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DiCaprio Screens Climate Change Epic at UM


DiCaprio Screens Climate Change Epic at UM

During a Q&A moderated by the actor, a panel that included UM scientist Kenny Broad warned of the disastrous consequences from climate change.
By Robert C. Jones Jr.
UM News
dicaprioCORAL GABLES, Fla. (October 5, 2016)–From the White House on one day to a college campus cinema the next, Academy Award-winning actor and eco-activist Leonardo DiCaprio screened his powerful new documentary about the damaging effects of climate change at the University of Miami on Tuesday, moderating a subsequent panel discussion in which he told an audience of hundreds that climate change is “too important” a topic to ignore.
“So many of these issues are going to affect your state directly,” DiCaprio said at UM’s Cosford Cinema, referring to sea level rise, the destruction of coral reef ecosystems, and other climate change-induced conditions that especially imperil Florida and its coastal cities and are highlighted in his 96-minute film Before the Flood.
A day removed from its screening on the White House South Lawn, where DiCaprio talked environmental issues with President Barack Obama, one of the prominent world leaders featured in the film, the documentary will air in 171 countries on the National Geographic channel on October 30, bringing its important message to more than 450 million people.At Cosford on Tuesday, DiCaprio, who picked up the 2016 Best Actor Oscar for his role in The Revenant and has been designated by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as a UN Messenger of Peace with a special focus on climate change, shared the stage with the documentary’s director, Fisher Stevens, and two scientists who study how climate change is impacting our planet and its people.
“I’m afraid very much for the people as much as for the ecosystems,” said Kenny Broad, a UM environmental anthropologist, veteran cave diver, and former National Geographic Explorer of the Year, when asked by DiCaprio what frightens him most about climate change.“We think of dramatic flooding, the melting of ice, and losing [the] polar bears, but it’s the ground water beneath our feet” that should be studied more closely, said Broad. “More than 95 percent of the world’s drinking water is from aquifers. It’s out of sight, out of mind, and we tend not to take the steps to protect it. It just takes a tiny bit of sea level rise to really [impact] our groundwater. And who gets affected is gong to be the more vulnerable populations.”
With Florida atop the list of states that will be impacted the most in coming years should sea levels continue to rise at their current clip, Rachel Silverstein, executive director of Miami Waterkeeper, said the state’s critical infrastructure, including nuclear power plants along the coastline, are at particular risk.“We have the most built environment in the world here in Miami-Dade County at risk to sea level rise and not a silver bullet to deal with it,” explained Silverstein, an alumna of UM’s Rosenstiel School of Marine Atmospheric Science. “What we need are new solutions, and we can find those new solutions through research and applying things that we already know work.”

She called for increased awareness of the importance and plight of coral reefs, noting that in Florida over 80 percent of the diverse underwater ecosystems have perished since the 1970s due to the effects of ocean acidification and other climate change-related factors.

As the nation approaches another presidential election, DiCaprio said Florida once again will play a key role as a swing state in the race for the White House. “We can no longer afford to have political leaders out there who do not believe in the science of climate change,” he said.

His statement was an obvious dig at the Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, who has called climate change a hoax perpetrated by China.

What frustrates Broad more is not convincing the doubters, but getting people to sustain actions to reverse the effects of climate change.

“But that’s not surprising,” said Broad. “From an anthropological and evolutionary standpoint, we worry about short-term things. We’ve never had this sort of experience. We’ve never had a collapse of our climate system. We don’t need more scientists to convince people—we need more people who know how to touch upon emotions and morals. We need more people working more creatively.”

Still there is hope, Silverstein believes. In Miami-Dade County, political leaders have ramped up their efforts to take action on climate change, rethinking future infrastructure plans with a cautious eye toward sea-level rise. “I think that’s a big victory,” she said.

It will also take the nation’s youth to solve the problem. “I really believe in fighting for certain causes and certain issues, and climate change has been something I’ve been obsessed with for the past eight or nine years, not nearly as long as Leonardo,” said Before the Flood director Stevens. “But we’re here because we believe that the youth, universities, and high schools are the future. We want to try to get people to understand at a very young age that this is important.”

The screening was sponsored by the School of Communication, and the film, financed by the documentary division of Brett Ratner’s RatPac Entertainment, has “already been picking up some Oscar buzz,” said Dean Gregory J. Shepherd, who invited Ratner to the stage to comment on the project.

UM senior Savannah Geary, an ecosystem science and policy major, was one of the students in the audience who plans to take action through the making of documentaries like DiCaprio’s that address the problem.

Said Geary, “I would love to make something that would have even half the benefit that this [Before the Flood] is going to have.”

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Search Begins for Medical School Dean

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Search Begins for Medical School Dean

School of Communication Dean Gregory J. Shepherd is charing the search committee.

School of Communication Dean Gregory J. Shepherd is chairing the search committee.

Gregory J. Shepherd, dean of the School of Communication, has been appointed chair of the committee that will conduct the University of Miami’s historic search for a new dean of the Miller School of Medicine. As Shepherd noted in a recent message to the medical school community, “Recruiting a new dean is not just about the Miller School of Medicine and UHealth — it is critically important to the wider University of Miami community and indeed to all of South Florida.”

In his message, Shepherd committed to conducting a fair, open, and appropriately transparent national and international search “to find a deep and diverse pool of candidates.”

President Julio Frenk has charged the search committee with forwarding top candidates to Steven M. Altschuler, M.D., senior vice president for health affairs and CEO of UHealth – the University of Miami Health System, and UM Provost Thomas J. LeBlanc.

The other members of the search committee are:

  • Lilian M. Abbo, M.D., associate professor of clinical medicine and chief of Jackson Health System Infection Prevention and Antimicrobial Stewardship
  • Eduardo C. Alfonso, M.D., chair, Department of Ophthalmology and director, Bascom Palmer Eye Institute
  • Marie-Denise Gervais, M.D., assistant dean for admissions and diversity
  • Noor Joudi, Student Government executive president
  • Mahendra Kumar, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences
  • Karl L. Magleby, Ph.D., chair, Department of Physiology and Biophysics
  • JoNell Potter, ARNP, Ph.D., professor and director of research and special projects, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology
  • Matthias Salathe, M.D., professor of medicine and chief of Pulmonary Critical Care
  • Judith L. Schaechter, M.D., M.B.A., chair, Department of Pediatrics
  • Carl Schulman, M.D., Ph.D., M.S.P.H., professor of surgery and director of the William Lehman Injury Research Center
  • Omaida C. Velazquez, M.D., chair, Department of Surgery
  • Stephan Züchner, M.D., Ph.D., chair, Dr. John T. Macdonald Foundation Department of Human Genetics

This distinguished group will be working with Phillips DiPisa, an executive search firm serving health care and life sciences organizations.

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Dangerous Assignments: How Mexican Journalist Stay Alive


Dangerous Assignments: How Mexican Journalist Stay Alive

MexicanJournalismBy Barbara Gutierrez
UM News

Her body was found on the side of a roadway on February 9, 2016—hands and feet bound and a plastic bag over her head.

Only two days earlier, Anabel Flores Salazar, mother of two, had been snatched from her home in the state of Veracruz, Mexico, by armed assailants. Now she was dead. Murdered. And her story was a familiar one: A crime-beat reporter for the newspaper El Sol de Orizaba, Salazar had suffered the same fate of scores of Mexican journalists killed over the past few years for covering news about crime, corruption, and drug cartels in their country.

How has an almost-certain death sentence for simply reporting the truth affected the way Mexican journalists practice their craft?

That is at the heart of a first-of-its-kind study by a University of Miami scholar and research partners in Mexico who spent nearly three years studying the problem.


In Mexico, 81 journalists were murdered and 18 disappeared between 2000 and 2014, according to the Mexico City office of the London-based free expression advocate Article 19, with the numbers continuing to increase. Article 19 has also reported that 2016 has been one of the deadliest years for journalists on record. In recent years, media headquarters have been attacked with grenades or gunfire with widespread impunity.

Sallie Hughes, an associate professor in UM’s School of Communication, and her colleagues Mireya Marquéz-Ramírez of the Iberoamerican University in Mexico City and Marco Lara Klahr of the Media and Violence Program of the non-profit Instituto de Justicia Procesal Penal in Mexico City, surveyed nearly 380 Mexican journalists, asking them to report on the types of measures they use to reduce the risk of reprisals and direct threats carried out against them for covering certain types of news stories.

Among their findings: Nearly 68 percent of the journalists surveyed had practiced self-censorship, more than 64 percent abandon street reporting, and over 57 percent adhere to their media organization’s censorship policies. Half (50.3 percent) of the Mexican journalists surveyed reported hiding sensitive information from “suspicious people or untrustworthy colleagues in their own newsrooms,” according to the study.

The study was presented at the UNESCO Conference on Journalist Safety last May in Helsinki, Finland, at the United Nations’ World Press Freedom Day ceremonies, and will appear in a UNESCO book on journalist safety expected next year.

In Mexico, 81 journalists were murdered and 18 disappeared between 2000 and 2014, according to the Mexico City office of the London-based free expression advocate Article 19, with the numbers continuing to increase. Article 19 has also reported that 2016 has been one of the deadliest years for journalists on record. In recent years, media headquarters have been attacked with grenades or gunfire with widespread impunity.

“I have always been impressed and humbled by journalists in Mexico and Latin America and the conditions they work in,” said Hughes, author of Newsrooms in Conflict: Journalism and the Democratization of Mexico. “It’s a vocation, a passion for many of these journalists, but at some point the violence and threats become too much.”

For Marcos Hernández Bautista, his sensitive reporting in Oaxaca that included covering “cacicazgos,” local strongmen who rule parts of the region, came at a high price. The 38-year-old reporter for the daily Noticias, Voz e Imagen de Oaxaca was fatally shot as he climbed into his car last January. His friends told police that he often lived in fear.

The collaborative study by Hughes, Marquéz-Ramírez and Lara Klahr also found that some Mexican journalists, in an attempt to avoid the same fate suffered by Hernández Bautista, publish stories important for their communities anonymously on social media platforms, hoping they will not be tracked down.

Others in states such as Veracruz and Guerrero—two of the worst regions in Mexico because of the prevalence of violent drug cartels and hardline local politicians—report the news by sticking to what official police reports say. And in some instances, journalists do not publish anything at all, according to the study.

Aside from anti-press violence, economic pressures also force journalists to silence critical stories and voices. Journalists who support norms of using their profession to promote social change for the public good feel the pressures the most, according to the study.

Marquéz-Ramírez said the study could spur other researchers to conduct their own investigations and help Mexican journalists determine what changes they need to make to their profession.

“It can help policymakers and civil society organizations to better understand complex phenomena such as the decline of free press and the vulnerability of journalists in some areas,” said Marquéz-Ramírez, who coordinates Programa PRENDE in the Department of Communications at Universidad Iberoamericana Mexico City, an initiative in which local journalists attend a semester of studies in their field. “The general public can have a glimpse into the other side of media content and the world of journalists in Mexico. These are people who face a great deal of pressure and difficulty on a daily basis.”

Mexico is not the only country where journalists are deliberately targeted. So far in 2016, 17 journalists have been murdered worldwide, but many of those killings, points out Hughes, occurred in war-torn countries such as Iraq and Syria. Mexico and some other countries in Latin America, notably Honduras, Brazil and Colombia, stand out, she said, because they are democracies and have a free press that struggles to work autonomously while facing high levels of threat and risk. While the situation has improved somewhat for journalists in Colombia, the danger in Mexico continues unabated. And those who murder journalists in Mexico seem to carry out their deeds with absolute impunity, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists in New York.

Hughes, Marquéz-Ramírez, and Lara Klahr’s collaborative research study took almost three years to conduct, with interviews being conducted in person and via Skype. The researchers compiled a 1200-plus directory of media outlets from across the country and drew a stratified random sample of 130 media outlets. From there 377 journalists were selected systematically and interviewed.

Winning the trust of the journalists took time, but once the study was explained very few declined to participate, said Hughes.

Read this story in Spanish.

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Experiment Brings Indian Cinema to Miami


Experiment Brings Indian Cinema to Miami

By Maya Bell
UM News


Professor Ed Talavera, director of photography, shares his vision for a scene.

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (August 19, 2016) — As the title of producer Sanjeev Chatterjee’s latest movie implies, Mi Amor is a Miami-based love story, but not exactly the kind most people might imagine. With his first feature film, the University of Miami’s award-winning documentarian set out on “an unusual experiment” to revitalize the global appeal of Indian Bengali films on “a micro budget.”

Written and directed by the critically acclaimed Bengali filmmaker Suman Ghosh and starring two of Calcutta’s top actors, Mi Amor was shot mostly in English, partly in Bengali, and entirely in Miami during two grueling weeks in May with a small crew largely comprised of faculty, staff, and students from the School of Communication’s Department of Cinema and Interactive Media.

“It was awesome taking all the steps from script to screen,” said Russell Darrow, a graduate student in the M.F.A. in motion pictures program who, as line producer, was responsible for the jam-packed day-to-day logistics. “You see movies with extreme budgets like $150 million that don’t recoup their expenses. But it all comes down to great storytelling and engaging your audience. If you have a good story, it will resonate.”

That and, as Chatterjee notes, the kind of technological tools and platforms he never dreamed of when he joined the School of Communication faculty 22 years ago.

“Instead of helicopters we use drones, instead of expensive Steadycam rigs we use hand-held cameras like the Osmo,” Chatterjee said. “On the distribution side, the online world offers immense possibilities.”

Chatterjee, who is known for his award-winning environmental documentaries, including One Water, came upon the idea for a Bengali feature film set in Miami through a series of fortuitous happenstances that began with his friendship with internet entrepreneur and fellow Indian-American Oney Seal.

A Fort Lauderdale resident, Seal is the founder of Bongflix.com, and he and Chatterjee often discussed his desire to premier original content on the subscription-based portal for Bengali-language content. In turn, Chatterjee often expressed his hope for renewed international attention to Bengali films. In Chatterjee’s opinion, they had lost the global allure that the late Bengali filmmaker Satyajit Ray, widely regarded as one of the 20th century’s greatest filmmakers, had created.

Then, in late 2015, Seal mentioned to Chatterjee that a Florida Atlantic University economics professor they knew was working on a script about a Bengali couple searching for love in Miami. “He had holed himself up in some undisclosed location in the Keys and was busy writing,’’ Chatterjee recalled. “In my mind this immediately signaled a level of seriousness that merited gearing up for action.”

The economics professor was, of course, none other than Suman Ghosh, who took filmmaking classes at Cornell while pursuing his Ph.D. in economics there. Though Ghosh still teaches economics—his specialty is game theory—his debut film, Footsteps, won Best Feature Film in Bengali at India’s National Film Awards in 2008. Now with five more well-received Calcutta feature films among his credits, Ghosh was interested in collaborating with Chatterjee and others at UM in Miami.

With the blessings of School of Communication Dean Gregory Shepherd and Christina Lane, chair of the Department of Cinema and Interactive Media, Chatterjee and Ghosh embarked on their “unusual experiment” to produce a feature-length film in Miami with an Indian director, two major Indian stars, and a small, local crew, all of whom basically donated their talents. And they did it at breakneck speed.

In January, they enlisted Pradip Churiwal, a producer in India, to underwrite the production. Consequently, two Florida-based entrepreneurs of Indian origin, Anjan Ghosal and UM business alumnus Souren Sarkar, and his brother Soumen Sarkar, who still lives in India, came aboard as executive producers. By late March, they had secured two Bollywood stars, Parambrata Chattopadhyay and Raima Sen, to play the parts of a 30-something Indian couple who moved to Miami for their jobs and embark on an unusual journey to spice up their lonely life in the diaspora.

Soon after, Chatterjee’s long-time collaborator, associate professor Ed Talavera, signed on as director of photography and recruited the crew of M.F.A. students, alumni, and two professionals. Additional actors were cast from South Florida.

Today, the hours of footage shot at such familiar locales as the Rusty Pelican, South Beach, Wynwood, and Biscayne Bay sits with editor Dia Kontaxis, associate professor of Cinema and Interactive Media, who recently edited another faculty-produced film, Jim Virga’s Sweet Dillard. She worked closely with Ghosh to bring Mi Amor to life—and, Chatterjee hopes, to an international audience—after facing her own international challenges.

“During much of the editing process I was in Greece, the director was in India, and the producer was in the States, so we were working in three different time zones,” Kontaxis said.

They are making the final cuts this month, with the first screening, a sneak preview at the Washington, D.C. South Asian Film Festival, scheduled on September 9. Then in October Mi Amor heads to the Busan International Film Festival in Korea.

“What a great time for us to be involved in the world of moviemaking beyond borders,” Chatterjee said. “This is more exciting than any time before to be teaching and learning filmmaking by doing.”





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Film Students Aim High, Go West, and Captivate Their Audience

Special to UM News

CanesFilmShowcaseFor a select group of motion pictures students, a once in a lifetime opportunity to screen in Los Angeles began after winning ’Canes Film Festival in May 2016.

Out of 85 entries submitted to ’Canes Film Festival, the School of Communication’s year-end film festival, five were selected by a jury of industry professionals to screen at the Directors Guild of America Theater in LA during the 11th annual ‘Canes Film Showcase.

While in LA, the student filmmakers spent two intensive days touring studios, attending Q&A sessions, and participating in an intimate master class led by distinguished executives, producers, and directors. The trip culminated on June 2 with the DGA premiere and post-screening reception attended by 350 UM alumni and friends.

“This was a very informative experience,” said Stephanie Pasternak, producer of Give Me Trouble. “I had no idea I would be learning so much. Now I just want to make sure I hold on to it so I will always remember everything.”

The annual showcase, co-hosted by the School of Communication and the UM Alumni Association, is a popular networking event for film and television alumni on the West Coast, affording them the chance to stay tuned to what student filmmakers are creating on campus.

This year’s contenders received a warm reception, with audience members saying they felt “glued to the edge of their seats” and were “brought to tears” watching the films, while others remarked on how impressed they were with the wide reach and ambition of the work. Many attendees stated they could not decide which movie they liked best.

Though it may have been difficult, audiences were asked to choose which film deserved the City of Angelsaward. In a relatively new tradition, viewers voted for their favorite film via their mobile devices. This year, it was Xinye Chen’s Finding Buddha, which also won University of Miami’s Best of the Festival award during ’Canes Film Festival.

Finding Buddha follows an American “average Joe” who leaves everything he knows behind before his 45th birthday and heads to China to find Buddha. While on his quest for self-discovery, he encounters a young tour guide who appears just as lost as he is and they set off on another kind of adventure. Finding Buddha was directed by Zilong Liu, and produced by Xinye Chen.

In addition to Finding Buddha, four other films and a screenplay were presented in LA.

In Give Me Trouble, directed by Isaac Mead-Long and produced by Stephanie Pasternak, a weathered blues guitarist gives his final performance, as the lines of reality become increasingly blurred.

Deer God tells the story of Old Guan, a native Orogen hunter, who goes into the woods to shoot “donkey-deer” before his family leaves for America. For Deer God, producer-director Tomorrow Mingtian traveled to the remote Chinese location of the Orogen tribe and filmed in -43 F weather.

Isaac Mead-Long’s documentary, Ballet Bus, follows two young boys, Kimani and Kelvin, who were selected to be a part of the Miami City Ballet’s new outreach program.

The narrative film Paradise, directed by Andrea Garcia-Marquez and produced by April Dobbins, traces a man’s deepening obsession with death as he learns of a strange ritual that repulses his wife.

The winning screenplay by Liam Allen-McGoran is an original television pilot called The Chafe in which the cast and crew of a 1950s sitcom fight to keep their show on the air after the death of its beloved star. The “show within a show” offers a glimpse into the seedy beginnings of American television against a backdrop of gangsters, communists, and spies.

In addition to VIP tours of Sony, Lightstorm Entertainment, and Raleigh Studios, students engaged in an intensive master class in which their films were discussed and critiqued by distinguished guests.

Participants in the master class were Kary Antholis (HBO/Cinemax); Martha Coolidge (director); John Herzfeld (director); Michael Robin (producer and director); Anne Parducci (producer); Matthew Stein (Sony). The host of the panel was John Weiser (Sony) who complimented the films overall for their impressive “scope” and “technical achievement.”

Panelists advised students to set themselves apart by figuring out what makes them a little bit different than the person they are standing next to and, when making a movie, not to hold back.

“Make the film that only you can make,” advised Martha Coolidge. “Show us who you are when you show us the film. That’s the secret to bold, passionate, original storytelling.”

To view photos from ’Canes Film Showcase, please visit https://www.facebook.com/UMSoC/photos/?tab=album&album_id=10154330195798395.

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