Our beloved member Debra “Chas” Chasnoff passed away recently after a 2-year battle with cancer. Chas is an Academy Award-winning filmmaker whose work has fueled progressive social-change movements in many fields. She has 9 films in our collection. New Day meant the world to Chas, and she gave an enormous amount of energy to making it thrive. She lived her own life fully with great integrity, humor and engagement. She will truly be missed – an irreplaceable light in our independent film community.
Her full biography is here. Read her eulogy in the New York Times here.
November is National Native American Heritage Month, offering opportunities to celebrate and learn from indigenous histories, cultures, and struggles. Badger Creek is a new film by Jonathan Skurnik and Randy Vasquez about Native resilience as seen through a year in the life of three generations of a Blackfeet family in Montana. TheThick Dark Fog, made by the same filmmaking team, follows a Lakota man named Walter Littlemoon as he faces his boarding school history and heals himself and his community. You can visit New Day’s entire collection of films about Native American and Indigenous people here.
TRANSGENDER AWARENESS WEEK
November also includes Transgender Awareness Week, a lead up to Transgender Day of Remembrance. New Day has a collection of films about trans people who are living, thriving, and charting new pathways for liberation. Thy Will be Doneby Alice Dungan Bouvrie follows a trans woman named Sara Herwig in her journey to ordination in the Presbyterian Church. Mezzoby Nicole Opper celebrates the life and artistic endeavors of Breanna Sinclaire, an African-American opera singer and openly trans woman, while reflecting back on memories of her childhood and self-discovery. Out Runby Johnny Symons and Leo S. Chiang is about the dynamic leaders of the world’s only LGBT political party as they wage a historic quest to elect a trans woman to the Philippine Congress. Find these and more here.
My film 70 Acres in Chicago: Cabrini Green chronicles the fifteen-year demolition of Chicago’s Cabrini Green public housing complex, the subsequent building of mixed-income replacement homes, and the erasure of an African-American community. Cabrini Green was situated on some of the city’s most valuable real estate and was ultimately deemed by land developers to be too valuable for the low-income black community that lived there. The film grapples with questions of urban planning, gentrification, and who has a right to the city. When I arrived in Chicago in 1994 to study film at Columbia College, I was dismayed by the city’s racial divide. As a white woman, I was immediately told to avoid Cabrini Green, a low-income black community next to the city center. I wanted to understand why Chicago was so segregated, and why Cabrini Green was being torn down. People told me this was a land grab, and I sensed that there was a story that needed to be told. I contacted people at Cabrini Green and began learning about the community. I was introduced to Cabrini resident/activist Mark Pratt who was also a film student at Columbia College. We struck up a friendship that has endured over 20 years.
I originally made a short film called Voices of Cabrini that looked at the initial demolitions. I continued to film for 15 additional years to follow the story through to completion and created 70 Acres in Chicago. While making both films, I tried to stay aware and humble. So many people want to fully “understand” Cabrini Green, and as outsiders we cannot. My role was to learn, listen, and help people share their stories. I cannot claim to “know” Cabrini, but I did my best to create a historical record of a community that no longer exists in the same way.
70 Acres in Chicago has proven a vital instructional tool for urban planners, city officials, and students who are trying to avoid the pitfalls of Chicago’s Plan for Housing Transformation. It has also served as an important catalyst for dialogue on issues of race and class. While the film focuses on Chicago, it has national resonance. Across the United States, communities of color are being disproportionately pushed outside of city centers because the land where they live has become too valuable in the real estate market.
Have you ever reached the end of a riveting documentary and wished you could meet the filmmaker behind it? Just how did they manage to capture those spectacular locations and obtain such intimate access to their characters? Perhaps you’ve been so moved by the story that you are desperate to know what you can do in your own community to make a difference, or help spread awareness. This month I spoke with several New Day filmmakers who have traveled extensively with their films, interacting with diverse audiences and facilitating events to effect change beyond the screen.
Since the release of The Year We Thought About Love, New Day filmmaker Ellen Brodskyhas presented her documentary about a LGBTQ youth theater troupe at a variety of conferences, high schools, and universities. The film has elicited a flood of emotional responses from audience members. One of the most memorable moments, Brodsky recalls, was when an African-American female student sitting with her girlfriend approached her and said, “Thank you. I have never seen two Black women kiss on screen, that means a lot to me.”
Whenever possible, Brodsky brings the youth featured in her documentary to answer questions and spark conversations with the audience. At a conference for therapists and counselors, Brodsky recalls an older woman asking Trae Weekes and Niccole Williams, two gay African American women featured in her film, for advice on how to talk to her son who had just come out. Another delegate confessed that she regretted acting poorly when her daughter came out many years before. The youth spent a considerable amount of time consoling the woman, and told her that she still had time to repair their relationship.
“There is the expected and the unexpected,” reflects Brodsky. “We hear from allies grateful for the perspectives shared in the film, but then we also hear the comments and questions nearly whispered out of great relief or fear. There’s energy exchanged with live question and answers. We all receive and give energy and it is so very much appreciated.”
For New Day member Jean-Michel Dissard, his documentary I Learn Americais the starting point for a much larger conversation around the issues in his film. Set in a public high school in Brooklyn, I Learn America follows the experience of five teenagers who have recently immigrated to the United States as they strive to master English and adapt to a profoundly different way of life. When browsing through theI Learn America website it’s truly impressive to see the range of places both the film and the filmmaker have been; screening events have been set up inside advocacy groups, cultural organizations, universities, throughout entire high school districts in Florida, Boston, and New York City, schools in Guatemala and France, and even at the US Department of Education. But perhaps what is most interesting about Dissard’s approach to these screenings is the way he has designed specific workshops and projects to help students engage with his documentary.
In particular is the work Dissard has been doing with the organization KIND (Kids in Need of Defense). Together they have created an initiative called Story Labs, a resource for educators which is designed to run alongside screenings of Dissard’s film. “The project creates a space and time in which teachers and their students explore the immigration narrative,” writes Dissard. “It is also a creative space for youth to produce (write, paint, photograph, film) their own personal narratives and to turn their experience into an advocacy tool for them to use.”
Work produced by students in the Story Lab project is showcased and archived on an interactive portal which can be accessed through the I Learn America website creating another rich and moving resource that audiences can engage with. Buoyed by the success of the project, Dissard hopes to develop it into something more long-term, encouraging schools to repeat the workshops on an annual basis and using the art and stories produced by students to engage the next round of incoming students. He adds, “Their voices once shared can turn their school into a community that recognizes them as assets, not issues.”
I struggled for a while comparing myself with professionals who just present on the topic of inclusion for trans youth, until I realized that I am offering something different from a 2 hour powerpoint; I show a powerful film that makes people cry and feel things in their hearts that no presentation can do, and then audiences love interacting with me as the storyteller.
After screening Becoming Johanna, a short film about a transgender Latina, at schools and universities, Skurnik invited professionals and agencies in the local community to speak on panels about their services and the ways they can assist trans youth. The panels provided an opportunity for many of the participants to meet each other in person for the first time, and led to fruitful conversations and the possibility of future collaborations. Skurnik explains, “After they have seen the film, they get to talk to all the other agencies about how they can do a better job, not just talking about what they can do alone, but how they can work inter-agency.”
The opportunities that can come out of screening films with filmmakers and their participants are endless, and can have a greater impact than screening the film alone. With the potential of the internet to broadcast filmmakers into classrooms from far distances, “talkback” screenings are becoming more feasible and popular. As audiences increasingly turn to places like Netflix to get their content, screenings like these provide a more authentic and direct experience, similar to watching your favorite band play live or going to a play. There is something about the exchange that happens between the audience and the presenters that allows the film to have a larger conversation inside a community or classroom, and create a more affecting experience. At New Day we encourage you to consider making use of the rich resources of filmmakers we have at hand, and to work with them to curate your own screening event.
Tips on setting up a screening:
Get a head start
To create an interactive and engaging screening, start planning early. Explore the possibility of creating supplementary learning exercises, or seek out experts to sit on a post-screening panel. Filmmakers, if given advance notice, can also help to publicize the event and make arrangements for themselves or the documentary participants to attend.
Include filmmakers in the planning
New Day filmmakers are more than happy to collaborate with instructors on designing film-related assignments or recommending activities for community engagement. Don’t forget to check for downloadable materials on each film’s New Day page, or on the film’s personal website.
Screenings can work across departments throughout the community
Consider collaborating with other departments at your university to bring a filmmaker to your campus, or working with different organizations to hold a community screening. You’ll raise the profile of the event, draw larger crowds, and foster interdisciplinary conversations.
Make use of Skype
Skype and other video calling applications can offer an effective and more affordable way of engaging with filmmakers and their film participants. Many filmmakers recommend scheduling a dialogue either right after a screening, or within a day or two.
What to budget for?
You can contact individual filmmakers through their New Day pages to request speaking quotes. The cost will vary depending on their geographical location and the nature of the event. If budget is a concern, don’t be daunted. New Day filmmakers are passionate about reaching audiences and effecting change, and will work with you to find solutions to make the screening a reality!
The 2017 National Media Market, one of the largest media conferences for educators, will be in full swing in Portland, Oregon, from October 22-26, and New Day Films will once again be in attendance! Please come visit us in Suite #315.
We’ll have lots of viewing materials to share, and a free DVD raffle!
Who Am I To Stop It asks hard questions about life with acquired disabilities from traumatic brain injury (TBI). As an artist with traumatic brain injury myself, I wanted to know if other people like me felt isolated and abandoned after brain injury, and whether they felt that people understood their art better than they understood the person. I ask audiences to move away from the usual TBI storyline of tragedy to rehabilitation to inspiration. Instead, I ask them to let go of the urge to indulge in graphic descriptions of injury and impairment and come with me for conversations around identity, sexuality, loneliness, depression, poverty, and stigma. Nothing is cut and dry, nothing purely positive or negative. The film shows how peers with TBI are interdependent, creative, fabulous people with agency and richly complex identities.
Making the film was an accident. Back in 2012, I still wasn’t very clear-headed. I signed up for a crowd-funding platform without realizing I had to have a project to fundraise for. When someone called and asked what my proposed project was, words came out of my mouth saying that I would be making a documentary about TBI survivors who use the arts for every reason except art therapy. And then I made it. Because I’m very literal, and I said I would. I wholeheartedly endorse art therapy. But it was important for me, as a member of a proud disability community, to counter the public belief that peers with TBI are all patients for life, and that everything we do is focused on eliminating or avoiding disability.
The most beautiful thing for me is how many people at screenings tell me that they saw themselves on screen or saw their family member shown without any sensationalism or objectification. I’ve had audience members crying, saying they thought they were alone in their experiences of impairment and isolation until the screening. Other TBI survivors have said that just like the people in the film, art saved their lives.
Hispanic Heritage Month runs from September 15 to October 15, coinciding with the anniversaries of independence of several countries including México, Chile and Guatemala. Follow the rise of immigrant rights in Chicago in 2006-2007 through Immigrant Nation! by Esau Melendez—a topic that is all too relevant today. Justice for my Sister, by Kimberly Bautista, follows one Guatemalan woman during her three-year battle to hold her sister’s killer accountable. Palenque: Un Canto delves into the African heritage of the Colombian village where filmmaker Maria Raquel Bozzi grew up. Explore these films and more here.
NATIONAL DISABILITY AWARENESS MONTH
October is National Disability Awareness Month, a time to educate about disability issues and to celebrate the contributions of Americans with disabilities. In UNSTUCK, filmmakers Kelly Anderson and Chris Baier document OCD through kids’ eyes only, avoiding sensationalism and instead revealing the complexity of a disorder that affects both the brain and behavior. Concerning Barriersis a collection of three films by Reid Davenport that center the perspectives of people with disabilities, including those on opposing sides of issues. Who Am I to Stop It, by Cheryl Green, centers the narratives of six artists with traumatic brain injuries, creating complex portraits that go beyond medical aspects of brain injury. Learn more about New Day’s wide range of films on disability here.
Our short film Forever, Chinatown follows the story of an unknown, self-taught, 81-year-old artist, Frank Wong, who has spent the past four decades recreating his fading memories by building extraordinarily detailed miniature models of the San Francisco Chinatown rooms of his youth.
Corey (Producer): The film was the perfect confluence of our interests: romantic, exquisite, emotionally loaded artwork; an eccentric artist; and our unique hometown of San Francisco with its complex historical neighborhood of Chinatown. We were excited to work together, and were also fortunate enough along the way to find partners in the Independent Television Service (ITVS), Center for Asian American Media (CAAM), California Humanities, and the city of San Francisco.
We combine real-life vérité footage with a romantic, highly stylized studio shoot to tell Frank’s unique story. In doing so, we pay homage to the artist himself, who describes his work as “half wishing and half memory.”
James (Producer, Director): Forever, Chinatown is Frank’s commentary on the encroaching changes to the neighborhood, and it is a love letter to a beloved community and city. The film needed to seamlessly weave together three parts: the contours of the artist’s life, the intimacy of his artwork, and the heart and soul of the film, Chinatown. It also highlights the profound changes wrought by the hyper-gentrification that is sweeping through San Francisco. The voices of those displaced by rising housing costs, conversions, and upscale redevelopment often go unheard, becoming only a statistical number in the harsh realities of Bay Area housing.
We’ve just completed our first year of our festival run and it’s been incredible. Screenings have included San Francisco’s Chinatown, North Carolina, the Philippines and Poland. Audiences have shared their moving personal family stories during Q&A’s, and some have returned to second screenings with their family members. Asian Pacific Islander health professionals who serve their community have said our film is a great visual aid in highlighting the complex dynamics of growing up in an ethnic minority, while local politicians and community organizations have reported that the film invites policy makers to sit through a film about gentrification and redevelopment, and be emotionally moved. The most touching moment was perhaps our packed screening in Vietnam at Hanoi Cinematheque where a tearful Mr. Saadi Salama, Ambassador of the State of Palestine, used our film to illustrate the importance of film in preserving community and culture.
June is Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month(LGBT Pride Month), commemorating the 1969 Stonewall riots in Manhattan. New Day has a collection of films that highlight the resistance and empowerment of LGBT voices and stories. Becoming Johanna, by Jonathan Skurnik, follows the story of a sixteen-year-old transgender Latina girl as she grows into herself and finds community, despite the judgment of her mother.
Out Run, by Johnny Symons and S. Leo Chiang, follows the Ladlad Party in the Philippines — the only LGBT political party in the world — in the run-up to what could be a history-making election.
May is Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month, a time to highlight and celebrate the stories, perspectives, and histories of Asians and Pacific Islanders in the United States. One of our newest films, Forever, Chinatown, by Corey Tong and James Q. Chan, tells the story of an unknown, self-taught 81-year-old artist who recreates his memories of the Chinatown of his youth by building intricately detailed miniature models.
In the Matter of Cha Jung Hee follows acclaimed filmmaker Deann Borshay into the mystery around her identity, which was switched with another child when she was adopted at age eight from Korea by American parents. Find these and other movies by and about Asian-Pacific Americans here.