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Three MVPs from the 2006 Film Festival

July 23, 2006

Where would we be without them? It’s hard to believe, when you see what a successful production Stories from the Field has been for the past two years, that it is done entirely by volunteers — from the producers to the camera people to the last minute gang that nips and tucks until the goodnight. Here are three special people who helped to make year two the one to beat.


Sallydiana TheodoreBeing invited into the U.N Headquarters is a surreal experience, especially since my first encounter was outside and across the street where I saw top leaders from all around the world engulfed in an army of security. I was in awe of being in such close proximity to so much power; the drama doesn’t always run that high, after all it was the 2005 World Summit. It was only my second day in New York since I came to attend a 3 Days of Prayer and Fasting at the Dag Hammarskjold Plaza.

Little did I know what the next few months would bring. I came upon the festival by chance while looking for film work online. Although I did not have a documentary to submit I was intrigued. I did feel a bit out of my element at the first meeting, after all I did not own a company, have valuable social, business, or press contacts, and was seriously lacking in professional affiliations. However I did have a genuine passion for the film festival and was willing to do whatever I could to make it a success. I suppose it showed because I felt very welcomed and appreciated.

This is the reason that I became interested in working in film. It is a powerful tool in educating and entertaining people about the injustices around the world. I was already aware of the MDGs with my experience with the ONE campaign and writing letters to Congress. International filmmakers, especially ones from Third World countries had a chance to get their powerful, eye-opening messages and images across.

Film CAN change the world and the UNDFF is doing just that.

My mom was elated when I told her that I was on a panel of judges that screened the festival entries. She herself had addressed the UN in 2005 with a speech regarding the AIDS situation in the Caribbean (MDG # 6).

My days of making speeches may be a long way off but in the meantime I’ll do what I can. The world is getting smaller (yet more populated) and the wealth gap is widening. People, especially young people, are becoming more aware of their social responsibilities to the world around them.

I relish the day when one of the film entries will win an Academy Award for best film in the documentary category.

Sallydiana Theodore is a freelance writer/producer.


Davids GrendzeI had spent several years as an administrator at a university production facility, and before that, much of my career had been involved with corporate/industrial video. I was artistically frustrated, and had a growing need to have a greater social consciousness in my own work. I wanted to say to my kids “I made this small contribution to the betterment of the world we live in” rather than “ I helped train sales reps on how to more effectively sell cooking fat to restaurants”! The UN became an iconic symbol of my evolving professional desires.

Because of NAB, I missed the MCA-I tour of the UN in 2004. So when, almost a year later, the NY chapter put out a call for volunteers for a UN film festival, I jumped at the chance to become involved. I had been inactive in the MCA-I for several years, and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to get re-involved, and to learn more about the UN and the media product coming from it.

It was not without considerable trepidation that I volunteered. My administrative and organizational skills were (and still are!) not my strongest points. The passion that the original instigators had for this project was so infectious, however, that any self doubt was quickly erased. And so in 120 days, we put together a film festival of outstanding quality.

The most obvious points that came out of my two-year involvement with the festival, are:

1) How putting on this festival reinforces the core missions of the MCA-I – networking and education. While talking to fellow professionals is all well and good, working with them in a high pressure situation is a much better way to assess their skills, talents and qualities. let me tell you, we’ve got some very talented people in our chapter! I learned more about event production, PR, and fundraising in two years than I ever had (and in some case had ever wanted to learn!) Plus, the information available from the panel discussions was invaluable, both from a production and a social consciousness stand point.

2) Despite the narcissistic nature of our business (you need credits to get ahead!), this very dedicated group of individuals was willing to subjugate their respective egos in order to produce a great product. When every other person involved with the project is a producer, ego clashes could have been a major issue, but never were.

3) Terrific leadership makes for terrific product. Hats off to Corrina, Linda, Gail, Isabel, and all the other dedicated people involved with this project. I’ll be there for year 3 as well, and look forward to an even better festival.

Davids Grendze is a freelance videographer/field producer with over 20 years experience.


Marilyn PetrokubiOne day in April 2005, I came to the first annual U.N. Film Festival to watch. I wanted to see what filmmakers were doing for the U.N. I intended to find out what subjects were of international importance, and I hoped to learn how I could become one of those filmmakers myself. It was a rainy afternoon and a pleasant way to spend a few hours.

The end result: I learned a lot about Liberia.

This year I came to the second annual U.N. Film Festival to volunteer. I became involved in the production-end of things as a judge on a reviewing panel, but soon found myself finding ways to contribute to the PR aspects of the festival. As my involvement grew, I began to think about sponsorships I might be able to secure from clients of mine and publicized my participation in the festival in one of my company’s monthly newsletters.

Then during the weekend of the festival itself, I had the opportunity to be one of the producers for the documentary about film festival for MCA-I. This meant I was able to spend two days watching award-winning films and interviewing many filmmakers about how their films were made and the extreme circumstances in which they often found themselves.

In short, my participation this year got me thinking about the festival and for the festival. I was vested in making it a success, and that made all the difference. By giving as a volunteer, I got much more in return.

What did I get?

1. I made many new friends among the other volunteers from MCA-I, the U.N., and the New School.

2. I am now on a first-name basis with esteemed filmmakers like Ric Esther Bienstock, Brooke Goldstein, and Isaac Solotaroff.

3. I’ve become acquainted with many international issues like: the global sex trade, teenage suicide bombers, and blindness in Tibet, just to name a few.

4. I was involved in a 6-camera shoot with some of New York’s finest freelancers to produce what will become a video calling-card for next year’s festival.

5. I met the press who covered the festival proceedings, including very cordial producers from TV channel WNYC, who produced a “short” on the festival for broadcast.

6. And last, but not least, two months later, I can honestly say that my experiences at the festival have brought me several steps closer to writing and producing the kinds of documentaries I had come to watch in the first place.

So I achieved my goals of last year by being a volunteer this year. Will I do it again next year? You bet. I can’t think of a better way to spend two days in April.

Marilyn Petrokubi is the president of TimeSteps Productions, Inc., and a freelance writer/producer.

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