Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month also falls during March and calls on us to recognize the mixed-ability world in which we live, and the unique contributions, needs, and desires of every person. Explore New Day’s collection of excellent films on disability-related topics. Who Am I To Stop Itis a documentary about the traumatic brain injury community, made by Cheryl Green, a filmmaker with disabilities from brain injury. Mimi and Dona, by Sophie Sartain,spotlights a mother-daughter relationship profoundly impacted by aging and disability.
March is Women’s History Month, an opportunity to recognize the lives and stories of women, and to draw to the center those who have been marginalized. Mezzo, by Nicole Opper, celebrates the life and artistic endeavors of Breanna Sinclaire, an African American opera singer and openly trans woman. Silent Choices, by Faith Pennick, is about abortion and its impact on the lives of African American women. See these and other films relevant to Women’s History Month here.
Captured over two years, my film Daddy Don’t Go tells the story of four disadvantaged dads in New York City as they struggle to defy the odds against them. I wanted to pay homage to every disadvantaged father who negates the “deadbeat dad” stereotype with a deep love for his children. These men, much like my own father, are often trying to be the dads they themselves never had. I made the film to bring new and positive images of fatherhood to a national audience.
I remember when we were filming one of our subjects in criminal court and the judge asked him if he was willing to let us continue to film him there, assuring him that it was completely up to him if our cameras stayed or left. I held my breath. I knew that if he said yes it would be a huge act of trust on his part. He turned around, looked at me and then nodded to the judge. I knew in that moment that so much of my hard work had paid off.
Daddy Don’t Go seems to be very moving to dads and parents who struggle. One of our screenings was held in the Bronx for the homeless men of the “Ready, Willing and Able” program– 70% of whom are fathers. I saw misty eyes and heard a few sniffles during the screening. No one moved to get up after it ended. I got dozens of handshakes, hugs and thank you’s as the men left the room. Screenings like that make you feel like all your efforts are worthwhile.
Filmmaker Lisa Gossels calls it “The Explosion” – the moment when people from two sides of a conflict can no longer hide behind small talk. Pain roars to the surface and reconciliation seems impossible. Gossels witnessed that moment in making her film My So-Called Enemy, about Palestinian and Israeli girls engaged in dialogue through a leadership program in the United States. “There’s a trigger or a meltdown, a point of no return,” she says. “And that is when real change can occur.”
In these complex and uncertain times, when our country seems more polarized than ever and many of us are walled off in separate political camps, three New Day Films point to another way of being. They profile individuals acting against instinct to reach across a divide, engage with the “other” and even reconcile with an entrenched enemy. They offer hope in our current climate of fear, anger and misunderstanding.
In Concrete, Steel & Paint, the conflicts aren’t political. They are deeply personal. Filmmakers Cindy Burstein and Tony Herizatell the story of men in prison, victims of crime, and an artistic partnership that helps break down barriers between them. As prisoners, victims, and victim advocates collaborate on a mural about healing from crime, their views collide, sometimes harshly. Most challenging, says Burstein, was for “each side to listen with empathy to the pain of the other side.” But as the project progresses, mistrust gives way to surprising moments of human connection and common purpose. “People got to know each other more as individuals and engaged as human beings,” she recalls. “We learned that most people, despite their differences, have the capacity to connect.”
Ellen Frick’sAnother Side of Peace spotlights the transformative efforts of Roni Hirshenzon, a 60-year-old Israeli man who has suffered as much as any parent can imagine. Both of his sons died at the age of 19 as a direct result of the conflict in the region. Putting hatred and anger aside, Roni co-founded the Parents Circle, a support group for bereaved families, Israelis and Palestinians alike. The film follows Roni’s efforts to reach reconciliation and come to terms with the deaths of his sons. He works with Palestinian partners to connect with other bereaved families in Israel and the Palestinian Territories. Their message is simple: No More Death. As Frick notes, Another Side of Peace “reminds us that humanity can supersede politics.”
The Israeli/Palestinian conflict is also the backdrop of My So-Called Enemy, but Lisa Gossels’s subjects are at a very different stage of life. As teenagers, six Palestinian and Israeli girls meet in the United States in a leadership program called Building Bridges for Peace. The film then follows them for seven years as they return to their homes. Through the girls’ coming-of-age narratives, audiences see how creating relationships across emotional, political, cultural, religious, and physical divides are first steps towards resolving conflict. “I truly believe you can’t meet the ‘enemy,’ the ‘other’ or someone you don’t know and not change,” says Gossels. “All it takes is asking a few questions. When you do, you will find that no one wants to, or deserves to be stereotyped, and that we often have more in common than what divides us.”
From now until April 1, receive 20% off your purchase of Concrete, Steel and Paint, Another Side of Peace, and My So-Called Enemy with the promo code PEACE20.
Visit New Day’s full collection of films on Peace and Conflict Studies here.