Monday, December 20, 2010

Happy Holidays 2010

As 2010 comes to a close, I wanted to take this time to wish you and yours a happy holiday season and to thank those of you who have supported me and my work this year. This has been a highly productive and inspirational year for me in which I have been lucky to work with amazing colleagues from both the development and creative worlds. It has been extremely exciting - scary at times! - in trying to find new ways to combine efforts to unite people and save lives. I couldn't do it without the support, trust and attention of so many of you so THANK YOU!

Here's to an even greater 2011!


Highlights of 2010

- June 2010: Accepted as one of 25 filmmakers for the prestigious CPB/PBS Producer's Academy at WGBH.

- June 2010: Curated and screened "Not Yet Rain" and "Youth Zones" at the "Cinema Corner", was a presenter on Christy Turlington's film panel and secured live entertainment for the historic WOMEN DELIVER conference in Washington, DC.

- August 2010: "Youth Zones" - a film profiling young people from Lebanon, Liberia, Colombia, Northern Uganda and New Orleans who share stories of struggle and resilience in the face of conflicts and natural disasters screened at the UN General Assembly for the launch of the International Year of the Youth. Produced with UNFPA and the Women's Refugee Commission (look for our revamped website in 2011.)

- August 2010: Featured (remote) presenter for the "Maternal Health Digital" panel at the Global Maternal Health Conference in New Dehli, India.

- September 2010: Launched - a social media site that unites artists and activists for maternal health - with Grammy-winning artist, Maya Azucena, at the MDG Summit. With support from EngenderHealth, UNFPA, IpasWomen Deliver and Reality Digital.

- September 2010: Featured speaker/presenter at the UN Digital Media Lounge on "Reel Impact: The Power of Film to Change Lives" which was featured on the home page of

- September 2010: Selected as a Special Media Guest for the TEDxChange summit sponsored by and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

- August/September 2010: Traveled to Swaziland and Kenya for the production of an AIDStar One project for JSI, funded by USAID.

- November 2010: Finalized film, "The Silence is Deafening" on preeclampsia for the Preeclampsia Foundation. Produced with the help of young filmmakers in Singapore, Tanzania, and Florida.

- December 2010: Finalized film, "When Peace Comes" on women, war and peace for UNIFEM (Part of UN Women) for the 10-year anniversary of Security Council Resolution 1325. Produced with the help of a young filmmaker in Sudan.

- March 2010: Received Pepsi Refresh Mini-Grant for Urban Word NYC for a live recording of "LIFE FOR LIFE", a poem/song on maternal health which was featured in this MTV Commercial.

- February 2010: Launched UrbanWordLIVE - a live streaming of Urban Word NYC's Annual Teen Poetry Slam

- Screenings and Keynotes: Gene Siskel Film Center, Columbia University, Yale University, Middlebury College, Global Health Council Annual Conference, Unite for Sight Conference, National Abortion Federation Annual Conference, National Youth Leadership Forum.

2011 Projections

- Develop and produce short film on use of mobile phones for maternal health advocacy.

- Build as the "go to" site on arts/artists and maternal health. Solicit more creative content from professional artists for International Women's Day.

- Produce an "Arts and Advocacy" pilot project illustrating how UN/NGO agencies can attract and retain the involvement of artists in global health advocacy.

- Conduct training workshops for emerging filmmakers interested in development work both in NYC and Africa.

- Finalize spoken word/film "41" with award-winning poet and actor, Carlos Andres Gomez.

- Finalize music video for SLUMCODE Group, a youth artist collective from slums of Nairobi.

- Develop new film, "Travels of a Lyrical Ambassador" on the work and words of legendary emcee, hip hop artist, Toni Blackman.

- Begin writing script on life and work of Pete O'Neal.

- Finalize fictional script with Urban Word poets.

- Continue building linkages with professional filmmakers and musicians around the world on my contracted work.

- Continue fundraising for production funds for "The Parliament of One" and "Myth of the Motherland."

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Wrapped new HIV/AIDS film

Greetings from Kenya!

Yesterday I finished my last shoot for a new film I'm doing on male circumcision and its impact it has on reducing HIV infections by 60%!  Initially, I had reservations doing the film, knowing it would be a controversial topic but the more research I've done and now after filmming in Swaziland and Kenya, I see how important this procedure is to compliment efforts to reduce new infections primarily in Southern Africa.

The untitled film is one I'm doing with AIDStar-One, an initiative of JSI which was funded by USAID.  I filmmed in Swaziland in August and in Western Kenya over the past week.  The film is intended to reach policymakers - National AIDS coordinators, USAID missions, etc - who make decisions about AIDS programming and funding.  Very important film!

Look for it in early 2011.  Learn more about male circumcision and HIV/AIDS by visiting the Male Circumcision Clearinghouse

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Using Film to Change the World

On September 21st, right in the midst of the UN MDG Summit, the UN Foundation, Mashable and the 92Y put together a really incredible social media summit that allowed journalists, bloggers and activists the opportunity to engage in conversations around the MDG Summit and following General Assembly meeting which is usually reserved to high profile personalities and world leaders.

I was asked to sit on a panel called "Reel Impact:  The Power of Film to Change Lives" with FilmAid International's Founder and CEO, Caroline Baron.  In all the hoopla of the MDGs, I felt it was important to ask critical questions about the role of filmmakers - particularly Western filmmakers - in telling development stories.

The panel was written up and posted on the front page of - which is huge considering its reach and impact.  Tom Cruise even picked up and tweeted about it.  I was thankful as it gave me an opportunity to introduce two of my projects - NOT YET RAIN, my film on unsafe abortions in Ethiopia and which is a new media initiative uniting artists and activists for maternal health.

You can view the article here and watch the video of the panel above.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Global Artists and Activists Kick Off New Media Initiative to Spotlight Global Maternal Health

On September 16th, - the new media initiative I co-founded by Maya Azucena - went live!!!

We have a lot of people to thank - our sponsors EngenderHealth, UNFPA, Ipas, Women Deliver, Reality Digital and Governess Films.  To Fredgy Noel Michael for making an awesome promo video.  We also are in deep gratitude to our contributing artists whom you can learn about by visiting our Artists' Map on  And of course all our users, bloggers and supporters who are getting the word out.

You can read the full press release here.

Visit the site and make your own video for maternal health!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

YOUTH ZONES to screen at UN General Assembly

Nearly two years in the making, YOUTH ZONES - a film and poetry project I did with UNFPA and the Women's Refugee Commission - is having a very big moment. A 4-minute clip of this 25 minute film that I shot in Colombia, Liberia, Lebanon, Northern Uganda and New Orleans will screen at the UN General Assembly on August 12th to help launch the International Year of the Youth.

22-year old Wissam Samhat, who is featured in the film will do the introduction. 

Wednesday, May 5, 2010 on the move!

The issue of maternal health has been a focus in my film work for the past 5-6 years, and despite the number of incredible screenings, discussions, and conversations that have resulted, there is so much more that needs to be done to change the trends of women dying or suffering from complications due to childbirth or pregnancy. 

That's why I chose to produce - in collaboration with Grammy-winning singer, Maya Azucena - as a means to bring new audiences into the global conversation taking place to improve maternal health.  I'm happy to report that a small idea that started last year is starting to blossom...and fast!! 

Not only did we receive our first corporate sponsorship from REALITY DIGITAL (an industry-leader in social media who produces online editors) who is offering us $90,000 worth of pro-bono site development and hosting services, we were also chosen to receive a mini-grant from the Pepsi Refresh Campaign to record "LIFE FOR LIFE", a maternal health song/poem to help launch our new initiative to unite artists and activists around maternal health.  You can find more information about the song and our activites below. 

My and Maya's interest is to utilize our collective networks with the creative and humanitarian worlds to attract new audiences (including young people and communities of color) to maternal health with this project.  There are many exciting events and opportunities for coming along in the next few months (including the Beta-launch of the site at the Women Deliver conference in Washington DC in June.)  Some events are listed below.  We'll keep you posted on further developments.

Feel free to send me ideas, comments, referrals - they are welcomed and necessary to build the community we hope to build!  As always, thanks for your support!


Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Curating CINEMA CORNER at Women Deliver

I'm really honored to have been asked by Women Deliver to help curate the CINEMA CORNER at their prestigious conference coming up in May.

In the last few months, I've been introduced to some amazing films covering women's health/maternal health.  It's been a pleasure getting to know the filmmakers.

If you're planning to attend the conference, come check out the CINEMA CORNER on Wednesday, June 9th. We'll be showing films in 30-minute slots.

See you there!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A Special NYC Screening of "Not Yet Rain"

In an ongoing celebration of Women's History Month, we're hosting a very special screening of "Not Yet Rain."  Held at a luxurious venue in Times Square with performances by young spoken word artists from Urban Word NYC and the electrifying Grammy-winning singer (and partner in my new initiative), Maya Azucena, you won't want to miss it.  It's my absolute favorite kind of screening - one that brings artists together for reflection and celebration.

It's free and open to the public but seats are limited. Please RSVP to or our Facebook invite at

Many thanks for your support!


Lisa Russell

Monday, February 15, 2010

Vote for our project

We only need 17 more votes to advance to the next level.  Please support my new project,  A film and new media initiative to increase civic engagement to improve maternal health.

As always, thanks for your support...


Friday, February 12, 2010

Seeking Creative Content for Global New Media Site

Dear friends and fellow artists,

I'm developing a new project in collaboration with various international agencies and artists that blends the creative world with the humanitarian world around the issue of women/motherhood/maternal health.

Briefly, it's a new media "mash up" site that houses license-free music, film and spoken word clips by participating artists representing diverse genres, cultures and regions around the world. Users of the site will be able to mash up these clips to create their own advocacy PSAs. The site will be programmed so that these PSA's can be forwarded to networks, policymakers and development institutions. It will be focused around the UN's Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and will be promoted extensively around the international community starting in the fall.

We're looking for creative content contributions of all genres, styles, etc by artists including filmmakers, musicians, DJs, poets, who work at the local and/or international level.

In exchange for your contribution, we will promote you, your work and your website, distribute your promotional materials at various events and strive to make linkages between two worlds which don't communicate with each other as often as they should, in my opinion.

If you or someone you may know is interested, please contact me at and I''ll  forward more information.


Friday, January 22, 2010

"Not Yet Rain" for Roe v. Wade

Today is the 37th anniversary of Roe v Wade, the landmark Supreme Court case that made abortion legal in the United States.

I was born at a time when I didn't have to think much about women losing their lives from trying to get rid of an unwanted pregnancy.  But when I was in Ethiopia, shooting "Not Yet Rain", it became clear to me just how important is for abortion to be legal if we are going to be saving women's lives.

Please watch my short film at  The trailer is posted below:

Friday, January 8, 2010

A new project: book/script on life of Pete O'Neal

On the night of my 39th birthday, I was in Tanzania getting ready for my flight back to New York and a wonderful thing happened.

I was at the United African Alliance Community Center, a community center that was founded by Pete O'Neal a former Black Panther Party member who has been living in exile for the past 40 years.  Since it was my birthday, he pulled out a bottle of whiskey and we spent the evening with him reminiscing about his life in Kansas City, running the International Black Panther Party in Algiers, leaving the US, his marriage to his wonderful wife Charlotte and all of the hoop-la and craziness that lead to the creation of the man many know, love and respect today.

Many know of Pete O'Neal - there is a great documentary film on his life in Tanzania (called "A Panther in Africa" - go see it -its online), and many students have visited as part of their study abroad program.  However, despite his highly entertaining and enlightening life journey, no one has publicly told his back story.

So, we decided to collaborate - initially a book that I want to turn into a screenplay. I'm in the middle of having a nine and a half hour interview with him transcribed and wanted to share some of it.

Here is the opening, where Pete introduces his name.  Even the introduction is hilarious.  Stay tuned for an update in March.


"My name is Pete O’Neal. Wait a minute my name is Felix Lindsay O’Neal Juniors specifically. My nickname is Pete. And the reason that is so, let me show you the brilliance of this.

This has to be the thinking of young black women in the 1940s. My mother was pregnant, and she said she had a friend that was pregnant. And they were gossiping young girls, nineteen years old: “I’m gonna have a baby,” “I’m wanna have a baby too!” “What are we gonna name them?” “Well let’s see. If they’re a boy, I’ll tell you what we’ll do. The first one that has the baby,” because they were pregnant around the same time, “we’ll name the boy ‘Pete.’ And then the second baby, we’ll call him ‘Repeat.’”

So can you imagine if you will? This poor child, this poor male, wherever on this earth he may be, laboring under the burden of the name.  But if he was, can you imagine this? “Repeat Johnson.” That is a hell of a thing idn’t it? Yes I said, “Thank God you had me first.”"

I am soooo excited to get moving on this project!!!!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Urban Word Live!!!

This year I'm really excited to try out some new technology. I'm partnering with Urban Word NYC - the nonprofit I spend a lot of time with that gives free workshops in spoken word poetry and creative writing to NYC teens - to do an online broadcast of their 2010 slam season.

That's right - you can watch the slam from the comfort of your own computer and its totally free. The preliminary slam starts February 28th.  Check the site for the rest of the schedule.

If you want to check out some of the most talented young social commentators (ie poets), please join our Facebook Fan Page at


and visit our site at