “no.”  I asked if she was feeling any better and she gently shook her head and whispered “no.”  She slowly lifted her head, looked me in the eye and asked me if she was going to die. Lisa is a strong woman, and in that moment, I had never seen her so hurt, so frail and so scared.  In that moment, I was paralyzed with my own fear, my own insecurities, and my own guilt that I hadn’t sought help for her sooner.

We got to the hospital, and she told the doctor about her problems getting enough air.  The doctor immediately ordered some tests, and came back to us with the news we were dreading.  The clot that had been in her leg the last 43 days, had indeed broken free, and shot to her lungs. It was no longer a deep vein thrombrosis, it was now a pulmonary embolism.  The doctor called it a “Significant” clot, and that it was straddling the major blood vessel that leads to her lungs right by her heart.  Currently, it was straddling both lungs like a saddlebag on the back of a horse, but she was in terrible danger.  At any moment, it could slide off and go to her lungs, her heart, or her brain. With the clot being as big as it was, there was a very "significant" chance that if it moved further, it would be fatal.

The hospital didn’t have the ability to treat her, so they called an ambulance and she would be transferred to the University of Utah hospital, about 15 miles away in Salt Lake City, Utah.  I was told to get her some items from home, call our loved ones, and then meet her at the U hospital.  In a whirlwind of activity, the doctors swiftly moved Lisa to a gurney, started her on oxygen, and began to hook up wires from Lisa’s body to their machines.  Shortly after, Lisa was being loaded into the back of the ambulance, and she began to cry since I couldn’t ride with her.  I told her to be strong, that I would be there as soon as I could, and that I was jealous she got to ride in an ambulance I didn’t.  We made a few stupid jokes to try and lighten each other’s spirits, and then they closed the doors and she was gone.

I stood in the parking lot in shock for about 5 minutes, and then said a quick and silent prayer that the love of my life would be safely transported to the U, and that the clot wouldn’t be shaken loose on the way to the hospital, and would be alive when I arrived.

I called family members and tried to quickly give them the details of what had occurred.  I didn’t have many answers to their questions, as they were the same questions I had.  How “significant” was the clot?  What were the chances of her making a full recovery?  What would we do if she didn’t make it?  I had to call my work and the College and explain why I wouldn’t be there that day, and I didn’t know when I would be back at all. 

I gathered a few personal belongings and rushed to the University.  There, I found Lisa with IV’s running, wires connected to her chest, oxygen tubes in her nose, and a very scared young woman.  The doctor came in and told us the clot was “significant”, and that they would begin giving her very large amounts of blood thinners.  Currently, her blood/oxygen ratio was 60%, which is the equivalent of being in the death zone at the summit of Mount Everest.  There is a reason that few climbers attempt the summit without oxygen tanks strapped to their backs.  He told us that we very blessed, as the clot was barely small enough to allow some blood to continue to her lungs.  Any larger, and it would have blocked the blood vessel completely, and chances of death were “significant.” 

He then told us, we were extremely blessed that the clot was barely large enough to have lodged exactly where it did, because if it was any smaller, it would have shot to a lung, her heart or her brain.  He said there was a “significant” probability that she would not have survived any of those scenarios. 

They would work to dissolve the clot, and then monitor her for any other small clots that may still be in her body.  There was a chance that debris from the first clot breaking free could be floating around, as well as the chance that as the clot dissolved with the blood thinners, it could break free again.  All of these things were a “significant” risk to her.  There was that word again, and from a different doctor.  I was quickly realizing that the word “significant” was a very bad and scary word.

Because of these fears, the doctor wanted to place a piece of flexible metal, shaped like an umbrella, into her blood vessel above the clot. It would act as a filter, and allow blood to flow through, but catch any larger clots before it could reach her heart or brain.  She also still had to have the procedure we were already scheduled for, and they determined that the risk of not having it in place was greater than the potential issues of the surgery.

So, once again, Lisa was taken away from me, and I had to just wait in the room for her return.  With no smart phone, no internet, no magazines, and a TV that had only a handful of channels of either soap operas or news, it was a very long time to wait. It felt like there wasn’t going to be a bottom to this day, but we would just keep on falling. Every time a doctor or nurse would walk by the door, my heart would skip a beat and I was afraid they were returning to tell me the worst.

After what seemed an eternity, Lisa was wheeled back into the room.  As I leaned over to hug her, she grasped me with all her strength and sobbed.  Tears flowed down her cheeks, as she struggled to breathe deep.  She had to be awake for the entire procedure.  They had given her a general anesthetic to keep her from moving and to relax her, but she was aware of the entire thing.  The made an incision in her groin, and slowly maneuvered a camera in a tube through her body.  They could then move the metal umbrella through the tube and put it into place.  They had to be careful to embed the piece into the artery wall to hold it in place, but not to punch through the lining and cause major bleeding issues.

The surgery was a success and the umbrella mesh was in place.  The FDA had just approved a new instrument that could be removed after a few days when the danger from the clots had passed.  If we had come a week before, Lisa would have had a permanent metal umbrella in her chest and would never be able to go through a metal detector without a doctor’s note again.  Later that afternoon, the doctors returned and Lisa had the procedure we had originally been scheduled for.  That also, went off without a hitch, but we were not out of danger yet, and all we could do was just stay in the hospital several days to make sure the blood clot was dissolved.  I only left her side to get food at the cafeteria or make a call to family and work, and to use the restroom. 

That whole day, I was screaming inside, but I couldn’t show that to Lisa.  I was trying to crack some jokes, to give encouragement, to be strong for her.  But that afternoon, as Lisa finally, blessedly, fell asleep, I stepped out of the room.  I walked like a zombie down the hallway, and found a bathroom with a locking door.  After turning the lock, I leaned against the door and slowly slid to the floor.  I sobbed like a baby, and rolled into the fetal position, thinking about how close I was to losing my wife that day.  I don’t know how long I was there, but I finally pulled myself together, washed my face, and composed myself the best I could.  I couldn’t go back and let Lisa know I had lost it.  I was probably there a few hours, but it was at the end of a back hallway, and no one bothered me.

That night, the doctors let me sleep in her room, as there wasn’t a second patient staying there.  I couldn’t sleep in the other bed due to hospital procedures, but a nurse brought me a floor mat. I lay down on the hard floor and listened to Lisa snoring softly and around 2:00 a.m., I finally drifted off.  The nurses came every 2 hours to draw her blood and test it, and at 3:00, a new nurse was on shift.  He didn’t know I was staying with her, and as he came around the corner of her bed, he stepped on my head.  Luckily, he didn’t fall, and other than being startled and having a ringing ear, I was ok.  I wasn’t able to go back to sleep that night.  The University hospital has done major renovations since we were there, and now each room has a bed for a loved one to use for overnight stays.  There are desks and high speed internet, so people can be with a loved one and still work.  But that night, all I needed was a mat and a chair, I wasn’t leaving for the world.

A few days later, Lisa was declared safe, and she underwent another procedure to remove the umbrella.  The doctor made a small incision in the jugular in her neck, and snaked the camera down to the umbrella, detached it from the walls of her artery, and slowly removed it, and stitched up the wound.  Once again, Lisa was awake for the procedure and she distinctly remembers hearing the head doctor said “We’re doing great, but I need everyone paying very close attention, as we are nearing the aorta, and we need to be very careful here.”  Lisa had to listen to this, while not moving and just waiting for it all to end.  A few hours later, we were able to go home. 

Due to a genetic disorder that causes her blood to clot very easily, Lisa was now going to have to take blood thinners and wear compression stockings daily.  It was unusual for us at first, but we became accustomed to it, as it was better than the alternative.  She gets her blood drawn every six weeks at the University and they give her blood a number that says if her blood is too thin, (which Lisa says means she is sloshy), if the blood is too thick, or if the blood is just right.  99% of the time, it’s just right, but if it’s too sloshy, she misses a dose for a day or two.  If it’s too thick, she gets to eat some broccoli.  We adapt. 

Lisa's the most amazing woman, and I am so lucky to have her in my life.  It was the longest 2 days/nights of my life, and I learned a lot about myself in those dark hours.  What it meant to love someone, what it would be like to lose them.  Every day, I strive to be a better person, a better husband a better friend to her.  I don’t always succeed, but I try.  She saved my life on more than one occasion, and I am so very grateful to the doctors, nurses and staff at the University Hospital that were able to save hers.  But, I am most grateful for her spirit, for her laughter and her love and the chance to share that every day.

Since that time, Lisa has written and published 4 novels, and is working on a fifth.  Her writing has won "Book of the Year" twice from Foreword Reviews, and the Benjamin Franklin award from the Independent Book Publishers Association.  We have traveled to New York City, New Orleans, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and Seattle.  We have eaten delicious food like beignets at the Cafe Du Monde in the French Quarter, the world's best hot chocolate at the Napa Rose in Anaheim, authentic New York Cheesecake in Little Italy, New York.  We have attended live concerts in SLC, road tripped to see others out of state.  We got to meet artists like Dilana and Chad Gracey and Danielle Barbe.  We road The Cyclone roller coaster at Coney Island, and fed alligators in the swamps of New Orleans.  We attended the largest Hindu "Color Festival" in the United States, and we have taken numerous silly pictures with our nieces and nephew. She took a picture of me pretending to lick the gum wall in Seattle, and I took her picture with copyright infringement Spider Man. We started a charity and raised over $2,500 for a friend in need and are gearing up for our next fundraiser. We made and met friends like James and Laurie, we attended University of Utah football and basketball games, we still have the most spoiled cat in the world. We went on vacation with family, and with friends like James, Cindi, Jen, Siobhan, Stacey and Steve. We attended the taping of two episodes of "The Big Bang Theory" and you can distinctly hear my laugh in both episodes. We toured Warner Brothers Studios and watched "Wreck it Ralph" in the El Capitan Theater - the same place Citizen Kane had it's Hollywood debut.  In short, we have lived and we have laughed and we have loved.  Sometimes I wish we could do it all again, but then I realize that I can through memories and pictures.  Even better, I get to go make new memories with her every day.  Adventure is out there, and we are going to Carpe the crap out of every diem we've got.

Those few days five years ago changed us both forever.  But, I’m grateful for the experience.  It brought us closer and made me reflect on our relationship.  I realize more than ever how fragile this thing called life is.  I realize how quickly our worlds can change.  I realize how vital her love is to me.  I realize that it’s my duty and responsibility to be worthy of that love.  I don’t always succeed, but I strive daily to achieve it.  To some, it may seem small, but it's "significant" to me.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Sunday, July 22, 2012

It All Started with a Phone Call

My teaching career all started with a phone call, and my life was changed forever after.

In the spring of 1999, I was a graduate of the University of Utah with a BA in Film Studies.  During my time at the U, I had chosen to take the production route to graduation, and not so much the academic track.  Meaning that I wanted to work on making movies, and not necessarily teach others about movies.  

I was working as the manager at Book Warehouse, recently married, and looking desperately for a job in film and video production.  I was sending my resume out to anyone I could think of, and I was asking friends and family to do the same.  If anyone had even the slightest connection to editing, producing, creating films or videos, I was interested in speaking with them.

One day, while working at the bookstore, I received a phone call from Tyler Morgan asking if I was interested in teaching the English 270, Genres of Film class at LDS Business College in Salt Lake City, Utah.  I politely told him that he must have the wrong individual because I was interested in making films, not teaching about them.  He then proceeded to read my resume back to me and confirm that he had the correct Tracy Mangum. (Not that there are many of us.)  He had my resume, but I had never applied for this position.  I asked him how he had received it, and he replied that he couldn't remember, but he had meant to call me for weeks since I was such a strong candidate.  He was extremely interested in having me come to the College for an interview, but I wasn't as sure that I was qualified.  I kept trying to politely refuse, but he was insistent that we at least meet in person and see what they had to offer me.  I told him that he was most likely wasting his time, but I would indeed meet with him in person at the College in two days' time.

I hung up the phone, shook my head, and tried to laugh the whole thing off.  I kept telling myself that it wasn't for me, that I wasn't qualified, etc.  I had never taken any classes on how to teach; I had never followed that path in my studies; I didn't know how to put together a lesson plan.  I just wasn't meant to be a teacher.

But there was a little voice in my head that wouldn't be drowned out.  The voice that thought this would be an amazing opportunity.  That I should fake it until I made it.  I couldn't shake the thought and the longer it stayed, the more I wasn't sure I wanted it to leave.

Two days later, I met with Tyler at his office at the College.  It was a beautiful mansion on South Temple that had been converted into a school, and was so unique, I feel in love with it immediately. 

The very first thing Tyler asked me was "If you were to teach this class, would the students have to take tests?"

This took me aback for a moment, and I wondered if this was a trick question.

"Of course they would take tests."

"Would they have to write papers?" was the next question he asked me.

"Absolutely, at least one at midterm and one at the final."  

Tyler gave a large sigh of relief and smiled at me.  It turns out that the previous professor had been showing films to students with a few minutes of lecture before and after, and that was the extent of work that he and the students were putting into the course.  He wasn't giving tests, preparing lectures and discussions, wasn't taking roll, and wasn't testing the students in any way, shape, or form.  The College had discovered this from students in the course who had complained that while the course was fun, it was too easy and they didn't feel challenged.  

This was my first inkling that this College and these students were something special.  At most schools, the students would do everything in their power to not let administration find out that they watched movies, never did homework and got A's with no work.  The students at LDSBC were the opposite.  They demanded to be challenged, to be taught knowledge and not just receive a grade.  

My meeting with Tyler lasted almost an hour, and we discussed everything from how I would teach the class, to what movies I loved, to family, etc.  The class would be 8 weeks in the summer and would meet two nights a week.  I would be paid a flat amount, and it would be a test run for both myself and the College.  If I was good, if I liked it, if the College liked me, and the students were happy, I would be offered another contract for the fall of that year. At the end of the meeting, Tyler shook my hand and asked if I was interested in the job.  I told him that I was interested, but I wanted to think about it, and to discuss it with my wife.  He agreed, but asked if I could have an answer for him by the end of the week.  The College needed 5 students enrolled in order for the class to move forward, and he wanted a professor locked down before they opened enrollment to students.  

I went home with a grin on my face, and I couldn't stop the entire day.  

Lisa and I discussed the options, and we finally agreed to give it a go.  I could share something that I loved, it the small amount I would earn would be fun money for us to take a trip to Disneyland or something we wouldn't have done otherwise.

That first semester, we ended up with 8 students enrolled, and the class went live.  I was a nervous wreck the entire time.  I didn't know how to use Powerpoint, so I hand wrote out notes on a dry erase board.  I had VHS tapes and laser discs at my disposal.  I shared my love of Citizen Kane and how Orson Welles created this masterpiece of a film.  I shared information on what all those jobs at the end of the credits meant.  I shared with them how filmmakers can completely change the emotion of a scene through manipulative editing.  I shared with the students films with themes of hope and redemption like The Mission, and films that were silent, but poignant and hilarious like Buster Keaton's The General.  I shared with them the pure happiness Gene Kelly expresses in the key scene of Singin' in the Rain.  I shared with them that film can transport you to another world for a few hours.  That film had the ability to entertain, but it also had the ability to teach, to enlighten, to move you and make you think.  I wouldn't accept the notion that films were only there to "turn off your brain," I wanted them to use their brain and engage their heart and expand their soul through film.

I got to class early every single night, in order to spend 30 minutes alone before the students arrived, telling myself that I could do this, that I was giving them what they needed and that it was all for the good.  I had to give myself a pep talk to quell the nerves and to put on my bravest face so that my students would never know the panic that bubbled just below the surface of my smile.  It often surprises people as they get to know me to learn that I am not a confident person.  I have a lot of fear and doubt, and I am the king of self-sabotage.  I have tried very hard in my life to quell those negative voices and to push down the self-doubt.  I am much better than I used to be, but back then especially, the terror and self-doubt lay right below the veneer of a confident and knowledgable professor.

The semester ended, and I was on top of the world.  The student feedback was extremely strong, the College was thrilled with my work, and I was addicted.  Standing before those students and sharing something that I loved so much, sharing the magic and power of cinema just felt so right.  It was like I was meant to do this, and I didn't ever want to give it up.

The College offered me another semester in the Winter, and this time, it would be 2 classes.  One offered at 7:40 in the morning on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and then Thursday nights from 6:00-9:00 p.m.  To the surprise of all of us involved, the word of the class had spread and enrollment went through the roof.  We had 25 in the morning and 15 at night within a week of open enrollment.  By the time the semester started, I had capped out at 30 in the morning and had 22 in the night class.  Tyler was thrilled, and I was scared out of my mind.  Teaching 8 kids was one thing, but 52?  Really?  Could I do that?

Not only did I do it, but I was good at it.  Once again, student feedback was some of the highest at the College. I was having students stay after class for 20-30 minutes to talk about what we discussed in class, or the newest movie out in theaters.  The students found the class challenging, but fair and interesting.  They said I opened their minds in new directions.  That I made them see movies in a new light. That they were grateful they took the class.  That I made them feel as if I cared about each one of them individually and weren't just another student to me.  That meant the most to me, because that was what I was trying to develop.  I didn't want them to take a class where they just hid in the back and slept.  I didn't want want them to just memorize facts and spit them back onto paper for the test.  I wanted them to learn and think and to love cinema the way I did.  

As I continued to be hired at the College for semester after semester, I expanded my teaching style.  I would spend hours at home working on Powerpoint presentations.  I would pull clips of different scenes from different movies to show the class to demonstrate an editing technique, or how the focus shifted in a scene to reveal new information.  I put my blood, sweat, and tears into preparing new things for the class, and I tried to put a little of my soul into each presentation.  The class enrollment grew to 40 students in each section, so I was now teaching 80 students a semester, and I loved each and every one.  I really did.

You see, Lisa and I can't have any children of our own.  We did in-vitro twice and were unsuccessful, but on the 3rd and final try, Lisa became pregnant with twins.  Shortly into the pregnancy, Lisa developed a blood clot in her leg, and it broke free and lodged in her lungs.  Her blood oxygen levels dropped to 60%, which is the equivalent to being on the top of Everest without supplemental oxygen tanks.  We lost the twins, and Lisa almost lost her life.  The doctors afterword told us that to try again would be too risky to Lisa, and we agreed.  So, my students became my kids.  Some of my kids became my friends, and some of those friends became some of my closest and most dear friends.  

After the scare with Lisa, I began to give a final lecture to my students.  I took a class period to discuss my thoughts on film and my philosophy on life.  I included clips from Ratatouille to demonstrate that they can do whatever they dream possible.  I showed clips from Wall-e to show that even the dorky garbage man can win the heart of the beautiful and graceful woman.  I pulled clips from Bowfinger and Searching for Bobby Fischer to show scenes that I wanted to show in class and didn't get a chance to share.  And then at the end, I got really personal.  I shared with them that even though I was terrified I would lose my wife that night when the large blood clot moved to her lungs, I knew that I loved her, and more importantly, she knew I loved her.  That we had lived our lives with love, with laughter and happiness and had no regrets.  If she had was to leave my life permanently, I knew that we loved each other and that was enough to get us through that terrible night.  I told my students to go home that night and to tell someone that they loved them.  To pick up the phone and call a parent, a sibling, or anyone else they could think of.  You never know when you may never get that chance again.  I told them that I loved them.  Each and every one of them.  They taught me more than I ever taught them, and that I loved every moment I got to spend with them.  Even after a day that started with me teaching downtown at 7:40 a.m. and that day ending with my night class and getting home around 10:00 -11:00 p.m., I was never tired after teaching.  In fact, I would often come home and have dinner with Lisa and watch a little T.V. to come down from my high.  

A few days later, a letter arrived at the College with a note from a student that she was so touched from my class and that final lecture, she had drawn a picture for Lisa and me, as a thank you.  I opened the manilla envelope and I was overcome with emotion and tears.  It was a beautiful drawing and the fact that she would draw this for me and Lisa again demonstrated how amazing the students at this college are.  

One semester, I handed out a study guide for the final to a student in the front row and asked him to pass it from student to student.  I accidentally had 2 copies of the final exam mixed in the pile of paper and within seconds of discovering that they had copies of the test, both students that received it came up to me separately and said, "I don't think I'm supposed to have this" and gave the test back to me.  Most college students who received a copy of the final early would have quietly thanked their lucky stars and just slipped it into a folder and gotten an A on the exam several days later.

The students at LDSBC are remarkable.  They have a hunger for learning and have an integrity to them.  These students are the next generation and I know they will do great things.  They look out for one another, they help lift each other up to greater heights, and it's been a pleasure to experience that firsthand.

A few years back, I was informed that the College would no longer be offering English 270 - Genres of Film, because it wasn't a core class and was simply an elective.  The College needed to focus students more on their 2-year certificates and were cutting any classes that didn't move students towards those certificates.  I was devastated.  I had put over 10 years into this class, the enrollment was among the highest at the College, and my feedback was consistently some of the best they received.  But there was simply no room for this class anymore, and it looked as if my time at the College was coming to an end. I taught my final film class during a summer semester, and I invited my family to attend.  It was an amazing night, as only Lisa had ever attended any of my classes.  I spoke about love, hope, and leading an honorable life.  I talked about how film could move and inspire.  That for those 2+ hours of the movie, you could move into another dimension and be transported to amazing worlds and dreams and imagination.  I spoke about Ingmar Bergman and his belief that each of his films was a glimpse into his soul at that time.  That once you took his entire library of films, you would see his life and his soul.  I spoke about how it's hard to share your soul to critics and paying audience members....and how this metaphor applied to films as well as film professors.  I tried to put myself into every class, into each story, into each slide of a Powerpoint.  I spoke about how much this College meant to me, and how it had changed my life forever.  How people like Tyler were amazing to work for and with, that students found me on Facebook and shared stories of how my class changed them.  

On student was from Africa and had only watched two movies in his entire life before my class, both of which he watched on the airplane on his way to attend school in Utah.  He had now watched over 15 between the class and his free time, and he was hooked. He told me that he was transferring to BYU and was going into Nuclear Physics, but he was going to get a minor in film.  And he wrote me a few years later, to say that was exactly what he had done.

On student shared with me that her family was from the area of South America that was shown in the film The Mission.  She and her sister had not spoken to each other in years, but after watching the film in class, she felt compelled to call her sister and tell her about the film.  They spoke on the phone for over an hour, and they got together later that week to watch the film together.  After it ended, they then spent 3 hours discussing the film, the symbolism of overcoming and hope, and began a dialogue that began a healing process that brought them back together.

I had a student who had dropped out of college 20 years before to have children, and she wanted to complete her dream of being the first person in her family to graduate from college.  She wasn't sure if she could go back to school after all these years, and she took my class as a test to see if she had the willpower, the strength, and the skill to go back to school.  She wrote me a beautiful letter that said I gave her the confidence to go back full time the next semester.  She graduated a little more than a year later with honors and completed her dream.

These stories touched my heart deeply and had only deepened my commitment to these students and to become the best teacher I could become.  But now, it was all coming to an end.

Except it wasn't.

At the eleventh hour, the College managed to find another class for me.  It was IT 151, Visual Communications.  I had been working over the last number of years in online marketing, graphic design, web design, layout, etc., and would be a good fit for this class.  

I was lucky enough to have taught that class for the last 2 years.  Students made business cards, flyers, portfolios, etc. and I was able to continue to make a difference in student's lives.

Then earlier this summer, the College announced it would be offering a brand-new two-year degree in photography and asked if I would help create the teaching materials and teach this course.  I was over the moon.  I would teach a night class two nights a week, and teach beginning photography and Photoshop.  I worked throughout the spring on materials, and into the summer as well.  Everything was going to work out perfectly. 

Except it wasn't.

Due to a variety of personal and professional reasons, this last week I had to make one of the hardest decisions in my life.  I had to withdraw my name from teaching the courses.  It wasn't a decision made lightly, and after many weeks of soul searching, it became clear that it was the correct decision.  

My heart was broken, and my soul was shattered.  

I felt like I was deserting and abandoning my future kids.  There were two students who had signed up for the class that had taken IT 151 and were excited to be my students again.  I wrote them both personally this weekend to deliver the news, and to apologize that I won't be there for them this semester.  Both were understanding, and I am so grateful.  

I want to make it clear that this decision had NOTHING to do with the College, and that I love and respect the institution and the faculty/staff there dearly.  Tyler Morgan is one of the nicest men I have ever met, and he has taught me so much about living with class, dignity, and what it means to be a man of honor.  Sue Hepworth has been a rock, and so patient with my scatterbrain self.  Lynda Henry has been honest and fair and great to work with the last few years.  

At this moment of my life, I don't know when or if I will be returning to the College.  I hope I can, and I hope I will.  I won't discuss details of what lead me here, but I will say it is the correct thing at this time, even as it breaks my heart.  I will miss the energy, the discussions, the love.  I will miss attending graduation where the faculty forms two parallel lines and applaud the students as they walk past into the Tabernacle for graduation ceremonies.  A major piece of my soul has been removed and I don't know how I will fill it.  

But I know that the College will find someone who will take that class to amazing heights, and I hope that someday in the not-too-distant future, I can be a part of it again.  

This song is a theme song of life for me, and I've been returning to it often as I write this post.  Because love remains, I will pay the price, but I will not count the cost.

I taught at the College for 13 years, and I would do it all again.  And even though the pain of not being there is raw and deep, I will not count the cost.  I will reflect back on the joy it has given me, and the students who changed my life, and the way it strengthened and enriched me. I hope that I was able to give back 1/100th of what I received.  I move forward into another chapter in my life, and I face it with a smile and a knowledge that I can make that future whatever I want it to be.  I hope that my future will bring me back to the College and to be able to teach there once again.  But if I have lost it permanently, I know that I loved it, and I know the other faculty and staff, and especially the students, know how much I loved it and them.  And that is enough.