June Cross pioneered the documentary filmmaking specialization at Columbia School of Journalism and is the director of the documentary journalism program at the school. She is also the winner of the 2021 Peabody Award and a National Emmy. An inspiration for students in her class, she sheds light on documentary filmmaking, the future of documentation in a social media dominated world and about her future projects. A keen, relentless impact maker, shifting perceptions in the world and highlighting issues – one documentary at a time, Cross’ work is truly bold focusing on conversations that are a part of mainstream consciousness still not a part of mainstream conversations.
Please tell us more about what inspired you to create a self-documentary over two decades ago when documenting self wasn’t as popular?
I think making a self documentary was already gaining momentum when I decided to make “Secret Daughter”. Specifically in the context of racism which has been a part of important conversations in America. I think despite being two decades old, the conversation about racism is still very prevalent, in fact even more so today. I made a documentary when I had gained over two decades of experience in journalism. That helped me with objectivity and distance from the subject while making the documentary.
Where do you see the documentary filmmaking going today with mediums like social media today? To what extent has social media impacted documenting self?
Documentary filmmaking and social media are two separate platforms. It’s like comparing two different things. It’s possible to make longer format videos on social media like YouTube and Instagram but it’s still very different from making a documentary about self. The youth, specially in their 20’s does not have the objectivity or distance from the subject when it’s about themselves. Hence bite sized content despite being personal is different from documentaries. With social media, everyone is constantly putting themselves out there on Facebook and other platforms. However, if someone wants to document their life from these archives twenty years down the line, we don’t really know how that content will be accessible to us. That’s the main thing I even tell my students today. We are putting all our content out there on Facebook but how are we going to archive it in the future in a more meaningful way? Moreover, with Facebook, everyone is constantly trying to document themselves and their lives.
What is the importance and future of making documentary films – specifically documenting self?
I think the current times we live in are very uncertain. Most people are struggling in their personal life and often want to get away from reality. They are not seeking to watch documentaries which highlight struggles and focus on realities. I know people who often want to watch fiction or shows on television or anything entertaining and light. The idea is to get away from reality for a little time while watching television. Despite documentaries highlighting very important issues, the fact is that people don’t want to watch documentaries in their free time.
Your documentary “Whose vote counts” won the Peabody Award in 2021. Can you please tell us about three key takeaways from the documentary?
I think three key takeaways from the documentary are :
– Your vote counts more than you know
– Voter suppression is real and race is a part of the voter suppression issue.
– The world is tending towards more oligarchy where we do not have access to all the information and people are doing everything they can to ensure things stay the same way.
What can be done on OTT platforms like Netflix to highlight documentaries and make them a part of the mainstream?
Documentaries are already a part of mainstream platforms like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime. It’s easy for anyone to search documentaries in the search tab and they can get a list of recommendations. In fact, even in the US, most documentaries that are shortlisted for the Oscars are available on streaming platforms. This might not be the case in other countries. I believe people are not watching enough documentaries, hence they are not a part of mainstream Netflix recommendations.
What are some future documentaries that you are working on?
Fundraising is one of the most challenging parts about documentary filmmaking. Besides some production houses, no one is looking to make documentaries. Most people aren’t interested in documentaries unless there’s a major celebrity featuring in it. Moreover, the current times we live in are uncertain and most people want to look for an escape in cinema which is not possible while watching documentaries that highlight realities. Currently, I’m not working on any more documentaries. I’m working on a play about Frederick Douglas.
UNESCO supports removal of Ugandan tombs from endangered list
The World Heritage Committee, meeting in Riyadh until September 25, has decided to remove the site of the Tombs of the Kings of Buganda in Kasubi, Uganda, from the List of World Heritage in Danger following the successful restoration work carried out by Uganda with UNESCO support, the organization said in a press release.
In 2010, a fierce fire devastated the Tombs of the Kings of Buganda at Kasubi, which are inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. The site was subsequently inscribed on the List of World Heritage in Danger, allowing for the development of an ambitious reconstruction program. The plan was led by the Ugandan authorities and implemented in close cooperation with UNESCO and with the financial support of the international community.
This reconstruction program was completed in the summer of 2023, enabling the site to reach the desired state of conservation. On Tuesday, the Member States of the World Heritage Committee confirmed that the reconstruction had been successfully implemented by taking the decision to remove the Tombs of the Kings of Buganda at Kasubi from the List of World Heritage in Danger.
At the same time, the UNESCO Committee refused to include the “Volcanoes of Kamchatka” in the list of endangered cultural heritage. This is reported by the press service of the deputy chairman of the Russian government.
Thus, most committee members, including Ethiopia, India, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Mali, South Africa, Oman, Rwanda, Qatar, and Zambia, noted Russia’s efforts to improve the protection status of the Kamchatka Volcanoes site.
The UNESCO World Heritage List includes 1,157 sites in 167 countries.
The purpose of the List of World Heritage in Danger is to raise awareness of the threats to the outstanding universal value of a property inscribed on the World Heritage List, and to mobilize all stakeholders to take action to save it. Inscription on the List of World Heritage in Danger prompts the development of a dedicated action plan and opens the door to international financial aid.
Blue Skies: Now More Than Ever
“The Town of Greenwich is honored to partner with C. Parker Gallery on its 10th anniversary,” says Fred Camillo, the First Selectman of Greenwich, Connecticut. “The arts play a pivotal role in our community, and this new exhibition features spectacular artists who harness the power of art to raise awareness about our environment.” The exhibition is titled Blue Skies: Now More Than Ever and the month-long series of events kick off on September 7th in honor of the United Nations’ 4th annual International Day of Clean Air for Blue Skies ‒ https://www.unep.org/events/un-day/international-day-clean-air-blue-skies-2023.
The Gallery will also support environmental awareness activities throughout the next four weeks, until the show’s closing date of October 8th. Tiffany Benincasa, the owner/curator of the Gallery, selected artworks that showcase the majesty of our heavenly horizons by six major artists: Rick Garcia (rickgarcia.com), Kay Griffith (kaygriffithart.com), Lisa Cuscuna (lisacuscuna.com), Hamilton Aguiar (hamiltonaguiar.com), Felicity Kostakis (felicitykostakis.com), and Stephanie Paige (stephaniepaigestudio.com).
Opening Reception Sept. 7th – featuring a special appearance by Jamil Ahmad, United Nations Environment Programme – unep.org
The Gallery will present an Opening Reception on Thursday, September 7th at 6:30 p.m. featuring a special appearance by Jamil Ahmad, the Director of Intergovernmental Affairs of the United Nations Environment Programme – https://www.unep.org/people/jamil-ahmad. Space is limited, RSVP is required in advance to firstname.lastname@example.org. The Gallery is ideally located at 409 Greenwich Avenue, in Greenwich, Connecticut (just a 45-minute train ride from New York City).
“We are thrilled to kick off C. Parker Gallery’s 10th anniversary season with this powerful new exhibition Blue Skies: Now More Than Ever, featuring six of our Gallery’s leading artists who share our passion for nature’s beauty,” says Tiffany Benincasa, the owner of C. Parker Gallery. “We live in this beautiful part of the world, and our summer started with some of the worst air-quality days in history due to the wildfires, bringing this issue to the forefront. We are giving back to the community by joining forces with the United Nations’ International Day of Clean Air for Blue Skies, and we invite everyone in the Tri-State region to help make a difference alongside these environmental artists. They remind us of the need to safeguard our skies and foster a healthier planet.” A portion of the exhibition sales proceeds will be donated to Greenwich Green and Clean and the Greenwich Youth Conservation Program, in honor of the Gallery’s 10th anniversary. During his remarks at the exhibition’s Opening Reception, the U.N.’s Jamil Ahmad will speak alongside regional leaders from: Connecticut Working Together for Clean Air, the Greenwich Conservation Commission; the Greenwich Sustainability Committee; the Greenwich Tree Conservancy; the Greenwich Land Trust, and Greenwich Green & Clean.
“I selected these six artists because their work represents the highest ideals of character, compassion and environmental consciousness,” says Tiffany Benincasa. The artist Rick Garcia’s work ignites a sense of purpose and invites viewers to join hands in safeguarding the skies above us. His art captures the essence of optimism, transcending the confines of space and time ‒ exploring the boundless grandeur that the horizon holds. Garcia’s art was commissioned by the United Nations Postal Administration. His stamps brought awareness to the growing extinction of the rainforest and its inhabitants and the vanishing supply of freshwater, earning him the prestigious award of “Most Beautiful Stamp Series of 2003.” As a past official artist to The Grammy Awards, his creations influenced the look of the live broadcast and graced the covers of the official program book, posters, and apparel. His work for The Grammys included portraits of Destiny’s Child, Ricky Martin, Coldplay, Santana, Celia Cruz, the Black Eyed Peas, and Imogen Heap. Garcia created a new work for this exhibition in Greenwich at C. Parker Gallery, titled Tree of Anila.
Benincasa chose Kay Griffith for this exhibition because: “Her artworks dance with life, capturing the movement of air and the ever-changing hues of the sky.” Griffith’s work was selected this year for the London Art Biennale. She embraces the color blue with unwavering dedication. A color synonymous with both the heavens and the purity of air, blue becomes the primary vehicle for her expression, as she conveys the awe-inspiring expanse of our atmosphere. Her work has been described as complex, haunting, and exhilarating. “These artworks celebrate the expanse above us, from cerulean mornings to indigo evenings. Each canvas tells a story of hope, resilience, and the potential for change, reminding us of the optimism that comes with every new day,” says Benincasa. Lisa Cuscuna’s works are an invitation to escape into a realm where the sky knows no bounds. Her surrealism features ethereal clouds suspended in hypnotic skies, invoking a sense of wonder and serenity, portraying the sky with the hues of a thousand dreams. Cuscuna’s artworks capture nature’s essence, and remind us that the sky’s purity is a gift worth protecting. “This exhibition not only showcases the sheer beauty of our skies, but also serves as a call to action to support the United Nations Clean Air initiative. By leveraging our place of influence, we can encourage each individual to add their voice and collectively we can make a difference,” says Benincasa.
The work of Felicity Kostakis (a local Greenwich artist who hails from Australia) captures the essence of sunrises over tranquil scenes, where the sky’s reflection kisses the water’s surface. The gentle ripples in the water mirror the delicate balance that exists in nature. Her singular hues blend seamlessly into the sky. As the world grapples with the consequences of air pollution and climate change, these works by Kostakis invite us to reflect on the clarity and purity of the air we need. Her resin abstracts urge us to explore the layers and textures as we would examine the layers of our biosphere. Resin, a liquid medium that transforms into a solid, mirrors the transformation our environment is experiencing due to human impact. Originally from Brazil, the work of Hamilton Aguiar runs the gamut between seascapes, landscapes, florals, and abstracts to evoke the natural elements. The sights and limitless vistas, smells, and sounds of the coast serve as tangible points of inspiration. The landscapes in Aguiar’s painting became uniquely accentuated after the artist settled in Miami. The nature and climate of the Tropical ecosystems appear emphatically in his paintings. Stephanie Paige’s love for nature has inspired a mesmerizing series, masterfully created with thick, textured acrylic on canvas. Her depictions of the environment reflect her personal journey into connecting to the world through meditation and presence ‒ cultivating gratitude, and existing in the moment, with the peace and harmony of our relationship with nature. Compelling meditation circles and serene sunsets invite the viewer to appreciate our planetary splendor. “This gallery show reminds us that we share a collective responsibility to protect the skies above and the air we breathe,” says Benincasa. “We are excited to partner with the United Nations to support this initiative. International Day of Clean Air for Blue Skies aligns with our gallery’s mission to lend our voices and support to important environmental issues that impact everyone around the world.”
Blue Skies: Now More Than Ever
Art Exhibition (Sept. 7 – Oct. 8) at the C. Parker Gallery
Kicks off the Gallery’s 10th anniversary season with
International Day of Clean Air for Blue Skies
Chef Gary Mehigen: A worthy cultural Ambassador to the world
Chef Gary Mehigan is an esteemed Australian chef, renowned for his culinary expertise and engaging presence. With a wealth of experience, he gained widespread recognition as a co-host on the popular television series “MasterChef Australia.” His journey in the culinary world began in the United Kingdom, where he trained under Michelin-starred chefs. Gary’s passion for food extends beyond cooking; he is a devoted advocate for sustainable practices and authentic culinary experiences. His warm personality and genuine love for exploration have made him a beloved figure in the global food scene.
Chef Gary Mehigan serves as a cultural ambassador to the world through his culinary ventures. With his deep appreciation for diverse cuisines, he bridges cultures by showcasing how food embodies the essence of a nation’s heritage. As he explores global flavors and techniques, he not only celebrates the deliciousness of each dish but also promotes cross-cultural understanding. By delving into local ingredients, traditions, and cooking methods, Gary highlights the inseparable link between food and culture. His culinary explorations serve as a medium to connect people worldwide, fostering appreciation for the richness and diversity of global culinary traditions.
Tell us more about what you have been doing these past few months.
In recent months, I’ve prioritized a successful collaboration with Conosh, a federal company, conducting impactful online classes amid India’s lockdown. Notably, a Sardo cuisine class drew an unexpected engagement of around a thousand participants. This partnership has thrived since last September, featuring eleven dinners and evolving into master classes, with an exciting upcoming collaboration at Dubai’s Versace Hotel. Conosh operates as an order and delivery platform, educational hub, and special events platform, showcasing diverse culinary talents. Aligned with my Masterchef background, I’m committed to fostering culinary dreams and small-scale enterprises. Looking ahead, a Dubai dinner collaboration and National Geographic’s “India’s Mega Festivals” series filming in October await, solidifying my connection with India.
Why are you the right person to be featuring in India’s Mega Festivals” when you are Australian yourself?
The decision to feature an Australian chef heading up a series on India’s mega festivals might raise questions, yet there are specific reasons why I am the right fit for this role. When initially approached with this concept, I wondered why they would want an Australian for an Indian-focused series. However, having previously collaborated with the same producer, her insight shed light on the matter. She emphasized my genuine fascination with India, evident in my enthusiasm for its cuisine and travel experiences.
The producer believed that my unique perspective and fervor for India could create a compelling narrative. This series ventures beyond my culinary expertise, delving into travel and culture. As I immerse myself in each festival, it becomes evident that these celebrations are inseparable from their culinary traditions. From witnessing thousands praying at dawn to observing the making of local delicacies like Savion on Hyderabad’s streets, the connection between food and festivals is undeniable.
The producer appreciated the genuine interest I bring to the table, and I’m humbled by her remarks about the “sparkle in my eyes.” The journey of filming mega festivals has been transformative. While I’ve always found India captivating, this experience has deepened my appreciation for each auspicious occasion. Sitting amidst the crowd during rituals or festivities, I’ve encountered a diverse range of people—those attending for tradition, community, connection, or simply a sense of belonging. This human element resonates profoundly with me.
What has truly resonated throughout this journey is the human connection—the intricate layers of celebration, devotion, and the profound impact these festivals have on people’s lives. Despite being an Australian in an Indian context, my passion for discovery and connection has enabled me to bridge cultural gaps and celebrate the universal aspects of these experiences.
Have you also filmed in Mathura in India?
During my time spent filming in Mathura, India, over a span of ten to twelve days, I witnessed a profound and intricate connection that the locals share with the 40 days of holiness, dedicated to Radha and Krishna, their revered deities. What struck me was the authentic and palpable manner in which these figures are woven into the very fabric of their lives, akin to cherished family members. The devotion exhibited is not merely a superficial practice; it’s a constant presence in their daily existence. From morning conversations to continuous engagement throughout the day, this relationship is sustained every day of the year.
While Mathura’s vibrant atmosphere might appear to tourists as a colorful spectacle filled with exuberant celebrations, my experience delved much deeper. In conversations with one of the line producers, who had worked in Mumbai, I gained insights into the profound significance of Mathura’s devotion. He revealed that his return to Mathura was driven by the absence of this connection and devotion he had felt in Mumbai. This authentic relationship with the deities and the unbreakable connection with the rituals had led him back to Mathura, and he expressed his intention to remain connected. Such stories resonate deeply with me, evoking a powerful emotional response.
Indeed, these encounters in Mathura have left an indelible impression on me. The genuine devotion and intricate ties that individuals nurture with their spiritual beliefs transcend the surface level of festivities, stirring a profound sense of awe and reverence within me.
How can the food industry be more sustainable?
Well, that’s certainly a substantial question, one that resonates deeply with me. In my perspective, the path towards a more sustainable food industry involves collective efforts, even if they appear modest at first glance. The crucial starting point is fostering awareness regarding the origin of our food. When we select items at the market or supermarket, having an understanding of their source, cultivation methods, and seasonal availability is paramount.
For instance, I’ve observed that in Australia, despite the middle of winter, cherries from California are available in supermarkets due to the demand, challenging the concept of eating seasonally. Encouraging small changes is pivotal. Opting for free-range eggs or embracing the local bounty in accordance with each region’s seasonal produce are examples of such steps.
Looking at the bigger picture, we must acknowledge the repercussions of the global green revolution. While it initially averted widespread starvation, it led to an industrialized food system that demands revisiting. Our focus should shift towards rediscovering our historical dietary patterns that have sustained us for millennia with minimal environmental impact.
This shift is already manifesting through various avenues. Chefs in India are revitalizing forgotten indigenous foods, cultivating unique strains of crops like millets and championing sustainable practices. Social media and television wield significant influence in shaping perceptions, and major corporations are recognizing their role in steering consumer choices towards more sustainable options.
While the subject is expansive, it underscores our shared responsibility. Small changes can have far-reaching impacts if we collectively commit to them. Choosing products that adhere to sustainability standards and supporting companies that foster change are meaningful steps. I understand that shifts made by large corporations can reshape entire supply chains, even as chefs and individuals also contribute in their own ways.
In essence, the journey towards a sustainable food industry involves weaving together the threads of awareness, choice, and responsibility. As we ponder the foods we consume, we are not just making choices for the present, but also shaping the future for generations to come.
What inspired you to become a chef?
My journey into the culinary world was subtly guided by my grandfather, a retired chef. Observing his vibrant interactions within our community, I gradually grasped the profound impact of his people-centered approach to life. As I participated in his culinary endeavors, I recognized the immediate satisfaction of crafting flavors and sharing them with others. This realization, coupled with my inherent inclination to nurture, ignited a passion for cooking. The joy of giving and the delight of creating something delectable became my calling. From my grandfather’s legacy to my innate desire to connect through food, my path as a chef was forged.
Is there anything else you want to add?
Certainly, I’d like to emphasize my current state of contentment and fulfillment in my journey. These days, I find myself truly relishing the present moments and appreciating every facet of my experiences. My visits to India have been particularly transformative, aligning perfectly with my career and personal evolution. I’m at a juncture where I can fully immerse myself in the intricacies of interactions and connections, a luxury I treasure.
One poignant memory that encapsulates this phase occurred during the filming of mega festivals in Kolkata. I was perched atop a truck, surrounded by the essence of the goddess Durga’s procession—the rhythmic drum beats, the aroma of incense, and a sea of devoted souls. The profound connection I felt with the people and the culture was beyond words. Such instances highlight the depth of my relationship with India and its people.
This phase of life brings an immense sense of satisfaction, as I continue to explore new culinary landscapes and form meaningful connections. If you happen to see me on the streets, please feel free to say hello. Sharing moments with fellow enthusiasts who appreciate the wonders of travel and food is always a delight. The mutual joy that these experiences bring serves as a common thread that unites us all.
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