I am a New York City-based filmmaker from a blue-collar background interested in illuminating stories and histories that are seldom taught. My film Hunting in Wartime profiles Tlingit veterans from Hoonah, Alaska, who saw combat during the Vietnam War. They talk about surviving trauma, relating to Vietnamese people, readjusting to civilian life, and serving a government that systematically oppresses native people. Their stories give an important human face to the combat soldier and show the lasting effects of war on individuals, families and communities.
The main impetus behind this project was to support, document and preserve Tlingit history. There isn’t a great deal of documentation regarding Tlingit history because the Tlingit community uses verbal storytelling. The film is only a piece in what we hope is a lasting historical media presence for Hoonah’s Vietnam veterans and a broader transmedia project that explores racism, history and war from a uniquely Native American perspective.
I was also drawn to the story partly because the Vietnam War has always intrigued me—as a student, activist, and filmmaker. I was born while the war was still taking place and my family watched the carnage nightly on television. Those images must have left an indelible effect on me.
The process of making the film was an emotional one. The most significant moment in the production process was when fellow producer Christie George and I interviewed Tlingit Veteran Kenny Austin in Hilo, Hawaii. He gave us a very long and intense interview. We took him out to dinner afterwards and when we gave him a ride home, we realized he had walked over two miles to meet us for the interview. At the time Ken was close to 80 years of age and not in the best of health. The experience confirmed how important it is for the veterans to have their stories heard. We knew we had to tell this story as best as we could.
My filmOut In The Night tells the true story of a group of young African-American lesbians who are out one night in 2006, in New York City’s gay-friendly neighborhood of Greenwich Village, when they are sexually confronted by an older man. After they brush off his advances and state that they are gay, the man becomes violent and threatens to “f**k them straight.” He spits and throws a lit cigarette at one of the women, causing a fight to break out. The women are subsequently arrested, charged and convicted with gang assault, assault and attempted murder. Out in the Night reveals how race, gender identity and sexuality are criminalized in the mainstream news media and in the criminal legal system.
Immediately following their arrest, I became interested in the case. I read the many salacious headlines like “Attack of the Killer Lesbians,” “Gal Gang,” “I’m a man, lesbian growled” and on and on. However, it was the first of many New York Times articles that really gave me pause: “Man is stabbed after admiring a stranger.” I was outraged. I didn’t think the journalists from the NYT would have written the article from the harasser’s point of view had the women been white. A man does not ‘admire’ teenage girls on the street at midnight. At best, that is harassment.
Originally, I believed that this was a story that shouldn’t be told by a white director. After two years of advocacy, however, as their appeals were approaching, I couldn’t stop thinking about this story. I was still just as passionate, but the media attention had severely died down. I didn’t want it to be swept under the rug. I wrote to each of the women in prison and asked if I could come visit to discuss the possibility of a documentary. I spoke with their family members to see if they were also interested. From there we began a long interview process, seeing whether we were a good fit. After many months of getting to know each other, we began filming.
Out in the Night has now screened in close to 150 film festivals, winning over a dozen awards, and kicked off the 2015-2016 season of POV on PBS with a simultaneous broadcast on the Logo Network. Out in the Night continues its partnership with the United Nations’ Free and Equal Campaign to decriminalize homosexuality worldwide. According to RogerEbert.com, “This film could help influence the ongoing LGBT civil rights struggle. Everyone should see it.”
I’m a filmmaker, eco-activist, and futurist. My filmCatching the Sun follow the stories of an unemployed American worker, a Tea Party activist, and a Chinese solar entrepreneur as they race to lead the largest economic opportunity of our times—clean energy. Their successes and failures speak to one of the biggest questions of our time: who will win and who will lose the battle for power in the 21st century?
The journey to make Catching the Sun began because I was looking for hope. In post-industrial cities like Richmond, California, the dream of upward mobility is eroding. The oil economy has created monopolies and concentrated wealth and power in the hands of the few. I was fascinated by the idea that solar power could democratize and decentralize energy in a way that rebuilds the ladder of economic opportunity for workers and entrepreneurs.
This is not a gloom and doom climate change film. Catching the Sun focuses on the human stories of workers and entrepreneurs who are remaking our energy system with their own hands. The film builds on the transformative idea that what is good for the polar bears can also be good for the middle class. Solving climate change can unleash innovation and transform an inefficient, polluting energy system into something radically better for our economy. Filmed over five years, Catching The Sun will leave audiences encouraged by the hope and possibility of a clean energy future, and inspired to bring that future into being.
I’m an Oakland-based filmmaker and film educator who is endlessly fascinated by how young people construct their identities – especially young people who are adopted or growing up in foster care and group homes. I’ve taught grad students at Stanford, undergrads at San Francisco State University and teenagers at The Bay Area Video Coalition. I currently teach students of all ages at Diablo Valley College.
Off and Running tells the story of Avery, a sixteen year-old African American track star, adopted and raised by two white Jewish lesbians. When Avery decides to contact her birth mother, it leads her to complicated and sometimes painful exploration of race, identity and the meaning of family. The film is about the lengths we all go to in order to become ourselves.
When I began this film in my mid-20s, I’d never met a family with queer parents before, and I glimpsed the possibilities of my own future. I wanted to document Avery’s quest in order to understand her perspective as a transracial adoptee with two moms, and to better prepare myself for adoption and parenthood. To this day she remains my most trusted guide.
Avery and I share a co-writing credit on this film. About halfway through filming, Avery disappeared and broke contact with most of the people in her life, including me. This lasted for two months and I lost a lot of sleep, but one day she showed up on my doorstep ready to continue with the film. I told her I was glad she wanted to get back to work, but first I needed her to watch the footage we had shot so she could offer her feedback. And that’s exactly what she did. Day after day, through her reactions to the footage and the voiceover narration she wrote herself, Avery took ownership of the film. Her troubles didn’t go away, but her commitment to the project and her confidence strengthened immeasurably as she discovered her own power as a storyteller. She was honored by the Writers Guild of America with the Best Documentary Screenplay award, and takes great pride in that.
Off and Running has impacted countless parents, social workers, adoption agencies, nurses, psychologists, and youth. It is on the “required viewing” list at many adoption agencies. We are excited to see the power of the film harnessed as a tool for understanding and change in the world of adoption.
We are Los Angeles-based filmmakers whose collective body of work has garnered an Emmy and numerous film festival prizes. Our film, Nine to Ninety, is a 29-minute character-driven documentary about a family coming together at a crossroads.
A few years ago, Juli’s mother called and said she was considering bringing Phyllis, Juli’s grandmother, to live with her on the East Coast. Juli was taken aback by the fact that this meant possibly splitting up her grandparents after 62 years of marriage. We didn’t know what was going to happen but felt that something important was going to be revealed and decided to document the journey in a film.
Once we started, we realized that Juli’s grandmother Phyllis was the heart of the story. A 4’10” woman with a fourth-grade education, Phyllis was a charming and plainspoken firecracker. Though talking about death is not a strong part of American culture, Phyllis was not afraid to confront the issue head on. She was actively engaged in trying to make very difficult decisions about her life—a life deeply entwined with that of her husband Joe and the lives of their younger family members. She faced the deepest questions of love, responsibility, burden, loss, and grace in her own way. As the matriarch of her family, she brought an emotional-spiritual intelligence that allowed her to lead them in a process of saying goodbye. She saw, in fact, that sometimes the best way to say “I love you” is to say “goodbye.”
Talking about death is taboo for many people in this country. Over 90% of people say they want to have these kinds of conversations, but only 23% have. When we screen the film, people often come up to us immediately afterwards wanting to share their personal stories. Many also say that it’s inspired them to call their parent or loved one. It has made the conversation around aging less scary and more personal. We were able to achieve our larger goals: to encourage others to start the necessary conversations in their own families about end-of-life care, death, and caretaking; to envision the society we want for ourselves, our families, and caregivers as we grow older; and to demand and contribute to a sea change of policies, resources, and support to enable all of us to age with dignity.
I’m a documentary filmmaker from New Orleans, now living in San Francisco and New Orleans. Most of my work is about city life and social change, especially at the neighborhood level.
My filmFaubourg Tremé: The Untold Story of Black New Orleans documents America’s oldest Black neighborhood and home to the largest community of free Black people in the Deep South during slavery. New Orleans’ Faubourg Treme is also the birthplace of jazz and America’s little known first Southern Civil Rights Movement. The completed film uncovers Treme’s unique and hidden history and situates it within three centuries of African American struggle – from slavery through the Civil War, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, and the modern Civil Rights Movement, to the recent threats of Hurricane Katrina and displacement.
I made Faubourg Treme with my good friend and co-director, Lolis Eric Elie, who lives in the neighborhood and, at the time, was a columnist for New Orleans’ Times Picayune newspaper. We were almost finished editing when Hurricane Katrina hit. We had to evacuate the city ourselves and then sneak back in a few days later to rescue our tapes from floodwaters. We decided to abandon our original structure, locate our characters, go back into production to include the impact of the disaster on them and the neighborhood, and reframe the story from a post-Katrina perspective.
We’ve been astonished at the range of people and organizations that have used our film in creative ways and the impact and responses it’s had. It has screened widely at music festivals around the world; been used as a policy tool for FEMA and other rebuilding agencies and foundations; been incorporated into training programs for student and church volunteers and Teach America; and screened at many civil rights, journalism, and social justice conferences and rallies. We are personally most excited that a new generation of activists from the Black Lives Matter and other anti-racist movements have begun using it as an organizing and educational tool, often along with a presentation/discussion session with Lolis. If other student leaders or professors are interested in inviting Lolis to their campus along with the film, please contact us at email@example.com.
My film The Year We Thought About Love chronicles an LGBTQ youth theater troupe creating a play about love based on their personal experiences. I have always been drawn to the intimacy, vulnerability, and security of the rehearsal room, where I spent a lot of time working on plays in high school and college.
In the midst of production, the film took an unexpected turn when the Boston Marathon bombing occurred in 2013. The troupe had been holding their rehearsals in a room near the Marathon’s finish line. Some members had been present at the marathon, while others made last-minute decisions not to attend. Badly shaken, the troupe and our camera crew gathered for a support meeting the day after the bombing, just a few blocks away from the fatal scene. In the end, the troupe members rallied for one another, and decided to use their performance tour as part of the city’s and their own healing process.
It’s been amazing to travel with the film. Audiences from Seoul to San Francisco, from Missoula to Mumbai have all found some point of connection with the troupe members, most of whom are youth of color. Likewise, audiences react with more laughter and positive energy to the film than they do to other films about LGBTQ youth—perhaps because the film portrays the troupe members as individual artists and activists rather than starting with a mainstream media frame of LGBTQ victimhood. It’s been moving to hear straight kids and adults say it gave them a new way to relate to their friends and family members; professors telling us that the film opened up discussions about culture and policy issues; and LGBTQ viewers saying it captured a view of themselves that they are seeing on the screen for the first time.
My film White Earth is a look at a North Dakota oil boom as experienced by people on the fringes of society – in this case, three children and an immigrant mother. It hits on several topics related to the issue of domestic oil production, but at the end of the day it’s about people trying to navigate economic and industrial forces much bigger than they are. And it’s also about my favorite documentary cliché: The American Dream.
The idea for the film was born when I witnessed a huge exodus of people from my hometown in Southern Utah to North Dakota to find work. White Earth is also an ode to misfits. I’ve always felt a special connection with outsiders and misfits – probably because I am one myself. I wanted to look at this major story—a topic of great national debate—and throw out all the authoritative voices that you would expect to hear from in a film about oil work. No oil companies. No activists. No academics. No oil workers.
As a cinematographer I rely on those almost Zen-like moments where after wandering around with my camera for hours on end, I come across an image that elevates the story to places where words are insufficient. The flaming oil fields of a North Dakota winter were a cinematographer’s dream and I’m so glad my production schedule allowed me to just drive around over several nights waiting for serendipity to intervene and place the perfect light or image in my path.
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.
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.”