Author Archives: LA

Catching Fireflies Director Lee Whittaker Sets The International Short Film Scene Alight With His Stunning Debut

Catching Fireflies Writer/Director Lee Whittaker
Catching Fireflies Writer/Director Lee Whittaker

When The New Idealist was asked to take a look at Catching Fireflies, it was immediately apparent that this was no ordinary short film. First time Writer/Director Lee Whittaker has used his 20+ years’ of experience working on film sets in various roles including Second-Unit Director and Stunt Coordinator to create a truly magical cinematic experience which has lit up Film Festivals all around the world, leading to numerous well-deserved award wins and nominations.

The film shares the story of 9 year-old Isabella (Gianna Gomez), who strives to survive Skid Row with her heroin addict mother Sofia (Carlotta Elektra Bosch) in a cardboard house in downtown Los Angeles. Isabella has only her whimsical imagination as a companion as she deals with life on the streets and her mother’s addiction.

Catching Fireflies effortlessly switches between the vibrant magical world created by Isabella’s imagination and the reality of her dangerous life on the streets, all the while showcasing Whittaker’s versatility as a Director in a way that far surpasses what you would expect from a debut effort.

Over the course of a lively transatlantic phone call, we discussed the Director’s vision for the project starting with Lee’s inspiration for the film.

“I was working in a third world country (India) and I saw a girl begging for money. She must have been 8 or 10 years old and I’ll never forget because she was completely naked and cloaked in filth and the only clean part on her body was under her eyes where she was crying. The driver shook his head [feeling] very sad for her and then he started to drive off and it really scarred me, it stuck with me for the remainder of my trip there working.

[Then] I had a meeting downtown in Los Angeles, I took a couple of wrong turns, ended up on Skid Row and I saw pretty much the same thing with a little boy. He wasn’t naked but I quickly realised that this isn’t just a third world country issue, it’s something that’s in every single person’s back yard in every single city around the world.

It just struck a chord within me as a man as a person. In all my 22 years in the entertainment industry I was always moving towards directing so I used all the elements I had learned in those years to do something good and be the difference in the world, because entertainment propels the world in many areas.

I want to have a message and this message rang loud and clearly for me. Downtown LA is 11 miles from Beverley Hills with the Bentley’s and Ferrari’s and here [Skid Row] you have serious poverty. Recent statistics in the LA Times show that 13,000 people a month become homeless, that’s a staggering number.

That’s where the inspiration came from, I want to talk about homeless kids and homelessness. I began my research and found out that there is over 100 million homeless children around the world. I wanted to not just tell the story but give you factual elements that show that this is a real thing.”

11 Year Old Catching Fireflies Star Gianna Gomez Won a Best Leading Actress Award for her mesmerising portrayal of Isabella
11 Year Old Catching Fireflies Star Gianna Gomez Won a Best Leading Actress Award for her mesmerising portrayal of Isabella

The discussion then moves onto the magical realism element of the film.

“I wanted to tell it from a different perspective. So, for me I wanted to tell the story through the eyes of a child because children use whimsical imagination every day, everywhere without egos like ours that get in the way and jade us.

She [Isabella] might see a homeless man and that could be her best friend or he could have magic or trash could come to life or [she could see] magical butterflies and mermaids and I wanted that journey to be that whimsical juxtaposition from the decay and disgust that we see on the streets.”

We then discuss how the film captures beautifully the power of a creative imagination as a form of escape from difficult circumstances and I ask Lee if that is something he intended to focus on.

“Absolutely, in the feature version that we’re hoping to shoot next year that is her coping mechanism. Whatever’s wrong that’s how she copes with it on a daily basis. When you don’t have a lot of friends you have imaginary friends.”

The conversation then turns to the astounding success of Catching Fireflies on the International film circuit and Lee’s plan to expand the short film in to a full length feature.

“I need to get the message out, and by doing a short I could get into International film festivals all over the world and that’s what it’s doing and it’s starting to gain that audience on a global level. I’ve realised that every culture around the world can relate to this, especially in Japan we won the Audience Award which is the most important to me because that’s a whole other culture that doesn’t speak English and it resonated with them, so it really meant that there is a calling for this [Full-length Feature version].”

When asked if Lee was surprised at the number of awards the film has won as a first-time Director he responds:

“Honestly that wasn’t the goal to win awards, nearly every film festival in the world gets over 4,000 entries so just to get selected into a film festival was kind of amazing for me. If it gets selected that means more people will go and see it, if it wins something that means it will get propelled even further. It’s just a great feeling to know that something that you did for the right reason is getting accolades.”

Isabella uses her vivid imagination to escape the violent realities of life on Skid Row
Isabella uses her vivid imagination to escape the violent realities of life on Skid Row

We discuss the strong cast including the acting debut from 11 year old Gianna Gomez who won the Best Actress Award at the International Filmmaker Festival London for her hauntingly beautiful portrayal of Isabella. Lee discussed his approach to casting the film.

“I hired Lisa Pantone and her assistant and they provided a huge casting and we had a bunch of people that came in. It was such a delight having Lisa, because without her bringing in such amazing talent it wouldn’t be what it is today, I owe a lot to her. And when Gianna came in, the minute she opened her mouth I kind of knew.

She was 9 years old at the time – she’s 11 now – she came in that door with such an old soul in her eyes and I just saw it right away…and she was absolutely magnificent.

We were in the International Filmmaker Festival in London and she was up against grown women for best actress [the Award Gianna subsequently won].”

The film has a breathtaking underwater scene featuring a very majestic-looking mermaid. I asked Lee what that scene was like to film:

“That was interesting because when I started out, I was talking to my Casting Director and I’m thinking ‘mermaids – what are we going to do!?’. We did some research and there’s actually a community of mermaids in LA and in the casting room all these mermaids were coming in – that was fun!

We did a rehearsal day in a pool with Gianna, we had safety divers in there and she was great underwater, she was fantastic. On the day of shooting when we did the underwater sequence the mermaid got her gear and all her stuff and it was amazing, everybody loved it and that’s the first thing everybody sees.”

We then discuss the choreography for the cirque performers in the film.

“That was my good friend Elisabeth Carpenter, she was the choreographer and she brought in a bunch of performers, we had rehearsals and they showed me what they could do. That was a lot of fun for me, taking them on green screen and then being able to put them in the background environment when it came to life was really awesome and fantastic.”

This film draws attention to the number of homeless children around the world and highlights that there over 1.5m homeless children in the US. We close the interview with Lee’s thoughts about this situation.

“I think it’s a wake-up call for sure, for us we’re not just a film, we’re a cause. I have two parties every year where we do spring cleaning and I challenge all my friends go to your house, get rid of your clothes and all your jackets you’re not using, your toiletries you’re not using and bring them and we have a huge party. Then I take these huge trash bags full of clothing down to the rescue mission here in LA and we donate everything. There’s all kinds of things people can do to make a difference and that’s kind of the motto for me it’s ‘Be the Difference’, it starts with you, it starts with me.”

If you want to find out when there will be a showing near you or find out how you can help make a difference you can visit the Catching Fireflies website here. You can also find out more about the ways to get involved and support the FREE ARTS charity that provides arts programs for children who have experienced homelessness, abuse, neglect, and poverty. 

Watch the Trailer here.

Interview conducted by Lydia Andal.

The New Idealist VS The Daily Mail

Whats the Daily Mail done now

Note: This article was originally published in August 2014 at The Intelligent Review.

Continuing our coverage of the controversies surrounding the Daily Mail, TheIntelligentReview looks at why the paper thinks it can publish stories which could potentially inflame religious tensions or invade privacy without consequence.

As mentioned elsewhere on this site, TheIntelligentReview shares an editorial team with The New Idealist magazine and this post is written by the Editor of The New Idealist.

The next issue of The New Idealist looks at Autism, literally. It’s called ‘The Autism Issue’ and you can read the issue preview here.

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How Niche Became The New Normal With Chris Brogan

The Freaks Shall Inherit The EarthThis article was originally published on partner site The Intelligent Review in August 2014 before being transferred over to The New Idealist site in July 2015.

Leading Social Media Entrepreneur and New York Times bestselling author Chris Brogan built his own successful consultancy company with a long list of big name clients including Disney, Microsoft, Coke, Pepsico, Google and Sony USA by ‘thinking outside of the box’. TheIntelligentReview spoke to the talented marketer and author to find out more about his intriguingly-titled new book ‘The Freaks Shall Inherit The Earth: Entrepreneurship for Weirdos, Misfits, and World Dominators’.

What does being a ‘freak’ mean to you?

Someone who has a passion for doing business their way with the types of people they like to do it with and in the manner that’s of benefit to the people involved.

Quality and the obsession with delivering a good experience rule out above everything else.

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A Conversation with Thomas Cathcart; Author of The Trolley Problem

The Trolley Problem ResizeThe New Idealist had a transatlantic chat with the extremely engaging philosopher Thomas Cathcart, author of The Trolley Problem (or: Would You throw the Fat Guy Off the Bridge?) ahead of the UK launch of his book which explores ethical conundrums in an refreshingly innovative and humorous manner.

Despite it being 8am (New York time) and having had precisely zero hours sleep Thomas was in fine form…

I understand that you’ve just arrived home having spent the night working at a homeless charity?

Yes actually it’s our church, we put up ten homeless men every night.

Can you outline the concept of The Trolley Problem to our readers?

Sure. Actually, the original Trolley Problem was dreamed up by a woman philosopher at Oxford in 1969 and then an American woman philosopher named Judith Jarvis Thomson sort of resuscitated this in, I think, 1985 or something like that (A link to the PDF article is here).

But until recently it just sort of slumbered in the philosophy literature and the general public really hadn’t heard about it and then, all of a sudden, there was a lecture series at Harvard that was broadcast by PBS and in the first lecture they talked about the Trolley Problem and it suddenly went viral. And now 4.4 million people have computed on the website.

Philippa Foot just died recently, you probably know that, she was in her nineties. So, I don’t know if she was aware at the end of how popular her Trolley problem had become or not.

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A Conversation with Slavoj Žižek author of ‘Event’

Slavoj Žižek

The New Idealist talks with the philosopher Slavoj Žižek about love, life and his new book ‘Event’, the second of The Penguin ‘Philosophy in Transit’ series of four books…

The book looks at some really fundamental questions such as the role that fate plays in shaping people’s lives. Continuing the transport theme (of the book); do you think that people’s lives are structured like the London Underground Tube map, with each destination defined by pre-determined steps along the way?

That’s a nice question that I would like to pursue…namely, to try to distinguish and to reach some cultural meaning into it between different tube networks.  New York is totally different to London. The one big difference, obviously, is that in London probably they were already counting on war.

Probably this is the main reason that the underground tunnels should also surface; potential places to hide in the case of bombing or war. This is why London’s tube is so deep. New York is just immediately beneath the ground, you can hear it and so on and so on.

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The ‘other side’ of Death Row: A conversation with the author Rene Denfeld

Rene Denfeld
Rene Denfeld

Rene Denfeld is an internationally bestselling author, journalist, and death penalty investigator living in Portland, Oregon. Rene has a reputation for showing ‘the other side of the story’ of complex issues and during our transatlantic discussion, TheIntelligentReview was provided with an interesting insight into the minds and lives of convicted death row inmates.

Can you tell us about you new book?

Certainly! It’s my first novel. The title is The Enchanted. I’d written several non-fiction books and done a fair amount of journalism before. I had written for the New York Times Magazine, for instance…

I actually found myself a single mother of three kids I had adopted from foster care in about 2007. I realised I needed to get a day job. So I ended up going into a field; I became a death penalty investigator and just fell in love with the work.

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Director Deborah Perkin Discusses Her Film ‘Bastards’

Bastards JpegThis article was originally published on partner site The Intelligent Review in August 2014 before being transferred over to The New Idealist site in July 2015.

Bastards is a powerful documentary by award-winning documentary maker Deborah Perkin.  The story follows a spirited young woman who took on tradition, her own family and the Moroccan legal system for the sake of her illegitimate child in this brilliantly immersive film, which was funded following a successful Kickstarter campaign. Having created a strong contender for ‘Best Documentary of The Year’, TheIntelligentReview spoke to the talented film maker to find out more…

Can you tell us a bit about your new documentary?

It’s the story of an extraordinary young woman – Rabha El Haimer – who is illiterate and very disadvantaged…who finds herself in a terrible situation as a single mother which she never planned to be, her marriage having never been registered.

It’s about her fight through the courts in Morocco to try and legitimise her child.

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Exclusive Camila Batmanghelidjh & Jodhi May Interview Audio Recording

Artwork from Kids Company Photo by Jodhi May
Artwork from Kids Company Photo by Jodhi May

Following the recent unprecedented government intervention into the management of the Kids Company charity, The New Idealist has released previously unpublished audio featuring Kids Company Founder/Chief Executive Camila Batmanghelidjh & Game of Thrones/Last of the Mohicans actress Jodhi May discussing Prime Minister David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ project and Camila’s therapeutic techniques for dealing with extremely damaged children.

Key Points include:

  • Camila’s ominous warning that ‘the government are trying to pull the rug from under me’ due to her consistent highlighting of the failings of children’s social services in Britain.
  • Camila’s attempts to warn Downing Street three weeks before the August 2011 riots that the streets were ‘going to blow up’.
  • Camila’s reveal that a British Prime Minister told her that ‘Children’s social services is not fit for purpose but none of us want to go near it’.
  • Camila’s therapeutic techniques for dealing with extremely damaged children.
  • Camila’s plans for the Kids Company SEE THE CHILD/CHANGE THE SYSTEM campaign which sought to champion the government to improve the standard of care for disadvantaged children in Britain.



In November 2013 Jodhi May joined The New Idealist magazine as a special Guest Editor for the fourth issue scheduled for release in February 2014.

The New Idealist often features ‘conversational’ interviews with boundary-pushing figures. The previous issue featured interviews with Shami Chakrabarti, Director of Liberty and US government whistleblower James Bamford.

As Guest Editor, Jodhi requested to meet Camila as she was interested to find out more about the work Kids Company does with disadvantaged children.

A meeting was subsequently arranged at the Kids Company Head Office in London where Jodhi and Camila discussed the ground-breaking work of the charity. As Managing Editor and host of the interview I arranged the logistics of the interview and ensured everything recorded correctly and Jodhi conducted the interview.

The audio recording was never intended for publication, however the decision was taken by The New Idealist in July 2015 to release this audio with the permission of those involved following recent news events and the unprecedented government intervention into the management of Kids Company.

Whilst The New Idealist remains neutral to the issues raised in the press, it is important to highlight that Kids Company works with the most difficult to reach children and the ground-breaking work that Kids Company has done with art therapy helps children and young adults express their trauma and improve their mental health and emotional wellbeing in ways which cannot be measured by government statistics.

The photo at the top of this page was taken from an artwork exhibition produced by Kids Company children which was displayed at the Royal Academy of Art in December 2013.

The emotional boost to children from traumatic backgrounds of seeing their art on display at such a prestigious venue cannot be measured and will not show up in any government statistics yet the children involved will remember that experience for the rest of their lives.

Lydia Andal,

Managing Editor, The New Idealist

Excerpts from this interview also featured in The New Idealist magazine Issue Four which can be downloaded free of charge here.

Please note: This interview contains the use of an expletive and has brief edits for confidentiality reasons.

Jodhi May & Camila Batmanghelidjh CBE



The Concluding Chapter Of Six Steps To Personal Fulfillment: Part 6 Action Planning

We continue with the final part of our six-part series ‘Six Steps To Personal Fulfillment’ with Action Planning: How to Make Change Happen.

You think you’ve discovered what a fulfilled life means for you. You’ve got a list of things you now want to do, achieve or become.  So how do you start ticking off items on your list? The last feature in the series will focus on making that change happen.

Make sure your goal is clear

One way people can sabotage their future achievements is by not being clear on their definition of when that goal is actually reached. If our minds are not clear on what it will look like, sound like and feel like when we have it, how will we know when it comes along or when opportunities come our way? Our mind is a brilliant tool to help us achieve our dreams but we must be sure to give it some guidance. Here are some tips on getting a clear goal:

  • Make sure you have some clear wording around what your goal is. It should be stated in terms of what you want and not what you don’t want. Avoid comparatives like better, more or less because it is hard for your mind to focus on what better, more or less means. Better than what? What does better look like? These kind of questions can help you get clear.
  • What will you see, hear and feel when you have what you want? If it helps, visualise it in your mind or bring together images and do a collage to help remind you. What would other people notice or say about you when you have reached your goal?

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