“Ethel” by Rory Kennedy

Sundance Film Festival has taken over Park City, Utah for the last week and what a week it has been. From movie premiers, screenings, dinners, and events I have come to the conclusion that Sundance is not for the faint-hearted. It has been whirlwind of both outstanding films and incredible people.

On opening night I found myself seated with Rory Kennedy the filmmaker of Ethel ( and Taylor Swift!!) a Sundance documentary around which there was huge buzz.  This Emmy award winning documentary film maker, social activist and the youngest of 11 children in the Kennedy family, wrote and produced a deeply personal and moving tribute to her family and in particular her mother.  As the Sundance Institute describes it, “it would have satisfied even the most voracious history buffs if Rory Kennedy, youngest child of Robert and Ethel Kennedy, had enlisted her mother’s perspective simply as a fresh angle on the Kennedy years. But Ethel is so much more. Intimate, humorous conversations and never-before-seen images from the family troves uncover an enthralling story of a vivacious, authentic heroine whose transformation—from rambunctious Republican firecracker to savvy Democratic campaigner to socially conscious single mother of 11—arcs definitively as her husband’s drama unfolds.” Ethel Kennedy was a woman way ahead of her time.

Rory Kennedy graduated from Brown University in 1991 with a B.A. in Women’s Studies. In 1998 she and fellow Brown graduate Liz Garbus Founded Moxie Firecracker Films which specializes in documentaries that highlight pressing social issues such as human rights, domestic abuse, poverty, drug addiction, the Abu Ghraib prison, and the global AIDS crisis. One of her most famous films, Ghosts of Abu Ghraib, was the 2007 Emmy Award Winning documentary. The film examines the abuses of US soldiers at Iraqi prisons in 2003, and explores the reactions of American society, military and government. It premiered at the 2007 Sundance Film Festival.

The intimate portrait of her mother and family left even Rory surprised. There were many times during her interviews with Ethel that unleashed details Rory didn’t know. US Today reported Rory was unaware that her mother bet on horses in college or that Robert Kennedy slid down the White House banister when brother John became president. Rory was also quoted in the same article saying, “Now there is a much fuller picture of my mother. Her life has been truly remarkable. In the highs and lows and even the day to day, she has lived intensely. You would be hard-pressed to find another like her.” Ethel is to be aired on HBO later this year.

There are so many more amazing films to report on but this one Ethel will remain in my heart for some time to come.  It is a film to take your family to see, but especially your mother.


Sundance 2012 – Let the Journey Begin…..

Park City, Utah is buzzing with excitement and anticipation as the town prepares for opening night of world renowned Sundance Film Festival on Thursday. Chatter around town has changed from which ski runs have the best snow (or lack there of) to which films have the most hype and will be on the “it” list of films to see this year. Already there are many must see lists  that have surfaced.  ( check out Indiewire  and  Daily Beast for theirs)  Where were these lists a month ago when I was frantically flipping through my festival catalog and ordering tickets? Actually I have to admit, I did meet with the Sundance curate team prior to making my selections so I know I have some good ones.

Our Sundance madness starts tonight with a welcome dinner for our Impact Partners film investment group.  Through IMPACT we invest in social impact documentary films, and they have many of their films in the festival including  “The Queen of Versailles” which was chosen to be the opening night film. (huge!)  The documentary which was dubbed a rags-to-riches-to-rags story follows a billionaire couple, David and Jackie Siegel, who live in their 90,000 square foot home and struggle as their timeshare empire collapses and their dream home is foreclosed on. Some of the biggest buzz around this movie is the lawsuit that was filed just a week before the movie’s premiere. David Siegel is taking on Greenfield (the producer) and the Sundance Institute saying the portrayal of their struggles are not true and complains the movie makes him look bad… whoops……looks like he may have accomplished that on his own trying to build a 90,000 square foot home just before the housing market imploded.  We chose not to invest in the film as it was not in our issue zone, but I cannot wait to see the finished product.

Thursday is an IMPACT board meeting followed by the opening night party, screening of Queen of Versailles, and the hottest ticket in town, “The Artist at the Table” Dinner. We may even have to turn in to party animals and attend the after party!

Friday’s  schedule is completely nuts as we are seeing four incredible movie premiers. “Escape Fire” ( one of the top docs), “Invisible War” (which hit top ten lists as a must see movie and one we made a grant to),  “Red Lights,” and “Your Sister’s Sister” (both films are on top ten lists).  It is so much fun seeing the films on opening day  as the whole cast and crew is generally present and stays for a Q and A afterward.

Saturday is proving to be just as busy with three incredible movies “Young and Wild,” “Arbitrage,” and “Lay the Favorite.”  The 10 day festival is packed full of amazing and creative work by new and seasoned producers, directors, and actors.

As the week continues we see  “Monsieur Lazhar” ( said to be ‘brilliant!!” ) and  a film directed by a friend of mine Macky Alston, “Love Free or Die”  which was  just written up in the local paper. It is a documentary that follows Bishop Gene Robinson, a New Hampshire man who became the first openly gay Bishop to be elected by the Episcopal Church.  Others include  “How to Survive a Plague,” ( one we invested in so keep your fingers crossed it sells), “5 Broken Cameras,” “The Law in these Parts,” “Liberal Arts,” “Chasing Ice,” “We’re Not Broke,” “Price Check,” and “The Surrogate” rounds out the list.

I will try to blog and tweet and heaven knows what else through the whole festival in hopes of convincing you all to come to Park City and experience it yourself.

( I am also hosting a top secret, amazing, official Sundance gathering but more on that later)


The Canvas Tote

I have never posted one of my short stories on this blog but last week I recieved a late Christmas present, a beautiful canvas tote, and it made my think of this story I wrote in 2007 that is still sitting in my computer.  Hope you like it…

The Canvas Tote Bag

I sat there staring at the white circular clock with large black numbers hanging half way up the ceiling in the dingy brown meeting room at the church that was the location of our monthly nursery school board meeting.  This was the third of eight monthly meetings that would run through the school year. As a working mom I had successfully evaded board duty while our first child was attending pre-school, but I felt I could not say no this time around as I had since left my Wall Street career to do philantrhopic work which offered me a lot more flexibility.  The “she is not a good mother because she does not spend enough time with the school” looks from some of the deeply committed and involved mothers finally wore me down as did the constant asks by the school’s lovely director.  “We need you”, she would say in the hallways. The guilt of saying no was just too much to bear. With great reluctance I agreed to serve, as with my daughter in her second and final year at the school, it would only be for one year rather then the usual two.

The meetings were scheduled to last two hours and the mother who headed the ‘social committee’ was generally responsible for bringing in coffee and the much preferred home baked snacks.  Store bought treats would generally be accompanied by an apology often related to a child being ill or having delivered a meal the night before to a family whose mom had just had a baby.   There were eight ladies whom composed the board as well as the school director.  As I rejoined the meeting the ladies were still talking feverishly about whether we should add canvas tote bags to the list of embossed items for these years merchandise sale fund-raiser.  Or not.

My attention turned to Mary, a mother of a child in the threes class, and former JP Morgan investment banker, now head of the fund-raising committee, “I’ve reviewed the items and sales from last year and feel we have to diversify. I have attached a spreadsheet that analyzes sales for the past 3 years and you can see that t-shirts are good sellers, but sweatshirts are not.  The adult size ones did not do well when added last year, so I recommend that we drop them.  In their place I am putting forth canvas tote bags.  We can retail them for $20, at a cost of $10, with a 50% bigger margin then we have on t-shirts.”

Damn, I thought, she must have been killer in front of the board when she was selling K-MART to SEARS 3 years ago.  I had heard of Mary well before I met her as I had headed up a lateral hire initiative for my own firm a few years earlier where we searched out the top women on Wall Street.  Mary was known for her financial prowess and her ability to determine the right sale price for the most complicated of companies. Our head of the investment banking division tried unsuccessfully to hire her, at a high seven figure salary. I remember reading about her departure a year later citing the usual ‘work life balance’ type reasons after she gave birth to her second child.   Someone inside told me she tried to make a run for the head job and got black listed by the good ole boys network and was so fed up she walked away with a big package in return for not suing. Though I did not know her well, she seemed a full fledged at home mom now and damn proud of it.  I was hoping we would have an immediate bond due to our similar career paths, but she seemed to want no part of her past as a working woman in favor of her new status as a wonder mommy.

As my eyes yet again glanced up to the overly large clock on the wall, Janet, an experienced board member with her third child now in the fours program and a one time McKenzie consultant, piped in. “Well, I think those bags would be very handy and be a good seller.  We need merchandise that appeals to the adults and those bags could be used as library book bags, to carry snacks to soccer games, to hold coloring books and other games for restaurant entertainment.  I took the liberty of reviewing prior sales as well, and I agreed, there was a lot of potential there.  I attended an event at the neighboring school and they had many more products then we did.  They were raking it in.”

“I agree,” said Diane a mother of 4 and a former advertising executive now head of the schools PR. “You can never have enough tote bags. I keep one of those in every vehicle full of snacks, first aid items, playing cards, flashlight. I have an idea, why don’t we write about the multiple uses for tote bags in the monthly newsletter and offer a volume discount?  How about 3 bags for $80?”

“What a great idea” chimed in another mom who was new to the school but enthusiastically signed up for the board and every other activity going on at the school.  “I had not thought having a separate bag for each of our cars.  I usually take a bag from car to car with all that stuff but to have one in every vehicle is really practical. I would definitely buy more then one.”

I looked back at the clock and watched the minutes pass by while the woman spoke enthusiastically about all the items that could be included in a car tote bag to make sure there was never a moment when we weren’t prepared to be perfect mothers. While smiling and nodding and pretending to take notes my mind drifted back to my last corporate committee meeting as a senior executive at a global investment bank just a few months earlier.   We had just completed an extensive review of all our diversity practices, globally, and were discussing the next steps to help make the firm a more inclusive workplace.  Around a very large table were the heads of the firm and the respective business units and I was one of a small number of women who had a seat at the table.  They looked to me for insight and guidance on what policies and practices would work at our firm and now I was one of many that were deciding what color a three year-old’s school t-shirt would be and at what price we’d sell it for.  As the conversation on the tote bags turned in to a discussion on the best games to play with a three year-old while waiting for the food to come at a restaurant my mind continued to wander.

On my notepad I wrote down everyone’s name and from what I knew of these women’s backgrounds added the salary they likely commanded when they chose to leave work. I then calculated the cumulative annual salary that we would be earning if they were still working and quickly came to the conclusion that one paid hour of all our time in our working lives would be a multiple of what we are hoping to make in this entire merchandise sale fundraiser. Heck Mary’s hourly rate alone would almost cover it. My heart sank and my frustration was mounting.   I wanted to scream out to these woman, “Let’s just all go back to work! If we do it together, then we won’t all feel guilty about it.”

I desperately began to scan the faces of each and every woman hoping to meet eyes with someone who was thinking what I was thinking.   My eyes grabbed on to Jennifer, a mother of three who was working part-time at IBM, who seemed to be searching the room with the same sense of controlled yet evident frustration. Our daughters were in the same class and had become good friends.  Having left the prior board meeting together we were quick to complain about how painfully long and ridiculous the meetings were to us. We swore we would try to come up with an excuse not to attend the next one, and yet, there we were again, suckers for punishment. I think Jen even brought home baked scones.

I knew that after the meeting I would show my notes to Jennifer, and we would have a laugh about the obscenity of it all. Maybe if we knew the other women better we could ask them if they felt the same way and then together we could do things differently.  But unfortunately we didn’t, and after all, it was only a few more meetings and we would be out of there.  In a town were 95% of the mothers were ‘at home’ we were the outsiders who ‘worked.’

My attention was called back to the meeting, as it was time for a vote, “all those in favor of adding the canvas tote bags, and eliminating the adult sweatshirts say I.”  Needless to say it was unanimous.  You can never have enough tote bags.

Walking back to our cars after the meeting I showed my notes to Jen and as expected, we had a good half-laugh about it.  We decided that she was going to talk to the board chair about making the meetings shorter and more productive as her punishment for caving in and making home baked scones. If that failed after the next painful board meeting we would together rise up, let go of the guilt and just say,  ‘My time is worth more then how I am spending it right now.  I work, I’m a great mother, and I am out of here.  The check is in the mail.”

This story is a little more fiction than fact and of course I am incredibly grateful to the countless mothers who dedicate so much time to volunteering at theirs ( and ours) childrens schools.  At the same time I felt working mothers were somewhat looked down upon and judged, and vice versa.  My hope is that we accept one anothers choices, learn to be comfortable in our own, and offer support and encouragement to each other, always.