“Mondo Banana” will have it’s Uruguay Premiere in December

Mondo Banana will have it’s Uruguay Premiere in December 2013. The film is an official selection of the 7th ATLANTIDOC – Uruguay International Documentary Film Festival! The doc screens at 8pm on Friday, December 13 at the Centro Cultural La Caja in Carmelo, Uruguay. The screening is hosted by the Cine Club de Carmelo. For more info, directions, and to see the full festival schedule please visit: http://www.atlantidoc.com/
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News coverage about “Mondo Banana” on TV in Bogotá

This is a 3-minute news clip about “Mondo Banana” at the 30th Festival de Cine de Bogotá, including an interview with director Ryan White.

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“Mondo Banana” to premiere in Bogotá, Colombia

“Mondo Banana” will have it’s World Premiere at the 30th Festival de Cine de Bogotá! The film has been selected to screen in the Environmental Documentary section of the 2013 festival which takes place October 16-24 in Bogotá, Colombia. More details will be coming soon. For more info about the 30th edition of the Bogotá Film Festival visit: http://xxx.bogocine.com/

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New MONDO BANANA teaser & poster

Here’s the new trailer for MONDO BANANA. Enjoy! And, please feel free to pass it on….

… and the new poster for the film!

MONDO BANANA poster Sept 2013

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Getting there!

Eight months later and MONDO BANANA is more or less a completed film! Since you last heard from me, I’ve been editing away. Over the past few weeks, I’ve finalized the edit and I now officially have a “fine-cut” of the banana documentary. This means that while there could still be a few very minor trimmings and adjustments to the film, structurally the film is completed. Whew!

Of course, this doesn’t by any means indicate that the film is truly finished. There’s a slew of post-production activities that still need to happen – sound mixing, color grading, online editing, marketing, festival submissions, etc…….. BUT, it is a huge step forward and an enormous relief to be moving on to the next stage!

This is a really exciting time for the film because the end of the filmmaking process is in sight, and soon MONDO BANANA will be released upon the world! While working with sound and visual technicians to truly polish the documentary and prepare it for release, I will also be sending the film off to secure a premiere at one of the world’s top film festivals. Please keep your fingers crossed and stay tuned!!!

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The Hunt for Wild Bananas in Sumatra

I’m back from the final MONDO BANANA shoots with Finnish banana taxonomist Markku Häkkinen in Malaysia and Indonesia. It was a fantastic nine days of exploration and discovery, and I got excellent footage for the documentary.

Finnish banana taxonomist Markku Häkkinen scans a hillside for wild bananas

A week ago Sunday, I met up with Markku in Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia. We hadn’t seen each other for over a year, and to get re-acquainted we decided to take a trip to the KL Bird Park – the world’s largest free-flight aviary, which is located downtown and proudly displays photos from Martha Stewart’s recent visit. Now don’t get me wrong, this wasn’t just a Sunday trip to the ‘zoo’ for us – Markku had a specific purpose for choosing this location. Wild banana species are often grown as ornamental plants in Southeast Asian gardens and parks, and their seeds are spread by the urban birds, squirrels, and monkeys that munch on their fruit. So, while hordes of children gawked at the flamingos and families took advantage of photo ops with parrots, Markku and I were wandering off the trails examining the park’s banana plants. At times, this caused some confusion for the park’s other visitors who would follow after us assuming that we had spotted an unusual bird, only to find us with our noses in a banana flower!

While Markku’s past 14 expeditions to Asia have been focused on finding and describing new species of wild banana, for this, his 15th trip he had a different agenda. His current project is the huge undertaking of preparing a banana ‘monograph’ – a collection of color photos and descriptions of all the known wild banana species, which will be used by international researchers to identify the various wild banana plants that they might come across. Markku estimates that the book will be about 350 pages, with many of the images coming from his private collection of over 10,000 banana photographs…

Markku Häkkinen and Fitriana Nasution look for wild bananas in West Sumatra

One of the major gaps in Markku’s banana research has been the volcanic Indonesian island of Sumatra, a lush paradise home to some of the planet’s most fascinating biodiversity and a tubular hotspot for surfers. We knew that on Sumatra were two species of banana that Markku had not previously seen growing in the wild, and also some that are “unknown” (they have yet to be scientifically named). With camera gear in tow, Markku and I flew to the coastal city of Padang in West Sumatra, where we were met by a driver and a local banana researcher Fitriana Nasution from the Indonesian Tropical Fruit Research Institute.

Our first destination was a mountain waterfall where an unknown species of wild banana had been spotted, located 8 hours from Padang along a maze of two-lane roads that twisted through the island’s highlands and rural villages. Muslim calls to prayer and car horns echoed through the verdant valleys as we zoomed past small-town mosques and swerved around slow-moving trucks on blind curves. It’s a really good thing that nobody in the car was prone to motion-sickness!

Taking photos of wild bananas for the monograph

Bananas are known as a ‘pioneer species’, which means that they are one of the first plants to pop up when a forest area has been cleared away – naturally or by man. They grow up very quickly and provide the necessary shade and shelter for seedlings of other plant species, playing an integral role in the regeneration of forests. Because of this, wild bananas are quite commonly found growing along roadsides where the forest has been cleared. Thus, on the drive to the waterfall, our careening automobile often braked violently at the common shout of: “STOP THE CAR!!! There’s a wild banana!” We’d then dodge traffic, climb up eroded slopes, or slide into ravines to inspect and photograph an opportunistic banana that had sprouted. On a few of these impromptu pit-stops, Markku and Fitriana were surprised to discover that they were quite possibly gazing upon a new unknown banana species or subspecies…

The male bud and unripe fruit of a wild banana native to Sumatra, Indonesia

In Sumatra, the local name for almost all wild banana plants is simply “monkey banana”, because monkeys are one of the few creatures with teeth and digestive tracts strong enough to handle the large, rock-hard seeds found in the wild fruits. They then disperse those seeds as they scramble throughout the forest canopy and along roadsides, helping the banana seeds to find new homes elsewhere on the island.

One day, as we were tromping along a riverside trail looking out for the gorgeous purple flowers and fruit of a native banana plant, Fitriana informed me that the locals called this the “Pisang Jin”. In Indonesian, “pisang” means banana and “jin” means ghost. The name apparently came from the fact that this banana species is used in local black magic practices. I was curious, but Fitriana didn’t know any more. We moved on, and although the banana plants were plentiful both Markku and Fitriana expressed surprise that no male flowers could be found on any of the plants – they only saw the fruit and female flowers. We found the same at another location where the species was also growing: only female flowers and fruits, no male buds. Strange…. Then, we ran into a local man working in the woods. Knowing that I was eager to know more about the “Pisang Jin”, Fitriana asked the man about the origin of the name. Despite a belief in Islam, native beliefs and superstitions still run high in the rural areas of Indonesia, and soon the man revealed the mystery of the ‘ghost banana’ and the missing male flowers.

The purple fruits of the "Pisang Jin" peek out. The flower and fruit grow "erect" (they stick straight up). Note that the male bud has been cut off.

After six jam-packed days of hunting for wild bananas in Sumatra, I said goodbye to Markku as he headed off to the famous old-world botanic gardens in Bogor, Java to continue gathering photographs for his monograph. And, I went back to Kuala Lumpur for a day and half – where I was able to have a chat with Malaysian bat expert Dr. Christine Fletcher about the interlinked relationships that exist between fruit bats and Southeast Asian bananas.

And with that, the MONDO BANANA documentary is “in the can”!!!! An enormous THANK YOU to everyone who has helped to make this happen!! I honestly could not have done this alone and I’m absolutely honored to have your support.

Sunset on Singkarak Lake - a huge, volcanic caldera lake in West Sumatra

Now, I’m gearing up to go to Guerneville, California where I’ll be spending the winter months holed up in a cottage alongside the Russian River editing MONDO BANANA. Stay tuned here and on Kickstarter for more updates and possibly some advance teaser clips from the documentary…

Kickstarter updates

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Bananas in China

I returned to Bangkok very late last night after 9 days of filming in southern China… Although shooting in China certainly presented some challenges, I was luckily working with my good friend and MONDO BANANA’s Chinese Associate Producer, Yixuan Wu, and together we gathered some fantastic footage for the banana documentary!

Nanning, capital of Guangzi province

We started out in Nanning, the capital of Guangxi Province, where we met up with a local researcher and expert on the Zhuang – the largest ethnic minority group in the region. In traditional Zhuang belief, every human soul begins as a flower in the garden of Miloka, the Creator/Flower Goddess. When a person dies, their soul returns to the garden to become a flower again and they will eventually be reincarnated as a human. But, things aren’t so simple for the souls of women who die in childbirth. These souls are essentially lost and can’t make it back to Miloka’s garden on their own. Banana plants offer the only route for the woman’s soul to reach the garden again, but the grieving husband must patiently tend to a banana tree until exactly the right moment….. Of course, you’ll find out the whole story, when this tale is brought to life in MONDO BANANA!

Decorating a dragon's head in Le Min town

Also in Nanning, we met with “Auntie” Guo, a former pharmacist and expert on traditional Chinese medicine. Not only did she reveal some common medicinal uses for bananas, but she even revealed some handy house-hold cleaning tips using banana peels!

Then came the real kicker, our journey to Le Min town in Pubei County – the banana capital of China. Le Min is the only place in the country (and the world) where the annual Mid-Autumn Festival is celebrated with a banana-leaf dragon dancing ceremony. Mid-Autumn is one of the biggest and most important holidays in China, held on the night of the largest full moon of the year.

Attaching the banana-leaf body to the dragon's head

In traditional belief, Le Min is the territory of the hungry White Tiger who can only be defeated by a Green Dragon. So for centuries, to help bring prosperity to the town on this important festival, the people of Le Min have constructed enormous Green Dragons from the abundant greenery of the local banana crops. Ornate dragon heads attached with banana-leaf bodies reaching lengths of 100 meters (approx 328 feet) and lit by rows of bamboo oil lamps are made by the residents of each of the town’s major streets (East St, West St, South St, and North St).

Placing incense along the length of the dragon's body

At dusk, when the full moon rises, hundreds of townspeople lift their banana-leaf dragons, smoke from thousands of firecrackers fills the air, and the crowded streets of Le Min explode into a frenzied dance of the Green Dragons, until it’s time to make the final sacrifice…….

This was hands-down one of the most incredible events I have ever been lucky enough to observe and I’m VERY excited about my footage!! Lengthy interviews with the Le Min town historian and other “old-timers” filled us in on the details of the banana-leaf dragon dance.

A Green Dragon dances thru the fircracker smoke on Mid-Autumn night

On a closing note, the unexpected presence of a lanky American filmmaker apparently added to the uniqueness of this year’s event. I was constantly surrounded by at least 20 children at any given time, was interviewed by multiple local TV crews, and found myself downing an entire bowl (not a glass) of the local rice-wine in a toast with the Governor of Pubei County!!!

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