Through the Looking Glass

When your job is to look through a lens, it’s obvious that there is something between you and your subject. Be it a small piece of glass or the entire body of a camera, I am often aware of how distant a small machine makes me feel from that which I am attempting to capture.

Mina looks on as I film.

Mina looks on as I film.

In some cases, I enjoy this distance as it allows me to avoid facing truth. In the case of poverty, I am especially well-trained at maintaining a professional distance from the faces on the other side of the lens. If I spend too much time thinking about the stories and the pain that exist, my all-encompassing sense of empathy would prevent me from getting the job done. Such is the life of a documentarian.

For the first time in my memory, I had to walk away from the camera this week. After spending 7 days filming the beautiful children that participated in the Heartbeats Foundation Music Center program that is the subject of my current documentary, I was apparently in complete denial. I could look through the lens of my video camera and lovingly capture the moving images of these beautiful children without hesitation.

When it came time for the members of the Heartbeats group to leave yesterday, it all changed. The children had been inspired by music and were deeply saddened at the news that their new friends from America were going to leave. We expected tears, but I personally did not expect Mina.

Helen & Mina

Helen & Mina

She had been extremely quiet during the week’s activities. She participated in a group, but always sat in the back and sang or played with trepidation and a lack of confidence. You can imagine my surprise when she came up to window of the Music Center and lovingly and quietly cried in the eyes and arms of Heartbeats founder, Helen Nightengale. She lingered in Helen’s embrace in a way that none of us expected her to be open to.

I happened to be pointing my camera in that same direction but when I had adjusted my settings and pressed record and then looked into the lens, I had to walk away. I simply could not distant myself any longer.

My dear and amazing colleague Noam stepped in for me, the cameras kept rolling, and I went into a corner and sobbed. The unfortunate repercussion of the lens preventing me from seeing the truth was that I was very suddenly struck with just how profound the week’s activities were. How massive an impact Heartbeats had made in just a short time. I was literally overwhelmed with emotion and had to step outside my professional self and allow my true and emotional self the opportunity to see with my own eyes.

I am so privileged to meet these children. To inspire them and be inspired in return. I will never know their truth, and no matter how fantastic a filmmaker I set out to be, I know that my lens will never be able to convey just how special they are. It is only with my heart and my eyes that I can truly experience their magic.

I hope that what my lens captures will be enough to have you all know that there are a group of kids that exist on the other side of the world that are so full of love and music that no lens will ever be able to show you. Please just take my word and know that I am grateful for the opportunity I have been given by Heartbeats to witness their magic with my own eyes.

Originally published on 12/23/2010 at

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