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.
November is Native American Heritage Month, and New Day has many films that celebrate the cultures and histories of those who were here before the colonization of Turtle Island (aka North America), and those who survive and continue to build futures for themselves and their children. Tracing Roots follows master weaver and Haida elder Delores Churchill on a journey to understand the origins of a spruce root hat discovered alongside a 300-year-old traveler in a retreating glacier. Shellmound is the story of how one Bay Area location changed from a sacred burial ground to a toxic late-stage capitalist consumer zone. In Whose Honor? follows the story of Charlene Teters, a mother and activist who went up against the University of Illinois to ban the use of a racist mascot. Check out these films and more here.
Transgender Awareness Month
November is also Transgender Awareness Month, a time to celebrate, raise the visibility of, and expose the challenges faced by transgender and gender non-conforming people. New Day’s catalogue includes a number of films about trans people. Prodigal Sons reveals a surprisingly universal story about identity, gender, adoption, and mental illness. Trinidad acquaints viewers with three trans women whose paths cross in Trinidad, Colorado, the “sex-change capital of the world.” The Year We Thought About Love is a story about a queer youth theater project, and includes the coming out process of a young black trans woman. Check out these films and more here.
At a time when Europe is reeling from record numbers of refugees, renewed attention has been cast on the issue of migration. The term “refugee” has come to encompass individuals fleeing environmental change, food insecurity, and generalized violence—such as Syrian civilians fleeing drought and the onslaught of ISIS. Those who fall outside the internationally recognized definition of a refugee but are nevertheless fleeing very serious socio-economic rights deprivations are termed “survival migrants.” Many of the other Middle Eastern, African, and South Asian immigrants featured nightly on our television screens fall under this category. They are running for their lives, seeking to find a new home where they can become productive citizens and raise their children safely.
New Day Films hosts a collection of films that address the issue of survival migration into the United States, especially from the viewpoint of those most impacted: the children. The feature-length documentaryAbrazos follows the transformational journey of 14 children of undocumented immigrants as they travel to Guatemala for the first time to meet their grandparents and other family members. Their journey highlights the plight of 4.5 million children living in mixed legal status families. Director Luis Argueta was moved to capture this epic experience, noting:
In the process of filming several of my most recent documentaries, I have witnessed the negative consequences of family separation which is caused by a broken immigration system. The ones most affected by the separation are the children.
Sin Pais is an award-winning documentary short that attempts to break through mainstream media’s “talking points” approach to immigration by focusing on the intimate experiences of one family. In the early 90s, Sam and Elida Mejia fled a violent civil war in Guatemala. 17 years later, they have built a new life for themselves and their three children in the San Francisco Bay Area. When immigration agents storm their home in search of another person, however, their lives are torn apart. Sam, Elida, and their oldest son Gilbert are all undocumented and become deeply entangled in the U.S. immigration system. Commenting on the experiences of the Mejia family, filmmaker Theo Rigby writes:
Every parent has the responsibility to clothe, house, and educate his or her children. Most immigrants want to provide a better life for their families than the one that they were dealt in their home country. This translates to immigrants being incredibly hard workers and very innovative. More than half of small businesses in the U.S. were started by immigrants, as well as some of the largest businesses.
Documentary shortLife On The Line tells the story of teenager Kimberly Torrez who lives on the Arizona-Mexico border in a mixed legal status family. Co-directing team Sally Rubin and Jen Giloman set about making a film that would bolster the fight for comprehensive immigration reform and highlight the plight of children and their families who are divided by state and national policies. Filmmaker Sally Rubin explains:
Told entirely from Kimberly’s perspective, our film attempts to draw out themes of socioeconomic adversity, the universal challenges of adolescence, the pursuit of opportunity in our education system, and the real-life effects of immigration policies on the ability of students to succeed.
One of New Day’s earliest films featuring children caught up in the immigration debate is Children in No Man’s Land, a short documentary about two young children, Maria de Jesus and her cousin Rene, who attempt to cross the US/Mexico border by themselves to reunite with their mothers in the Midwest. Filmmaker Anayansi Prado was deeply impacted by the stories she heard of unaccompanied children making the dangerous crossing over the border and wanted to put a human face to the crisis. She writes:
I wanted to understand and convey the struggles of a family separated by necessity and the children’s urges for embarking on such a risk journey. What I found out is that at their core they are not that much different than any of us. They are just families who want to be together and will risk it all to survive and have a chance at a better life.
I Learn America is a feature-length documentary set in International High School at Lafayette, a Brooklyn public high school dedicated to teaching newly arrived immigrant teenagers from more than 50 countries. Co-directors Jean-Michel Dissard and Gitte Peng follow five diverse students over the course of a tumultuous senior year to illuminate the broader issues of how the education system and community groups can work together to embrace students in the USA who are first-generation immigrants. Ultimately, the unique learning environment fostered at International High School at Lafayette provides a blueprint for how other schools and society at large can help to support America’s newest arrivals and provide them a path to realizing their dreams. Filmmaker Jean-Michel Dissard writes:
Today, a quarter of our nation’s children are immigrants or the children of immigrants and nearly one third of our population under the age of 34 fits this demographic. How we fare in welcoming these children will determine the nature of America’s continually emerging identity.
To learn more about New Day’s films on immigration, please click here.
We have officially transformed our suite at the 2015 National Media Market in Albuquerque, New Mexico into a New Day show room!
Come find myself and Alice Bouvrie in Room 324, where we’ve got catalogues, DVDs, and two screening monitors waiting for you. Many of the other booths have Hershey’s Kisses or M&M’s. As New Days Films is not one to follow the beaten path, we decided to step it up a bit and serve our visitors some local fare: chocolate infused red wine (Black Mesa) from a Santa Fe vineyard and fudge laced with pinions. First come, first serve!
In the afternoon we attended Media Mania, a forum where exhibitors briefly present their collection. Kanopy a rising star in the world of streaming service and New Day’s newest partner, spoke first, helping to set the stage for our presentation. I talked about what makes us unique — a group of independent filmmakers who are deeply passionate about our work and equally passionate about reaching our audiences.
Then onward to screening the impressive composite promo clip of the new releases created by Karen Skloss. One man sitting in front of us winced in response to the clip from The Land, a short documentary about an experimental adventure playground where children learn to manage risks such as fire and sharp objects on their own. There were sighs and laughter followed by an enthusiastic applause, making us very proud to represent New Day!
Now the real media market begins. Please feel free to drop by and see us. We’d love to chat with you in person!