Touch of Love – Origin Story

In January of this year, I was very excited to see the completion of the short film, “Touch of Love.” It is based on my flash fiction piece by the same name. ToL was one of my first “pro” sales in 2007 – to Daily Science Fiction. (Psst, you can read it here if you like, or can purchase the reprint in the anthology 10 Tales of Steampunk). Since that time, the story has morphed and grown and increased in complexity.

2ndAnnualMinorityFilmmakersShowcaseIt’s debut screening was at Balticon in May of this year and I’m proud to say it made a Top 5 finish. I even posted a few pictures about the weekend. And yes, I loved every minute. In addition, on August 19, ToL was included as part of Baltimore’s Reel Independent Women Minority Filmmaker Showcase. (I really need to post a few pictures from that.) But in all this time, I never really got a chance to talk about the film. I know, I know, a work should speak for itself, but hey, it’s my blog and I thought why not take a few minutes to talk about WHY this film is so important to me.

I love Science Fiction. I love it almost as much as I love Steampunk. And I love them both for the same reasons – they give us the opportunity to look at social and cultural mores and ask, “What if?” Heinlein, Asimov, Norton, Clarke, Butler…all of them looked at the world as it is and wrote stories that made us question our assumptions about it. But it is very difficult to get us to see past our own illusions and ideologies. Our worldview, complete with all of its assumptions and value judgements are well learned, and as they said in the musical, South Pacific, “You Must be Carefully Taught” (referencing racism in particular). I won’t get into it here but there are a WHOLE lot of issues with that musical.

So what better way to reframe the tired arguments, to shake us out of our reverie and force us to consider another way…than another world? Science Fiction has always given us a view into a world that might have been. Dystopias like Brave New World or 1984 warn us of potential outcomes from current pathways, and more idealistic goals such as some of those espoused within Star Trek encourage us to strive towards a more equitable and peaceful future. In a fictional future we can more openly explore, race, disability, gender, nationalism (and jingoism), imperialism, environmental catastrophe and other issues that are so wrapped up in our current news and life that we have a tougher time viewing it in a neutral fashion.

ReelWomenGroupPhotoSteampunk gives us an opportunity to change history and use it as an opportunity to ask similar questions and wonder what our world would look like now.

The short story touches on the issue, but the film goes much further – I wanted to examine the nature of violence, particularly intimate violence and how it is learned. Research has shown us over and over how we learn behaviors and how our worldview is build up from our experiences and that if violence is a common part of it, then violence will be what we know and do and believe to be normal. So what happens if we become more, rather than less accepting of domestic violence; if we build a world that accommodates “appropriate” violence? Our lives, our technology facilitates it? We all know the trope of robots built to love humans; we already are building “companions” for the elderly and striving to create robots that can pass for human.

There’s an interesting paper on Robots, Love, and Sex:The Ethics of Building a Love Machine, the psychology of it, the kinds of ethics and design principles that would be involved that offered some great food for thought as I wrote and rewrote the script.

So, after reading that, I considered, how hard would it be to build robots to accommodate that future intimate violence? What happens when we teach them not only to accommodate it, but to love it? Love, hate, power, those are just words; the emotions connected to them are complicated and messy, so when we teach those emotions to our human analogues, can we be surprised at their mimesis?

Touch of Love Poster - Honeys Face


Honey is a Companion robot, human-like in appearance and biology, assigned to a domestic abuser as therapy. After a recent session, with a blend of injuries both human and machine, Honey is brought in for repairs. In the quiet moments with her builder, Honey learns to express her own feelings about love.

It’s not complicated to conceive of robots that people love. What will truly teach us about human nature is when we build a robot that can love us back. But human nature is a strange and fickle thing, and we might discover that we teach things we never intended.

How does a robot express love? The answer is all too human.


Invalid Corps and the Battle of Fort Stevens #Documentary Kickstarter – #history

For those of you who may not know, for the last year, I’ve been slowly working on a Civil War documentary. It wasn’t quite how I planned to spend my year (creatively I had planned on focusing on a novel) but something about the story fired my imagination and over the past few months, I’ve built a great crew who is really committed; folks from Discovery Communications, from the National Museum of American History, and from Docs in Progress as well as accessing some amazing resources from the Library of Congress and National Archives. And now we’re crowdfunding to raise money to cover research, licensing and then produce a short film.

This it! We’re down to the last few hours of the Kickstarter for the “Invalid Corps and the Battle of Fort Stevens.” If you haven’t, please take a moment to go donate. If you have, thank you for helping us bring this amazing story to the screen.

Please help us spread the word about the documentary during these last few hours – Email, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram…even just word-of-mouth.GettysburgLightICPoster

The story: The Invalid Corps was a corps of men with disabilities who fought in the Civil War. Men who were injured in battle or who acquired chronic illnesses – men missing limbs, and eyes, with rheumatism, epilepsy, bullet injuries, those with what we would now call PTSD, and many others. Rather than be discharged, they continued to serve the Union cause.

In July 1864, Confederate General Jubal Early launched a surprise raid that takes him to the very gates of Washington DC. Almost every able-bodied soldier from the Union had already been sent south with General Grant for the siege of Petersburg, more than 100 miles away. The only defenders remaining were clerks, government officials, and the InvalidCorps. And with Lincoln himself on the ramparts, they couldn’t afford to fail. 
You can see the project details here:  
Invalid Corps Light Poster

Basically, this is a piece of disability and veteran’s history that just hasn’t been seen or heard before. We want to capture it and make sure that the service and sacrifice by these men isn’t lost forever.

Take a look and donate and share, before time runs out!


I’m a Docs in Progress Film Fellow!



I’m a Docs In Progress Fellow! In the midst of all the madness of sewer breakage at our house I totally missed the official announcement! Holy crap…does this mean I’m a “real” filmmaker now?! (Whatever “real” means) 😉

Here’s the announcement:

Docs In Progress is pleased to welcome 10 filmmakers to our annual Fellowship Program. Now in its third year, the Fellowship provides a cohort of emerging documentary filmmakers from the Washington DC Metropolitan area the opportunity to come together over the course of eight months in a safe and supportive space to workshop their works-in-progress and get guidance from each other and from special guest experts on the challenges of filmmaking and the creative process.

Fellows are selected through a competitive review process. This year’s Fellows are Day Al-Mohamed (<— Look, it’s me!), Felicia Barr, Farran Nowlen Burrell, Anthony Cohen, Peggy Fleming, Jason Green, Emma Mankey Hidem, Bonnie Rich, Hanna Stawicki, and Saaret Yoseph.



Day Al-Mohamed
Silver Spring, MD
Day balances her time between being a published author of speculative fiction and comics and serving as a Senior Policy Advisor with the U.S. Department of Labor where she works to increase employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities. She is producing a short film called “Invalid Corps” about a group of Civil War disabled soldiers who helped defend against a confederate army of 15,000 men at the Battle of Fort Stevens.

Felicia Barr
Washington DC
A freelance video journalist with a background in religious studies, Felicia has produced inventive and intelligent short-form video on arts and culture for several organizations, including the BBC. Her film 100 Faces of War Experience chronicles a project by an artist to create portraits of 100 people who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Farran Nowlen Burrell
Washington DC
With a background in business and contract management, Farran also has a passion for people, travel, history, photography, food, and art. She is working on her first documentary Any One Child which focuses on the story of two teenage girls who shared eerily similar lives and fates decades apart, and the mothers left to deal with the grief of losing a child too soon.

Anthony Cohen
Brookeville, MD
Tony is an author, historian, and runs a nonprofit dedicated to preserving the legacy of the Underground Railroad. He has served as consultant to the National Parks Conservation, and Maryland Public Television, and trained Oprah Winfrey for her role in the motion picture Beloved. His film Patrick & Me chronicles the journey of his ancestor, a slave who fled from bondage.

Peggy Fleming
Washington DC
Peggy has been a park ranger, a cultural anthropologist, a teacher, and worked for President Kennedy in the area of civil rights. Since retiring, she has developed herself as a visual artist – first in photography and now in video. SHAW: A City Symphony is a visual and sound poem about Washington DC’s Shaw neighborhood.

Jason Green
Gaithersburg, MD
An attorney, political strategist, and entrepreneur, Jason served as Associate Counsel in the White House and started a technology venture to match job seekers to jobs based on skills. His film The Quince Orchard Project resurrects the history of a predominantly black community in upper Montgomery County, Maryland which developed after the Civil War, thrived or many years, and has since disappeared from the map.

Emma Mankey Hidem
Washington DC
A graduate of the prestigious Tisch School for the Arts at NYU, Emma has worked as an Associate Producer for some of the best documentary filmmakers in the country, as well as editing and/or producing for the PBS program Religion & Ethics and for production companies like Cortina Productions and LAI Video. She is in post-production on Blue Ridge Barnum, a portrait of a zany entertainer and sculptor of roadside attractions in Virginia.

Bonnie Rich
Silver Spring, MD
A producer and writer for more than 15 years, Bonnie has produced videos for nonprofits, events, fundraising galas, and college courses. She is in production on Searching for My Jewish Soul, a humorous personal documentary about how one Jewish family navigates the challenges of carrying on a religious practice in an increasingly secular society.

Hanna Stawicki
Silver Spring, MD
Hanna is a filmmaker, photographer, artist, and traveler who currently works as Production Manager at Meridian Hill Pictures and as a freelance documentary film editor. While in Nepal, she produced a short film about the effects of the caste system on the Dalit community. She is currently working on developing this into a transmedia project called Caste Out.

Saaret Yoseph
Washington DC
Saaret is a multi-media storyteller whose first documentary looked at public access and aesthetics as seen through Washington DC’s Metro Red Line. She has also taught digital storytelling for the Smithsonian. A firstgeneration Ethiopian-American, her project iEthiopia: The Round Trip looks at the Ethiopian diaspora’s complex relationship with “home.”

Eco Comedy Challenge – We Made the Finals!

Comedy can encourage people to take environmental challenges more seriously. That is the goal of the Eco-Comedy Film Competition, presented by American University’s Center for Environmental Filmmaking and sponsored by The Nature Conservancy. Working with director Julia Myers, and NR Brown, who was kind enough to act as “Mother Nature” for our short film, we submitted what we thought was a sweet, funny, little 2-minute film. We’re one of the Top 6 and on March 24th, we’ll discover if we actually win!  Very exciting.

Just as a fun bit of trivia it was around 30 degrees outside and poor Renee was out in the woods in nothing but a sheet and biker boots!

Also, we may have given the director (who was our cyclist) a concussion with how many times she was hit on the head by that can to get the shot just right. Then again, I could’ve just been enjoying the sheer thrill of beaning someone with an empty soda can.