PetaPixel just Viralized!

Wow, this is amazing. The PetaPixel blog just picked my airplane composite video up. 3000 views in under one hour - how exciting! So I'd like to use my 15 minutes seconds of fame to make an appeal to any new visitors who may land here. First - I hope you liked the airplane video and thanks very much for watching it. Second, if I could point you to just one other thing I've made it would be my doc film Bush League. My airplane video took a week to make and I'm proud of it but Bush League took four years to make and it was a true labor of love. Here's the trailer:

Bush League is a CC licensed feature documentary (72 min) that you can download and watch for free that I shot in Malawi, Africa. It's streaming on the Bush League film page and it's also streaming on Amazon. Save it for a rainy night - I promise you'll like it. I've been trying to get it out there into the world for quite some time now so any shares are deeply appreciated. My mission with this film has been to try and tell a deep story about Malawi that puts Malawians right up front. It's a very tough row to hoe when you're as small and as new as I am. Here's Variety's review.

My last little plug - if you're looking for a great film school to learn this stuff - I studied at SDSU and CalArts and I teach film at San Diego City College (RTVC 112 and 167) - I strongly recommend them all. I also teach still photography at Irvine Valley College in OC (dma/photo 51). I'll gladly teach you everything I know.

Thanks again for taking a look and I do hope you visit again,

All the best,


Bush League CC Licensed: Watch Online, Remix and Share

Big news - my feature documentary Bush League is now streaming in several places. It’s available on Amazon Instant video and you can also watch it free (in its entirety) on the Bush League page. Or you can go directly to the film on Vimeo or Youtube. If you like it please share it, like it, tweet it and pin it. It’s a project I’ve put years of work into so I hope it resonates with you.

One of the most important details on the new Bush League page is a Creative Commons tab under the video. I decided to license the film with a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported (CC BY-NC 3.0) license.  What it means is that anyone can download the film and remix it, reuse it and share it without my permission as long as it’s not-for-profit. Many films like Bush League get trapped in distribution channels because the makers have to get a financial return to recoup their costs but I’m not concerned about that. I made the film to be seen and shared. Licensing it in this way broadens the possibilities and expands the life and reach of the film. Or so I hope. If you use the material in something new or you’re a remix artist I’d love to see what you do with it. I hope there's value in the film that I haven't seen or can't draw out that perhaps you can.

The new Bush League page also uses HTML5 to make the viewing experience more dynamic. You can view the film straight through or click one of the Character or Theme buttons and the video will jump to those preselected sections. I use a lot of video when I teach film and photography and I wanted to make it possible for other teachers to use the material in a more convenient way. The running times of each section are:

Jacklyn - 9 minutes

Mlawa - 16 minutes

Chatwa - 12 minutes

Jake - 30 minutes

HIV/AIDS - 19 minutes

Agriculture - 9 minutes

Gender Inequality - 14 minutes

Peace Corps - 16 minutes

Soccer - 11 minutes

Clouds - 3 minutes

Finally, you’ll also notice the Audience Videos on the bottom left of the Bush League page. These are videos of different audiences greeting the people back in Malawi. No one in Malawi has seen Bush League yet and the people in the film have no idea who is seeing them so I started shooting these short clips of audiences at the film screenings. I will go back to Malawi (hopefully summer of 2013) to show them the finished film and I’ll also take the audience videos to show them where and to whom their stories are being told. If you watch the film I’d love to have a clip of you saying hello or yewo (thanks in Chitumbuka) back to the people you saw in the film. Upload your video - Vimeo is the easiest for me to download from but Youtube will work as well – then send a link to and I’ll add your video.


Bush League at Third Goal IFF

Just back from Columbia, Missouri where Bush League headlined the Third Goal Int Film Fest at the University of Missouri. What a community of the people we met there - no joke, Columbia has got something really special going on. Let me say thanks one more time to the Third Goal Int Film Fest, The Central Missouri RPCV group and Columbia Access Television for bringing Jake, the film and myself out to be part of it.Here's Jake and I with a few of the RPCVs who organized the festival:

And the audience greeting the people back in Malawi in Chitumbuka:

Bush League at the Third Goal Int. Film Fest

From a scorching hot San Diego (it's January?) I'm happy to report that Bush League will headline this year's Third Goal Int. Film Fest in Columbia, MO. Jake Wilson who is featured in the film and myself will join the Central Missouri Returned Peace Corps Volunteers group who put the fest together for the screening Feb 4th.

It will be my first time in Missouri and I will be doing everything I can to summon the spirit of my all time fave - Mark Twain. Is anyone in San Diego free on Feb 4th? I have a picket fence that needs some paint.


Oct/Nov Screenings

There's lots of good news coming in from Washington D.C. about the possibility of new legislation to address the status and living conditions of foreign laborers on US military bases abroad. Thanks to a connection from Sarah Stillman who wrote a great piece for the New Yorker magazine last summer INDENTURED is in the hands of a highly motivated attorney who's working hard to make things happen in Congress. Feels great to have finally broken through and found the right place, scratch that, person for the film. It looked bleak for a long stretch. In the meantime, I'm in touch with some workers in Afghanistan via facebook who are getting shafted by a Turkish company on a US war contract there. There aren't too many options but I'm trying to cook something up to help these guys out. On the other end, Bush League will screen at a special event at Rutgers University, New Brunswick campus Nov 17th at 7pm. This is a exciting opportunity to present the film to college students and faculty from several departments. I'm really looking forward to this one.

Twitter feeds about Malawi in anticipation of Aug 17th protests

I'm re-posting from Dr. Kim Yi Dionne's blog: For those interested in following events in Malawi associated with demonstrations against government slated to begin on August 17, here is a list of Twitter feeds from Malawi and the abroad:

Bush League wins Best Doc Feature at 2011 NJIFF

Thanks to everyone who made it out to the NJIFF in New Brunswick last week. What a great trip. The screening went great, and the movie won. How bout that!

Lads discuss cinema after the screening.

A New Yorker hugs the filmmaker. The filmmaker wears a hat.

A community screening at Mrs Riley's Public House in Califon NJ, first time anyone has eaten pop corn and watched a movie I made.

Irish Car Bombs were ordered after the screening. Followed by darts, slander and pork rolls.

We visited Jake's (guy in the movie) 4th grade class in Camden. Hans gave a lesson on the ocean.

And Paul taught them to play the guitar.

That was a fun one.

Bush League will screen next at the Columbia Gorge Film Fest in Vancouver, Washington in mid August. More news to come.

Bush League: Voice Over

These papers are about one third the total it took to draft out the final voice over for Bush League. I never thought it would be this much work to hone it down. I reworked the opening during the holidays to make the first act more accessible and had to reopen this can of worms. Filmmaking is really hard but I never imagined I could love something this much. But what a pain in the ass. Really.

News from Malawi by way of New Jersey

I I talked with Jake for a little while this weekend. For those who’ve seen Bush League, if you don’t remember, he’s the Peace Corps volunteer in the film. Above is a picture of him from last month with his forth graders on Crazy Hat Day. He’s now in his second year of study for a Masters at Rutgers and a fulltime fourth grade teacher. The guy is BUSY! He spoke with Chatwa back in Zolokere, Malawi this week and here’s the latest from the village:

Chatwa (the farmer and team captain in Bush League) is having trouble with elephants trampling his crops at night. It’s very unusual to see an elephant in that area, Chatwa thinks it’s because the elephants are increasing in population that they’re moving out of the Vwaza Game Reserve, which encloses a large wetland south of the village. They’re chasing the elephants away by banging on plastic tubs with sticks. Chatwa also reports that his fifth child and first son is doing well and is “very strong” like his father.

Jacklyn is doing fine and her health appears to be good.

Issac, who appears in Bush League several times but is never named got a serious head injury during a recent football game. He was unconscious for several minutes before coming to.

Tough Gong, the artist and sign painter who made the maps in Bush League (he lives in Mzuzu several hours from the village) is doing well and has a new girlfriend. TG always has a new girlfriend.

No word on Mlawa the soft-spoken young father in Bush League but no news is good news.

The other big news is that the Malawian Government is at work constructing an irrigation system in the Hewe Valley. Chatwa says that they’ll be able to grow vegetables year round once the system is built. Right now fresh vegetables are only available during the rainy/growing season. If this is really happening, it’s a really big deal.

Henry's Wedding: funny ethics

Last spring I was a guest in David Fenster's editing class at UCSD and as an assignment the students had to cut a short from some of the unused Bush League footage. I gave them two hours of footage from Henry Nyimbiri’s wedding, which they had to cut to five minutes or less (Henry is the captain of the rival team in Bush League). One of the students, Bryce Kho, did something that illustrates just how much influence the filmmaker/editor can have on the "reality" of a documentary. It’s a great illustration of the function and/or disfunciton of ethics in doc filmmaking and it’s funny.

Variety reviews Bush League

Bush League got a great write up in Variety this week: Bush League

by Rob Nelson

Produced by Cy Kuckenbaker, Gregory J. Wilson. Directed, edited by Cy Kuckenbaker. With: Vitumbiko Jacklyn Khunga, Songwe "Chatwa" Nyimbiri, Jake Wilson, Mlawa Khunga. Narrator: Cy Kuckenbaker. (English, Malawian dialogue)
Scoring not just as a sports docu but as an ethnographic study, Cy Kuckenbaker's "Bush League" is an entertaining, educational and immersive pic that portrays life in the Malawian village of Zolokere through a look at the ups and downs of its soccer team, the Tony Bombers. Shooting and cutting the film himself, Kuckenbaker catches plenty of action, from fiery debates over game play to the everyday struggles of villagers to deal with the specter of HIV/AIDS. If anything, "Bush League" is more interested in Southeast African culture than in soccer, which will frustrate some viewers and stimulate many others.
Shown losing their first game on a ref's controversial ruling, the Bombers are sponsored by the U.S. Peace Corps, whose hotheaded rep Jake Wilson is building a school in a neighboring village that has its own soccer team. Rivalry between these two clubs is fierce and seems to sandwich Wilson in an uncomfortable middle. The docu's other indelible subjects include the Bombers' captain, Chatwa, an economically indebted farmer of maize and tobacco, and its head cheerleader, Jacklyn, an AIDS activist fighting both the disease and its stigmatized status.
Camera (color, DV), Kuckenbaker. Reviewed on DVD, Vancouver, Oct. 7, 2010. (In Vancouver Film Festival.) Running time: 80 MIN.

Bush League is dedicated to Gama

The first time I saw Epton Gama, he was just a few feet away, popping out of the head-high sea of grass that walls the footpath leading into the village of Zolokere. Without a pause he wrapped his arms around me and said “oooohh my brother!” If I felt a little unease in being so far from the world I was familiar with, it evaporated when Gama appeared. Gama worked for Jake (one of the people in Bush League) at his house taking care of all the day-to-day things like carrying water and cooking. This is a normal arrangement for many people in the region and for almost all the Peace Corps volunteers there. As Jake’s visitor, by default, Gama also took care of me during my first two trips to Malawi. He died from AIDS in late 2008.

A few people have asked me why he isn’t in the film, he only appears in a couple shots. The filmmaker part of me will tell you it’s just casting - Gama wasn’t a “character”. He didn’t embody any specific point of view or sector of life in Zolokere like some of the others do. But Gama’s hand really is all over the film. I know that people watching can never know that but when I watch it’s one of the things I see. He is in the film. He was pivotal in making it.

Films (for me) are primarily stories in pictures but they’re also cultural artifacts that belong to specific times and places. I hope that someday Bush League will fall into a canon of western films in which we started to move our narrative of Africa away from the tired tropes and began to see it with more sophistication and respect. But I also know it’s possible that I got things wrong and that in fifty years it may look unsophisticated and uninformed. So I’m dedicating my effort to make the film to Gama not the film itself. Making it has been the hardest thing I’ve ever done and through this labor I wish to express to you Gama that I remember you and I recognize you. Please accept this - it was the very best I could do. It is the least I can do.


My innovation for movie posters is to cut tear-off tabs on the sides with a URL to get the screening times. It kind of worked in Vancouver except that they were all covered over with other posters in less than 24 hours. As far as marketing goes, I think my only real shot is to make good films and just tell the truth. Posters are still fun though.

Bush League: Hello Zolokere!

I just got back to San Diego this morning after a really amazing experience at the Vancouver Int. Film Festival. I’ll write more about the festival this week but for now I just want to share this video. It’s the audience at the first screening saying hi to everyone back in Malawi. What an amazing audience, what an amazing experience. This experience will be hard to beat.

There are two extra names in there: Tosi and Judith. I shot lots of material with both of them, which I couldn’t use in the final film but they are still an important part of it.

Interview with Dr. Kim Yi Dionne: Part 5 of 5

Quick, imagine you’re a rural Malawian and put this list of development priorities in order, 1 being the most important to you and 5 the least important to you: Agricultural Development


HIV/AIDS services

Clean Water

Health Services

Bush League premieres in a week and a half so I wanted to take this week to post an interview I did recently with Dr. Kim Yi Dionne. Kim is a political scientist with a research background in Malawi who reviewed Bush League for accuracy during post production. In reading her work I was struck by the results of a survey she did of rural Malawian’s development priorities. The survey results look very simple, it’s just a short list of what the people in that region would prefer in terms of money/resources spent on development. Here are the actual results - see how you guessed.

In a survey of 1259 rural villagers in Rumphi district, villagers ranked their preferences with respect to development and health in the following order:

  1. Clean Water

  2. Agricultural Development

  3. Health Services

  4. Education

  5. HIV/AIDS services

How did you do? See anything unexpected? Where did you rank HIV/AIDS services?

HIV/AIDS services were fifth? How many of us could have guessed that HIV/AIDS would be last? So what’s going on? Shouldn't they be first?

To shed some light on this I’ll be posting a five-part interview with Kim on the facebook/Bush League group page and here over the next five days that looks at this. I hope you’ll find these clips interesting both as an insight on Malawi but perhaps equally so - as a reflection of ourselves.

For today I’m posting a second short clip from an interview with the Subchief of Zolokere (he’s the highest authority in the village where Bush League was filmed) and this will start us with some insights into the extreme end of the conversation –  the HIV/AIDS conspiracy theory.

Subchief Moses Khunga from Zolokere, Malawi, January 2007

Dr. Kim Yi Dionne at UCLA, June 2010