My Polish/Romanian parents arrived in Kenya in 1942 as Jewish refugees. I was born in Athi River in 1946 and attended schools in Nairobi. I earned my “O” and “A” Levels at the Kenya Girls’ High School and went on to earn a BSc. in zoology, botany and chemistry at the University of Nairobi in 1968.
While in Kenya, my main interests were in theater, film and radio, and I was involved in many local productions as an actress or on the production side. From the age of 16, I contributed feature articles to Kenya’s main newspaper, the East African Standard and also worked free-lance for Kenya’s radio station, the Voice Of Kenya, dramatizing and acting in radio plays.
After graduating from the University of Nairobi in 1968, I attended Bristol University, UK, from 1969 – 1970, where I earned a postgraduate Diploma in Film Technology and Theatre History. This entailed all aspects of 16mm and 35mm film-making, including camera, sound recording and editing. I was closely involved with productions at the Bristol Old Vic and with the BBC’s Natural History branch in Bristol. I was involved in several award-winning student films as producer, camera and/or sound technician/editor. After graduation, I worked in London as Production Assistant for Maya Film Productions – an award-winning independent film company run by England’s renowned producer, Barney Platts-Mills.
In 1970, I moved to Hamburg, Germany, to work for the film and television production company Windrose-Dumont-Time on a series of 16 films on animal behavior called Forscher, Tiere und Visiere (Researchers, Animals and Visions) I worked closely with scientific experts for each film, translating their data into layman’s terms, and wrote the scripts for six of the films, all of which were broadcast world-wide. I also wrote and produced Chefa Jila, a documentary on an Ethiopian village, which was broadcast on German television in July, 1974. Another product of this period was PowerPlay, a black-and-white experimental film illustrating the futility of ambitions for power, which was screened in several Hamburg film theaters and was later included in Alwaysi’s web-based Throwback Film Festival in 2002.
I left the film industry because of union limitations both in the U.K. and in Germany. From 1972 – 1974, I worked as PR Manager for Polydor Records in Hamburg, taking visiting groups and musicians like Eric Clapton, Slade, Golden Earring and James Brown on tour throughout Germany. For the 12 years that I lived in Hamburg, I was also a free-lance contributor to countless newspapers, magazines and radio shows, writing (in German) on everything from pop to politics, poetry to penguins. I frequently read my own dramatized works of fiction in Hamburg’s many literary venues.
In 1982, I moved to the United States, where I continued to work as a journalist and to follow another calling as a teacher. In 1992, I graduated from Bank Street College of Education in Manhattan with a Masters Degree in Education and since then, I have taught creative non-fiction and fiction writing to students of all ages in schools throughout Long Island and the Triborough district. For seven years, I was Professor of Writing and the Writing Program Coordinator at Friends World Program, an international college based in Southampton. When it later became Global College, affiliated with Long Island University in Brooklyn, I taught the graduating students’ Senior Thesis Seminar every spring for five years.
I have also taught many courses in professional development for teachers, for example for Primary Source in Boston in October, 2007, where I ran a workshop on East African history that included curriculum development on this topic for all grades. I have run several teachers’ workshops on curriculum development, including one at Bank Street College of Education titled Including Indigenous People in the Social Studies Curriculum and several for various high schools on Writing Across the Curriculum; and Curriculum Development in Any Content Area. Most recently, I ran the latter course at the United States International University in Nairobi, Kenya (2006) for a group of 38 teachers in all faculties, including math, political science, geography and environmental studies. I have also conducted various workshops for teachers for BOCES (Board Of Cooperative Educational Services) on Long Island, and have worked in many high schools to enhance their African studies curriculum.
I have authored several books for the educational market, among them an award-winning six-part series titled African Kingdoms of the Past (Simon & Schuster/Dillon Press, 1992 – 1996), as well as The Ancient Hebrews and Isabel and Ferdinand in Fifteenth Century Spain (Benchmark Books, 1995 and 1996). I have published poetry in various small presses as well as Yellow Dog Dreaming (Wiseacre Press, 1995), a collection of short stories about white women in Africa, illustrated by Gabriele Raacke. My account of growing up in Kenya, titled Nusu Nusu (see my posts on this website), was published in the 2007 issue of The Global City Review.
In March, 2015, I was invited to participate at the Parrish Art Museum’s Petchakutcha program, in which local artists are invited to present their work in a strict format of 20 slides of 20 seconds each, totaling 6:40mns. My presentation was called INSIDE THE BOX and involved a retrospective look at all my films to date.
In 2002, I completed my first film after a long hiatus – a 15mn 16mm black-and-white experimental short titled Surrender which was shot on Long Island and selected for the 2002 Independent Film Project (IFP) market where it was picked up by the Independent Film Channel and broadcast frequently for three years. In January/February of 2004, I traveled around southern India and produced a “documentary travelogue” titled India – And Other Thoughts as a break-through model for Windows Movie-Maker. In 2005, I made a short documentary film for the Earthwatch Samburu Conservation Initiative in northern Kenya, which was my way of giving back something to the country I love so much. In 2007, I made The Swahili Beat, an upbeat look at the fascinating history of East Africa’s Islamic coast, packed with indigenous music and dance and geared towards the educational market. The Swahili Beat is distributed by Documentary Educational Resources. In January 2011 I completed four years of work on Walking With Life – The Birth of a Human Rights Movement in Africa, which looks at the work of Tostan, an NGO that offers human rights education in Senegal and other African countries. This film was screened at several film festivals, including the San Diego Black Film Festival; the Hamptons Black International Film Festival; Beloit International Film Festival; Naperville Independent Film Festival; Clearwater Film Festival; and The Indie Fest, La Jolla, and has won several awards. This film is now distributed by TomCat Films and Ytinifni. I also produced two companion films on the topic of human rights education: Tostan: Building Partnerships Through Human Rights Education, and Human Rights Cities: Paths to Peace. These two films are included as bonus features with WALKING WITH LIFE.
In December, 2013, I launched a 70-minute documentary film titled Beautiful Tree, Severed Roots, distributed by 7th Art Film Releasing. Set in Kenya, between the Mau Mau uprising of the 1950s and Independence in 1963, the film explores my family’s deep connections to Africa and to the African people, and asks many questions about personal, national and global identity. This film premiered in December, 2013, at the Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor, New York, and enjoyed its African premiere at Nairobi’s National Theater as part of the Storymoja Hay Festival in September, 2014. This film was screened at the Hamptons Take 2 Documentary Film Festival, at Afrikfest in Belgium, the Zanzibar International Film Festival, and the Ethiopian International Film Festival.
For several years, I have been teaching Documentary Film – All Aspects of Production, Writing a Treatment, and Marketing at the Digital Film Academy in Manhattan. In January 2014, I taught this course to students at the Kenya Institute of Mass Communications in Nairobi, and at the Hot Sun Foundation, a private Film school in Kibera, one of the worst slums in the world. In September, 2014, I will be returning to conduct master classes at both schools.
It’s 2016 and I’m working on two feature film scripts and a limited TV series – none of which have anything to do with Africa! I’ve also written an epic poem titled THE CURSE, about a white woman, her African servant, a shaman and… A CURSE! I plan to release this in the Fall of 2017 as an illustrated book, a theatrical production and a radio play.
I’m currently raising funds for HOLDING ONTO WATER – a documentary film about one man’s struggle to save his people – the tiny El Molo tribe of northern Kenya – from extinction. Here’s Lion Lepalo Gideon talking about the issues his tribe faces. Watch for more news on my fund-raising campaign on Indiegogo.