As we focus on Tsarnaev brothers, their country of origin, and if we should worry about threats from other ethnic Chechens, I’m reminded of my Italian ancestry and two terrible legacies when our nation branded Italian immigrants and Italian-American citizens as “traitors.”  One is the still mostly unknown internment of Italian-Americans during World War II. In September 1939, when Britain and France declared war against the Axis nations of Germany and Italy , President Roosevelt asked FBI Director Hoover to compile a list of people to be arrested in case of national emergency. The authority for these arrests was based on the 1798 Alien and Sedition acts, which gives the government power to detain aliens in times of emergency. By June of 1942, the total reached 1,521 Italian aliens arrested by the FBI, many

Alien Registration Card required for people of Italian origin during World War II

Alien Registration Card required for people of Italian origin during World War II

simply for curfew violations, with hundreds sent for up to two years to military camps in Montana, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Texas. In Fort Missoula, Montana, these American citizens joined 1,000 Italian nationals who had been interned there since May, 1941. [American-Italian Historical Association, and the book Una Storia Segreta: The Secret History of Italian American Evacuation and Internment during World War II]. Given that most of these people lived in east coast cities, and many of them had family members fighting in the American Armed Forces, the shock and sense of betrayal of dislocation was significant and lasting.

But the precedent for unfair treatment of Italian immigrants had actually been set decades earlier, with the famous—or should I say infamous—trial of Ferdinando Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, anarchists accused of armed robbery and executed in 1927. It’s too long a story for this blog, but the short take is the public was afraid of these foreigners, and partly for good reason. Two days after they were indicted, an anarchist sympathizer—also Italian— allegedly orchestrated the Wall Street Bombing, where  a time-delay dynamite bomb packed with heavy iron sash-weights in a horse-drawn cart exploded, killing 38 people and wounding 134. [Wikipedia, relying on Paul Avrich’s book Sacco and Vanzetti: The Anarchist Background] Sounds eerily familiar, doesn’t it?

Sacco and Vanzetti trial protest

Sacco and Vanzetti trial protest

There were no questions that Sacco and Vanzetti were members of an anti-government, militant organization. But there have been ongoing concerns about the fairness of the trial. Historians and legal scholars agree that anti-Italian, anti-immigrant prejudice affected the way the trial was conducted, and ultimately the outcome. And in 1977, Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis issued a proclamation to that effect, declaring “any disgrace should be forever removed from their names.”

Today we love our Italian brands. Ferrari and Fiat. Ferragamo and Fendi. But in the new normal, when we are under a constant state of threat, a foreign name or heritage that is as unfamiliar today as “Italian” was in the last century, can be a negative brand that is hard to overcome, even in a country founded by immigrants.

ADMAR 2013With chaotic images from Boston still flashing through my mind, I sat with 79 other musicians in the NIH Philharmonia last night to tackle “Titan”–Mahler’s 1st symphony.   The opening movement matched my mood—eerie, somber, haunting. In the violin section, we play a harmonic A for what seems like eons. But soon the lyrical melody kicks in and I’m reminded of the good in this world. And people like Mahler, who, instead of painstakingly assembling bombs to destroy lives, carefully built epic symphonies to last many lifetimes. The fact that Mahler was a Jew whose music was banned by the Nazis, gives me a special sense of triumph as we head into the joyful, Austrian melodies of the second movement. But the third movement forces me to pause and reflect on the lives that were taken, and those that will never be the same, as the somber bass plays “Frere Jacques” in a minor key.  Soon, haunting melodies echo through the winds and strings, me along with them.

Then the triumphant 4th movement is upon us. And I really mean Upon, since the notes bear down at a rapid-fire pace. There is fury and fire and the horrible images return to my mind; then just as suddenly, are swept away by one of the most achingly beautiful melodies in symphonic music.  A yearning towards dawn. There is hope.  Humanity has much to give.

The horns stand up for their triumphant finish. The hall is literally vibrating with sound. So magnificent, it’s actually hard to breathe. The final chords rebound and we all sit frozen, suspended in time.

Guess what, bomb-makers? Our creation is more powerful than your destruction. In the beginning there was The Word, or maybe it was The Note. We the music-makers were here before you. We will outlast you. And what you try to build cannot even fathom what we are already making together. 

If you’re in the DC area and want to hear the NIH Phil play Mahler 1 on Saturday April 27th, details here.

I’m just back from Vegas for NAB—the National Association of Broadcasters Convention. What an awe-inspiring assembly. By the numbers: more than 92,400 attendees, with more than 24,000 from around the world; 1,600 exhibitors in 900,000 net square feet of exhibit space; plus 1,700 press.  The people were broadcast execs, Directors of Photography, audio engineers, producers, directors, and more. Exhibits ranged from DJI Phantom mini-helicopters to suspend Go-Pro cameras to the latest Black Magic pocket camera , plus the latest in Digital Asset Management systems, sound systems, lighting rigs, you name it. Over at Post Production World, where I was teaching, packed classes included Digital Publishing, an all-day Time-Lapse and Panoramic DSLR workshops at Red Rock Canyon and Nelson Nevada Ghost Town.

What does it all mean?

The art of storytelling is alive and well. For a while, we thought the internet killed stories. It certainly made it harder for print newspapers and nightly news shows to compete with a new 24/7 news cycle. But now, the digital revolution has democratized the art of creating content. And NAB is proof that there’s a storyteller’s tool for every price point. And while the conversations were about new gear or bandwidth or asset management or distribution platforms,  at their heart, the discussions were about how to get great stories to audiences who are consuming them at an exponential rate.

Sure, we can sometimes let the newest gadgets distract us from the Real Tools of storytelling:  great ideas, great scripts, great interviews, a dab of decent project management (some of the things I taught) to be sure we’re telling the best stories in the most compelling way.  But the accessibility of low price-point cameras and editing tools had clearly made its mark. I saw a new generation grabbing the reins and putting their content out there (mini shout-out to Kanen Flowers here) with or without the traditional distribution channels that used to comprise the “broadcast” industry.

My only complaint about NAB? No lines at the ladies rooms!  (Seriously—they’re like empty caves at all hours).  As a past president of Women in Film and Video/DC, I’d say that there’s still room for more women at the table, especially in broadcast management and the technical fields. Just sayin’.

So if NAB was evidence of a Renaissance in the Art of the Story–and I think it was–then thank goodness what happened in Vegas won’t stay in Vegas. Adapting what our fondly missed film critic Roger Ebert always said, I’ll see you at (or behind) the movies.

I’ve been giving workshops and hanging out at NAB (National Association of Broadcasters, for those of you who aren’t in this field).  Three questions I think worthy of consideration (and future blog posts by moi):

Are ubiquitous digital tools causing us to overshoot photos and video (well, yes), thus making workflow overly focused on dealing with quantity as opposed to creative and quality…and what are we going to do about it?

How are issue advocacy nonprofits leading the way in terms of the convergence of multi-platform media and communitiy-building, and what can the rest of us learn from them?

And a question for those of you here in Vegas: What’s the coolest “new thing” at NAB that will change the way we think and work creatively? Comment below!

(Shameless plug: See the post before this if you want to come to some of my remaining sessions!)