Dennis and Dionne Newton

Dennis and Dionne Newton
Dennis & Dionne Newton

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Teaching the Teachers

As we slowly begin to realize and accept the fact that we are down to less than six months to make a difference here in Bosnia, it truly is a bittersweet emotion. Arriving in Bosnia with little understanding of the true needs here, we set out to find the neediest of the needy. We didn't have to search long before our hearts and out efforts were drawn to helping individuals with special needs. I know I have discussed their plight in Bosnia several times on past blogs so I won't elaborate further today, but suffice it to say they truly are the neediest of the needy. There are no established educational practices, no enforced laws to protect their rights, educational or otherwise. Many children with disabilities are not afforded the opportunity to obtain any type of formal education. Fortunately, there are people in Bosnia who care. Parents and educators who are struggling to be a catalyst for change. And this weekend we have been blessed to work side by side with many of them from throughout the country as part of an LDS Charities and EDUS project to teach the teachers. While giving material gifts is nice, giving the gift of knowledge is priceless.
A very small part of the materials the attendees were able to
take back to use in their centers. 

Partnering with EDUS (Educate Us - Education for All), LDS Charities sponsored an educational workshop. We spent three days immersed in learning. Professionals who work with children with special needs gathered in Sarajevo to increase their knowledge base and to improve their teaching techniques with the hope to enrich the lives of those they teach. For a few it was reinforcement and expansion of knowledge they already had, however for many it was new material, a new concept and a truly eye-opening experience. While these techniques may be commonplace in the U.S., it is cutting edge in Bosnia.

The three-day workshop included theory and hands-on learning.The major components of the workshop were Initial Assessments and Developing an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP), Teaching Techniques and Parent Education. The educators were divided into groups of 4 with one EDUS staff member in each group to reinforce learning while another EDUS staff member lead the session. They learned how to assess a child's skills and based on that assessment, create a IEP that would provide the greatest potential for increased skill acquisition. The individual goals included the areas of cognitive, communication, large motor, fine motor and social skills. After putting together an IEP, they then were taught how to implement the program through specific teaching techniques that have been proven effective with all children, but especially for children with special needs. In addition to learning, there was a lot of laughing as they role played, taking turns being the teacher and the student.
Learning how to use the assessment tools

EDUS staff explaining goals and objectives

The use of flashcards is very important. Denny and I spent
a fair amount of time to create a set of over 200 flash cards
for each center to take home. (not the ones pictured)

When they return to their centers, they will have all the
tools they need to implement the educational techniques 

EDUS staff showing how to use flashcards in various ways

Which one is green?

Learning about "pairing"objects. EDUS staff assisting "student"
with a "hand-in-hand" technique as part of a correction. 

The final session was spent on one of the most difficult topics. Parent education. Parents are the key to their child's success. Continuity of expectations between school and home are extremely important. Some parents are actively involved in their child's education, but unfortunately, many just don't know what they can do to help their child learn so they do very little. The workshop participants learned new ways to involve parents and take home materials to share with parents to get them more engaged with their child and to help them understand that, as parents, they can, and must, continue their child's education at home.

Learning strategies to involve parents in their children's education

Stanislova, EDUS staff member, shared a wealth
of information as the lead presenter
for the workshop this weekend. 
Intense and informative are the words that come to mind to adequately describe the three days. Non-stop learning, hands-on practical application and continual questions provided immense insight for those in attendance. One goal of the training workshops is for the attendees to return to their centers and not only implement the new teaching strategies, but to also share it with other professionals in their centers. We will be meeting with each center in the next month to assist with initial assessments and reinforce what they have learned. This group is the "test" group for our project study. We have another "control" group who will attend the training at the beginning of the second semester. We will be doing initial assessment with the control group as well. At the end of the semester we will conduct final assessments for both groups and anticipate a higher skill acquisition for those using the new technique. If all goes as planned, our primary goal is to do a research report showing positive results that will be shared with Ministries of Education throughout Bosnia. Maybe, just maybe, if those in a position to do something about it understand the significance of educating every child, educational practices for children with disabilities will change. And together with EDUS, who so willingly shared their knowledge and continues to fight every day for the rights of children, we will have made a true difference in the lives of some very special people.
The whole group after an intense three days of learning!
A huge thank you to everyone for all you do for the children of Bosnia!

Sunday, August 20, 2017

"The question is not, Why a film festival during a war, but Why a war during a film festival?"

The 2017 Sarajevo Film Festival

Sarajevo is a wonderful city to visit. But the absolute best time to be here is during the week of the Sarajevo Film Festival. The city absolutely comes alive with energy and events.

The festival was this past week in Sarajevo. Initially Dionne and I thought that we would just try and see a few movies. But I was enjoying the festival so much that I decided to view a screening every day...a few times without Dionne even. The pictures were hit and miss...but it was fun.

John Cleese was a guest of the festival and received a lifetime achievement award. There was a free outdoor screening of his film A Fish Called Wanda.

Red Dog: True Blue

The first picture we viewed was in the children program section; an Australian film called Red Dog: True Blue. Initially I was thinking that this was the stupidest name for a movie. After viewing it, I realized it was a sequel to the 2011 movie Red Dog, so the title made a little more sense.

The Red Dog movies were inspired by a dog who lived in Western Australia during the 1970s.
This plaque is on his grave. He was legendary in the outback and a number of Australians remember him fondly.
The movie was well done and enjoyable. It tells the story of a young Australian city boy who is forced to move to his grandfather's ranch in Western Australia for a year. The boy struggles to fit in until Red Dog (whom he calls "Blue") shows up in his life. Red Dog becomes his first true mate.

We did not read the ticket correctly and we showed up an hour before the actual film time. So we hung out in rainy Ilidja for an extra hour.

Both Dionne and I enjoyed the movie. It was not little changing or anything like that. The first movie, Red Dog, was a bit of a sensation in Australia, taking in over 21 million Australian dollars at the box office. This one has not done quite as well.

This was quite the rain storm...fortunately Dionne wore sandals.

This worker could not quite figure out why we had arrived to this movie so early.

A Short History of the Sarajevo Film Festival

The Sarajevo film festival is the largest in Southern Europe and one of the most important festivals in Europe. Over 100,000 people were expected to attend. All this from a small act of defiance during a time of great trouble and hardship.

Festival signage permeated the city this week.
When the war broke out, all of the movie theaters were shut down. Public gatherings were avoided for safety reasons and there was not enough electricity to power theaters. But a group in 1993 decided to organize the first and only Sarajevo International Film Festival. In October 1993, a group held a small festival using a video beam projector. For ten days film cassettes were smuggled in, workers were paid in cigarettes and flour, and car engines were rigged to run the projectors. It was war cinema with one hundred seats. It was packed every night despite the risks. One attendee recalls viewing Basic Instinct at this festival. Sharon Stone's famous nudity scene did not seem to bring a reaction from the audience...but there was tremendous applause at the sight of a dinner table full of food.

A flyer for the original Sarajevo International Film Festival. They basically watched whatever VHS tapes they could get their hands on!
As the siege neared it's end, the city decided to host a more formal film festival. The first official film festival was held in 1995. They were able to screen 37 movies from 15 countries. While they expected a low turnout, they were surprised when 15,000 attendees showed up (mostly locals).

We bought all of our tickets on-line...not sure I would have attended everyday if I would have had to stand in line in front of this box office.
A stamp commemorating the Sarajevo Film Festival.

A Ghost Story

Next Dionne and I went to a late night screening  of A Ghost Story starring Casey Affleck. Described as an introspective saga where a ghost "embarks on a cosmic journey through memory and history, confronting life's ineffable questions and the enormity of existence," the one thing the description did not mention is that it is as slow as molasses and worse than watching paint dry.

Somehow this monstrosity played was selected to play at Sundance. 
One scene sums up the movie perfectly. The main character has died and is now in a sheet just "hanging out" in his old house. His wife is still in mourning and finds that a neighbor has dropped off a pie for her. The ghost watches while the woman sits and eats the entire pie. Shot in a single take without any close-ups, we watch her eat this pie for ten minutes. There is no particular emotion...just her attacking the pie. Sitting on the floor and eating pie. Then she runs to the bathroom to throw it up.

At least we were able to have popcorn during this movie. It gave us a little diversion.
The director also decided to show the whole movie on a small screen. I kept wondering what effect he was going for...and if he would ultimately use the whole screen. At the end of the movie, we were asked to give a 1-5 rating for the film. Being nice, I turned in a 3. Dionne refused to turn in her rating because she would feel bad giving it a 1. Dionne, in particular, hated this movie. So she decided that I could attend the next few movies alone.

One cool thing was this old European car which we spotted parked near the theater. 
The best thing I can say about A Ghost Story is that there is only one swear word in the entire movie and nothing content-wise that would objectionable. Remove the one swear word and Mitch could comfortably attend this movie! But only go it you are needing a good nap.

Ninja Cowboy Viking

As I was watching these movies (especially the ones in the children's program), I kept thinking how exciting it would be if Ninja Cowboy Viking were to play at a film festival like this one. For those of you who do not follow the adventures of my family, my brother has been making movies starring the children of my family...and it has gotten dangerously out of control. This summer they have shown there latest movie at theaters in Boise, Kansas City, and Lander Wyoming. These showings were all associated with a Make-a-Wish foundation fund raiser. While I have not seen the movie yet, I am excited to.

Movie poster from one of the Idaho premieres. 

And they shot the sequel this summer. So it is in the editing and production phase with an anticipated premiere date sometime next summer. I kept wondering how I could get Ninja Cowboy Viking into the Sarajevo Film Festival.

Crowd posing after a night of shooting.


After the late night debacle that was A Ghost Story, Dionne looked at me warily as I mentioned another movie the next morning that I was interested in. She sent me on my merry way to Menashe, a story about a father in a small Hasidic Jewish community in New York City. I am quite glad that I went to this screening.

Poster for Menashe. Although set in New York, the movie is almost entirely in Hebrew...fortunately it had English sub-titles.
There are many reasons why we go to movies. Some go to escape. Some go for a thrill (mainly horror and action fans). Some go to be entertained. Some go to feel good about the world and themselves. Some go to learn something about the world. Some go to think about life. And some go to immerse themselves in another culture that they are not a part of. I go to movies for all of these reasons. And Menashe was an opportunity to immerse myself in a completely foreign culture...the world of Hasidic Jews.

I kept watching this movie and wondering if this was truly the United States. I amazes me that such strong sub-cultures can exist within the framework of our larger culture. 
The basic story is about a Jewish man, Menashe, whose wife, Leah, has passed away. He has a son and, according to their community's rules (as established by their Rabbi), the son has to be raised in a two-parent home. Since Menashe has not remarried, his son is forced to live with his uncle's family. I am not sure if these traditions are accurate or not, but the story telling was compelling. We learn that Menashe is hesitant to remarry. He did not want to marry in the first place but his father forced him to. He hated the arranged marriage with Leah. They fought all of the time. And the only good thing from the marriage was his son. Menashe was actually relieved when his wife passed away and does not want to enter into another marriage. But he loves his son. So does he leave the faith, continue to be a black sheep, or comply? It was fun to be thrown into a completely different culture and face a dilemma that seems patently silly to me and my culture. But I also understand that there are similar dilemmas within my own Mormon culture that seem silly to outsiders as well.

This was a relatively small theater. But it was packed even for this noon showing of a Jewish film (deep in the heart of Muslim Bosnia).
I enjoyed this film. Not my absolute favorite. But I enjoyed it.

Film Makers are People Too

Typically after a major film screening, the film makers are introduced and take questions from the audience. While I did not see this film, I happened to come into a theater just after the Georgian movie Scary Mother was screened. The film makers were on stage taking questions and I got to listen. This is notable because Scary Mother ended up winning the award for best picture.

The director, producer, and stars of Scary Mother.
This is the first film of the 25-year old female Georgian director. And she looked violently ill as she stood in front of the audience taking questions. She admitted that she could not watch the screening. Her body seemed to convulse with nervous ticks as she struggled to answer questions about her film. Her producers and stars helped her out. But I just felt so bad as I watched her writhe in agony. Clearly she does not like being in front of people.

The director of Scary Mother.
This experience just reminded me that famous (and not so famous) movie people are still people.

The star of Scary Mother doing a TV interview.

The Rider

When I first looked at the list of films playing at the festival, I was most intrigued by this film, The Rider. The synopsis made it seem like an American film which represents wholesome midwestern values. And it has a rodeo cowboy and horses so I figured Dionne would like it.

We were joined in Sarajevo by the Crnich's. They are from Utah and he is a retired vet who used to work at rodeos. So they joined us for the movie screening of The Rider.
You never know what you are going to get when you are watching film festival movies. Usually they have not been submitted for a movie rating, so you only have the synopsis to determine whether or not the film is appropriate. After the third f-word in the first 5 minutes of The Rider, it was clear that this was not as wholesome a movie as the synopsis said. Unless wholesome means regular swearing and normalized drug use. And the movie had a somewhat dark and foreboding tonality. So we were not sure if we really wanted to stay.

The Crnich's in front of a WW1-era replica on the corner where Ferdinand was assassinated.
But we did. And we were glad that we did. Turns out that I liked this movie more than anything else I saw during the film festival. For reasons that I was not anticipating going in. The story that is told is mostly true. It is based on the real life of people of Sioux heritage that live in South Dakota. It is a movie but a true-to-life movie with people playing themselves.

Pro Bull Rider Lane Scott.
And two of the main characters have disabilities. They are not the main characters in the story. Rather they are portrayed as they would appear in normal life. I loved how matter-of-fact these characters came and out of the story. The main character's sister, for example, is on the autism spectrum. And it really is the actor's sister that is playing her...playing herself.

Brady and Apollo...a horse whom he trains.
And then there is Lane Scott. I had never heard of Lane but Dionne and the Crnich's had. He was a young, hard-charging PBR star who was seriously injured in a car accident. He is now physically disabled and can only communicate using sign language via his right hand. Lane Scott is a major character in this movie as well. The real Lane Scott.

Ultimately the movie is about learning to live with disabilities. All of the main characters are disabled in some way or another. The more I thought about the movies that I had seen this week, this is the one that I like the most. Not an overwhelming endorsement, mind you, but it was a fresh take on old themes.

Short People Got No Reason

I decided it would not be a film festival if I did not go to either a collection of shorts, student films, or some documentaries. My schedule allowed me to attend a collection of short films.

Most of these shorts were directed by local Balkans. The first, Into the Blue, took the prize as Best Short Film.
Watching five 20-minute shorts, I came to several conclusions. First, there are many directors who are able to produce gorgeous short films. The cinematography was remarkable. Different looks and styles yes, but absolutely stunning visuals. Second, the storytelling is seriously lacking. If only any of the five directors could have started with a great story...and told it correctly, they would have had something. But what a mess these five films are.

The directors answering questions about their movies.

Let me give just one example. The movie SOA is based on a Hercegovina urban myth the director had heard. The basic idea is that a village man had murdered his wife by torturing a ram. He would take the ram out in the woods, dress up like his wife, and then beat the ram. He did this enough that when his wife walked into their barn one day, the ram attacked and killed her. The story is typical of Bosnian dark humor and could made a respectable short film. But the director seemed more interested in showing beautiful Hercegovina landscapes rather than telling his story. Lots of wide shots but very little actual story telling. I did not have any idea of what was going on until the interview session afterwards when he told the plot synopsis.

The only short that told a cohesive story was Into the Blue; the ultimate winner. I certainly understood this story of young craziness that leads to an unfortunate cliff diving death. But I also completely hated the picture. It rubbed me the wrong way almost immediately.

The Big Sick

On the final night of the festival we watched a movie outdoors with about 3,000 festival attendees. The movie, The Big Sick, has been playing all summer in the U.S. Billed as a Pakistani My Big Fat Greek Wedding, I was interested to see it. And as a test of it's authenticity, I invited a friend who is married to a Pakistani.

The outdoor theater at the Sarajevo Film Festival. 
As it turns out, I was disappointed in this movie. It was funny at times, but I found the language a little too vulgar for my tastes (and I usually do not freak out over language). My Muslim friend had a similar reaction. For her it was just hard to see the wanton display of immorality so typical of American life. And for a Pakistani to act this way was doubly difficult. This really soured her enjoyment of the movie.

Shay and Alexis Wood at the festival.
There were some funny moments in the movie. The best one-liners was when the main Pakistani character was asked about 9-11. Although he has lived all of his life in America, the assumption being that he would be conflicted. So his response played to those stereotypes and he simply said "well, we lost 19 of our best men there." Wish the rest of the movie could have been written that well.

Enjoying a crepe at the Festival Food Point.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Roller Coasters to Refugees

Well if you happen to know my husband, you will also know that he LOVES roller coasters! As a matter of fact, he has now ridden 427 different roller coasters around the world. ( I'm at a measly 212 and yes, he keeps track!) Soon after we opened our mission call, Denny did a search for amusement parks in the mission boundaries... nothing, not a single one! But he did find out that one was going to be opening in Zadar (a coastal city in Croatia) and put it on the calendar. Two weeks after the opening, we were there. Amusement parks are always more fun with a group so we got permission from the Mission President to take the missionaries serving in the Zadar area with us... and they brought a friend! We had a great time, although it is a very small park at the moment. But... they did have a roller coaster! We had a great time and of course enjoyed the company of these great young people!

Elder Christensen, Elder Hillock, Bo┼żo, Sister Locey and Sister Christensen
The one and only roller coaster as viewed from the Ferris Wheel.

It was an extremely hot day so they found a good way to cool off!
He tells us his phone is waterproof.. we thought he was texting, but
he said he was trying to unlock it so he could take some pictures. 

This was a bit creepy... Elder Christensen fit right in!

After our entertaining day at the amusement park, Denny and I spent the next day at Nin, a small town outside of Zadar. Wikipedia explains, "According to historians, the area of Nin appears to have been settled 10,000 years ago. The present-day town on the islet developed 3,000 years ago and is one of the older towns on the eastern Adriatic. " Needless to say, it is a very old, very quaint little town with two famous churches, the church of Holy Cross from the 9th century, called “the smallest cathedral in the world”, and the coronation church. It is also famous for having some of the only sandy beaches on the coast. "Healthy mud" is also a big draw for the beach goers in Nin. 

The people walking near the church will give you some persepective
on the actual size of this teeny, tiny "cathedral".

We had to check out the "healthy mud". Ironically, I ended up
with a nasty stomach virus the rest of the week.... not convinced
this was truly "healthy mud", but our skin was soft afterwards!
We headed home and back to work after our short trip to the sea. One of our major water projects held a closing ceremony. For this project we cooperated with the local municipality to construct a 3 kilometer water pipe to bring running water to a rural school. Prior to this project, the school staff was bringing drinking water and water to "flush" the toilets each day in bottles and buckets. I was still sick so I was not able to attend the ceremony but Denny got some pictures and it looked like the whole town came out to celebrate. Two TV crews, the mayor and all the children that attend the small school joined in the festivities. It was quite the party! I was sad that I had to miss it, but certainly didn't want to share my germs with the whole town! 

The town mayor (in yellow) and the new school director (on crutches)
being interviewed. This was the director's first week on the job.

Interviewing one of the students and asking what he thinks about
being able to flush toilets when school starts in a few weeks. 

Town children preforming at the closing ceremony.

Elder Newton and the mayor with some of the students.

Bosnians NEVER celebrate without a good meal!
This past week we had more fun with the young missionaries. This time all 11 missionaries from Bosnia joined us for the day before Zone Conference. They all gathered in Sarajevo on Sunday night. Early Monday morning we all headed out to visit Mostar, a Turkish Dervish and Jajce, a small town with a cool waterfall and fort. After we finished up our sightseeing, we headed to Banja Luka for Zone Conference the next morning. It's always so enjoyable to hang out with the missionaries and just soak up all the joy they exude. It was a lot of driving, but we were in good company!
They enjoyed dipping their feet in the cool water and watching the
guy up on the center of the bridge jump into the river below.
Sister Lougee, Elder Roberts, Elder King, Elder Smith, Elder Parkinson,
Sister Turner, Sister Beus, Elder Hole, Sister Mitovic (sp?), Sister Orchard and Elder Echols.

This little boat trip takes you into the cave just a bit, but it
was beautiful inside!

The boat driver uses the rope to pull the boat into and out of the cave

Just a few of my favorite people.....

Aren't they beautiful! They had to be "covered" to enter the dervish. 
Once we got home from Zone Conference we spent the next couple of days finalizing projects for the two refugee centers in Zagreb. LDS Charities will be providing the centers with much needed supplies. We were approved to supply 500 pairs of shoes, sheets, pillows. blankets, laundry detergent and towels as well as an assortment of clothing to name a few items. Also approved was a service project with the missionaries and church members in Zagreb to assembly 500 hygiene kits and LDS Charities will also will be providing them with backpacks and school supplies so the refugee children will be prepared to start school in September. The Croatia Red Cross oversees both centers and we have been so impressed with all the work they are doing to make the lives of these people a little bit better. 

I personally just want to thank any of you who have ever donated to the humanitarian efforts of LDS Charities. Your generous donations truly do make a difference in the lives of so many people. Sometimes we don't realize the impact a few dollars can make when it is multiplied by millions of people. So, thank you from us and from those whose lives have been touched by your Christlike love.