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.
The demographics of the United States are changing rapidly; research shows that the number of people who are 65 or over will double by 2050. As with any major shift, this will have major implications for our society, our economy, and our personal lives. This May, as we celebrate Older Americans Month, New Day Films is proud to showcase six films that raise awareness about important issues facing older adults and their loved ones. These films transform our culture’s myopic fascination with youth by featuring stories of those on the frontier of the aging boom– older Americans who are breaking taboos by advocating for themselves, their peers, and their communities.
One of the newest additions to New Day’s collection isNine To Ninety, a short film I directed on the difficult choices older Americans are forced to make as they near the end of their lives. At the heart of the film is my producer Juli Vizza’s 89-year-old grandmother Phyllis, a vivacious petite woman who finds herself having to part from her husband of 62 years in order to ease the caretaking burden on their daughter. In a time of crisis magnified by limited finances, Phyllis bravely tackles the taboo of talking about death with her tightly knit family and begins the emotional-spiritual process of saying goodbye to her loved ones. This powerful story inspired Juli and me to develop an engagement campaign with partners like The Conversation Project, Caring Across Generations and AARP. Since launching the film on PBS at the beginning of the year, we have been working to connect classrooms, communities, and families with resources to ensure that we, and those who care for us, can live (and die) well.
Winner of multiple festival audience awards,States of Graceintimately captures the profound transformation of revered physician Dr. Grace Dammann and her family after Grace is involved in a devastating car accident. With dry humor and brave candor, Grace, her partner Nancy “Fu” Schroeder, and their teenage daughter Sabrina recalibrate their lives. FilmmakersHelen Cohen andMark Lipman reflect that, “After screening States of Grace, we’ve had many people comment about the power and honesty of the caregiver/care receiver relationship and thank us for showing the frustrations and challenges that many individuals face as they care for older adults.” Despite her severe disabilities, Grace returns to work as a physician, designing and directing a cutting-edge pain clinic that uses many healing modalities including meditation, acupuncture, music therapy and massage. Her experience managing her own chronic pain leads her to become a strong advocate for non-traditional approaches to pain management and the building of community so patients can support each other in managing their pain.
InTracing Roots: A Weaver’s Journey, 86-year-old Delores Churchill is bolstered by her passion to learn, teach, and literally dig into issues of intellectual property and cultural heritage. A master weaver and elder of the Haida people of the Pacific Northwest coast of North America, Delores sets out on a journey to understand the origins of a spruce root hat found with Kwäday Dän Ts’ìnchi, also known as the Long Ago Person Found, in a retreating glacier in Northern Canada. “I’m continually in awe of how she inspires students and audiences of all ages,” says filmmakerEllen Frankenstein about her collaboration with Delores in making the film and screening it in communities, on campuses, and in museums. “Delores is a role model for what it means to age well and with grace, and her story reflects on the power of connecting with culture, art and community as part of that.”
Women in the arts rarely get serious attention in our culture. Older women in the arts are virtually ignored. FilmmakerPam Walton breaks the mold withTRIPTYCH, a documentary featuring ceramic artist Lana Wilson, best-selling children’s writer Jeanne DuPrau, and painter Nan Golub– three dynamic women who continue to be productive into their 70’s. Walton explores each artist’s creative processes and key relationships that have shaped them. She also delves into how the artists have handled both rejection and success over their lives, and how they see the development of their work over time. “As an older woman myself, I’m more and more fascinated by what happens to us as we age,” says Walton. As Lana, Jeanne, and Nan share their experiences, the film inspires audiences with the revelation that growing older can mean growing deeper and wiser in your artistic craft.
The subjects ofBefore You Know It are go-go booted bar-hoppers, love-struck activists, troublemaking baton twirlers, late night Internet cruisers, seasoned renegades and bold adventurers. They are also among the estimated 2.4 million lesbian, gay and bisexual Americans over the age of 55 in the United States, many of whom face heightened levels of discrimination, neglect and exclusion. According to recent studies, LGBT seniors are twice as likely to live alone as their heterosexual counterparts and four times less likely to access social services such as healthcare. The film highlights generational trailblazers who have surmounted prejudice and defied expectations to form alternative communities of strength, renewal and camaraderie. As filmmakerPJ Raval points out, “This current LGBT senior generation is the first visible and out community, banding together and creating community organizations, living facilities and much needed support structures for one another, taking the initiative to make change rather than wait for change.”
InOld People Driving, filmmakerShaleece Haasaddresses a vital issue facing older adults that is often ignored until there’s a crisis: driving retirement. Milton and Herbert are men in their late 90s both deeply engaged in decision-making about their own lives. When we meet them at the beginning of film, both are still driving. Herbert, a spry 99, decides it’s time to hang up the keys before someone else makes that decision for him. Milton, 96, who is also Haas’ grandfather, is committed to keep driving until he decides the time has come to move into the passenger seat. The film uses intimate personal stories, humor, and solid reporting to explore issues of older adult autonomy, emotional health, and community safety. “Never in human history have we had this many older people and this many older people on the road,” Haas says. “It’s a discussion that needs to happen – in our family, and probably in yours as well.”
These six films are unflinching, beautiful and comical, and they ignite critical conversations about how to age with dignity. To learn more about them and other films on aging and gerontology, please visit our entire collection here.
Women’s History Month highlights the contributions of women to events in history and contemporary society. Did you know that 40% of the rebel army in Nepal were women? Woman Rebel follows one woman’s story (codename “Silu”), from the jungles to the halls of Parliament. Breaking Silence: The Story of the Sisters of Desales Heights follows twelve elderly nuns preparing to face the outside world for the first time in their adult lives, raising important questions about the changing role of women in society when their roles are no longer valued. Power and Control: Domestic Violence in America is a comprehensive and timely exploration of the shocking persistence of domestic violence in our society. See New Day’s complete Women’s Studies collection here.
National Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month calls on us to recognize the mixed-ability world in which we live, and the unique contributions, needs, and desires of every person. What does it mean for us to live in a world where people of all different abilities are supported and recognized? Explore New Day’s collection of excellent films on disability-related topics, including The Collector of Bedford Street, an Academy Award-nominated short documentary about a community activist and fundraiser with an intellectual disability, and the community that came together to support him when he was in crisis. The Key of Gis an award-winning documentary that follows Gannet, a charismatic 22-year-old with physical and developmental disabilities, as he leaves his mother’s home to share an apartment with a close-knit group of artists and musicians who support him as paid caregivers and as friends. See more films about disability here.
National Criminal Justice Month calls attention to the need for an effective criminal justice system. A Sentence Apartfollows three families as they cope with the infinite ripple effects of incarceration in the U.S. AbUSed: The Postville Raidexposes the devastating effects of U.S. immigration enforcement policies on children, families and communities. Every Mother’s Sonhighlights three women who have lost their sons to police brutality, as they unite to fight for change. See the rest of our Law and Criminal Justice collection here.
My short filmThe Land is set in a Welsh junkyard playground where kids can play with fire, hammers and nails. Their play makes us cringe with fear, while simultaneously reminding us of our own favorite childhood memories. Most of what you see in the film are scenes of children immersed in deep, sometimes risky, play.
I was born in 1981 and was fortunate to have a very playful childhood. I roamed the neighborhood with kids of all different ages and headed home only when the streetlights came on. In the subsequent decades since my youth, I have seen children’s culture diminish dramatically. It is a troubling trend. As a new parent (my baby Asa was born last December), I feel even more strongly about advocating for a child’s right to play with fire, climb trees, and swear (just during playtime… not ALL of the time).
One step onto The Land playground left me dizzy with inspiration. It is a beautiful contradiction. Though it looks like the LAST place you’d want to release a crew of kids – with its loose saws, tires, broken bikes, mud and more – The Land is the most child-centric environment I’ve ever experienced. Adult aesthetics, norms and rules simply do not apply. And it is completely liberating!
What I hear from adult viewers is that The Land portrays childhood as they remember it. That is to say The Land portrays childhood with humor and delight but also grit and darkness. Play is not always nice or pleasing to adults. I did my best to have adults speaking as LITTLE as possible which is unusual for media about play and childhood. Usually films about this are packed with developmental experts reinforcing the benefits of play. I wanted the actions of the children in the film to speak for themselves.
The Land is a really effective tool for organizing. It’s short enough to view and have a solid discussion during a lunch break or staff meeting. It has some good buzz among its core audience so when one person gets their hands on it, others will make a point to attend events to see it.One of my favorite screenings so far was at the Providence Children’s Museum in Providence, Rhode Island. The room was packed with parents and teachers who were fed up with the diminishment of free play and children’s culture. The Landreally blew the conversation open because it shows what is possible. It shows that the spectrum of possibility for what we can let children do is much wider than we think. At that screening, parents were able to meet, mingle and commiserate. Even more exciting for me was that teachers met other teachers and swapped strategies about how to support play in their classrooms despite strict curriculum and protocol. I’m really proud of the film’s impact so far, and we’re just getting started!
Just in time for Women’s History Month this March, New Day member Briar March interviews four filmmakers whose collective body of work on gender equality span the past 45 years. Just how far do they think we’ve progressed and what is the relevance of their films today?
The history of New Day Films is very much entwined with that of the women’s movement. In 1971, our documentary cooperative was born when a small group of feminist filmmakers decided to band together to distribute their films—films that had been deemed too controversial for traditional distributors. One of the original three films to be included in New Day’s groundbreaking collection was Amalie R. Rothschild’sIt Happens to Us. Shot by an entirely female crew in 1971, the documentary explored women’s legal right to choose. Rothschild explains that her strong desire to make the film arose out of her own experience with abortion and the prejudices she had towards women who chose to abort. She writes:
Until it happened to me I basically thought that any woman who found herself with an unwanted pregnancy was somehow personally responsible. When I had an unplanned pregnancy myself I realized through my own circumstances that it certainly was not the case, and I had to confront my own unsuspected attitudes.
A year after Rothschild’s film was released, the Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court decision made abortion legal throughout the U.S. and Rothschild was both relieved and overjoyed to see the issues she had been campaigning for finally being taken seriously. But looking back in 2016, she is not so sure how far women’s rights and access to abortion have really progressed. She points out how attacks against Planned Parenthood in Congress and an increase in closures of pro-choice clinics throughout America have made abortion and birth control services practically impossible for some women. She explains:
While on paper many things have changed, and many educated young women of today take for granted that they have equal rights, the reality is actually quite different. I think most young women are not aware of how many of their rights have actually been taken away with arcane laws enacted at the state level.
It Happened to Us is not the only film from New Day that explores these issues. Leona’s Sister Gerri, made 23 years later by JaneGillooly, tells the dramatic story of Gerri Santoro, a mother of two and the “real person” in the now famous photo of an anonymous woman on a hotel floor, dead from an illegal abortion. Reflecting on the use of her film during Women’s History Month, Gillooly says she is often frustrated by how the documentary is solely marketed towards women, and that she would really like to see more men access the story:
Abortion affects men as well as women… I was just struck by how empathetic (and clueless actually) many men are about abortion. I’m not the first to say women’s films should be seen 12 months a year.
Gillooly’s desire to engage with male audiences got me thinking about Emma Watson’s inspiring speech at the UN recently in which she launched theHeForShe campaign. Watched by millions on social media, the young British actress investigates why the feminist movement has been mostly dominated by women and asks, “How can we effect change in the world when only half of it is invited or feels welcome to participate in the conversation?” Interestingly at New Day Films there are a number of male filmmakers who have already chosen to join this important discussion, making films about gender equality both inside and outside America.
Leaving Home, a documentary by Robert Richter, tells the story of Renu, a bright teenage girl in a small northern village in India who planned and dreamed of becoming a teacher in the big city, only to be thwarted by traditions that force her into an arranged marriage. Richter tells me that he had planned to show “progress” in the village, but while he could see evidence of material progress in many ways, he found the lack of social progress for women even more significant. When I asked Richter how much he felt things have developed since filming his documentaryin 2011 he remarks,
There has been increasing attention in India to the abuse of women, particularly after a gang rape and death of a woman riding a bus in Delhi. But I doubt that much has changed about gender roles, other than the terrible event bringing briefly to public awareness an awful symptom of an entrenched societal disorder.
Thanks to films like Leaving Home, we are able to access a personal and direct insight into issues facing women outside America. And as Richter adds, it also allows for a point of comparison when thinking about the issue of gender inequality at home:
In contrast, gender inequality in America is a widely recognized issue and is increasingly challenged — a challenge that as the father of four daughters I strongly support. In classrooms, Leaving Home does more than illuminate the coming of age of one girl. It challenges students to examine and compare gender roles where they live and how those roles are, or are not, changing. Our hope is that the film will inspire positive action.
Instead of focusing directly on gender equality, Pat Ferrero’s two films Quilts in Women’s Lives and Hearts & Handslook at the act of quilting, a pastime specific to women that reveals unique insights into the female experience. Quilts in Women’s Lives, first released in 1981, presents a series of portraits of female quilt makers, including a Mennonite, a Bulgarian immigrant, an African American, and two Midwestern sisters. Made a few years later, Hearts & Hands uses women’s quilts to chronicle the lives of women through significant events of the 19th century, including industrialization, the Civil War, and the suffrage movement. By using quilts to speak the language of politics and social justice, or by simply celebrating the artistic process of women quilters, these two films form a visual anthropology reflecting on the diversity of women’s culture. Speaking of the relevance and potential use of her work, Ferrero says,
The film’s issues are as alive and relevant today as when they were first made. As long as people use the needle to make quilts to reflect the issues of the day such as the Aids Quilt project did, or the quilts that raised money to fight apartheid in South Africa, or the disappeared son and daughters in Latin America, quilts will continue to reflect the most pressing issues.
As we celebrate Women’s History Month this year, there is no better time to contemplate some of the issues Ferrero and the other filmmakers have raised. How can we best engage men in the feminist movement? And how can we educate young people about not only the rich history of past women’s movements but also the current issues still facing us in America and abroad? These films and others in the New Day collection offer us creative and inspiring ways to engage with these timely conversations. Through screenings of our collection on campuses and throughout our community, stories about gender equality and women’s issues are getting the attention they deserve. To find out more about these films and other critically-acclaimed works such as Growing Up Female, Betty Tells Her Story, Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines, and TRIPTYCH: 3 Women Making Art, visit our collection today!