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Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Two Windows to the Borderlands

Homesteaders is a poem by 2013 Texas Laureate Poet and longtime San Antonio treasure, Rosemary Catacalos. 

Last night I heard the poem performed in a concert with the Youth Orchestra of San Antonio in St. Mark's Church during a performance of Ballads of the Borderland by composer Ethan Wickman, another local treasure. 

They came for the water,
came to its sleeping place
here in the bed of an old sea,
the dream of the water.
They sank hand and tool into

soil where the bubble of springs
gave off hope, fresh and long,

the song of the water.
Babies and crops ripened

where they settled,
where they married their sweat

in the ancient wedding,
the blessing of the water.

They made houses of limestone
and adobe, locked together blocks

descended from shells and coral,
houses of the bones of the water,

shelter of the water.
And they swallowed the life

of the lime in the water,
sucked its mineral up

into their own bones
which grew strong as the water,

the gift of the water.
All along the counties they lay,

mouth to mouth with the water,
fattened in the smile of the water,

the light of the water,

water flushed pure through the
spine and ribs of the birth of life,

the old ocean,

the stone,
the home of the water.

Rosemary Catacalos—from Again For the First Time, 1984 and 2013, Wings Press.

After reading or hearing this poem, it may be jarring, but also interesting and possibly insightful to watch this brief video of the borderlands.

Friday, February 17, 2017

A story about a Texas tragedy and Texas-size heroic responses

In my Mass Communication classes this week we studied the evolution of visual art and the role of editing in film. We studied the introduction of parallel editing in films with the first film to introduce cutting from one location and time to another place and time with editing, "The Great Train Robbery" made in 1904.

My hope was to introduce the idea to students that what we see today in 2017 will be as radically different one hundred or so years from now as our comparison of today's films to those made in the early years of cinema. My goal is to spark the idea that any one of us can be the next Gutenberg or the next Tarantino. 

With this mindset of evolution of images and how they are portrayed, I sat down last night to watch The Tower. I confess I was skeptical of how an animation approach to the telling of this tragic story would work. I was surprised at how well the story told with interviews, found footage, images, news film and audio, including music and how all the elements were improved by the animation that dominated the documentary.

Animation used in this manner is an important step for  both visual evolution and in the long trajectory of storytelling among us humans.

As for the impact of the documentary on me, it is hard to convey how deeply I was moved by the heroism shown by numerous men and women who acted with courage to help victims of the shooter, specifically to run towards the danger instead of running from it as most people, including, I am sure myself.

Documentaries like The Tower can serve to remind us less of the tragic madness of a shooter and what they did, but more about the response shown by regular folks: The bravery and heroism shown by an employee of the Co-op and numerous Austin police officers, especially Rudy Martinez, an off duty officer responsible for stopping the shooter who was the first Chicano to become a Texas Ranger. There were also college students like Rita Starpattern, who comforted and helped the victims while risking their own lives and Neal Spelce, a TV news reporter who kept the community and nation informed.

Documentaries can also break the silence held about a tragedy such as this by allowing victims of the shootings and witnesses to finally, after 50 years, be able speak about their roles and memories. In this way, they  help the rest of us face not only the awful unspeakable horrors of the day 16 people died and 36 were shot, but also be reminded of the response from those of us blessed with bravery that is as mysterious as genius. 

Still, I wonder about the  strength of the silence that I encountered at KTBC TV, with my brief connection with the event. 

Just eleven years after the tragic day in August, 1966 in Austin, I worked as a videographer for the same TV newsroom that Neal Spelce, anchor and reporter supervised during the attack. I met Mr. Spelce numerous times yet only knew of his work as an advertising executive in Austin. No one in the newsroom during those two years that I worked there ever spoke about the Tower or the role of Spelce in broadcasting to the world from the shadow of the building. 

I appreciate the role of media to make possible a greater understanding of our shared humanity and courage. It helps in dealing with the darkness that the shooter represents. The documentary and the story it tells helps me work my way through the questions events like this prompt in us. Is there a more important role possible for media to perform?