If you watch the National Geographic channel’s “Is It Real?” series, you may have seen Steven Blum in the segment on feral children. You probably wouldn’t have recognized him, however. He was wearing a long black wig, a loincloth over shorts and was covered with cocoa powder.
Blum was portraying Victor, the wild boy of Aveyron, whose story was dramatized by filmmaker Francois Truffaut in the 1970 movie, L’enfant Sauvage (The Wild Child). The cocoa powder was to save Steven from rolling around in the mud, so he could look dirty, but mud would have been better since the cocoa only attracted flies.
The Seattle native and Roosevelt High School grad who attends George Washington University in the other Washington, got this plum role while interning at National Geographic last semester.
“I worked for the science unit,” Steven explained to me. “I was sitting in on a meeting with my boss, the production coordinator [for “Is It Real?”]…They were talking about the episode on feral children and saying they didn’t have any actors. One of the producers turned to me and said, ‘What are you doing this Friday?’”
Blum immediately declared, “Nothing!”
Which is how he found himself running through a field in Virginia, with the cocoa powder (and flies), wearing his anachronistic sneakers, which he says you can see if you look closely.
“It was a funny experience,” he recounts, but one he hopes — even with his interest in acting and producing — not to repeat again. “It was very uncomfortable.”
The college sophomore and anthropology major was very involved in drama when he was in Seattle. He appeared in Civic Light Opera and Seattle Opera productions, and was active in Roosevelt drama. He spent last summer as an intern for the Margaret Mead film festival in New York, which screens over 100 films of ethnographic interest at the Museum of Natural History.
Blum will be home this summer, and will head to Madurai in southern India next semester to study traditional medicine and how it has been affected by tourism. This semester he’s interning for Critical Exposure, a small non-profit that teaches photography in D.C. public schools and mounts gallery shows of students’ work. The organization, run by just two people, targets failing schools, and teaches students to write about their lives.
“Everyone at George Washington is doing amazing stuff,” Steven observes. “They’re the most over-extended kids I ever met in my life.”
Blum, the son of Bev and Peter, finds life in D.C. very interesting. It’s a “complex city that I don’t feel like I understand after a year and a half. It’s very segregated and there’s so much poverty, but there are amazing NGOs [non-governmental organizations] here.”
However, “I miss the coffee house culture and the literary scene,” he says of Seattle.
There were a number of factors that inspired Seattle Girls School 6th Grader Jessica Markowitz to start a genocide-awareness group at her school.
The first was meeting Richard Kananga, a Tutsi survivor of the Rwandan inter-tribal conflict who now works for reconciliation. After they met, she saw the movie Hotel Rwanda. “That was a really hard movie [to watch], but it made me say, something needs to be done.
“I told my mom, who said it was a good idea. We hadn’t done much for Rwanda since she’s doing so much for South Africa.” (Lori Markowitz works for the non-profit Bridges to Understanding.)
Another inspiration was Jessica’s beloved Great-uncle Adam, a survivor of Auschwitz, who passed away last year.
“He was an amazing guy,” Jessica reminisces. “He would talk to me about his Holocaust experiences. He was an inspiration to me.”
Jessica called her group Richard’s Rwanda and solicited members among her class cohort. Her committee consists of 10 students and a teacher and they are in the midst of a lot of planning.
“We’ve had one bake sale and we raised about $146. So far we’ve been having a lot of meetings.” The girls chose officers (jobs were assigned by pulling names from a hat). Meanwhile, Kananga has formed a parallel group in Rwanda called Jessica’s Girls Group.
“We want to do an art exchange and write letters,” explains Jessica. “We really want to connect with girls our age living in Rwanda.”
More bake sales and a car wash are planned for the future, and Jessica hopes to make a presentation about Richard’s Rwanda to her entire school.
For her efforts, Jessica will be receiving a Seattle Mayor’s Scholar Award on May 30. The award is given to 24 outstanding middle school students for service to their schools and their communities. Each student will receive $500 to be used for either charity or education.
“I felt honored and I felt excited and very happy to have money for Rwanda,” she said of hearing that she would get the award.
One other inspiration was her brother, Josh, who received the same award two years ago. “I was hoping, ever since I heard about it, that I could enter,” she says.
The Markowitz family, including dad, Stephen, belongs to Temple De Hirsch Sinai where, Jessica tells me, they are active participants in that congregation’s Mitzvah Day.
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