Sunday, October 18, 2009

NEO Premiere of v1.2 @ 17:00 2009-10-23 @ CSU: The Social Media & Sustainability Conversations

Why I Care About Social Media
As you may or may not be aware, the promotion and distribution of PolyCultures has thus far been executed with virtually no budget. The modest success we've experienced thus far has been largely affected through the use of social media (and of course the serious and virtually unpaid efforts of Tom and myself, Brad, and countless others). Specifically, we've employed: this blog, our LocalFoodCleveland group, our Facebook group, our email mailing list (are you on it? Contact Us if not), several trailers and clips on YouTube, LinkedIn profiles (as you'll see littered - er, linked throughout this post) and of course Tom's Twitter feed.

This process has sparked in me a serious interest in the use of social media to advance sustainability and civic efforts - reaching far beyond just our little local food movie. It also led to me having some very interesting conversations with Mike Gesing, an internet consultant and founder of the Northeast Ohio Citizens League. The mission of the NEOCL is to create a new regional civic space, empowering citizens to reinvent Northeast Ohio by educating and engaging them in the community decision-making process. A big piece of that is creating original video to share ideas on what is happening in NEO and what could be.

Bioneers Cleveland / River's Edge / Levin College Forum present PolyCultures v1.2

So I thought I'd unite a bunch of interests and opportunities by assembling a panel at a screening who can connect PolyCultures, social media, and the NEOCL through a conversation I can help lead.

Bioneers Cleveland will present the screening (official flyer), which will take place in Dively Auditorium at CSU's Maxine Goodman Levin College of Urban Affairs (1717 Euclid Ave., Cleveland, OH, 44115) this Friday, October 23rd at 5pm. It will be co-sponsored by the Levin College Forum and River's Edge. It's FREE. (Donations to Bioneers will be happily accepted.) We'll be premiering a 56-minute cut of PolyCultures (v1.2.0) that we recently assembled for PBS audiences (see post directly below for more info). Except I'll be showing that cut in two parts....

v1.2.2 plus George Nemeth & Marianne Eppig
The first ~27-minute screening is about the problems with conventional agriculture, ecological agriculture as an alternative to that, and a look at how that alternative is being brought to scale. Following this screening I'll lead a discussion between:

George and Marianne are both professional experts in the use of social media to communicate about civic and sustainability issues. I think they'll help the audience get a solid grounding in what we mean by the term "social media," and that can help us get into how it can be used for the betterment of urban NEO - both in terms of scaling sustainability in general as well as PolyCultures in specific.

v1.2.1 plus David DuBois & Marc Canter
Then we'll watch the other ~27-minute cut, which is about food access issues in low-income areas and solutions to that, such as City Fresh and urban gardening. Following this screening I'll lead a discussion between:

Marc and David are both in the process of applying their vast skillsets to the design of social programs that aim to improve the lives of low-income, underprivileged individuals through job creation/training. I'd like to get their thoughts on how PolyCultures, online social networks, and other social media can be used to help achieve that end.

The Team on the Fringes
NEOCL will be on hand to document the event with video - and hopefully we'll hear a bit from the Executive Director Mike about his role in the pending launch of as a "virtual commons" for the region.

We'll be honored to have the Executive Producer of PolyCultures, Brad Masi - inarguably a pioneer in the use of social media to communicate messages of sustainability and civic participation - on hand to help introduce the movie and the discussion.

Plus, the Director Tom Kondilas and I have hatched/hashed plans for me to pre-record a discussion between him and Jody Lathwell, the manager of the Tremont Farmers Market who is bringing a simultaneous PolyCultures premiere of v1.2 to Pilgrim Church. If this happens and I/we have time to edit it into a good piece, we'll have to figure out where in the program to fit it... by default let's say at the start. So that could be a pretty sweet component as well.

Connecting two faith-sponsored screenings of this new version in a Mollison/Holmgren-like way that incorporates live media with social networking - and taking a new stab at good food education in the process. In the words of Benny in Basquiat, "What more you want?"

Your Role
I really think you should join us if you can - did I mention it's FREE?! And please come prepared to participate....

After all, this whole thing ultimately comes down to the citizens.

Saturday, October 17, 2009


As you've likely noticed, TK and I have recently produced a flurry of blog content. What we haven't done for a while though is give a comprehensive update on this whole project - not since I posted The Résumé back in July! So here goes...

New Product Line - Version 1.2
We recently produced a 53:30 version of PolyCultures in hopes of being included in PBS' Independent Lens series. We're inserting 2:30 of "value added" on the edges and calling it the 56-minute cut (i.e. the length it'll be if/when it airs). This cut obviously does not have the depth of its 100-minute predecessor (v1.1), but the core messages are retained and the flow is much better - it's much more enjoyable, if I do say so myself ;-)

In the process we kicked out two other cuts that are each about 27 minutes long. The first is about urban food access issues and solutions to that, such as City Fresh and urban gardening. The second is about the problems with conventional agriculture, ecological agriculture as an alternative to that, and a look at how that alternative is being brought to scale. We think these cuts are great as an introduction to either subject and should fit well within a single class period for high schools or colleges. By the way, the movie is already being used in curriculum by such fine area schools as Case Western Reserve University, Gilmore Academy, and Padua Franciscan High School.

At present we have just home-burned DVDs of these new cuts, but we're happy to make any of them available to parties who wish to purchase a public screening license.

Public Screenings
Speaking of screenings, we've had quite a few of them recently. In fact, in the months of August, September, and October we will have had 13 screenings that were presented by Tom, Brad, and/or myself in such locations as: Des Moines, St. Louis, Milwaukee, Athens, Youngstown, Oberlin, and of course several neighborhoods around Cleveland. In addition, there have been invite-only screenings in Chicago and San Diego - the latter was at a sustainable seafood restaurant called Sea Rocket Bistro, and here are a couple pics from the event:

Check out the "Recent Screenings" section to the right for details on each of these events. And definitely check out the "Upcoming Screenings" to the right for our upcoming screenings in Cleveland and California!

Food & Environmental Film Festivals
It was an honor to be a part of the film festival at what must be the nation's largest sustainable food conference in Des Moines (see my three-part series below). And it's going to be an honor to be a part of the nation's largest environmental film festival - PolyCultures has been chosen as an official selection for the 8th Annual Wild and Scenic Environmental Film Festival being held in Nevada City, CA on January 15-17, 2010! I'm hoping to be able to attend that one as well... looks like a great festival.

PolyCultures was an Official Web Selection of the 2009 Blue Planet Film Fest and recently received a 2009 Accolade Film Award.

Also, there's a great food film series going on Tuesdays this month at the Rocky River Nature Center, including The Future of Food, Fresh, King Corn, and Super Size Me. Tom and I have been going out to see these (again), sell PolyCultures DVDs, and show our trailers in promotion of our upcoming December screening at the Nature Center.

Addressing Food Gaps in Urban Areas
Tom and I both live in the heart of urban Cleveland and know how difficult it is to get fresh, healthy food nearby. We recently shot some footage of an area grocery store that was abandoned, resulting in a food vacuum in that community. We've incorporated this new footage into a new 5-minute piece on food deserts.

This coincides with a presentation we recently gave to the Cleveland Cuyahoga County Food Policy Coalition, in conjunction with Jenita McGowan's presentation of her related research in urban neighborhoods.

It seems from several recent comments on our About the Movie page that people are really digging City Fresh as a solution in underserved neighborhoods.

Along these lines, here's an insightful essay on the topic of urban farms that happens to mention PolyCultures, recently written by Marianne Eppig for her fine blog Renovating the Rust Belt.

Here's a little treat for making it to the end of this post. I found this bizarro site while fishing for PolyCultures stuff. My favorites include "polycultures food where we live: you will not seem the show of reasons that wonder like word tried that church for potential" and "Polycultures food where we live: enrique vergara, the responsibility of the american santo works, drew to happen by road phone blue demon a art of his own." As well, I learned that "Polycultures food where we live: there are other placing prizes in the 56k." Can't argue with that reasoning.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Dual Premier of the 56-Minute Cut

We here at LESS Productions have recently been throwing our all into a 53:30 version of PolyCultures in hopes of being part of PBS' Independent Lens series. We're inserting 2:30 of "value added" on the edges and calling it the 56-minute cut (i.e. the length it'll be if/when it airs). This cut obviously does not have the depth of its predecessor, but the core messages are retained and the flow is much better - it's much more enjoyable, if I do say so myself ;-)

We're going to do the Cleveland premiere of this cut in two simultaneous screenings!

Both will start around 6p on Friday, October 23rd, so please save the date. We're still nailing down some of the details. But here are the basics:

Screening #1: Tremont Farmers Market presents PolyCultures v1.2 at Pilgrim Church in Tremont

Screening #2: Bioneers presents PolyCultures v1.2 in the Dively Auditorium in CSU's Levine College of Urban Affairs in downtown Cleveland

We hope whether you've seen the 100-minute cut or not that you'll be interested in participating in the evolution of this community-integrated project. Check back here in a day or two for full details!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

"In the age of Van Jones, nothing is ephemeral": Live-Blogging the 13th Annual Community Food Security Coalition Conference - Day 3

I've been getting up way too early for this thing.

Anyway, that title quote comes from a session on social media at the conference this morning, from a person whose name I'll withhold for obvious/meta reasons.

If you want some names though, here are a couple: Curt Ellis and Tom Vilsack.

Curt's (and Ian's) work has been a major inspiration for me the last couple years, and actually the title screen for PolyCultures is an homage to the title screen in King Corn. As a filmmaker and a fellow for the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Curt was perhaps the person I was most hoping to meet at the conference. So I was disappointed to not see him on the roster or floating around the conference... until I sat down for an end-of-the-day lecture in the main hall and realized he literally was sitting right in front of me. He then got up to leave, and I scrambled to hand him a gratis DVD of PolyCultures and introduce myself (in that order, heh). I asked if he would mind stepping out and chatting with me for a bit, and he actually seemed happy to do so. We ended up talking for more than half an hour, mainly about strategies deployed and lessons learned with King Corn that may apply to our distribution of PolyCultures - but also fanning out into other things, like his new project Big River, which was a last-minute addition to the film festival that night (which unfortunately I wasn't able to stick around for, but that I'm excited to see and quite possibly champion). Great guy, great interaction - called Tom immediately and told him "mission accomplished."

Another late addition to the program was a speech from the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and former governor of Iowa, Tom Vilsack. He addressed the whole conference about what is happening at a federal level to promote the types of programs that those of us at this conference are behind. I found it informative, particularly their freshly-unveiled "Know your farmer, know your food" program. Most of all for me though - as someone who is not nearly as well-versed on issues of federal food policy as at least half the room - what I really took away from it was the sense that despite his many ties to Big Ag... this guy gets it.

Secretary Vilsack has for some time been patiently sitting on our list of people we'd like to get a copy of PolyCultures to, and I realized that this might be as good a chance as any...

So I slipped my business card into a fresh DVD as he was wrapping up and was going to approach his security detail and see if I might be able to get a moment with him, but by time I got near them it seemed he'd slipped out the back door. I darted out of the conference room looking to see if there was any chance I could see him on the street or something - and sure enough, there he was heading out through the main lobby. I ran down the stairs and across the lobby at a slow sprint - thinking, you know, it's maybe not the best of all possible ideas to run full-speed at a U.S. Cabinet member surrounded by several Secret Service agents. But I did it anyway, knowing that within seconds he would be whisked away in what I now saw was their characteristically governmental black SUV. I came up to one guy who referred me to an aide on the other side of the vehicle Secretary Vilsack had just climbed into. I approached him with my DVD/card and asked him if he would give it to the secretary - he said he'd hand it right to him. I tapped him on the shoulder in appreciation and walked away... stunned at what I'd just succeeded at doing.

Oh, and also I showed the movie yesterday. 25 people came out - which was cool, given that it was during the only on-your-own lunch (key opportunity for most in attendance) and that there wasn't even the subtitle of the film (let alone a graphic or short description) in the conference program. It was the world-premiere of the 56-minute cut, and people seemed to like it. I sold one DVD on the spot to a gentleman who suggested we convey to potential users what sections might be relevant to their interests - already on it, and now it's better prioritized. I think we lined up at least one public screening, possibly planting the seeds for several. And Chris Norman tossed me a softball to pontificate about the sustainability efforts in Cleveland I've seen since my return. It was pretty good.

Well, this is the end of my coverage of this conference at this conference. But I have a long drive home and may well add another post or two as my thoughts on this amazing experience continue to evolve...

Come See FRESH & buy a DVD!

Monday, October 12, 2009

"Tacit Knowledge": Live-Blogging the 13th Annual Community Food Security Coalition Conference - Day 2

I'm deep in the bowels of the conference at this point - and it's pretty damn cool. Since I started working on sustainable food professionally, I've been a part of three special conferences in the Cleveland area: 2008's Northeast Ohio Food Congress, 2008's Open Roads Leadership Summit, and 2009's Sustainable Cleveland 2019 Summit. Those each brought people from around the country to the table, but this is my first proper national conference. It's international, in fact - with more than a dozen of the 600+ hailing from Canada, Indonesia, Kenya, Mexico, and Nicaragua - and numerous sessions on global food issues.

It's really invigorating to interact with people from all over the country who I already have two things in common with - our interest in sustainable food and our visitor status in Iowa. It really lowers the barriers to good conversation, and it makes it easy to get to the details of what people do that otherwise I really wouldn't have known about it (with the internet being, in general, an "information junkyard" - to quote another nice piece of rhetoric from this morning's plenary, in addition to the one in the title, which pretty well describes how its tough to convey the essence of this conference). So far I've enjoyed talking with people from Chicago, central Texas, Boston, Northern California, etc. - as well getting to better know the Cleveland-area folks here. Actually one of my favorite interactions was with a Des Moines-based artist who had an exhibit at last night's Garden of Eatin' reception.

Aside from the networking and fringe benefits, I've been charting a course with the break-out sessions that is pretty interesting to me. One looked at how to map the connections between organizations operating in a region that are in many cases working with each other but in some cases not despite that fact that they might really benefit from doing so - computer software as well as cardboard/markets/post-its approaches were discussed in terms of tangible examples happening here in Iowa.

I also went to a fascinating discussion of returning to an approach to life that involves more of a sense of common ownership - of our natural resources as well as many aspects of human-developed capital. Check out for more on that.

And the food has been great!

Alright, gotta run - time to introduce and screen PolyCultures...

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Tom Bullock Potluck & Screening

"In the Belly of the Beast": Live-Blogging the 13th Annual Community Food Security Coalition Conference - Day 1

I'm in Iowa - "the belly of the beast," which two speakers have already called it as this three-day conference gets underway. Iowa produces more corn, more soy, and more hogs than any state in the union - the vast majority grown with "industrial" methods. And yet I'm here with 600 people who are passionate professionals connected to the sustainable food movement... giving us an opportunity to better understand what we're up against and perhaps start more dialog with that monolith, as well as enabling us to see what efforts Iowans are making to return to a state of food self-sufficiency in this wonderful growing climate. It's called "From Commodity to Community: Food Politics and Projects in the Heartland"

Why am I here? Well, I'm not entirely sure yet. Ostensibly, I'm here because PolyCultures is part of the 1st Annual CFSC Film Festival, screening tomorrow during lunch. So I'll be presenting that and leading discussion afterward - and I'm promoting the screening by handing out b-cards customized to this event to everyone I'm able to chat with here:

I'm planning to show our brand-new 56-minute, PBS-oriented cut tomorrow - which will have its Cleveland premiere on October 23rd. It's exciting having that - plus two ~27-minute spin-offs and a new YouTube video on food deserts - to roll out. It's breathing some new life into the ever-evolving project.

I'll be blogging throughout my time here, using this trip-blog as a vehicle to share the many exciting things that been happening with the movie and - as I'm finding here - that are happening in the area of sustainable food.

P.S. Here's a little photojournal of my trip from Ohio to Iowa: