I’m Yoyo, an LA-based Chinese filmmaker who focuses on making documentaries about people living in underdeveloped areas in China. My second passion is being an art director for film and TV while also pursuing my primary hobby, dancing.With my documentary short, Under The Same Sky, I observed the vast differences between the schooling of an urban child and a child in the Chinese countryside and got closer to the truth about China’s “equal” education system. This system governed my schooling growing up and had a deep effect on who I am today. To look back on that today with a neutral point of view was something I enjoyed exploring.
Due to the government’s censorship, it’s very challenging for anyone in China to ever report or expose the unequal education situation that exists, which is why it’s my goal and ultimate hope that my film will foster more debate and conversations throughout the Chinese public.The national Chinese media would never report or admit that the educational system has a lot more improvements to make under the “great leadership”, and especially not during the government’s current campaign for “equal education.”
As outsiders, the international media doesn’t have access to the information that comes from personal experience and long-term field research, which requires you to get to know the people and connect with them emotionally. My approach is to be very personal and really enter the lives of my subjects to give an audience authentic insight into what truly happens behind the government’s veil.
My film Divided We Fall, chronicles the most exhilarating, and heartbreaking, political experience of my life: the 2011 Wisconsin Uprising in my home city of Madison. For two weeks, tens of thousands of people crowded the capitol square, up to 100,000 on the weekends, with hundreds occupying the statehouse. Never in my life did I expect to see so many people roused to resist a corporate and union-busting legislative agenda. I thought surely the revolution was here.
Yet despite the masses of determined and resourceful protesters, we lost. Divided We Fall explores some of the reasons why. Originally, I planned to write a book, utilizing my skills as a sociologist. But I had always wanted to try my hand at filmmaking, and this story demanded to be told as a film.
Earlier films on the topic focused on the heroism of the protesters in their conflict with Governor Scott Walker and his ALEC-inspired agenda. Our film also honors the courage and creative initiative of the protesters and highlights their successes. But we go further, turning a critical lens inward to reveal tensions that challenged the movement’s solidarity and contributed to its ultimate defeat.
An engineer once told me that often more is learned from failure than from success. My goal has always been to prepare for a win next time. In this era of deeply compromised elections, through gerrymandering, voter suppression, and the influence of big money, direct action becomes vitally important. As writer and activist Jamala Rogers (author, Ferguson Is America) said in response to our film, “We have to get smart, strategic, and serious.” Divided We Fall is my contribution to those goals.
My film Water Warriors tells the story of a community’s successful fight to protect their water from the oil and natural gas industry. When an energy company begins searching for natural gas in New Brunswick, Canada, indigenous and white families unite to drive out the company in a campaign to protect their water and way of life.
This 22-minute film evokes the intensity of the Elsipogtog First Nation’s water protection blockades, which were a precursor to the Dakota Access Pipeline protests lead by the Standing Rock Sioux. It can be accompanied by a scalable exhibit that features large photographs, projections, and a soundscape. The project was designed so it could be presented on a range of scales and to a variety of audiences – from individual viewing online, to community screenings, pop-up exhibits at Pow Wows and outdoor events, to full gallery-style installations. Each venue will create a different viewing experience.
In response to a court ruling that banned protest near SWN worksites, a multi-cultural group of land protectors blockade Rt 126, blocking Royal Canadian Mounted Police vehicles, burning tires and shale gas exploration equipment. The few regional highways are major arteries for local traffic and the most direct routes through the thick forest. They provide an efficient thoroughfare for SWN to collect seismic data on the amount of natural gas hiding in the underground shale formations. On October 17, 2013, anti-fracking protests turned violent when the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) raided the encampment that had been peacefully blockading SWN’s equipment, preventing them from doing seismic testing- a prelude to fracking. The RCMP arrested 40 people while torched police cars sent clouds of black smoke into the air. Police pepper sprayed elders from Elsipogtog, fired sock rounds to control the crowd, and an RCMP officer was infamously recorded shouting “Crown land belongs to the government, not to fucking natives.” The community responded by steadfastly maintaining encampments in key locations to disrupt any attempted work by SWN. On December 6, 2013 SWN pulled out and ended their operations in New Brunswick. Community members believe they will return, and that the fight is far from over.
We have already partnered with communities in Oregon, Oakland, New York, Virginia, North Carolina, and New Brunswick, Canada – all locations threatened by pipelines, fracking and offshore drilling. Water Warriors screening events have proven to be a fresh way of bringing together diverse groups of residents who don’t often intersect, who aren’t already involved with advocacy or an organizing effort, and who might not normally attend an “activist” meeting. We’ve also worked with Indigenous educators to develop a screening kit to accompany Water Warriors : a step-by-step guide that makes it easy for anyone to plan, promote and host a successful Water Warriors event or incorporate it into existing programming—even (and especially) if they’d never organized an event like this before. We are most proud of the ways that Water Warriors has directly inspired ordinary people to take action in their communities.
I grew up as an inner-city kid, and at the age of eight years old I made an early suburban trek in search of a better education and opportunity. My unique education and exposure to communities outside of my own opened my mind to the many socioeconomic disparities that continue to divide our nation.
My film On The Line: Where Sacrifice Begins highlights METCO, one of the longest running voluntary school desegregation programs in the country, its historical impact on the city of Boston and those personally involved in the program itself. The idea for the film was born out of my desire to share my personal story with a broader audience, to inform others about the importance of equity, access and opportunity through education.
The lessons drawn from former & currents participants of the METCO program have a lasting impact. The educational harms of segregation and the academic benefits of desegregated schools have been well documented. Public schools are the first places where migration patterns and cultural differences manifest themselves and are also where the potential to learn from diversity is likely the greatest.
On The Line first screened in front of a sold out audience on the Graduate School of Education campus at Harvard University. It was in that moment that I recognized my calling to deliver meaningful stories with a sense of purpose. The heartfelt post-screening panel discussion reminded all in attendance of the importance for every high school and university to continue the conversation about our country’s path to recovering from formalized racial segregation.
At New Day Films, we’re known for our decades-long reputation of creating compelling social issues films, but as a co-op of member-filmmakers we do so much more than just sell educational media through our catalog. We’re passionately engaged in the educational sphere and the social issue landscape. Here are some exciting ways our members are engaging with the larger world at conferences, and other events in the near future:
On Oct. 6, New Day filmmaker Robin Lung will deliver the keynote presentation and host a screening of her film Finding Kukan at the American Association of Chinese Studies conference in Baltimore, Maryland. The film is a compelling investigation into the making of Chinese American Li Ling-Ai’s 1942 Academy award-winning documentaryKukan, a filmdetailing the Chinese experience of World War II neglected in the news media.
On Oct. 19, New Day filmmaker Katherine M Acosta will host a screening and discussion about her film Divided We Fall at the North American Labor History conference in Detroit, Michigan. Divided We Fallcombines original in-depth interviews with dramatic citizen-produced video and photos to tell the story of the movement that inspired workers around the world yet failed to achieve its most urgent objective – defeating Governor Scott Walker’s signature union-busting and austerity legislation.
Finding KUKAN chronicles my search for a long-lost 1941 Oscar-winning documentary called KUKAN – and Li Ling-Ai, the Chinese American woman from Hawaiʻi who was its un-credited producer. Itʻs a fascinating detective story that highlights how easily history can be lost or forgotten – especially the history of women and minorities.
I was a book and movie lover while growing up in Hawaiʻi, but in all the books and movies I devoured, I rarely came across Chinese American heroines I could identify with. When I became a filmmaker, I sought to fill that void and hit the jackpot when I discovered Li Ling-Ai. Even though she had died several years before I started the project, her larger-than-life personality came through in her letters and interviews and the remembrances of her friends and relatives, who referred to her as a “Chinese Aunty Mame.” She was bold and brash, glamorous and egotistical, but she also had a generous heart and used her charm to break down negative stereotypes associated with China and Chinese people. I wanted to know everything I could about her. Although I did end up finding the “lost” film KUKAN, I still have many unanswered questions about Li Ling-Aiʻs life.
I made a difficult choice to put myself into my own film. And Iʻve been pleasantly surprised by audience reactions to my on-screen search. All across America and Canada viewers of all ethnicities have responded very emotionally to Finding KUKAN. Itʻs been a touchstone that prompts people to contemplate the lost or forgotten stories in their own lives. Several viewers have told me that after seeing the film, they sat down with their mother or grandfather or children to record stories or pass them on. Many young women have also shared that I am now a role model to them. I started looking for one womanʻs life, and it has led to so much more.
We are both New York-based filmmakers. Sofian is the founder of Capital K Pictures, a production company focusing on nonfiction content. Andrés is also a radio producer and journalist. As filmmakers both impacted by immigration (Andrés is from Argentina, Sofian is the son of immigrants), the story of people leaving their home to find opportunity has always attracted us. Much is lost and left behind, but the journey often has great rewards.
Our film Gaucho del Norte follows South American migrant workers who are recruited by U.S. ranchers to work in the western United States as sheepherders on three-year contracts. It’s a difficult lifestyle in an isolated and rugged environment far from home, but many make the journey every year to make a better life for their families back home. This story reflects a common immigrant experience in a very stark and beautiful way. We wanted to tackle the issue of immigration with an observational visual approach and an unconventional storytelling style, focusing on the personal journeys of immigrant sheepherders in an industry that is highly dependent on them.
Our approach does not include many sit-down interviews or talking heads who analyze the issue of immigration and labor, but is rather focused on the immigrant journey with the hope that it captures the essence of the immigrant spirit. Minimal dialogue is also part of the approach in order to get a better sense of the loneliness that is part of the environment and daily struggle of immigrant sheepherders.
Making the film was a real physical hardship, and in many ways our filmmaking struggle reflected the challenges the sheepherder himself was experiencing. We hiked the same terrain and weathered the same subzero temperatures (which several times froze the liquid crystals in the camera’s LCD screen!). We chased after the herd to get the perfect shot, and were often left in the dust by the sheepherder and his dogs after rushing ahead to get in front of the herd. Finishing the film was like completing a rite of passage.
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.
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.
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.