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Vanessa McMahon

Vanessa is a novel writer, screenwriter, rep and a film producer. She shares her discoveries and film surprises. :-)



Interview with Producer George Hammer for 'Code & Response' (2019) @ NVFF

Interview with Producer George Hammer for 'Code & Response' (2019) @ NVFF George Hammer
Producer George Hammer produced 'Code & Response' (2019), a documentary about one of the worst years on record for natural disasters-taxing governments, straining relief organizations and overwhelming communities as they attempt to rebuild. In the wake of these global catastrophes, a new type of responder emerges: the code. The film recently premiered at the 9th annual Napa Valley Film Festival. 
George is Chief Content Officer of IBM. His team of content gurus work together to develop content programs and strategies that connect IBM with its audiences and provides the information and tools they desire. Prior to joining IBM, George was the SVP of Content at Digitas where he oversaw campaigns for clients such as Accenture, HP, GE, LEGO and American Express. He also worked at Discovery where he led the brand's content efforts for its digital channels. He spent the earlier part of his career launching a new media startup and working in agencies / consulting. George is an undergraduate of Indiana University where he received his B.S., from the Kelley School of Business, and a graduate of the University of a Chicago where he received his MBA.
What first inspired you to start the journey of making this film?

GEORGE: We were inspired after learning about hackathons that were occurring for coders to compete and develop solutions to help first responders. Companies like IBM were giving away huge prizes to help find solutions. So, we researched the problem: how natural disasters are getting worse and overwhelming the first responders who are using old tools like paper maps. We also researched the solutions / technologies to see if there was hope and potential there. The real story then revealed itself when we started going to these hackathons and talking to the coders themselves. We realized that there was an opportunity to share their personal stories and humanity at the center of the film.


Why do you think that natural disasters today have more impact than in past times?

GEORGE: There are more people today than in the past. Modes of transportation and telecommuting have evolved to enable people to live in even more remote places. So, I think that now more people are, as a result, closer to the disasters in remote areas where first responders have trouble reaching. 


You seem to aim towards stories with very real and urgent situations. Is telling such stories what inspired you to make films?

GEORGE: The last thing we wanted to do was to drown people with stats about the magnitude of the problem. Yes, some of those are in there but we wanted to lead with stories to get people to care. The hope was that by showing the impact in so many countries and different types of communities, more people could relate to it. The coders we cast were characters themselves, with strong personal reasons why they are doing something.


Where did you film and how did you go about financing it?

GEORGE: We filmed in California, North Carolina, Puerto Rico, Japan, Indonesia, Mexico and India. The film was financed by IBM. 


Do you have any distribution plans yet, beyond the VOD release?

GEORGE: Not yet. 


How important is it for filmmakers to attend international film festivals?

GEORGE: I believe life is what you get out of it. So, if you are a filmmaker going to a festival and you are looking to get the most out of it, then you will. We try to use them as opportunities to gather feedback from audiences to evolve the film. We also try to network and meet new potential partners in the future. We also try to use them as an opportunity to celebrate all the hard work that goes into filmmaking. 


How was your experience at NVFF?

GEORGE: Fabulous. I was a little worried that mother nature was going to play a trick on us given the wildfires were just a few miles away. Thankfully it all worked out.  


How have audiences reacted to the film?

GEORGE: If I were paid in hugs, I would be a rich man. It is touching and humbling the number of people who have come up to us after the films to express thanks and share nice comments. 


What will you be producing next?

GEORGE: We just made another 15-minute short film about Hurricane Harvey in Texas and how two-years after the storm the community has yet to fully recover. We explore how technology, communities and response organizations need to partner together to recover faster. It is going to premier at the Sundance Film Festival in 2020.
2018 was one of the worst years on record for natural disasters-taxing governments, straining relief organizations and overwhelming communities as they attempt to rebuild. In the wake of these global catastrophes, a new type of responder emerges: the coder. 

CODE & RESPONSE follows coders around the world (Japan, Puerto Rico, California and Mexico) as they develop groundbreaking technologies to help first responders and communities become more resilient against the growing threat of natural disasters.The film not only explores the technology they are building, but also their motivation and inspiration for what they are creating. 

When Pedro Cruz couldn’t communicate with his Grandmother during Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, he used his drone to see how she was doing. As he flew the drone to her house, he saw SOS messages painted on the street, which is what inspired his AI-driven technology, DroneAid. 

Growing up in the mountains of Washington State, Kenji Kato had first-hand experience with the threat of wildfires. His app, Wildfire Report, is designed to help both first responders and communities more accurately track the progress of fires and help find the safest routes to evacuate.

CODE & RESPONSE is directed by Austin Peck and produced by George Hammer. Peck’s credits include director of Gardeners of Eden, about Kenya’s David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, the critically-acclaimed feature Tough Bond and “Big Picture,” the 11-episode investigative news series in VR. 

The documentary has been selected as one of two films to be a part of the Napa Valley Film Festival’s INSPIRE Program, a multi-school field trip where students will watch the film and take part in a Q&A on the films’ subjects. 

CODE & RESPONSE has won several awards in 2019, including Best Documentary—International New York Film Festival, Best Documentary Short Film Award - MINT Film Festival, The Gold Award Best Feature—Southeast Regional Film Festival, The Founders Award—North Beach American Film Festival, Official Selection—Golden Door International Film Festival and Official Selection—New Haven International Film Festival. 


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