Okay I was fooled. With her flaxen blonde hair, blue eyes and otherwise arranged exterior, I never would have pegged Barbie as Jewish. Yes, that Barbie. The one created by Mattel.
What the hell am I doing writing about Barbie?
And why on earth am I raising the point about her being Jewish – and how do I even know this?
Also good questions.
The answer – The Tribe – the latest film from Tiffany Shlain. Probably best known for her role as the founder and steward of the Webby Awards (now in their 10th year), Tiffany’s own heritage – besides her Jewish roots – comes from filmmaking.
In this film, Tiffany tackles the thorny issue of what it means to be Jewish, and traces the history of the Jewish people. Her metaphor – the Barbie Doll.
Oh, did I mention she does all this in 15 minutes?
With The Tribe now heading to the prestigious Sundance Film Festival I had to know more. So I sat down with Tiffany to talk about her film, her roots and where she looks for inspiration.
Hear what she has to say about …
Her filmmaking roots and the evolution of this film.
The experience of boiling down 5,000 years into 15 minutes … and compare it to the Barbie Doll.
Power, and what that means.
The heroes who influence her.
The advice that she’d give to herself if she could go back in time.
For those who prefer to read … Here is a complete transcript of my conversation with Tiffany:
Tiffany Shlain: My background, I studied film theory at UC Berkeley and film production at NYU (New York University) and to me, film was this amazing medium to tell stories and have impact. Then I saw the (World Wide) Web and I thought, that is a real way to change the world and make impact. For the Webby’s every year, I mean, you’ve come for many years, I always made films to introduce the show. So what was really fun is that I got to experiment. I made a short (film) every year, um, about a five-minute film that would introduce everything and I, I really felt it pull back to me. For the last election I made a film called “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness,” that I directed and co-wrote. And it was, um, the first film I had done in years that was outside the Webby’s and it got into Sundance. And is has just continued over the last three years to live on. It’s been shown at over 200 film festivals, community centers and museums, all the law schools in the country just bought copies to give, to every law school as required for people to … for students to see it. I’m not sure that it’s exactly on the curriculum but that just showed me again the breadth of life that something I worked on for four months, the efficiency of the impact. And as I get older, and I’m a mom, and I do the Webby’s and I do lecturing things that I can pour energy into and they can live on is very appealing to me.
My first love is filmmaking and the Web is a new tool to communicate, but the emotional impact of a film is very powerful to me. And I am very excited about marrying my love of film and the Web with some experiments I’m doing with my new film, The Tribe, which is it’s not just a film, it comes with a whole kit and then a very potent Web site to support dialogue and facilitate communication with people who have seen the film or who want to talk about it. So this is this new area and I have a new film in the works too where we’re really going to expand on this model which is a short film as the appetizer, fun things for discussion and to seed the discussion and the Web to really facilitate that at a large level.
Cathy Brooks: Now the topics that you pick are not exactly … you know …
Tiffany Shlain: The one’s you’re not supposed to talk about at a dinner party …
Cathy Brooks: Exactly …
Tiffany Shlain: Politics … religion …
Cathy Brooks: You know, abortion …
Tiffany Shlain: Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know and that’s …
Cathy Brooks: … and you boil them down to 15 minutes.
Tiffany Shlain: That’s the ultimate challenge. How do I take a subject that no one wants to talk about, make it funny, and crack it open. And I think you can only crack it open with the humor. So that’s the challenge to me and that’s exciting … taking very complicated subjects and kind of opening them up.
But what gets me up in the morning … I love what I do so much. I love all the different parts of it … I mean … I love (the research), I’m working on this new film that I’ve been collecting articles for, newspaper clippings and things for years. So I’ve been building this big file, and I know I don’t get to work on it yet but I will, and it’s kind of marinating in my creative thoughts. And then The Tribe is going to be at Sundance and we just had this big premiere and all that work editing and raising the money and the paperwork and the this and the that is now done and we get to take it all over the country and the world … I love that part. I like intermixing the film and the event part.
The way I’ve chosen to live my life … I am my own boss … and I look at each week like, ‘What am I going to plan for this week?’ Because there’s no one telling me, it’s like … there’s a lot of stuff I have to do but … I guess designing my own week, I think of that as a very creative process. And I feel so blessed and lucky that I can do that. Because I don