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.
“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’sTrinidadfollows 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
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.
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.”
I’m a longtime indie film activist — founding director of the Independent Film Project, co-founder of First Run Features, former ITVS board member — and also a veteran film producer and public television executive. My career has been devoted to financing and distributing work created in the margins of the mainstream media, because I believe that artistically- and politically-driven films are essential to our democracy.
My New Day film, Nuremberg: Its Lesson for Today [The Schulberg/Waletzky Restoration], is one of history’s greatest courtroom dramas. It shows how international prosecutors built their case against top Nazi leaders, using their own films and records. The trial, lasting from 1945 to 1946, established the “Nuremberg Principles” — the foundation for all subsequent trials for crimes against the peace, war crimes, and crimes against humanity — and led directly to creation of the International Criminal Court.
The original version of Nuremberg was completed in 1948 by my father, Stuart Schulberg. That same year, it was suppressed by the US government for political reasons. They finally released a dupe negative and a few prints in the 1970s, and Josh Waletzky and I restored it. It was released theatrically in the US for the first time at the New York Film Festival and at Film Forum cinema in 2010.
We didn’t change a frame of the original picture; our challenge was to reconstruct the sound and music tracks. We had Liev Schreiber record my father’s original narration and went back to the original sound recorded at the trial. In the process, we learned just how little footage had been shot in the Nuremberg courtroom, and that my father and his editor, Joe Zigman, had had to construct certain key turning points in the trial using footage that might have been shot on a different day. It was eerie and wonderful to follow in their footsteps and bring the film back to life for modern audiences.
Nuremberg has been translated into 12 languages and is slowly making its way around the globe. Sometimes the responses have been jaw-dropping. One Bahraini judge told me, “Until I saw this film, I idolized Hitler as a great leader of his people. Everyone has to see this film.”
You really don’t know what turns your life with take. I never had the faintest notion that I would become something of an expert on the use of film at the Nuremberg trial, let alone get the chance to work alongside some of the top judges and prosecutors in the world today. It has been a great privilege to “inherit” the legacy of Nuremberg, just as it has been a great privilege to be invited to join the historic filmmakers cooperative New Day Films at my late age.
May is Mental Health Month, which seeks to lift the stigma of and raise awareness about mental illness in the United States. Check out New Day’s selections of films on Mental Health and Psychology for your events this year.
Older Americans Month was established in 1963 at a meeting between President John F. Kennedy and members of the National Council of Senior Citizens. Celebrate the contributions of older Americans to our nation and our communities this May with these New Day titles.
“Film is a great way to tap into the humanistic aspects of medicine,” says Dr. Monica Lypson, Professor of Internal Medicine and Medical Education and Assistant Dean for Graduate Medical Education at the University of Michigan. Dr. Lypson, together with colleagues Dr. Paula Ross, also from the University of Michigan, and Dr. Divy Ravindranath from Stanford University, has created a special curriculum for medical students that utilizes Heather Courtney’s film, Where Soldiers Come From.
Historically, few medical schools have used film in their classes, but this is beginning to change as health educators incorporate documentaries as tools for teaching about psychosocial issues in medicine, psychiatry, nursing and counseling courses. Dr. Ross first saw Where Soldiers Come From at the 2012 American Sociological Association conference and immediately shared the film with Dr. Lypson. “We were looking for a film we could use in a new faculty development workshop on veteran-centered care,” Dr. Lypson says. “We selected this film because it is a documentary (as opposed to a work of fiction) which offers a true depiction of the trajectory of service members—from civilian life to active duty to veteran.” The faculty development workshop that utilizes the film, “Developing Skills in Veteran-Centered Care: Understanding Where Soldiers Really Come From,” combines the film clips with active learning exercises. Recently, Dr. Lypson announced her intent to expand the workshop to target students and faculty from other health care fields. Dr. Lypson emphasizes that health care extends beyond medicine, and she believes the course is relevant for students, residents, and practicing professionals in various disciplines, including nursing, social work and public health.
Courtney’s film challenges students with hard questions, like “What socio-economic circumstances might lead someone to join the military?” In helping the health care practitioner understand the backstory of a patient’s life, she or he comes to the medical work at hand with greater empathy and compassion. “It is a way to get learners to tap into feelings the way they can’t do listening to an impassive lecture,” Dr. Lypson explains. “You want medical students and health professionals to tap into that, because they are dealing with people.” In Courtney’s film, it is the story of Dominic – a young artist turned soldier who uses his art to deal with his PTSC and Traumatic Brain Injury – that particularly affects students. The course is currently available online via MedPortal. Faculty are encouraged to show the entire film, in addition to the clips that are explicitly part of the curriculum. Because of the success of this course, a larger curriculum covering a range of issues related to veteran-centered care is being planned by Dr. Lypson and her colleagues. If approved by the University this will be part of a massive online open course with a reach of upwards of 10,000 students.
Regan Brashear’s film FIXED: The Science/Fiction of Human Enhancement is another New Day film that has had widespread use and feedback from the medical profession. The documentary explores the social impact of human biotechnologies, prompting audiences to rethink “disability” and “normalcy” by exploring technologies that promise to change our bodies and minds forever. Shown to a crowd of students, nurses, doctors, and medical providers at an event sponsored by the UCSF Committee on Disability Issues, the film set the stage for a lively panel discussion. Plans are currently underway for a large conference sponsored by the Mayo Clinic on neuroethics, disability ethics and technology. Brashear’s film will open the conference and then various lectures will be built out, based on the issues raised in the film.
When the documentary Heart of the Sea, a portrait of Hawaiian surfing legend and breast cancer survivor Rell Sunn came out, it was immediately used by national breast cancer organizations because it provided a positive and empowering image of a woman with breast cancer. Director Charlotte Lagarde, in association with the Independent Television Service (ITVS) and Pacific Islanders in Communications, developed an outreach campaign targeting Native Americans and Pacific Islanders all around the US. Heart of the Seawas the first film portraying a Pacific Islander and Asian American woman with breast cancer, and it enabled unprecedented dialogue among Native communities about cancer, a subject that was taboo and often brought shame to a family.
In Hawaii, the American Cancer society, the Suzan G. Komen Foundation, and many local health organizations used the film in their outreach programs to encourage Hawaiians to talk more openly about breast cancer. In Alaska, the South East Alaska Regional Health Consortium still uses it a to engage people in dialogue about cancer and healthy living.
The changing face of medical education offers great potential for wider use of New Day’s collection of films dealing with physical and mental health, addiction, aging and gerontology, disability, psychology and social work. Visit our website to see the potential for use in your field!