after a 43 hour adventure getting home from moscow, i've been back for a few days...but am still figuring out how to write about the experience. in the meantime, my luggage eventually caught up (with armenian vodka bottle, chocolate bars and assorted souvenirs still intact) and i've had some time to reflect back and collect some thoughts about the experience. there's so much to convey...
to summarize - i was over there to present the third coast festival / american public radio work at a festival called "vmeste radio," which means "radio together", or "radio brings us together". (fabulous logo above) the festival is organized by the foundation for independent radio broadcasting, (FNR), which i wrote a little bit about in the previous post. i presented one 90-minute talk and also participated in a special session about radio stories covering xenophobia. both were translated into russian as i spoke, a few sentences at a time. if i'm not mistaken i was the only non-russian at the festival besides the inimitable kari hesthamar, from norway, a german-russian journalist and one other american who trains commercial radio djs (and who i didn't cross paths with much - he was working with an entirely different segment of the festival.)
about 200 producers from all across russia (including eastern siberia, northern-most points and a secret city or two) gathered for the happening, and spent three days talking about, listening to, debating, praising and challenging all aspects of radio documentary/feature making. even though i couldn't understand a word of the conversations, it was clear that the producers were passionate and serious about the radio medium - and the power it has to reveal, describe, ponder, define the world. [not so different from the context i work in every day around the TCF.]
i was especially impressed with the young producers i met - in their early or mid 20s - who are _on fire_ about radio production. they're dying to LIVE through radio, and help their audiences learn how to understand radio in new ways. on the last day during the xenophobia session mentioned above, we heard 7 pieces by producers who had all made stories related to that theme. though i couldn't directly follow the stories, my ever-generous host andrey allakhverdov (photo below) summarized and explained them in english, so i was able to listen and then get a sense of the subject of each. stories ranged from a portrait of an anti-fascist rock band to the story of one elderly german woman living absolutely alone in a russian group home, who longs to return to germany. the production quality and sophistication of these pieces was quite impressive - this came through even without understanding a word of them. and the discussions that followed each program were equally dynamic and provocative, which was also evident purely from observation. there was also a good amount of laughter in those discussions - these folks have _sharp_ senses of humor.
the festival culminated with a big celebration and awards ceremony, honoring the year's best documentaries, news reports, critical media analysis, promotion and websites for commercial radio stations. again, it was hard to follow exactly, but a lot of fun nonetheless. scenes from famous films featuring radio references were screened between prizes and one award trophy was presented along with two huge turnips. i'm still trying to figure out what THAT was all about.
now that you have some sense of what was happening at the festival, what i really want to express is how deeply valuable FNR's work - the promotion and support of independent media, highly-skilled journalism and community radio - is at this point [especially] in contemporary russian history. the best i can do is [over]simplify, but: recently the putin regime has shown little tolerance for independent media, as evidenced by the situation with the educated media foundation, which recently suspended activities after an eleven hour raid on its headquarters. (please follow the link and read more - it's important.)
though radio in russia is rampant, it's mostly in the form of commercial music stations (think - Morning Zoo-type shows and DJs) and other independent networks that are increasingly coming under the control of governmental allies, such as the Russia News Service which recently implemented a mandate dictating how much 'positive' news must be reported each day. (50%)
so especially in this context, the FNR's work shines a bright, bright spotlight on a darkening media landscape. the energy, excitement and commitment to honest and meaningful radio production that FNR is cultivating and nourishing in journalist and producer communities across russia is so significant: historically, politically, culturally and artistically. i was more honored than i can express to be a part of this year's festival, and to share a few american tidbits ranging in topic from mexican/us border crossings to shopping mall culture to teenage obesity and an overview of human conflict throughout history, in two and a half minutes.
pictured with balloons (stay tuned for TCF balloons) are andrey allakhverdov and lena uporova, who are not only two of FNR's hardest-working staff members, but also the most gracious hosts imaginable. they both made my trip even more special. and special thanks to babaev, for his endurance on the highways and byways stretching across moscow, all the while playing calexico cds.
so there are a few impressions to start with. coming next - cultural observations and tales of unexpected equestrian feats, narrowly averted skinhead skirmishes and the georgian version of grilled cheese sandwich.
in the meantime, here are some pictures: churches and skies, and subway snapshots.
more to come...