Jenny M. Buccos, Director, Producer, and Founder of ProjectExplorer.org, a multi-award winning online travel series for young adults and families is our Tripper of the Week. To date, Jenny has directed and produced more than 250 short films for students featuring visionaries and leaders such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Russell Simmons, Eric Ripert, Ziggy Marley, and Anthony Bourdain. She has won multiple awards including Most Influential Person in Education in 2010 by readers of the site Edutopia run by The George Lucas Educational Foundation.
Jenny, you have traveled to more than 30 countries so far. What are your favorite 3 destinations?
South Africa, London and Laos just soared to the top of my “favorites” list.
South Africa is a strong contender for my favorite destination. While most tourists flock to Cape Town or head straight to safari, Johannesburg, for me is the soul of South Africa. This has been a favorite destination since first visiting in 2007, and I try to make annual trips there (five so far!) to visit the friends I made while shooting a documentary there. Johannesburg, and close-by Soweto, are all about the energy and vibrancy of its people. I spend most of my time hitting the night clubs to listen to jazz music, attending plays, and many, many hours sharing great meals with great friends.
London was one of my first travel experiences abroad and remains a favorite destination. It’s perfect for every kind of travel: with friends or family, a romantic holiday, or solo city getaway. While I like to be based in Soho, my favorite part of London is the South Bank / Southwark. Usually, the first place I hit when arriving inLondon is the food haven that is Borough Market in Southwark. More specifically, Konditor and Cook, a small bakery that is just off the main market. I have raved about Konditor’s raspberry coconut bars so much that people have flown across the Atlantic with tiny pastry boxes filled with them for me. I love to walk along the Thames from Borough Market, past Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. I could spend all day at the Tate Modern which has free admission, and the bookstalls near the National Theatre on the Southbank always result in a fantastic find.
Laos. I recently spent 3 days in Luang Prabang and cannot wait to get back to this tiny country for some in depth exploring. This small town is becoming an increasingly popular destination for backpackers and savvy foreign travellers who flock to seeing the morning alms giving, when hundreds of brightly robed monks walk the streets to the cities various temples, collecting donated rice along the way. While tourists are allowed to participate in the alms giving, I sat on the opposite side of the street and observed this ritual both awe-struck by the quiet.
In 2003, you founded ProjectExplorer.org. Tell us briefly about your work and what inspired you to found your organization.
In 1999, I was working on a web-based initiative at a major investment bank in NYC. This was a temporary job for me. At the time I had an aspiration of working on Broadway. As part of my job at the bank I got to work in Hong Kong and Tokyo filming videos for our MBA recruiters. Having lived most of my life in rural upstate New York, my experience in Asia opened my eyes to just how different and amazing the cultures and histories of the world really are. It made me wonder how my outlook on life would have been different if I’d been more globally aware at a young age, and made me think how I could help bring global awareness and understanding to kids.
In 2003, after months of brainstorming about what I could do to be part of the global education process for kids, I founded ProjectExplorer.org. Now I bring stories of the world’s cultures, histories, and people directly to young students via our website which includes videos, photos, and travel-inspired blogs. My goal was, and is, to educate, inspire, and inform.
In directing and producing more than 250 short films, you have worked with such well-known figures as Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Russell Simmons, and the Travel Channel’s Anthony Bourdain. What is the most memorable insight you gained from working with them.
I’ve been so fortunate to film with numerous living legends, but perhaps my most insightful experience was filming with South African photographer Greg Marinovich.
Greg is co-author of The Bang Bang Club, which covers the brutal climate in South Africa’s townships from 1990 to 1994. A group of young photographers (later dubbed The Bang Bang Club) captured the worst of this violence. Greg Marinovich, later a Pultizer Prize-winning photojournalist, was one of them.
At the time, I was beginning to explore issues of human rights, injustice, inequality, and tragic events in history in my ProjectExplorer.org series; subject matters that my limited career as a filmmaker and storyteller had not prepared me for. My entire interview series with Greg served as inspiration to go beyond creating a travel series, and to push myself to cover difficult and oftentimes overlooked issues, especially for young people. Greg inspired me to delve into issues of border control and immigration in my Mexico series, document hospitals and schools in Haiti, disaster preparedness in tsunami devastated towns in Thailand, and explore potential series in politically-charged environments.
Trippers are all about connecting with locals. What was your most memorable connection with a local and why?
My most memorable connection is definitely with a jazz musician I met with in 2007. I interviewed him in Johannesburg, and though our life experiences couldn’t have been more different, we immediately struck a rapport. During a follow-up research trip a year later, he introduced me to his daughters and niece, who are my age. Since then we’ve visited each other at least once a year, whether I go to Johannesburg or they come to New York.
Meeting locals is usually pretty easy given my line of work, but sustaining long-term, long-distance relationships can be difficult. Unlike some of the more remote places I have been, South Africa is obsessed with technology and this has kept our friendship going. My South African “family” and I keep in touch almost daily via Skype, Facebook, Twitter, and Blackberry Messenger.
You describe yourself as a “global music fanatic.” Tell us about your passion for music.
I have the habit of stocking up on music when abroad; sometimes buying 5 to 10 CDs at a time. For me, nothing evokes the memories of a place like music can. What began as simple “souvenirs” has turned into an absolute obsession to find the best music from each country I visit. And, while I’ve stocked up on music in Istanbul, Tokyo, Jordan, and Mexico – there’s no comparison to the beats coming from the African continent.
My dream project would be directing a documentary on music’s African roots and its evolution.
I suggest: South Africa’s Thandiswa, Senegal’s Baaba Maal, and Cameroon’s Richard Bona.
Alongside Arianna Huffington and Maria Shriver, you were named 2010 Woman of the Year by She Takes On The World, recognized by Forbes as one of the top 10 career sites for women. In your travels around the world, have you ever thought of your work and your role as a director and producer as an inspiration to local young women?
It’s plain to see that women and girls are underrepresented in media – just turn on any news program. The situation is even worse behind the camera – so few women and girls are looking at careers as directors, producers, and videographers. I am keenly aware that as a female director and producer I have the unique opportunity to break gender barriers in this industry and serve as role models for thousands of young female viewers both here and abroad.
I try to visit schools as often as possible when I travel. In Amman, Jordan I had the opportunity to meet with an all-girls school at a refugee camp. These young women were excited to meet a female business owner and peppered me with questions. Westerners, I think, sometimes forget how fortunate we are to have the opportunity to become female entrepreneurs and leaders. Change may be slow to come for women and girls in other parts of the world, but it is important enough to me that no matter the work load or travel schedule, I make time to meet with women and girls who seek positive female voices.
One of your goals is to travel to 100 countries by the time you are 40 years old. Which 3 countries are at the top of your list?
Well, Viet Nam was at the top of my list, but I just visited there.
So, Morocco, Tanzania/Zanzibar, and Kenya. My dream holiday would be going on safari in East Africa.