Eulogy for my Clairebear



My secret crush on this girl started when I was invited to New York for the announcement of a new film school in the Middle East, in Jordan, to create a generation of world class Arab filmmakers.  The Red Sea Institute of Cinematic Arts.  Claire Naber was the person tasked with putting this project together and she was the organizer of the event where his majesty King Abdullah would introduce the school.  I walked through the doors and saw her smile radiating like sunshine filling the entire conference room.  She welcomed me as if I’d known her my whole life.  Instantly everything in my world flipped upside down.  I knew nothing about this girl, but I wanted to be next to her for the rest of my life.  After the event, we had lunch with the group and laughed like children, then went our separate ways back to our lives.  I lived in Los Angeles, she lived in Jordan, and nothing happened.  Cut to-

Sundance Film Festival – 2008.  I see her again as we premier my first film.  I couldn’t let her go this time.  Every time I saw her, I felt this unstoppable universal force pulling me towards her.  She gave the best hugs in the world.  She was filled with life, laughter, and love.  She was the most beautiful girl on the planet, but she had no idea.  She was just Claire.  A radiant angel walking among us humans.  I had to somehow trap her into my life and steal her away, all for myself.  My angel.  Cut to–

Christmas 2008 – She said yes.  Apparently, many people had tried to capture this human angel with their attempts, but she’d always run away.  Somehow, I was lucky.  My scheme worked.  I had conned her into thinking that I’m worthy of her love.  We got married in 2009, in this church, and created memories together, laughing at the smallest things, traveling, writing, playing with our dogs, and making movies.  We worked hard to build our dream life of creativity. 

Claire and Amin Santorini

Throughout our relationship, Claire’s greatest two passions were writing and building the film school, RSICA.  She was the mother behind RSICA from day one when Samer Mouasher asked her to build a film school in Aqaba.  He was right.  She was the lady for the job.  Claire spent tireless hours, night and day, planning out the year, the brand identity of the school, finding the actual building, interviewing students, hiring faculty from USC, working with the staff putting out fires, and she never asked for recognition.  Just as she was the muse behind the scenes inspiring me with my films, she was the mother behind the scenes at RSICA.  Today, a whole generation of Arab filmmakers exist across the Middle East because of the love Claire poured into RSCIA.  

In the past week, I received hundreds of messages from people who knew Claire and were affected by her presence in their life.  She made everyone feel special, and she cared more about everyone else’s comfort and happiness than hers.  That quality and her infectious laugh made her this human angel.  I’ve been lucky to have her in my life.  

One of Claire’s favorite jokes was “You plan and plan and plan, then God laughs and says, ‘that’s nice, now let me show you how it’s going to be.’  Three and a half years, she battled, and she never lost her sense of humor.    We had soul crushing defeats every time we realized that the cancer came back, but somehow Claire managed to rise up and fight with her optimistic spirit.  She managed to find hope even when the doctors said the chances were grim.  She kept on fighting with her leadership and a sense of humor that inspired us and rallied our whole family of friends around her in the fight. And because of her incredible mother, Donna, who moved in with us in Los Angeles, and took care of her night and day.   

Life is a roller coaster filled with ups and downs.  My journey with my Claire taught me a lot in the past six years.  I’ll try to boil it down to a few gems.  So I’ll leave you with this: 

Live in the moment and laugh at the absurdity of life.
Look forward to things you love.  Do not dwell on the negative.  
If life gives you lemons, make lemonade, and drink it with your friends and the people you love.
Live to love, because without love, there is no reason to live.
Connect with the life around you.  Don’t live in isolation.
Geek out on the things you love.
There’s room in your heart for so much love.  The more you give, the more you have to give.  That was what made Claire so special.  
Last but not least, be kind.  Be kind to everyone.  The strangers you meet, the friends around you, and the family that loves you.

This video is something I made for our One Year anniversary. It gives you a glimpse of how lucky I was to have had this much love in my life.

CLaire Flowers


Happy Birthday Oboe!



Yesterday, Aug 5, 2013, my little giant fur ball, Oboe Matalqa, turned 11.  I got Oboe on Sept 23, 2002 when he was only seven weeks old, and felt so much reluctance at the end of the day because Cello, who was five months at the time, kept trying to eat his head.  He was jealous that I’d brought another puppy into our lives.  We found him at a farm in Grove City, Ohio that had posted an ad in the newspaper.  Oboe (born Sammy Joe VIII) was the first puppy to come play with us, and I decided to bring him home. 

It seemed impossible to convince Cello that this was now his little brother and he must love him.  I had to separate them, and by the end of the night felt that I had made a mistake in bringing this fragile little guy home (though he did stand up for himself).  I called the lady I bought him from and asked if I could return him, for his own safety.  She said it’s only natural to have sibling rivalry.  Just give them a chance. 

I kept them separated while I was at work, and Cello refused to make eye contact with me for two weeks.  I had betrayed our inseparable bond, man and his best friend.  What the hell was this pet doing in the middle of it all?  He wanted him returned as soon as possible.  Eventually of course, Oboe started throwing himself at Cello, jumping at him, and they started playing together, chasing one another like Tom and Jerry, and they would soon realize that this was the deal:  Amin, Cello, and Oboe, until death do us part. It would turn out to be the deepest friendship of my life.

The amount of laughs our little Oboe has brought into our lives, and all the warm and fuzzy moments, are impossible to capture with words.  All I can say is how grateful I am to not have returned this little guy that night.  He has taught me that all the stress of work and transition and uncertainty doesn’t matter, as long as you can take a simple walk and flip upside down on the couch. 

Thank you Oboe for being our teacher and my eternal bear.