S1E7 Simon Lüling, Filmmaker and Agroforestry protagonist

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Simon Lüling and Mark Abouzeid on “Walking out of Lockdown”

Mark Abouzeid welcomes Simon Lüling, a documentary filmmaker and agroforestry innovator, based in Paris, France. While others were staring in the headlights of lockdown shock, Simon managed the cancellation of a 30,000 attendee event and created a new platform for Agroforestry projects starting in Brazil.

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Simon Luling is a media professional with work experience around the World. Currently based in Paris, he is a freelancer, and does resident work for The Innovator (tech publication – editorial and consulting), the Mondial du Tatouage (Paris tattoo convention – media and production), and Newkid Productions (content development and video editor-motion designer). Furthermore, he has directed two documentaries – Borderline Views: A Golan Heights Documentary (at the Israeli-Syrian border), and O Elo Perdido (on agroforestry in Brazil).


Every week, Mark Abouzeid reaches out to freelancers, artisans, creatives, culture protagonists and everyday people on how they survived lockdown and what the ‘new normal’ means to them, personally and professionally. In an intimate conversation between friends, Abouzeid asks them about the future, what changes they will make to adapt and how they intend to rebuild.

Director: Mark Abouzeid
Producer: Real Lives Channel on youtube

Interviewer: Mark Abouzeid
Editing and Postproduction: Mark Abouzeid

Creative Commons Stock footage:
Woman Washes Hands – Cinesim Media
SFDPH Wash Hands Spanish – SFGovTV
Wash your hands, grab your hand sanitizer, keep Corona and other related infections away – #CapitalFmKenya
200129_01_Medical_4k_005 – Videvo
200314 – Work Life_Hand Sanitiser_04_4k_003 – Videvo
WASH Your Hands Mr Bean! | Bean Movie | Classic Mr Bean – Classic Mr Bean

Music from http://www.Epidemic Sound.com:
“Safehouse (explicit version)” – Iso Indies

Thank you to Zoom for webconferencing and recording.

Copyright Mark Abouzeid, 2020. All rights reserved.


Mark Abouzeid 0:22
Good morning once again to walking out of lockdown. I’m Mark Abizaid, photo journalist. Today I’m here with Simon luling filmmaker, media professional who I met at ethnographic film in Paris

Simon Luling 0:35
in that old theater a Montmartre, right on top of the hill on top of the beat, which is actually an interesting thing. I don’t I don’t live too far from there. And so during the during the lockdown, and as they were loosening it up a little bit, I would sometimes go for a walk at night. Yeah, and already the air you know, the air smells a little cleaner because there’s As much traffic pollution activity and so on, and there’s something really mysterious about walking up in Montmartre, at you know, 11pm.

Simon Luling 1:10
Alone, no, but it’s so

Mark Abouzeid 1:12
And it’s interesting because several of the experiences I’ve had with lockdown are a flash of childhood memories. And I remember MoMA in the 70s and 80s. And sure enough, at night after about midnight, one o’clock when the cafes closed, you had that sense you had this sense of Americans in Paris in the 1920s, and the artists and stuff. First of all, I should mention, as background, that Simon lives in Paris, has done a lot of work and has a strong connection with Israel, and also South America. And I’m always very interested in your work because both the the work done in Israel the work done in South America is very intimate. Very living with the people, it’s very much being a part of them. They’re the kinds of people that are active are involved that have their own philosophies. And yet I, I feel a great empathy for your characters instead of often, even though they’re so different than me, I still feel an empathy for them.

Simon Luling 2:21
You know, I appreciate that you look at it this way, because I’ve come to discover because I am, you know, still learning that, that I considered part of the documentary process is finding this intimacy with the characters and it’s something that lasts beyond the release of the film itself. Every single person I have filmed, I’m still friends with I’m still in contact with and I still keep up with their projects with whatever they’re up to. And so for example, the, the film that that we met in Paris two years ago. borderline views which is in the Golan Heights. The the main guy, the main, the protagonist, if you will of this film today, he’s well, he’s traveled a lot more. But he went back to the Golan and his opening near the border with Syria, a cafe Art Gallery, that he’s calling la frontera with a little extra interest. They’re serving hasty ideas and right on the border of an odd situation, but it’s

Mark Abouzeid 3:29
also so fascinating because, and I want to get to the main point, but there are certain aspects of this film that I think resonate for me in many ways. One, you break rules. We all asked you because there was a strong sense of when there was always this constant, you know, well, I’ll ask you, why didn’t you deal with the wind? You know, and I remember your answer you said, No, I actually included that because that is the sensation of being there. The wind is always there. You can feel it. It is a very strong character this and second of all that it wasn’t at all what we expected. Let’s go back to the beginning of the year as I like to start. What were your expectations or goals for the coming year?

Simon Luling 4:14
Um, it’s hard. Well, now with with these two months that have passed, it’s hard to look back and really project

Simon Luling 4:25
although, well, there’s two things one that was completely shaken up and had to be planned rescheduled and another project where I could were ultimately I guess, I took the confinement to my advantage. So in the first the first part, the one that was completely shaken up, I co organized the Paris Tattoo Convention, lumen Gendry Ted wash, which is normally scheduled every year, mid May, mid March, mid March and the state Like health, the state health authorities told us one week before the event that we couldn’t, we couldn’t be held and we were already sort of trying to save this sinking ship. People were canceling more and more strict regulations which we would follow and adapt to. But yeah, we were seven days before the event, expecting 30,000 people to attend, we had to close shop. And in you know, and then the whole discussion is like, Well, how do we deal with this? Basically, you know, we have all these contracts, we have all, you know, our partners and so on, though everybody was was everybody had solidarity, and everybody was patient. So we’re very grateful for that. And we managed to postpone it to October and taking place. The place where we always do it is the goal ended IV lead, which is a late industrial building. It used to be the the big slaughterhouses of Paris where they would bring the cattle and the sheep from the countryside. Which will you know today it’s the suburbs they would slaughtered there and then distributed throughout Paris to all the butchers now it’s a beautiful building that’s no brick and glass panels and I guess I like the metaphor though. I’m sorry. You know, we brand we brand all the meat we eat. And here we’re doing a tattoo festival there. I think it’s brilliant. branding, bit more meat. Anyway, we we postponed it to two October, although, you know, who knows if we’ll still be able to hold it then but we’ll worry about that another day. But the other thing is linked to this other documentary film I made, which is titled oil arpeggio. It’s in Brazil. It’s called the last link and it’s about the agroforestry movements throughout the South. And without being overtly optimistic it tries to show that there are solutions to the way we produce food and preserving Nature. And, you know, it all comes in the struggle of limiting climate change and trying to find new paradigms with which human humanity can exist alongside nature anyway. When we were when the lectins started, I took the opportunity to myself do the subtitles in English of this film, it was originally only in Portuguese and maybe geared more towards a Brazilian audience, but now, anybody can watch it. It’s on. It’s on YouTube, on the channel on environmental media platform that’s quite big in Brazil called Pocono. And then the other thing is there, a follow up project, if you will, was born Following this, following the documentary and it is to, to create a platform for all those involved in reforestation, and sustainable agriculture regardless of the method as long as it’s, you know, ethical, but really And sort of a catch all movement, and it’s both to showcase this work and to, you know, support it and show that it’s that there is a movement that there is that it can be strong and it can rival say, you know, agro industry and Monsanto, all that garbage. And so we’re starting with Brazil but we hope to expand it to the world. The platform isn’t launched yet. But basically in a month, month and a half, it’ll be ready. And we already have we’re building a map we already have about 500 dots on this point on this map, ranging from from urban gardens, to indigenous tribes that are, you know, involved in mint forest, to organic farms, restaurants, markets, and we’ve been focusing on Brazil once again, but it’ll be easy. It’ll be fairly easy to deploy around like the system around the world and

Mark Abouzeid 9:00
So you’ve been actually incredibly busy during lockdown.

Simon Luling 9:03
I have been. I’m fortunate to say that that I’ve been able to to keep busy and I try to, you know, look at it like in times of crisis, there are opportunities, if you will.

Mark Abouzeid 9:15
I think that’s important. Now, one of the questions that through these conversations and also looking at our own situation, I wonder is, you know, you’re a freelancer, you’re independent. Is there a nature of this business that causes us to come to be ready to regularly reinvent ourselves or changed directions? Well, you see, this is I mean, indeed, it’s a it’s a tightrope, but like, just like you’re saying, you realize that that, you know, the cliche is that when you’re

Simon Luling 9:52
when you’re a freelancer, it’s you know, both you enjoy the freedom but you’re willing to live with a certain precariousness. But that being said, You Realize that with this this crisis hasn’t necessarily spared the people we were expecting it, you know, that conventions expected to some people with stable jobs find themselves, you know, twiddling their thumbs and and basically losing a salary. I was fortunate to get a few edit like Film Editing gigs, or for the digital economy, which kept me afloat. But, you know, it’s it’s anything is possible. And it leads, you know, it was just like you say, it leads it leads us to think to rethink how we function how, how we go about these times of crisis and, and there isn’t really any conventional truths when it comes to at least you know, labor and making money and paying bills and, and so on. So, so I haven’t yet reached conclusions and we’re still

Mark Abouzeid 10:59
No, of course. Nobody has nobody has and I think that’s part of the issue but what also surprised me and and i’d love your your insight on this was in reading the press of of the traumas and the stress people are going through to home office, which I would guess for you and it’s very much for me either My office is either in the field or at home and I that’s just the way it’s been for many years. I don’t completely understand the trauma because I can work in an office, but honestly, I prefer this. And yet for some people, it seems to be very, not just about their work, but it seems to be an identity issue and things like

Simon Luling 11:45
identity and environments, like the things that came up a lot here in France. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s similar in in Austria is, you know, everybody’s situation is not as much effective what their job is per se, but also their living conditions if like, I’m a, I’m a unmarried without kids, you know, young man, I turned 30 during this confinement, but so like I spent it with my girlfriends and we, we were pretty easy going people so we didn’t have too much trouble like, like that, but so rather the ones that really struggled are those with young kids and that’s 24 hours at home with, with, you know, tending to children and trying to get some work done. Well, I can’t imagine what it is and I empathize with them.

Mark Abouzeid 12:35
Well, a lot of people that I’ve spoken to the issue wasn’t as much the practicality but the community that their social network, they felt like they lost their social network. And that means that for a lot of people, the work environment is their social network or as a big part of their social network. The other thing Just to go back to what you said to Australia, interesting enough, and now that locked down is ending 60% of the people have voted to keep home offices in some way they

Simon Luling 13:12
actually love it. In France is the same. They just love it. Yeah, they’re adding, like now in many of the companies, it’s not mandatory, but like a lot of the companies are saying, okay, at least one day a week, exactly

Mark Abouzeid 13:24
one or two days a week.

Simon Luling 13:27
But for the foreseeable future.

Mark Abouzeid 13:29
Yeah. And I think that also will impact not just where you work, but how often you travel for a meeting. Because as we get used to home office, we get used to this way of talking to each other, we realize that, you know, 85% of all meetings that people get on an airplane for you can just as effectively do this way. There’s there’s you’re not losing anything, but I think that’s a cultural thing. All right. So you know, we’re four months later in your mind is The first day of the end of lockdown you were standing at the door you can walk out the door you can go anywhere you can do anything what’s the first thing you want to do? Or you want

Simon Luling 14:09
the first thing I would say is you know get shit faced with the with some good friends I haven’t seen actually have plans for that on Thursday. We are we’re allowed the French government said we can meet in like indoors. We can’t be out streets, but have groups of up to 10 people and that’s basically what I have for Thursday.

Mark Abouzeid 14:30
What do you miss? What do you miss?

Simon Luling 14:31
What do I miss?

Simon Luling 14:36
Geez, I’ve been busy. I haven’t been thinking about it too. Too much. It’s Well, I do I do miss

Simon Luling 14:43
like, well, cultural life and and a public cultural life. Because Okay, we have adapted a little bit with these unusual times, mean unusual measures. And so you know, you know, there’s museums and things like this who have more internet initiatives and stuff. charming, but to have something outside that gathers people and of all walks of life. This is something I miss and it’s something that won’t be back for a little while. Maybe for a few months maybe for you know,

Mark Abouzeid 15:15
yeah, we don’t know that Yeah. Is there anything you’re gonna miss about lockdown?

Simon Luling 15:22
Well, it’s, it’s the it’s an easy justification for for being a little more introvert and I’m not an introvert but you know everybody likes every now and then to to stay at home and not have to speak with with people and like, you know, there was during these while these last two months in France a time to really to really take that in. But but at the same time it’s it wasn’t it’s an it was an interesting experience and I am looking forward overall to getting back to a more in the field rhythm or split between atoms In the field.

Mark Abouzeid 16:01
Yeah. And I guess that that leads right into my next question, which is, you know, there’s not two distinct points of view. But two general directions people seem to be going and looking at this is a desire to get back to normal as normal as things can be, or that they really had some not realization, but a choice to make changes. Now that you can which do feel you’re in one direction or the other, or both, for that matter,

Simon Luling 16:32
a combination thereof. Going back to normalcy in the sense of being able to have a daily life, as before going out to a shop, going out to a bar, returning to you know, having access to public cultural, you know, fare, if you will, and at the same time, we do realize that there are things we can do differently. The way we consume, the way we we travel even the way you know, I wrote Our relationship with the earth. And so okay, I do have on the one hand this environmental project at the moment, but as far as I personally am concerned, you know, I would I think there’s a, I find a new curiosity to to look what’s close by as opposed to far away whether it’s the Near East or South America, travel much less with airplanes do it still once in a while, but you know, try to limit it, let’s say to once a year or only you know, if when it’s needed be but like, and this also comes back to the circumstances we live in. No, no one knows when borders are going to be open again. But gradually, at least in France, we’re able to travel a little bit more within the country. And France has a lot of,

Mark Abouzeid 17:51
Oh, god, yes, come on. You can spend a lifetime just traveling in France or Italy for that site, or maybe even Austria. I don’t know. It’s a little bit of a smaller country, but honestly, I think there’s a lot of our own countries that somehow in the last 20 years, we discount, you know, I, I go to Peru, I go to, and yes, of course, there’s the filmmaker aspect. It’s something new, we do culture. So there’s a reason for it. But yes, I think lately, there’s a lot of that looking more locally, and we have the last two years for what it’s worth, already gone to a different travel model for our work and for what we do. And therefore, a flight is the last thing on the list. If there’s no other way and we absolutely have to be there in a certain amount of time, fine, we’ll get on a plane. It requires a different time concept that the voyage is part of the equation, whether it’s for work or whether it’s for pleasure, and therefore that can’t be rushed. That has, has affected

Simon Luling 19:01
counting a little bit. And also on top of that, I’ll share a little anecdote. And coming to the the documentary filmmaking process. This was maybe five or six years ago before I had made any films. I was in here in Paris at a Mexican Film Festival is small, a fairly small festival bigger than a sniper film, but, um, but you know, not a huge fanfare anyway, I had met on the last day, the director of an acclaimed French film at a ivoire about some kids in a in a rural school, somewhere mountains of France and the struggles and so on that come with that. And and I asked this guy, what’s the like, do you have any recommendations on the filmmaking process and like, like, how to go about it and he said, look at what’s going on down down your block. That’s also one more thing about the confinements and The little moments where you could walk outside in the street, I realized that for basically, for a good part of my lifetime, I was not looking up not looking at the troops not looking at the balconies, and there’s a lot of beauty there. There’s a lot to see and to say, just look a little bit up.

Mark Abouzeid 20:18
Is there anything that scares you or makes you nervous thinking about lockdown anything, either personally or culturally?

Simon Luling 20:26
Hmm. I’m, I’m not sure. But maybe maybe it’s just that the uncertainty combined also with the rising you know, political opportunism, you know, the sense that there’s more autocracy, the more autocracy in some places and lack of faith in you know, between the people and political causes elsewhere. I don’t see societal, you know, serenity or stability in the foreseeable future. I don’t And I don’t know what it’ll translate to. So let’s, let’s wait and see. Yeah, yeah. That’s a good thing that comes to mind.

Mark Abouzeid 21:09
Over here, three cultures, let’s say, right, or the people that you work with a lot and that are your friends. What are your feelings on how each of those cultures have lived? locked down? Do you have any feelings?

Simon Luling 21:27

Simon Luling 21:29
well, I’ve spoken with with, you know, people here and there. Everybody has, you know, there’s a lot of shared experience. ones in Brazil, though, it’s a little more chaotic, because, you know, I’ve been sort of anti lockdown and, but yet there’s the health crisis and a political crisis that comes with it. My family in Israel, who’s not very fond of the government, and I can I can understand, ya know, some has, you know, been In down in getting a little cynical about, you know, the about all that’s going on there, then otherwise, you know, it’s just following following the orders of staying at home and going out only within the framework of what’s allowed.

Mark Abouzeid 22:19
Well, let’s let’s, let’s highlight that because, you know, one of the things I’ve noticed is some cultures whether the government imposes or not specific things. People I guess are taking it upon themselves to honor lockdown or even, you know, like my daughter’s case in Sweden, they decided to lock down even though the government didn’t insist upon it because they have an older woman. They’re living in the house and stuff like that. other cultures have fought it tooth and nail and it doesn’t matter how many government dictates they are they’re not really doing lockdown. Let’s talk about France for a second. Do you feel There was an acceptance or unity to do this or it was imposed. What are your thoughts?

Simon Luling 23:08
There are people people tended to follow the rules. They needed a little bit of a whipping from the government because, you know, I mean, maybe it’s a stereotype but French aren’t as disciplined as correct. Let’s let’s, let’s be honest, and actually Monday, which was the first day of the easing of lockdown. You had a lot of people drinking along the canal some of time, you know, that wasn’t part of the deal. And so that was that now, but otherwise, people have generally been going by the rules, not bending it too much even among my friends,

Mark Abouzeid 23:45
including the freer spirits, let’s say they which I think are also decisions people have to make what’s the most important of course, the future. But if you don’t live to see that future

Simon Luling 23:57
No. No

Mark Abouzeid 24:00
Anything else you’d like to add?

Simon Luling 24:05
At this points? No, I like I think I think we’ve had a quite complete conversation, and I really appreciate it. I really liked doing this with you. Um, and then look at some point. Well, hopefully the future is bright. There’s a lot of work to do. Yeah. Whether it’s in Peru or Brazil, or the Middle East or in Europe. But well, you know, I think it’s through the efforts of people like yourself, that we get to something more cohesive and more work with positive exchange, and we’ll see where we’re at. And then, you know, aside from that, I recommend that in a couple months, you grab a drink at la frontera and a little ledge of bukata right by the border with Syria.

Mark Abouzeid 24:52
I would love to That sounds like fun. As I think you know, I was there filming artists for peace while they were painting land. escapes with tanks and a big sign saying minefield don’t cross. And there was a firefight going on in Syria, literally two kilometers away from us three kilometers away, and we could hear it. And all of that together, change the nature of all the work that was done that day. Well, I hope to see you again soon in real life, but if not, let’s keep working. I want to know more about the platform. And you know, we all keep each other informed, then we’re gonna help each other make this better. Yeah,

Simon Luling 25:29
absolutely. I’ll keep you posted on that. I’ll send you the link to the film again, and look forward to continuing our discussions and hopefully see you again, whether it’s in Paris, or Vienna or Lebanon or wherever,

Simon Luling 25:43
right Get up, get up. I got a bit of a bank to make me a safe house. Shake it up, shake it up. She got her hands on me that she’s bringing a cake out. I got some get some packs up in a greenhouse. well lit up, pull it up. I’m with a gang taking shots off the rebound.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

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