I’m a filmmaker and educator born and raised in Mexico City. Vida Diferida (Life, Deferred) is a six-year journey into the life of a young, undocumented woman– before, during, and after the implementation of America’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) immigration program.
The film began as an annual end-of-the-year video for a non-profit organization working with immigrant families. I was a Heritage-Spanish teacher and I noticed that with each passing year, undocumented youth had to learn how to slow themselves down, limit their aspirations and prepare for an adulthood spent in the shadows. As an immigrant with a far more privileged journey than my students, witnessing the contrasts between my immigration experience and theirs was a big eye-opener to the arbitrary mechanisms that operate within our immigration system. After working with these students, there was no doubt in my mind that they are American in every way but on paper. They are the realization of their parent’s dreams, hard work and sacrifice, and my life is so much richer and better for knowing them. I made the film in hopes that this story will be just as transformative to viewers’ lives and outlook on immigration as it was to mine.
In the past couple of years, DACA has made headlines and Americans have become more familiar with what it stands for. Vida Diferida is not just about this policy, but about the generation that came of age in the midst of it. The time span of the film provides a unique window into what life was like before DACA; the lowering of expectations, the lack of hope and the uncertainty that an undocumented status brings to young people as they make key choices for their adult lives. We also captured the moment when DACA was announced: the application process, the hesitancy to come out of the shadows, the conversations happening in households and the possibilities ahead. Finally, we follow up on the impact and limitations of this policy along with the current risk of having it all taken away.
When we began filming, we never imagined that DACA was going to happen in the near future. While documenting the first years with DACA, we never imagined that the policy would be under threat so soon. It has been an uncertain story to tell as it has been an uncertain life and future for young people like our protagonist Vanessa. Audiences have been overwhelmingly responsive to her story as they realize the devastating impact that uncertainty can make over the years. This has allowed the film to support educators as they get to understand their student’s journeys better, for peers to understand their undocumented/DACA friends and for undocumented/DACA children to open up to allies and people in their daily lives.
Learn more about Brenda and her work here.
By Nicole Opper
Celebrated artist Alex Grey said, “When artists give form to revelation, their art can advance, deepen and potentially transform the consciousness of their community.” This Youth Arts Month, we highlight New Day Films that feature people using art as a means of empowerment, both for themselves, as well as for others who have experienced discrimination, marginalization, or the pain of being rendered invisible.
The Year We Thought About Love goes behind the scenes of the oldest queer youth theater in America. In a twist on the common image of LGBTQ youth as victims, the film reveals the troupe members as artists and activists, celebrating the fullness of their lives in both thoughtful and hilarious ways. “When I started making a film about the world’s longest running LGBT youth theater (20 years and counting), I never knew Michelle Obama would give one of the main youth in the film a Youth Arts Award at the White House,” reflects filmmaker Ellen Brodsky. “I never knew the film would tour over 50 festivals and I never knew that middle schools, high schools, community groups, colleges and universities all over the US would listen and listen so deeply to what queer youth ages 14 – 22 have to say about love with friends, family, God, and sweethearts.”
Sins Invalid witnesses a performance project that incubates and celebrates artists with disabilities, centralizing artists of color and queer and gender-variant artists. Since 2006, its performances have explored themes of sexuality, beauty, and the disabled body, impacting thousands through live performance. Co-director Patty Berne explains, “The voices and experiences of our communities are rarely made visible in the media, and when they are, they’re rarely told by members of our communities. As a result, the power and downright juiciness of our bodies isn’t often depicted. In inserting our experiences into public dialogues, it’s critical that we include our bodies, the very things that are cited as the ‘problem.’ I love unruly bodies, I love seeing them in person, and I love seeing them on screen. Our lack of conformity is not a deficit, it’s a bonus!”
It’s important to remember that age is no measure for a youthful spirit. Pam Walton’s film, Triptych, is about three women who are vital and productive well into their seventies, and who have devoted their entire adult lives to making art. Lana Wilson is a mother and grandmother who has used her seemingly boundless energy to become a well-known ceramic artist. Jeanne DuPrau, author of The City of Ember, is a New York Times bestselling children’s writer. And Nan Golub, a lesbian painter living in New York City, studied with Richard Diebenkorn and Deborah Remington and has drawn comparisons to the celebrated Mexican artist Rufino Tomayo. Pam writes, “I wanted to give attention to older women in art because our culture tends to ignore them. I wanted every artist, including writers, male or female, young or old, to be inspired by them.”
In Who Am I To Stop It, three everyday people with traumatic brain injury disabilities use arts to reconnect to a sense of identity, self-pride, and community and to assert their agency and self-advocacy. For filmmaker Cheryl Green who had herself acquired disabilities from traumatic brain injury (TBI), the film was a personally fulfilling journey. She shares, “The impairments were a big problem. Losing most of my friendships, feeling misunderstood, and experiencing ableism was worse. Becoming a filmmaker was an accidental turn in my life that built bridges between my inner world and the confusion people around me had about my inner world. I made Who Am I To Stop It to ask two questions: Do other people become isolated after TBI, and do they also feel like art saved them? The short answer is yes to both.”
For more New Day films about the transformative power of art, click here.
My film Prodigal Sons is an autobiographical documentary about my first trip back to my Montana home after coming out as transgender. I set out to make the film because I felt a responsibility to introduce viewers to what would likely be the first trans person they would “meet.” Frankly, with so much misunderstanding of trans issues, I knew nobody else could get the story right. I also felt a responsibility to make viewers forget I was trans, because only then could the big “TRANS” label on my forehead disappear and allow viewers to humanize someone they’d always seen as different.
I thought the story of my homecoming would be “the film.” But what happened, especially regarding my relationship to my older adopted brother who suffers from a brain injury and mental illness, was much more interesting! Basically, our film is about family, and the love that can hold a family together despite great challenges.
I’m currently completing Dark Money, a documentary about Citizens United and the political nonprofit groups it enabled. More recently, in addition to my filmmaking, I’ve stretched my aesthetic wings and started working in the world of opera, writing libretti and creating films to replace sets.
To learn more about Kimberly’s work, click here.
Every July 17, people around the world host events to promote international criminal justice, especially support for the International Criminal Court. Check out New Day’s robust collection of films on international relations and global issues.
“It’s not unusual for me to be the first transgender person someone has known. I’m happy to be in that position, because the best way to dispel misunderstanding and increase empathy for The Other is to simply get to know someone,” says Kimberly Reed, the director of New Day’s Prodigal Sons. “That’s how we’ve made progress in the LGB communities, and now it’s time for the T.”
New Day Films has been at the forefront of distribution of films on Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual topics as they play out at home, in the workplace and in academia. As society expands its look at transgender identities, we at New Day have also been expanding our collection of films with transgender stories from around the world. LGBT Pride month seems a perfect time to profile four films that explore transgender identities.
In Prodigal Sons, filmmaker Kimberly Reed takes us on a personal journey back to her Montana hometown where family histories are revealed in many surprising ways. Kim is an articulate and ardent spokeswoman for trans people. She has appeared in a wide variety of media outlets, from Oprah to The Moth, and recently released this “Day in the Life” video as part of the New York Times web series “Transgender Today.”
PJ Raval’s Trinidad follows the journeys of three transwomen whose paths cross in the unassuming town of Trinidad, Colorado– “sex change capital of the world.” With a compassionate eye, the film shows us the passion, commitment, and bravery it takes to align one’s external body with one’s internal gender identity. Thanks to Caitlyn Jenner’s recent media debut alongside the popularity of the Emmy award-winning showTransparent as well many notable outspoken figures such as Laverne Cox entering the media, Trinidad has garnered new attention and is currently broadcasting on SHOWTIME.
In the world’s most populous Muslim country, Indonesia, we find a different take on gender identity. Kathy Huang uses an observational, ethnographic approach to profile the lives of warias, or transgender women, in her award-winning PBS film Tales of The Waria. Unlike the characters in Raval’s Trinidad, the warias in Huang’s film are not interested in sex reassignment surgeries because of religious reasons. As one waria explains, “We were born as men and must return to God as men.” Perhaps the most striking difference about transgender women in Indonesia is their visibility in daily life. While many Indonesians are still unfamiliar with the term “gay,” they commonly recognize “waria.” One of Indonesia’s biggest celebrities—on a scale comparable to Oprah—is a waria who started off as a young boy in show business and transitioned into her waria identity as a teenager in front of millions of Indonesians.
Three siblings aged 6, 9 and 11 are the stars of No Dumb Questions – an early entry into the burgeoning field of transgender studies. While the first three feature documentaries are rather serious, director Melissa Regan uses humor to tackle some big questions about identity and gender. This makes an excellent introduction to the subject for high school students in particular as the family setting is non- threatening and inclusive for younger audiences.
Finally, Jonathan Skurnik’s short films revolve around kids who don’t conform to conventional gender roles. I’m Just Anneke tells the story of a gender fluid twelve-year-old girl who’s taking hormone blockers that delay puberty so she can decide if she wants to be male, female, or somewhere in-between, when she grows up. In The Family Journey: Raising Gender Nonconforming Children, parents and siblings of children in transition relate their experiences. Maria Jose and Pam, for instance, talk about boys who longed to wear dresses, and Jeannine relates the hostile reactions to her son’s going to school in girls’ attire. All of the adults find acceptance of their children’s differences difficult but necessary, with one saying “You have to get over yourself, and get over your own fear.” The Youth & Gender Media Project has recently received grants from The Arcus Foundation and The Fledgling Fund to complete the third and fourth films in the series, Becoming Johanna & Creating Safe Schools and to create curriculum for teachers and administrators to use in the classroom.
You can explore New Day’s full collection of films on LGBTQ issues here.
Active Voice is a San Francisco based organization that helps filmmakers devise and implement engagement strategies for social issue films. They recently launched a new website to help filmmakers, funders, and social change agents measure the impact of their strategies. The site, howdoweknow.net, presents a set of horticultural metaphors to help categorize the various ways films contribute to change. Two New Day films — Granito and Ask Not — are profiled on the site as “Trellis Films.” According to Active Voice founder Ellen Schneider,
Whether the story of an unlikely hero, an extraordinary leader, or a group of people working together to solve social problems, Trellises provide a hopeful structure whereby challenges can be overcome and solutions — big and small — can be celebrated. Trellises are distinct because they support an ongoing, already established solution to a social or policy problem.
Johnny Symons, the director of Ask Not, an exploration of the history and effects of the US military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) policy, says the production was designed with outreach goals in mind. “The impact I was striving for was very specific,” he says. “We wanted to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and that infused the creative process. The choice of subjects and their narrative storylines, as well as the use of statistics throughout the film, all underscored the need for repeal.”
Symons partnered early on with the Palm Center, a university think tank focusing on military issues, and they collaborated throughout production. “I think the PBS broadcast, and our community screenings at more than 50 venues, definitely contributed to the lifting of DADT,” Symons says. “The evidence for that is that I was invited to the White House ceremony where the act was repealed.”
The other film profiled on howdoweknow.net as a “Trellis” is New Day’s Granito: How to Nail a Dictator. This film is about another kind of war crime: the massacre of Mayan peoples in Guatemala during the 1980s. In a stunning milestone for justice in Central America, a Guatemalan court recently charged former dictator Efraín Rios Montt with genocide. Pamela Yates’ 1983 documentary, When the Mountains Tremble, provided key evidence for bringing the indictment. Granito tells the extraordinary story of how a film, aiding a new generation of human rights activists, became a “granito” — a tiny grain of sand — that helped tip the scales of justice. “I’m not sure why Ellen classified us as a Trellis rather than a Trowel or something else,” Producer Paco de Onis says. “It’s fine with us, though, and seems like a good fit – we do work in the long term after all!”
Granito is used across the world to inspire and convince people, including the children of those massacred, that it is possible to seek justice – even after 30 years. The filmmaking team also followed the trial and appeal of General Montt and have created learning modules available online at their website.
These examples are just two of many New Day Films that work – whether as rakes, trowels, wheelbarrows, trellises, or shovels (to use the metaphors offered by howdoweknow.net) – to raise awareness, inspire and create social change. Visit our website and click on a film page’s “Study Resources” section to find out what is available for a particular film. New study guides and additional resources are available for:
- Sins Invalid, about a performance project that incubates and celebrates artists with disabilities, centralizing artists of color and queer and gender-variant artists
- Rebels With a Cause, which documents how a ragtag group of disparate citizens banded together to protect and preserve open spaces near urban areas from rampant development
- TRUST: Second Acts in Young Lives, which follows an 18 year-old Hondureña who, with the help of a troupe of immigrant teenage actors, courageously leaves behind the sexual and cultural violence of her past and creates a bright future for herself
- The Marion Lake Story: Defeating the Mighty Phragmite, which follows one woman who rallies her skeptical community to undertake the largest citizen led invasive species eradication and habitat restoration project in New York State
- Choosing Children, the 1984 film that helped start the lesbian baby boom, has just released The Back Story, a 20-minute piece that tells the story of the making of the film, invaluable for anyone interested in the history of LGBT filmmaking and the lesbian parenting movement
- My Brooklyn, which follows director Kelly Anderson’s journey, as a Brooklyn gentrifier, to understand the forces reshaping her neighborhood
Many other New Day Films have free engagement materials and bonus features available. Explore our website to discover the rich collection of resources available there.
June is LGBT Pride Month. New Day’s rich and varied collection of titles on LGBT issues provides the perfect programming for your Pride month activities.
Sunday, June 14 is National Children’s Day, a celebration and commitment to our children and their future. Explore New Day’s titles on Children, Youth and Families.
I migrated from France to the US when I was 15. In the process I traded a village of 2,000 for a high school of 2,000, and green fields for dust and concrete.
It made me uncomfortable being the new kid, attracting attention because I was foreign – and a “desirable foreigner” at that. It took me some time, but eventually I made a choice: to make this place home.
I often joke that making I Learn America was just an excuse to relive the trauma of my high school years!
My film follow five teenagers at the International High School at Lafayette, a Brooklyn public high school dedicated to newly arrived immigrants from all over the world. The students struggle to master English, adapt to families they haven’t seen in years, and create a future of their own while coming of age in a new land. Through these five vibrant young people, their stories and struggles, we “learn America.”
For the past year, I’ve been bringing the film to schools and communities around the country. From Chicago to LA by way of Cleveland, Alabama and Maryland, kids connect to Sandra, Brandon, Sing, Jennifer and Itrat (the students in the film). The film has become a platform for immigrant students to voice their own experiences. Last December, the US Department of Education hosted a screening in Washington. Secretary Arne Duncan introduced the film to 500 students and stakeholders in attendance. In his speech, he stated what I’ve been saying all along: “The newcomers are huge assets to all of our children and to all of our schools… What we can learn from them is often greater than anything they might learn from us.”
Learn more about Jean-Michel’s work here.