My graduation from Columbia U’s School of Journalism in May ’06 marked a formal departure from my previous career as a classical pianist. Moved by world events and my own family history that shaped my interest and concern for human rights issues I wanted to become more actively engaged with the here and now.

It was after a memorial concert for the September 11th attacks at the World Trade Center’s Winter Garden that something clicked.  I was holding an engraved piece of the Winter Garden’s original marble floor that had shattered when the towers fell, an AP reporter began asking me questions about the piece I had just performed, and people from the audience were coming up and telling me how the music reflected their feelings.  It was then that I decided I would try to pursue something I had just sort of daydreamed about.

Two years later I was working on a story for a human rights reporting class about a Sudanese-American activist, Simon Deng, who had walked from New York City to Washington D.C.  Soon after graduation I began to follow Simon Deng with the intention of using his story to provide a narrative thread for a doc film about Sudan.  Deng, a black Christian from South Sudan, caught the attention of American evangelical groups involved in anti-slavery work in Sudan.  Deng says he was kidnapped and enslaved by Arabs from North Sudan when he was a child.   One year after I first met Deng I traveled with him to Sudan together with the aid organization Christian Solidarity International.  They were on a mission to buy back Southerners who had been kidnapped and enslaved by Arab tribes that raided villages in the South during the years of the North-South civil war.  I returned to Sudan one year later, to oil country on the border with the North.  The tensions over control of Sudan’s oil resources were much more tangible in that part of the country – Sudan is China’s biggest supplier of oil.  Sudan is also rich in uranium and gold.

I seemed to have established a theme in my work, focusing on human rights and civil rights issues through a character-driven narrative.  For my master’s degree I had produced a doc for radio about a US soldier who lost his leg in an IED blast in Iraq and then fought army protocol to stay on active duty with the 82nd Airborne Division, knowing he would not get the same medical care if he had to depend on the V.A.   Higher-ups in his chain of command and at the Pentagon went to bat for him and then made him a poster boy for the Army to show that it was taking care of its people.  That was before the scandal broke over conditions at Walter Reade Army Medical Center.

I also directed a documentary film about a Native-American tribe in New Jersey that was suing Ford Motor Company for dumping toxic waste on their land – three generations of people from the tribe continue to suffer from serious health problems related to the toxins.  Another report I worked on was about a Serbian-Bosnian family living in Queens, NY. They could not return to their native country because they were of “mixed blood”  – the father Bosniac, the mother Serbian.

Prior to my studies at Columbia I went to Germany to interview Muslim women whose voices were conspicuously missing from a vociferous national debate over the wearing and meaning of the traditional headscarf – the hijab – in Islam.  In each one of these stories I saw how the lives of individuals were touched by a failure on the part of the responsible “governing” bodies, be it their own governments, the military, or [that of] the international community, to “do the right thing” – to ensure the civil and human rights of the individual.

The process is always complicated – to closely follow someone through their lives, to have them lay themselves bare in a sense, and in the process discover such complexities of character that of course are a reflection of the complexity of the story as a whole.  This is particularly true of Sudan where the conflicts abound on so very many levels.  How to tell this story, finely woven, to bring some clarity and understanding to a situation that seems utterly hopeless at times?