National Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month (recognized in March) is a time to elevate the focus and conversation on the mixed-ability world and what it means to be perceived as “different.”
Joanne Hershfield’s personal documentary, The Gillian Film, is a bold examination of how we might transform our understanding of the meaning and worth of people with developmental disabilities.
Another intimate look at the subject is Body & Soul: Diana & Kathy, directed by Academy Award-nominee Alice Elliott. The film is an exploration of an unusual, symbiotic relationship between two people that some would call profoundly disabled.
Explore New Day’s collection of excellent films on disability-related topics here.
I am an independent documentary filmmaker and teacher based in Boston, MA. As a person of mixed heritage, I am interested in the ways cultural traditions from around the globe intersect, hybridize, and are turned to new social purposes far from their original context. My filmCircle Up tells the story of a group of mothers who seek true justice for their murdered sons – justice that involves not revenge and mass incarceration but forgiveness, accountability, and community healing. The film exists as a 69-minute feature and a 14-minute short.
When I first learned that Native American-inspired peacemaking circles were helping prevent violence in multi-cultural urban settings, I was intrigued. I traveled all over the country researching circle work and then found my primary subject, Janet Connors, right near my home.
I was drawn to this Irish-American woman with a huge heart who learned to forgive her son’s murderers to achieve personal and community healing. A lifelong community activist, Janet responded to her own trauma by drawing on what she had learned from native elders about restorative justice. Documenting her journey has been one of the great privileges of my life.
Circle Up was a labor of love that took over five years to complete, and grew beyond Janet to include Clarissa Turner and a wider group of survivors of homicide victims. I am now finding further satisfaction in seeing how the film’s story can help viewers experience what restorative justice looks and feels like. Restorative justice is an approach that brings together stakeholders when harm has occurred to identify what is needed to repair the harm and restore balance in their community.
We were thrilled to show Circle Up to Massachusetts state legislators as they debated criminal justice reform, and then later passed a bill that included a restorative justice provision. The film is shown in prison to help inmates hold themselves accountable for their actions. Faith communities use it to explore the topics of forgiveness and social responsibility. My film subjects and I just presented a training for 20 schools in New York City that are implementing restorative justice as a way to break the school-to-prison pipeline. If Circle Up can save one life, or even prevent a handful of vengeful acts, I feel that these years of work will have been well worth it.
The film Passionate Politics, by Tami Gold, tells the story ofCharlotte Bunch, a civil rights organizer and lesbian activist, who becomes as an internationally-recognized leader of a campaign to put women’s rights on the global human rights agenda.
A local story of the arrest of five African American lesbians who were violently and sexually-threatened by a man in the street is the subject of another important New Day film, blair dorosh-walther’s film Out in the Night.
You can find these titles and other films focused on Women and Women’s Studies here.
Sometimes our attempts to find love miss their mark. We aim for something, and then once we get it, it’s not what we thought it was. The misconceptions of the world keep others from seeing us, we miss our chance. We are pushed into things we’re not ready for, or choose things for survival’s sake. We fight, we beg for space, we struggle to ask for what we want. And sometimes we come into our power just when nobody expects us to. These eight films are for those who want to see representations of the “other side” of love, the side that often makes us more worldly and cynical, but somehow still offers opportunities for profound compassion.
Bachelorette, 34, by Kara Herold, details the filmmaker’s experience of her mother’s obsession with finding her a husband, despite the fact that she has no idea what Kara wants. “Kara, I just remembered, I met the perfect man for you… The only problem is that he’s Catholic and Republican, but that’s nothing that can’t be changed. CALL ME!” Constructed like a 1950’s informational video, assembled from clip art and intimate documentary footage, Bachelorette, 34 examines the pressure society puts on women to find “Mr. Right.”
Seeking Asian Female, by Debbie Lum, takes a close look at the uncomfortable and yet totally human dynamic between a 60-year-old white American man obsessed with Asian women, and Jianhua (“Sandy”), a 30-year-old woman from Anhui, China, who agrees to Steven’s online proposal and moves to California to be his fiancée. Debbie, a Chinese American filmmaker, becomes an unwitting accomplice as she becomes their translator, helping them understand each other better.
In the Name of Love, by Shannon O’Rourke, asks what is motivating the thousands of Russian women who sign up with agencies to meet and marry American men. The film grapples with the tremendous economic challenges and difficult decisions that face Russian women, and the financial and emotional pros and cons of exporting one’s heart.
Tales of the Waria, by Kathy Huang, follows several trans women living in Indonesia, known as “warias.” These women prioritize romantic love as central to their life purpose, but social and religious norms often thwart their efforts. Despite obstacles including family pressure, economic hardship, and aging, they stay true to themselves and seek lasting companionship.
Still Doing It: The Intimate Lives of Women over 65, by Deirdre L Fishel, tears the granny panties off your preconceptions of older women’s sex lives. These nine women, ages 67-87, express themselves with honesty and humor as they explore their feelings about sex, love, and the realities of aging. Aware that many people see them as “nothing but an old woman,” these women defiantly live life on their own terms.
To You Sweetheart, Aloha, by S. Leo Chiang, tells the story of Bill Tapia, a 94-year-old Hawaiian jazz pioneer who gave up on music after his wife and daughter passed away within two years of each other. A new relationship with 26-year-old Alyssa, a Hapa-Hawaiian woman with a special connection to Bill’s past, inspires him to rediscover his musical passion and youthful spirit.
The Year We Thought About Love, by Ellen Brodsky, goes behind the scenes of the oldest queer youth theater in America, as they explore love and write a script based on their lives. They dramatize many of the most painful and triumphant moments in their young lives, and build community that helps carry them through the rough times.
Eager for your Kisses, Love and Sex at 95, by Liz Cane, tells the story of Bill Cane, a 95-year-old singer/songwriter and music teacher who – after mourning the loss of his wife of fifty years – puts an ad in the personals and goes ballroom dancing in search of a new companion. He soon embraces a revitalized life full of romance, sex and music.