The Truth

So, here is the truth about why I haven’t been writing on my blog.

When Mark and I first arrived in Bulgaria in August 2011, I wrote many posts about the unique new experiences we were having after moving here from Minnesota. We had just said a teary goodbye to our college grad daughter, cleared out our house, gave away almost everything we owned and we were anxious to start a new phase of life. A blog was clearly in order.

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Our old life in Minnesota. Dog died. Jenna moved to Chicago. Time for us to move to Blago.

When we arrived in Blagoevgrad, everything was different and it was fun to share our journey with family and friends we left behind.

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A sign you would never see in Minneapolis

In the first year, I wrote about drinking rakia with monks in a monasterytrying to buy jeans in Blago (difficult when you aren’t a pencil-thin Bulgarian)… about the Miss AUBG beauty pageant (yes, we used to have a beauty pageant at our prestigious university!) and about what I learned from living in Bulgaria (“The Good. The Bad. And What I Learned in Six Months”).  

 

Mark wrote often about his biking adventures  (watch him getting chased by stray dogs in this video ) and about his amazement at our lucky situation that allowed him to make the transition from newspaper editor to college professor.

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The sliding board I wrote about in my “The Good. The Bad. And What I Learned Along the Way” post.. but the hole in the sliding board is even bigger now.

I also wrote about our many travels. Living here in the Balkans gives us access to places that used to be an ocean away, so off we would go on trips to Slovakia (where we met some of Mark’s long lost relatives- check out this “Wollemann” back-slapping video in this post), Serbia (Belgrade is a very cool city, in case you don’t know!), Romania (for caving and again for a storytelling conference), Macedonia (we can see it from our balcony and I also took my students to the a film festival there) and the list goes on. We can drive to many of those places in the same amount of time it takes to drive from Minneapolis to Chicago.

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Caving and posing for pics in Romania

But at some point, as we moved into our 3rd year in Bulgaria, I didn’t feel like writing anymore. It’s not that the adventures stopped. Quite the contrary! We did an intensive 5-week tour of the Western Balkans in the summer of 2013 when I was hired to make short documentaries for a National Geographic Western Balkans Geotourism website (Mark wrote the stories).

Screen grab from the website.

Screen grab from the website.

(If you want to see or read the stories, go to  THE WEBSITE (CLICK HERE)  and scroll down you’ll be able to watch the videos or read the stories by clicking on each of the “theme” pics- it looks like this. My favorite is “People, Food & Drink” but they are all interesting!)

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Screen grab from the Balkans Geotourism/National Geographic website

That summer ended with a trip to Costa Rica for the wedding of our daughter’s best friend (Mark writes more often in his blog, so you can read more about that here).

We also went to Thessaloniki (Greece) with my AUBG students to premiere the new documentary that I produced  called “The Starfish Throwers,” which was an emotional experience for all of us (www.thestarfishthrowers.com).

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At the world premiere of “The Starfish Throwers” at the Thessaloniki Intl. Documentary Film Festival with director Jesse Roesler, Jen Roesler and my AUBG students

Starfish were thrown in Greece.

We love Thessaloniki

Last summer, we flew to Iceland (hi Arndis!), Finland and then to Estonia to visit dear friends who invited Mark to sing in the Lalupidu Song Festival in world’s largest choir (25,000 people!) even though he doesn’t sing and he didn’t know the songs (and he drank a lot of beer that summer!).  Here he is being interviewed on Estonian television (and tested on his knowledge of the songs!).

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So, can you sing us a few lines from the Estonian national anthem?

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Mark’s partner in crime in Estonia. Jaan Soplepmann

Most recently, we went to Georgia (the country) on a recruiting trip for AUBG and ate what was, quite possibly, one of the most memorable meals I’ve ever eaten! The “supra” was at the home of relatives of one of our AUBG students.  The adventures never stop.

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A very memorable meal with Ani’s family in Georgia

And there’s more! We spent crazy weekend in a tiny Pomak village in Bulgaria (thank you Tracy!), drove to the Black Sea coast, saw a “spaceship” on a mountain top (the former Communist Party headquarters  that later became the subject of the class documentary my students made) ,  and spent many weekends in Sofia (our version of NYC). I went to Ukraine a month before the EuroMaiden protests started.  Living overseas is an adventure that never stops.

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Buzludzha…the abandoned former Communist Party Headquarters.

But I didn’t write about any of those things. Why? Because at some point after becoming an ex-pat, there are times you just want to feel like this is where you actually live and this is home and there is nothing special or unique about that. It’s just what you do.

You travel. You go to work. You teach your awesome students (thank you AUBG students!) and stay up all night making documentaries with them. You find a good shoemaker (thank you, Mitko, for fixing the zipper on my favorite boots twice for 8 lev!), and a new favorite coffee shop that has real cappuccino in take away cups (thank you Polca!). The lady at the bakery knows which bread you like. The Pomak villager at the farmer’s market saves a sheep’s milk yogurt just for you. When you walk through town, you bump into students who say “Hello Professor!” and when you enter your neighborhood restaurant, the waiter goes to get you a “bialo vino” before you even get to your chair.

Today, as we reach the middle of our 4th year here, there are daily reminders that I don’t live in America anymore, and that’s okay with me.  While missing family and friends “back home” is always tugging at my heartstrings, Bulgaria is where I live and work.  My life here is now filled with small, lovely moments – not big sweeping ones. That’s why I stopped wondering, observing and writing about all the “adventures.” I’ve learned ex-pat life (at least for me) is mostly about the joys and annoyances of navigating everyday life in a land far from my own. And isn’t that the real adventure?

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Us

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Spring is just around the corner!

 

 

 

 

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My New Documentary Project

Yes, I am still making documentaries.  Even though I have been teaching at The American University in Bulgaria  (now in my third year here at AUBG!),  I can’t not make docs.

Currently I’m working on an incredible new documentary that I want to share with you. I am the producer of “The Starfish Throwers” (www.thestarfishthrowers.com) along with the director, the talented Jesse Roesler from Minnesota.  Before I tell you anything else about this beautiful film,  you can stop reading and just go watch the trailer here:

If you prefer to read on, here is some background.

In my filmmaking life, I have had the good fortune to meet and work with some amazing people who tell stories that enrich and touch our lives in many ways. “The Starfish Throwers” director Jesse Roesler is one of them. I agreed to join the team as producer because this film is extremely touching and beautiful and makes you realize that even one person can make a difference in the world.  As 13-year-old Katie says in the film, “You could be inspiring hundreds with just one small action.”  To me, this film shows what love and compassion look like in the face of danger and despair.

Here is the official synopsis:

 SYNOPSIS: In this poignant & heartfelt documentary, a five-star chef from India, a retired teacher from Minnesota and a sixth grader in South Carolina fight hunger with fierce compassion.  “The Starfish Throwers” explores how these compassionate individuals struggle to restore hope to the hopeless in unexpected and sometimes dangerous way.

A few lucky folks (including some of my students here at the AUBG) have had a chance to see the rough cut.  Here are some comments:

“Very, very deeply moved by what you have captured and conveyed…”  -Jeremy W

“This is one of the best documentaries I have ever seen! So inspirational!”  ~Ekaterina T.

“The cinematography is awesome.  Jesse’s documentary is a meditation and its advocacy is indirect and nuanced. Its message emerges through layer after layer of the portraits of the 3 amazing subjects of the film.”   -Dan Satorius                                                               

If you are so inclined, there are numerous ways you can help. 

You can start by “liking” our Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Starfish-Throwers/535792969834697

Follow us on Twitter:  @TheStarfishThro  (Note: our Twitter hashtag:  #Starfishdoc )

You can also share the trailer with people you know who care about this subject: http://kck.st/18k6v5u

Of course if you would like to consider a contribution, our team would be extremely grateful.   We are raising funds to help finish the film and can’t do it without some additional support. There are some great rewards for backers, such as awesome t-shirts, posters, DVDs, your name on the big screen in the movie credits, and more.  We are already half way through the campaign and appreciate the support we have received so far. With less than 2 weeks to go, I hope you will consider making a contribution.

Again, here is the link to the trailer to to find out more about “The Starfish Throwers.” Please share this with anyone you think might be interested http://kck.st/18k6v5u

Thank you for taking the time to read this and thank you for considering this worthy documentary.  I am excited about sharing this film with the world because I believe it will have a wonderful and positive impact on all who see it.

Yours in Docs, 

Melody

PS: Did I mention that Matt Damon and Bill Clinton are also in the documentary briefly?   But they are not the heroes.  Katie, Mr. Law and Narayanan Krishnan are the stars 🙂

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Twitter: @MelodyMN @frozenfeetfilms
Teaching: www.aubg.bg &  www.jmc-aubg & www.facebook.com/jmcaubg
Instagram: melodygilbert01
Skype: melody.gilbert

A short documentary about the making of a short film

It’s been a crazy week. Some of the highlights include:

– meeting the Bulgarian king (pictures coming soon as proof!)

– visiting Sofia to have meetings with some filmmakers and then stopping to shop at IKEA, which just opened here last week

– moving to another apartment (same building, higher floor)

– planning a trip to bring 30 of my students to a film festival in Macedonia this weekend (Bitola, here we come in a bus!)

And teaching. And so on.

So for the first time since Mark and I  got here here, I felt a strong urge to do something creative, just for me. So I finally dug out the hard drive I brought with me to Bulgaria (thank you, Allie!) with the “behind-the-scenes” footage I shot of the making of the short film “Hole in the Wall.”  What fun to re-live the energy and synergy of director Amanda Becker and assistant director Carrie Bush along with DP Dave Schnack and the rest of this fantastic Minnesota crew. Truth be told, it made me miss my homies but it was also a nice way to feel connected. And to feel like I was doing something really normal. Like staying up late editing something. Just for me.

I can’t tell you how much fun I had working on this. I hope you enjoy watching it as much as I enjoyed making it. Now I’ve got to get back to prepping for classes, mid-term reviews (yes, it’s already mid-terms!), field trips, etc. More updates soon!

*Note: If you want to watch the video full screen, click on the 4 arrows next to the word “Vimeo” on the lower right hand side of the box.

Some thoughts about Eleanor Mondale

I have to admit that most of the time, I don’t miss “home” very much.  I rarely think about the past because right now I am very busy creating new memories.  But sometimes, like when I heard that Eleanor Mondale died, http://www.startribune.com/130015258.html, I did wish I was back in Minnesota for a day or two.  Just to be able to commune with colleagues and friends and to talk about shared experiences.

I do believe the last professional work Eleanor did was narrate the documentary I made about her dad, former Vice President Walter Mondale.  Working on the movie with her was such a joy because we both knew (but never said) that she was giving her dad a very special gift, one that would allow her to live on in a unique way. When she showed up at my office with a bag full of old family home videos, I knew that she trusted me with this mission. When she recorded her voice over for the movie, she did it with great passion even though she wasn’t feeling well.  Her husband, musician Chan Poling, composed a beautiful score for film. I remember that as I was wrapping up production, I would send him finished chunks of the movie each night and in the morning he would have another beautiful score and I would call him, crying, saying how perfect and passionate the music was and we both knew (but never said)  that this was a gift he was giving Eleanor and the Mondale family. So much unspoken emotion.

So the night of this news that Eleanor had lost her battle with brain cancer, Mark and I went out to to a  cafe an Blagoevgrad and toasted Eleanor’s feisty life and her love for her dad.  I cried a few times, the unspoken emotion welling up inside of me.  I remembered how Mr. Mondale lit up during interviews when talking about Eleanor.  It was those moments when he was most himself – just another dad who loved his daughter.

Today, I received an email from someone in the family thanking me for making the movie. “I  watched it today and was able to see Eleanor and I really appreciate that you gave us all a way to see her whenever we need” and then added that the documentary would be “cherished forever.”   I can’t tell you what a difference it made to feel connected to “home” by getting that message. How grateful I am that I had the opportunity to give the Mondale family this gift.  How lucky I am that I do what I do.

My heart goes out to the Mondale family and all those who loved Eleanor Mondale Poling.   RIP Eleanor.