where the writers are
The Whole World, Watching

Want to watch a movie? How about watching with friends in Cairo, Kigali, London, Los Angeles, Mumbai, and Rio de Janeiro at the same time? Starting at 11 a.m. Pacific Time on Saturday, 10 May, 2008, Pangea Day will be celebrated with a four-hour program of short films and music. It will be screened in theaters and homes around the globe, on widescreens and cellphones, but I'll be watching from the Pangea Day Web site. The whole program will undoubtedly be available at the Web site for viewing at later times by those who missed the live feed.

It all started with a wish.

One of the most interesting recent cultural trends has been the proliferation of colorful, information-rich, well-funded initiatives designed to stimulate and showcase new thinking. They all swim in that public-private soup brewed up by visionaries and business entrepreneurs, sometimes called "social entrepreneurship." To a veteran of progressive movements such as myself, something feels a tiny bit odd about corporations cozying up to social change. The profit motive is so clear—getting next to a bunch of expansive entrepreneurial types creates high-end product placement opportunities galore—that I sometimes find it hard to believe altruism is in the mix. But then I have to wonder how much motives matter if the result is support for worthy causes. (And by the way, can anyone point out the project and money absolutely uncontaminated by mixed motives?)

Have you heard of TED talks? "TED" stands for "technology, entertainment, design," which actually sounds a lot narrower and fluffier than it is. Each year, TED holds a phenomenally expensive (i.e., way out of my price range) annual conference wherein 1000 participants give 50 fascinating, energetic and impassioned people 18 minutes apiece to tell the world what matters most to them. I posted a link a few weeks ago to a remarkable TED talk from a scientist who'd discovered her true nature by losing half her brain to a stroke. You can find video clips of the talks at the TED site and download audio podcasts through iTunes.

Each year, a few speakers are awarded the TED prize, which entails $100,000 and the granting of “One Wish to Change the World," which each winner reveals at the prize ceremony. The TED network of individuals, ideas, resources and companies contributes to the realization of winners' wishes. In 2006, Jehane Noujaim, director of the film Control Room, wished for:

a day when you have everyone coming together from around the world, you have towns and villages and theaters from around the world, getting together and sitting in the dark and sharing a communal experience of watching a film or a couple of films, together. Watching a film which maybe highlights a character that is fighting to live, or just a character that defies stereotypes, makes a joke, sings a song, comedies, documentaries, shorts. This amazing power can be used to change people and to bond people together, to cross borders and have people feel like they're having a communal experience.

Her goal was to address the "biggest danger in our world,... understanding the other and having mutual respect for the other and crossing borders," because "as the world is getting smaller, it's really important that we learn each other's dance moves, that we meet each other, we get to know each other, we are able to figure out a way to cross borders, to understand each other, to understand people's hopes and dreams, what makes them laugh and cry.... It's about connecting people through film, getting these independent voices out there."

And now it's happening on May 10th, with 20 or so short films subtitled in Arabic, English, French, German, Hindi, Portuguese, and Spanish, interspersed with live music and live speakers, with simultaneous transmissions from over 1,000 Pangea Day events around the globe. "O brave new world," wrote Shakespeare, "That hath such people in't!" He had no idea.