Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Bart and Art

My youngest sister Pietra came to stay for just the weekend. On Friday night she spoke about her work to 60 people gathered at our house. Pietra has spent the last 20 years making documentaries, often following a specific person for up to two years. Her The Art Star and the Sudanese Twins, about the controversial performance-artist Vanessa Beecroft and her passionate efforts to adopt twin Sudanese babies, won awards at Sundance and around the world.

Pietra speaking in our living room

Her current projects include Maori Boy Genius, about a 16-year-old Maori boy's journey to Yale and The Park, a walled garden in Afghanistan (recently named the most dangerous country in the world to be born a woman) where woman can strip off the burqa and - she hopes - will reveal to camera their thoughts and dreams. And What To Do After Winning Two Oscars (a working title) about Indian composer AR Rahman who won two Academy Awards for his soundtrack in Slumdog Millionaire. He is setting up a music conservatorium and insisting that students from the very poor areas of his home town Chennai come for free.

She talked about traveling to Libya for her Beauty Will Save The World, in which Gadaffi tried to soften the world's view of him by staging a beauty pageant. And how she arranged the permission of a local warlord to hire all the males in a village in Northern Afghanistan to clear the side of a mountain and create an airstrip so she and her crew could get out.

Gadaffi and the contestants in Beauty Will Save The World

She has met amazing people and has incredible experiences -  she has been fly-fishing in Ponoi, Russia, rode horses for five days in thigh-deep snow in the Afghanistan mountains and run the gauntlet of guns in an African airport whilst hiding her tapes.  "Scary stuff" whispered one of my friends: "but not as scary as driving a minivan of kids on a field trip."

But I can see it's a tough life. The travel is constant and often rough and dangerous and a lot of time is spent looking for funds rather than the core job of researching, filming and editing. Each film costs up to $400,000 and she must mostly fund herself, going into double mortgage and credit card debt before hopefully grants and investors come through...

More scary stuff the next night when we played broom-ball, a sort of hockey on ice. Don't raise your broomsticks we were warned ...and what was the first thing the men did? (And for the women: wear your high-waisted trousers or risk major whale-tail reveal.)

Kevin, Me and Greg
Me: I got it!  I got it! whaaaaaaHH!

Pietra was back behind the camera the next morning - taking snaps of a surprise birthday brunch for my friend Lesley. Most everyone wore one of their Lesley dresses.

Surprise birthday for Lesley, centre. Me at far right

But in the end, Pietra found herself sharing the weekend also with The Simpsons.

Tallulah, 10, asked Pietra about what she was currently filming and Pietra told her about the Indian composer AR Rahman who most recently wrote the music for 127 Hours, the true story of a climber who fell into a ravine and had to slice off his own arm.

Tallulah's face brightened with recognition: "Oh yes, that was on the The Simpsons - except Homer chopped off the wrong arm."

Later in the day Tallulah heard Pietra talking about The Diving Bell and The Butterfly, the true story of a paralysed journalist who could communicate only by blinking.

"Oh yes" said Tallulah, "That was on The Simpsons too. But instead of blinking, Homer farted."

Pietra has travelled to the four corners of the earth. Had Tallulah absorbed all the same cultural references by simply watching a wacky, albeit brilliant, cartoon show? Thankfully Pietra was able to introduce Tallulah to a cultural phenom she'd never heard of:  Monty Python's The Ministry of Silly WalksThank you lovely.

Pietra shows Tallulah one of her silly walks


  1. So funny. Sooo, maybe there is true value in all of those HOURS of simpson-watching!

    I'm going to ask Jacob if he's seen those episodes :).

    Your sister sounds amazing, and incredibly talented. How nice that she was able to speak to so many of your friends (Have I mentioned I wish I lived closer??)!

    I LOVE that you all (or most of you) wore Lesley's dresses (I noticed right when I saw the picture, as her dresses are so unique & have such beautiful patterns). Very cute :).

  2. My youngest son is a Simpsons nut too.

    Sounds a fab visit from your sister. What an amazing woman she is. :)

  3. There's so much I could comment on here: the fascinating life of your sister, your gorgeous living room, all you beautiful ladies in your dresses and, of course, the Simpsons references - my son has done this all his life: I find it quite incredible the things he knows through that show.

  4. Your sister sounds amazing! I bet the kids love having her visit! Love all the photos:)

  5. You have quite the sister, although I don't think I could live her life. Your friend was right: we have our own domestic dangers here, but in my case a 5 yr old at the skating rink seems to outdo a minivan full of kids on a field trip. Hmmm.... Maybe I do want a go at her job after all.... ;)

  6. What an amazing weekend!
    Husband used to watch the Simpsons...and still does the same thing when I bring up something interesting. Hmmmm

  7. Tallulah's responses crack me up! But what exciting adventures you sister has had!

  8. Wow, you're a talented lot!
    Hubs is trying to make one just now, who knows if it will get off the ground, my eyes are glazing over from it all.

  9. I would love to see some of her work. the AR Rahman film sounds particularly interesting. What an extraordinary life she's led!

  10. Amazing weekend! happy for this :D always is a pleasure read your blog



  11. your sister, to put it simply, is super woman.

  12. would love to have spent a day in your house when you were kids under one roof. Never a dull moment I'm sure.

  13. Wow! Have you noticed you've got an amazing living room??
    And an amazing sister....
    And an amazing collection of friends
    sighs and shuffles off

  14. Firstly thank you so much for your oh so flattering comment - i was pretty chuffed to get it and secondly how inspiring is your sister - there is obviously something good going on in your family genes - another entertaining and interesting post x


  15. Your sister sounds incredible! And I'm not surprised in the slightest. You come from good stock :)

    Oh and broom-ball sounds intriguing. You've definitely sparked my interest :) xoxo

  16. Oh my goodness...now I want to meet her. What a talent!

  17. What a wonderful and interesting post, Jody! Your sister is such an inspiring person! xo

  18. reading all about your adventures, and now your sister's, really inspires me to go out there and make my own adventures (even though i probably can't handle riding horses in thigh-deep snow, haha!). ;)

    <3, Mimi
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  19. ok, i am still chuckling from the simpsons comments....

    as a rookie documentary producer, currently producing a film called SOLE SURVIVOR, i am inspired and impressed with your sister's dedication and enthusiasm!! i can't wait to research her further to see if i can view some of her work!!! the film about vanessa sounds so interesting. thx for sharing your sister's lovely passion.

  20. You truly have such wonderful friends and experiences! :)

  21. Wonderful post and experiences, honey!


  22. What an amazing time! I feel downright boring when I read of the amazing family and friends that you keep in your company. How funny that the kids relate everything to the Simpsons. The exact same thing has happened in our house.

  23. wow Pietra and you are in open amazing family... I'm impressed! I love that first photo too, beautiful!!!

    I'm a new follower!


  24. Wow, what an amazing family you have! surrounded by interesting and wonderful people! inspiring thanks . . . .oh and you looked FAB in that dress at the brunch!

  25. Your sister sounds amazing and certainly leads a fascinating and inspiring life! And Tallulah cracks me up! I love it. Also, as mentioned a few times above, your living room is gorgeous!

  26. Wow your sister sounds amazing. How awesome that she has been blessed to get see and do so many wonderful things!!

  27. Wow, you sister has done some amazing things and visited some interesting places. I'm going to check out some of the titles you mentioned.

  28. whew, has life been busy for you! so much to comment on. i couldn't imagine being a documentarian, much less living the subject of one.
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  29. I can't believe you got 60 people in your living room! I can get about 10. Xx

  30. Oh... I want to see 127hours.
    Your sister must be hugely motivated by her passions and I am left wondering how The Simpsons will translate Monty Python!

  31. wooowww your life is so busy!!!
    I really like this post!
    Passes to see me on my blog and if you like we can follow each other?
    have a wonderful day… keep in touch

  32. Is your entire family talented? Pietra must be very fearless.

  33. was great to finally meet the lovely and talented Pietra! she is ALL THAT, but funny and nice, too. She has my dream job/life back in the day, but as your other posts noted, the life of an Oaktown mom is not all that boring:-) remind me to tell you about last night...when we crashed a lavish corporate party at Harry Denton's Starlight Lounge. hysterically fun & ballsy & immature. xo

  34. I need a cool sister like that -- how amazingly talented and inspiring! And it's always fun to have the child that brings everyone back to the least common denominator. That being The Simpsons.

  35. Every thing that you have written about what Pietra is working on is so beautiful it makes me want to burst into tears. Ok, now that that's out of the way--how fun it must've been to have her and the guy in the 2nd photo looks like Harrison Ford. Also how great that Tallulah can converse on deep and meaningful subjects all the while referring to the Simpsons. I mean that in a deep and meaningfully good way!

    xo Mary Jo


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