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Documentarian To Screen “To Touch The Soul” on Nov. 14

On Wednesday, Nov. 14, the documentary “To Touch The Soul” will screen at 8 p.m. in the University Theatre at CSULB as part of Odyssey and the campus’ International Education Week (Nov. 12-16). The 70-minute feature-length documentary focuses on Carlos Silveira, a CSULB professor of art education, and 27 students, during a 2005 trip to Cambodia. As part of a pilot program, Silveira’s group sought to bring a sense of joy to approximately 200 impoverished children affected by HIV/AIDS using drawing and painting to help them express their wishes and desires for their futures.

Following Silveira and the students in Cambodia were Teresa Hagen, a writer/editor in the Office of Public Affairs/Publications, who came up with the idea for the documentary and served as the film’s producer; Ryan Goble, director/editor; and Erin Henning, director of photography/post production supervisor. Goble and Henning are CSULB alums.

“I had never been to Cambodia before, so I had to plan for worst case scenarios, if equipment broke down or someone on the team got sick,” Hagen said. “We knew roughly what Carlos and his students were going to be doing, but this was a pilot program and schedules/activities were being constantly updated before they left for Phnom Penh. Even after we arrived, things would change at a moment’s notice so we had to be ready to deal with that.” The story is told from the perspective of Silveira and six of his students through a mix of spoken (voice-over) diary entries, interviews and interaction with the children as they create art projects together.

It was a learning process for Hagen, who had never done anything like this before.

“I was terrified at the prospect of doing this documentary because of the level of responsibility and because of everything you have to pull together to make this happen,” she said. “I was lucky because Carlos was very excited about somebody wanting to document his work, and his connections to Panassastra University of Phnom Penh made the process easier. From his first comment to me that he was going to Cambodia with his students, to six months later arriving in the country with Erin and Ryan — a phenomenal film team, I might add — it kind of all came together.”

Photo from Cambodia

On the first trip to Cambodia are (l-r) Teresa Hagen, Ryan Goble and Erin Henning with a local family.

At times, admits Hagen, the obstacles were tough to overcome, but in the end she and her team pulled it off. Still, it took two January trips to Cambodia (2005 and 2006), 100 hours of recordings, months of editing and an endless number of late nights and weekends doing whatever it took to move the project along. And though the process begun three years ago, Hagen now says it doesn’t feel that long.

“It seems shorter, I think, just because you are right in the middle of it and busy with so many things,” she said.

A native of Texas, Hagen, notes three inspirations for doing this particular documentary – her mother who instilled humanitarian beliefs in her by working locally with poor Mexican families in Texas; her husband, Herman, who told her she could do anything if she put her whole heart into it; and reading a quote from actor Viggo Mortensen that read, “life is short, but you have to do more to make it seem longer.”

Photo from Cambodia

Carlos Silveira with a group of Cambodian children.

“Then I thought ‘What can I do to make my life seem longer? What is something that really impassions me?’” she said. “Humanitarian efforts do interest me a lot and I’m always inspired by people who do that sort of thing.”

Hagen considers herself very fortunate in that a lot of people, many from campus, came forward and were willing to support the project in a variety of ways ― with advice, donated time and equipment.

“I don’t think it was so much that somebody from campus was making a documentary that interested them,” she said, “but I think it was more about the subject matter and where we were going.” She gives accolades to Theatre Arts’ Maria Viera, and associate professor Brian Alan Lane and assistant professor Alan Jacobs from Film and Electronic Arts, all three who served as advisors, as did department alumnus Steve Kennedy. Dean Don Para, College of the Arts; Toni Beron, assistant vice president, Office of Public Affairs and Publications; Pat Rozee, former director for the Center of Community Engagement; Rachel Brophy and Sharon Olson of Odyssey, and Linda Olson-Levy and Paul Lewis (retired) from the Center for International Education also provided support. In addition, CSULB professor of music Martin Herman served as the composer for the film’s score, alumnus Justin Jones handled post-production sound and alumna Caitlin Rademaekers worked as assistant editor on the project.

Originally envisioned by her as a 90-minute documentary, Hagen was told by a few people they felt the subject matter couldn’t possibly warrant feature length status.

“I had several people tell me I should make it a short (20-30 minutes), and I said ‘I am not going all the way to Cambodia to make a short,’” she said. “It was a huge story, and I think people who were saying make it a short hadn’t experienced it. The unspoken question was ‘what do you expect to happen in three weeks that you can make a documentary about?’ and I’m here to say, ‘quite a bit.’”

For information on the documentary, go to its Website.

Among the awards the documentary has already garnered are 2007 Accolade Award Best in Show, 2007 Accolade Honorable Mention Award - Motivational/Inspirational Category; and Official Selection of the 2007 La Femme Film Festival, 2007-08 Global Arts Film Festival, and Best Documentary, Certificate of Distinguished Achievement: Director of a Feature Film (Ryan Goble) and Debut Film at the 2007 Wild Rose Independent Film Festival.