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January 14, 2009 - Image 9

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Text
Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 2009-01-14

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Personal Statement

Watching.from abroad

)oc

$ hen asked by Czechs
last semester what I
was doing in the Czech
Republic, I said I came to study
"politika," politics, my language
teacher's simplification of "public
policy."
"Why would you come to the
Czech Republic to study politics?"
a talkative barfly named Petr asked
me. "It is the worst."
Among other generalizations,
my program's administrators and
professors (all Czech) iterated to us
that Czechs were politically apa-
thetic and rarely cared to discuss
the topic. Perhaps theywere letting
us American students down gently,
before our enthusiasm about our
own presidential election pro-
pelled us into conversational brick
walls with Czech acquaintances.
Although, conversation about
the US election season was actual-
ly much less widespread among my
fellow students than I'd expected.
At times it was almost possible to
forget it was going on. One eve-
ning, I heard the names "McCain"
and "Obamu" - the quirky moniker
resulting from Czech grammar -
in the din of white noise from my
host family's ever-running televi-
sion. I renewed my efforts to probe
my host mother's view of American
politics. I asked whether Czechs
were talking about the election, if
they were excited about Bush leav-
ing, if they were on tenterhooks
about the historical precedents
being set. She shrugged noncom-
mittally: "America is far away."
I felt sheepish after my ini-
tial, genuine shock at what she'd
said. I'd assumed America loomed
FILM INDUSTRY
From Page 5B
"We're trying to really bring
people back," Rubin said. "A lot of
our friends who have moved up to
L.A. and New York are continually
coming back to Michigan for work
and auditions, and we're trying to
set ourselves up as one of the pre-
mier production companies here in
Michigan."
BUILDING THE FLEDGLING
INDUSTRY
While the immediate results
of the initiative are encouraging,
Michigan has some work to do to
reap the maximum benefits.

equally large in any European
country, carrying logistical as well
as psychological weight. My host
mother forgave my textbook faux
pas as innocent enough. But her
reservations toward talking about
politics were echoed in other con-
versations I had.
"I hate talking politics, because.
Czech politicians are terrible.
How do they get in power?" said
Petr's equally talkative friend, also
named Petr. "In France or Ger-
many, in any Western European
country, in America, if the leaders
there did the things leaders here
do - it would not happen. Here,
they go away for a while, and they
come back."
Petr 2's comment was a common
one I heard Czechs say about their
politicians: that they are corrupt,
and when some aspect of foul play
is discovered, they disappear for
six months and then return to their
positions.
"A few years ago we elect red
wine - it is like, we say, red wine
is God." Petr 2 gestured apprecia-
tively at his glass. "Then, days after
coming to power, red wine says,
'We're friends with white wine.We
like it."' "Leaving you with rose," I
joked. Petr 2 laid out his metaphor
for an incident emblematic of the
worst of the mistrust in Czech
politics - in 1998, the two major
opposing parties, who had nearly
demonized each other, colluded
after a parliamentary election that
left them both weak. "It is a knife
in the heart," he said, grimacing
and squeezing imaginary stress
balls in the air in front of his ribs.
It was in this slightly contradic-
The state's inexperienced work-
force and lack of permanent infra-
structure present problems to
filmmakers looking to shoot here.
Without sound stages and studios
in the state, post-production must
happen elsewhere after a film
wraps up shooting in Michigan. A
lack of studios also makes it diffi-
cult to shoot in the winter, prevent-
ing the industry from providing a
year-round source of revenue.
Other states with successful tax
credit programs have followed up
by developing infrastructure -
Louisiana now has six soundstages
and studios in its three largest
cities. Michigan started to take
that next step in early January,
when the Michigan Film Office

tory atmosphere that I followed our longest break of the semester.
the big news stories breaking back Students traveled far and wide,
.home and observed the ripple cashing in on the temporary, mea-
effect felt in Europe. ger benefits of the crisis.
As the financial crisis worsened, In Berlin, my friend Julia and I
my peers shared newspaper head- enjoyed the slightly weaker euro
lines that seemed lifted from a in combination with other soulful
futuristic doomsday novel. charms of one of Western Europe's
But for the students in my pro- cheaper capital cities. We ate doner
gram, the economic turmoil had kebabs, a Turkish dish popular in
its advantages. As the recession the Kreuzberg neighborhood of
spread to Europe, the dollar actu- former East Berlin, surrounded by
ally began to gain against the other appreciative tourists. A man
at the next table over, one of three
clean-cut blonds who had managed
to keep their hands and faces clean
Surrounded by of sauce, got our attention and
said he guessed.that we were from
Czechs, I had Boston (neither of us are). I asked
where he was from and he said he
an altered view was from Finland.
of breaking "But you don't know where that
is, do you?" he asked rhetorically,
U.S. news. with a slighting glint in his eye.
His undisguised scorn stood out,
buta note of schadenfreude toward
Americans was present in some
euro and the Czech korun. Meals dose in many exchanges I had with
dropped from $6 to $5, convenient- Czechs about America's economic
ly passing the imaginary line in my problems. The gist of what we
head that separates the good deals were usually asked was a kind of an
from the overpriced. excited rebuke: "What did you big
Between classes, students shots think was going to happen,
crowded the computer lab in our anyway?" I couldn't help noticing a
study center, a low white building pleasure people seemed to take in
next door to a convent on castle testing the waters of our (unaccus-
grounds south of the city, calculat- tomed) discomfort.
ing the downward progress of the Before I went home and faced
price of flights to Barcelona and reality, the financial crisis in Amer-
Amsterdam. ica felt eerily relegated to head-
A month after the Dow Jones lines, not yet to life. I felt offput
lost over a trillion dollars in one by the realization that I was tem-
day, a national holiday commemo- porarily getting by without being
rating the creation of an indepen- swept along in an American expe-
dent Czechoslovak state gave us rience. I worried that the tumult of

the election of our next president
would, from that distance, only
glance off me, too.
It felt paramount to me that I
watch the results come in on elec-
tion night, but the timing was puz-
zling. I felt desperate to grasp at
what little I could of the experience
of being in the States, with people I
loved, who I knew had been follow-
ing-the election with a thrillingly
new sense of investment. Instead
I woke up from an unluckily timed
5 a.m. living-room-floor nap when
my friend shuffled over to me, her
cell phone illuminating the dark
apartment, and said, "Obama won.
I got a text message."
I was furious - at the anti-
climacticism of the revelation,
at myself for missing a chance to
join in the catharsis I'd felt could
unify me with the people and
places I longed for back home. I
hated feeling on the peripheries
of a momentous event, a kind of
gathering of peer consciousness
I'd never experienced before and
didn't know when I would see
again, and not being engulfed in its
center. I caught a night tram to the
expat bookstore that was showing
the election coverage on a projec-
tion screen. I was crying before I
got to the bookstore and clamored
into the room full of celebrating
Americans just as Obama began
his acceptance speech. The hours
I'd meant to spend there were not
to be retrieved - time and Ameri-
ca both had marched on, and that
morning, I ran to catch up.
-Abigail B. Colodner is a writer
for The Michigan Daily Arts section.
And it, can't be ignored that
one of the industry's main advan-
tages is its glamour - especially
in Michigan, where a little star-
studded stimulus could go a long
way in counterbalancing the dis-
mal economic news preoccupying
residents.
"People can read the front page
stories and see Hollywood is tak-
ing notice of Michigan, and then
they go to the movies and see it
up there on the screen," Burn-
stein said. "You don't think people
take pride in that? 'Hey, that was
my neighborhood. ... That is my
friend's house they shot at' That's
worth something, and to not figure
that into the equation would be a
huge mistake."

announced plans to build three
production studios in the state.
"The Steam Experiment" pro-
ducer Martinez said the program's
success in Michigan can only be
evaluated after a minimum of
five to 10 years, after investment
opportunities start to take shape
and the reputation of the state as
a good filming location flourishes
among filmmakers.
"If it's not a permanent program,
that would be a waste," Martinez
said. "Those tax incentives make
sense only if there is a long-term
plan."
Both Martinez and "Youth in
Revolt" producer Permut noticed
on their sets that crewmembers
hired in state hadn't quite learned

the ropes of the industry yet.
"If you go to Louisiana today
and you want to hire someone for a
job, you have the choice of 10 to 12
people that apply for that specific
job, and they are very, very quali-
fied," Martinez said. "In Michigan,
you have a couple. So that means
that what we had to do on this film
was train a lot of people."
Both the tax credit percent-
age and the amount of funding
required to launch a new industry
are high, but Burnstein estimated
that for every rebate-eligible dollar
spent on production, three more
are spent in the local economy -
meaning small businesses stand
the most to gain from the tax credit
program.

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