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.
November is also Transgender Awareness Month, a time to raise visibility of and expose challenges faced by transgender and gender non-conforming people. New Day’s catalogue includes a number of films about trans people. In Prodigal Sons, a trans woman returns home to Helena, Montana, and confronts her complicated relationship with her brother, opening the doorway to a journey of revelations. 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.
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 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.
Holiday time is approaching, making November the perfect time to explore National Family Caregivers Month. Caring for disabled and older family members is an important part of our development as adults and can be some of the most meaningful work we do. At the same time, this vital work is also often undervalued and many family caregivers lack the support they desperately need, whether it is financial support or time for self-care. These issues have been gaining national attention recently, with both U.S. presidential candidates promising to provide benefits for family caregivers. New Day’s excellent collection of films, including those mentioned below, are powerful tools for addressing family caregiver issues that affect the more than 65 million people in the U.S. who provide care for a chronically ill, disabled or older family member or friend during any given year.
A brand new addition to the New Day collection is filmmaker Sophie Sartain’s Mimi and Dona, which premiered nationally on the PBS series Independent Lens, and was named one of the Best TV Shows of 2015 by The New York Times. A longtime documentary writer and editor, Sartain went very personal with her directorial debut, entering the world of her grandmother and developmentally disabled aunt. She beautifully captures dynamics that have resonance for the 855,000 Americans with intellectual disabilities living with a caregiver over the age of 60. Exploring the deep connection between a mother and daughter, and tackling the question of what happens when the aging caregiver becomes ill, dies, or for whatever reason can no longer care for that person, Mimi and Dona spotlights the challenges of aging caregivers—and details the ripple effects of Dona’s disability across three generations of a family.
Debuting earlier this year on PBS, the award-winning short film Nine To Ninety also follows an aging caregiver – the fierce and irreverent Phyllis Sabatini, who at 89 is helping to care for her 90 year-old husband Joe in the home of their daughter Sarah. But as Phyllis and Joe’s health problems escalate, caregiving falls more and more on the shoulders of their children. Like one out of every eight Americans, daughter Sarah is part of the “sandwich generation,” and in her case she’s caring for everyone in her household from nine to ninety years old. Director Alicia Dwyer captures the three generations with intimacy, subtlety and humor as they face a very difficult decision whether to split up Phyllis and Joe after 62 years of marriage in order to care for them with modest resources. Revealing the shocking gap in support for family caregivers, Nine To Ninety is accompanied by a thoughtful discussion guide and functions as a wake up call to start critical conversations about caregiving– from the most personal level with our own families to the policy debates that are bubbling up on the national stage.
Winner of multiple festival audience awards,States of Grace intimately 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. Family dynamics are turned upside down as each of them must negotiate new roles and responsibilities. As the only able-bodied person in their household, Fu becomes the primary caregiver to Grace while also taking on a more active role as parent. Filmmakers Helen Cohen and Mark 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.” Robert Saper, MD, MPH, Associate Professor of Family Medicine, Boston University School of Medicine calls it “an amazing film that poetically captures the many layers of triumph and struggle experienced by both patients and caregivers.”
Andy Abrahams Wilson’s classic film Hope is the Thing with Feathers traverses unexpected places in the emotional journey of caregiving for a loved one who is dying. A lush and lyrical film built around a poem which San Francisco poet and artist Beau Riley wrote as his lover of twelve years lay dying, the film shows one man plumbing the depths of his sorrow to find meaning through the strength of his mind, imagination, and devotion to his partner. “The [film’s] images and words define life, disease and death with utter sincerity, elemental simplicity, brave spirituality, and great beauty… an important film,” writes Philip Yenawine, Former Director of Education at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Not shying away from the messiness and desolation of the dying process, Hope is the Thing with Feathers discovers the spiritual side of caregiving, as Beau finds the magic in the most difficult of life’s journey and, from this palate, creates an art of remembrance, forgiveness, and moving on.