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Crowdsourcing memories

Update, July 25:

Hello folks!

This is a very brief update to let you know that we are working on a big announcement about our next stretch goal -- in case you missed it, we hit our secondary goal of $55,000 this morning! We’re still trying to get our heads around this amazing development and pivot into the home stretch. Unbelievably, we still have two weeks left in our campaign and your overwhelming generosity means we have to shift gears and aim for a new horizon.

A new financial goal means we need a new reward -- and we’re developing one that will knock your socks off.

But while that’s happening behind the scenes, I wanted to acknowledge this amazing accomplishment and express a heartfelt thank you to everyone who has donated, sent messages of support and spread the word about this project.

Please stay tuned … the best is yet to come. More details will be provided soon.

In the meantime, I hope you raise a toast to yourselves. This campaign owes everything to you.

With love and gratitude,

Greg

PS: I almost forgot! Since we hit the stretch goal, everyone who has donated will receive a free e-book about the making of this film that I will write exclusively for you. It will be my true honor and only a small token of the overwhelming appreciation I have for all you’ve done.

Original post:

As any writer will tell you, we often get stuck using favored words and phrases. Not throughout our whole careers (hopefully), but in spurts. There was a time when I was blind to how often I used the word “indeed” as some sort of snooty punctuation to highlight the supposed importance of whatever else I was saying. Another was “the fact that,” an unnecessary phrase in almost every use that I deployed in practically every paragraph until an editor grabbed me by the shoulders and told me she would fire me if I ever used those three words together again, for any reason.

This week, my vocabulary seems to have shrunk to little more than “thank you” and “overwhelmed.” But I have good reason.

As I’ve noted all over social media this week, our Kickstarter campaign to fund the first leg of production for our documentary about Chris Hondros achieved its $30,000 goal in 93 hours. As I sit here writing this, 358 people -- mostly strangers to me -- have pledged a total of $48,224 toward the film and there are still 19 days to go.

When we began this campaign, I was confident that we would meet our goal, although I never dreamed it would happen so fast. And considering Chris’s reach during his career, I knew that people from around the world would respond to support it.

But what I hadn’t expected is that many of those who donated sent more than just money. Many also shared their stories about Chris, little snippets describing where, when and how their lives intersected with his. They include fleeting moments, like when Chris spontaneously advised a young photographer on his career prospects at a gallery show (in a way that was described as “gentlemanly”) to more intimate remembrances of chance meetings -- some on subway platforms, some at Baghdad parties -- that led to lifelong friendships.

Of course, many commented about Chris’s often unique style of dress. More than one wrote to beg that Evan Eile’s black and white photo of me and Chris at the top of this page be used in the film (“White pleated pants and a black blazer! Pricelessly Hondrosian,” one person wrote). Another noted that Chris showed up to a New York City photo shoot “wearing a jacket with patches on the elbows. He seemed like a young, mild mannered college professor,” his appearance belying the gravity of his reputation as a documenter of conflicts.

And there have been many, many messages from people who only knew Chris by reputation (or legend, as the case may be).

“He seemed like the kind of bloke that would have been a great friend,” one supporter wrote.

“Your project will provide for those of us who never had the opportunity to know Chris a wonderful supplement to the inspirational and funny stories about the way he lived his life and a deeper understanding of who he was,” wrote another. “I can only imagine how meaningful it will be to those who were close to him, as I know firsthand how very, very much he is missed.”

Other messages were moving for different reasons, including several from colleagues who were with him on the day he was killed in Misrata. Those memories gave that tragic event far more texture and perspective than I’d had before. They include details that were unknown to me of the time both immediately before and after the blast that fatally wounded both Chris and Tim Hetherington.

Perhaps the most moving were accounts, from different people, about a pair of colleagues who washed Chris’s belongings in the basement of the Misrata hospital where he died, hoping to spare his family -- who I assume they’d never met -- at least some degree of pain when the items were returned to them.

What this film means to do is assemble the scattered tapestry of these memories and the perspectives of people who knew him in unique contexts and present them as a whole. Or as whole as possible. Chris's memory belongs to all who knew him or were touched by his work.

Consumed by the myriad details of something like this Kickstarter campaign -- monitoring Twitter feeds, scheduling Facebook posts, preparing updates, endlessly creating and checking off lists -- these messages ensured that our true purpose was never out of sight.

When you start a Kickstarter campaign, all of the tip-sheets tell you to think of it not as a fundraising tool, but as a “community-building tool,” a phrase that is so overused in so many aspects of life that it can easily be skipped over as meaningless.

But deep in the heart of this effort, I can’t think of a more apt description of what this experience has been like. The community that we have tapped into, and which has entrusted us with this undertaking, has been (yes, here it comes) overwhelming.

And so may my use of the following phrase, but don’t expect it to end soon --

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Photo by Evan Eile

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