I migrated from France to the US when I was 15. In the process I traded a village of 2,000 for a high school of 2,000, and green fields for dust and concrete.
It made me uncomfortable being the new kid, attracting attention because I was foreign – and a “desirable foreigner” at that. It took me some time, but eventually I made a choice: to make this place home.
I often joke that making I Learn America was just an excuse to relive the trauma of my high school years!
My film follow five teenagers at the International High School at Lafayette, a Brooklyn public high school dedicated to newly arrived immigrants from all over the world. The students struggle to master English, adapt to families they haven’t seen in years, and create a future of their own while coming of age in a new land. Through these five vibrant young people, their stories and struggles, we “learn America.”
For the past year, I’ve been bringing the film to schools and communities around the country. From Chicago to LA by way of Cleveland, Alabama and Maryland, kids connect to Sandra, Brandon, Sing, Jennifer and Itrat (the students in the film). The film has become a platform for immigrant students to voice their own experiences. Last December, the US Department of Education hosted a screening in Washington. Secretary Arne Duncan introduced the film to 500 students and stakeholders in attendance. In his speech, he stated what I’ve been saying all along: “The newcomers are huge assets to all of our children and to all of our schools… What we can learn from them is often greater than anything they might learn from us.”
I’m a longtime indie film activist — founding director of the Independent Film Project, co-founder of First Run Features, former ITVS board member — and also a veteran film producer and public television executive. My career has been devoted to financing and distributing work created in the margins of the mainstream media, because I believe that artistically- and politically-driven films are essential to our democracy.
My New Day film, Nuremberg: Its Lesson for Today [The Schulberg/Waletzky Restoration], is one of history’s greatest courtroom dramas. It shows how international prosecutors built their case against top Nazi leaders, using their own films and records. The trial, lasting from 1945 to 1946, established the “Nuremberg Principles” — the foundation for all subsequent trials for crimes against the peace, war crimes, and crimes against humanity — and led directly to creation of the International Criminal Court.
The original version of Nuremberg was completed in 1948 by my father, Stuart Schulberg. That same year, it was suppressed by the US government for political reasons. They finally released a dupe negative and a few prints in the 1970s, and Josh Waletzky and I restored it. It was released theatrically in the US for the first time at the New York Film Festival and at Film Forum cinema in 2010.
We didn’t change a frame of the original picture; our challenge was to reconstruct the sound and music tracks. We had Liev Schreiber record my father’s original narration and went back to the original sound recorded at the trial. In the process, we learned just how little footage had been shot in the Nuremberg courtroom, and that my father and his editor, Joe Zigman, had had to construct certain key turning points in the trial using footage that might have been shot on a different day. It was eerie and wonderful to follow in their footsteps and bring the film back to life for modern audiences.
Nuremberg has been translated into 12 languages and is slowly making its way around the globe. Sometimes the responses have been jaw-dropping. One Bahraini judge told me, “Until I saw this film, I idolized Hitler as a great leader of his people. Everyone has to see this film.”
You really don’t know what turns your life with take. I never had the faintest notion that I would become something of an expert on the use of film at the Nuremberg trial, let alone get the chance to work alongside some of the top judges and prosecutors in the world today. It has been a great privilege to “inherit” the legacy of Nuremberg, just as it has been a great privilege to be invited to join the historic filmmakers cooperative New Day Films at my late age.
May is Mental Health Month, which seeks to lift the stigma of and raise awareness about mental illness in the United States. Check out New Day’s selections of films on Mental Health and Psychology for your events this year.
Older Americans Month was established in 1963 at a meeting between President John F. Kennedy and members of the National Council of Senior Citizens. Celebrate the contributions of older Americans to our nation and our communities this May with these New Day titles.
“Film is a great way to tap into the humanistic aspects of medicine,” says Dr. Monica Lypson, Professor of Internal Medicine and Medical Education and Assistant Dean for Graduate Medical Education at the University of Michigan. Dr. Lypson, together with colleagues Dr. Paula Ross, also from the University of Michigan, and Dr. Divy Ravindranath from Stanford University, has created a special curriculum for medical students that utilizes Heather Courtney’s film, Where Soldiers Come From.
Historically, few medical schools have used film in their classes, but this is beginning to change as health educators incorporate documentaries as tools for teaching about psychosocial issues in medicine, psychiatry, nursing and counseling courses. Dr. Ross first saw Where Soldiers Come From at the 2012 American Sociological Association conference and immediately shared the film with Dr. Lypson. “We were looking for a film we could use in a new faculty development workshop on veteran-centered care,” Dr. Lypson says. “We selected this film because it is a documentary (as opposed to a work of fiction) which offers a true depiction of the trajectory of service members—from civilian life to active duty to veteran.” The faculty development workshop that utilizes the film, “Developing Skills in Veteran-Centered Care: Understanding Where Soldiers Really Come From,” combines the film clips with active learning exercises. Recently, Dr. Lypson announced her intent to expand the workshop to target students and faculty from other health care fields. Dr. Lypson emphasizes that health care extends beyond medicine, and she believes the course is relevant for students, residents, and practicing professionals in various disciplines, including nursing, social work and public health.
Courtney’s film challenges students with hard questions, like “What socio-economic circumstances might lead someone to join the military?” In helping the health care practitioner understand the backstory of a patient’s life, she or he comes to the medical work at hand with greater empathy and compassion. “It is a way to get learners to tap into feelings the way they can’t do listening to an impassive lecture,” Dr. Lypson explains. “You want medical students and health professionals to tap into that, because they are dealing with people.” In Courtney’s film, it is the story of Dominic – a young artist turned soldier who uses his art to deal with his PTSC and Traumatic Brain Injury – that particularly affects students. The course is currently available online via MedPortal. Faculty are encouraged to show the entire film, in addition to the clips that are explicitly part of the curriculum. Because of the success of this course, a larger curriculum covering a range of issues related to veteran-centered care is being planned by Dr. Lypson and her colleagues. If approved by the University this will be part of a massive online open course with a reach of upwards of 10,000 students.
Regan Brashear’s film FIXED: The Science/Fiction of Human Enhancement is another New Day film that has had widespread use and feedback from the medical profession. The documentary explores the social impact of human biotechnologies, prompting audiences to rethink “disability” and “normalcy” by exploring technologies that promise to change our bodies and minds forever. Shown to a crowd of students, nurses, doctors, and medical providers at an event sponsored by the UCSF Committee on Disability Issues, the film set the stage for a lively panel discussion. Plans are currently underway for a large conference sponsored by the Mayo Clinic on neuroethics, disability ethics and technology. Brashear’s film will open the conference and then various lectures will be built out, based on the issues raised in the film.
When the documentary Heart of the Sea, a portrait of Hawaiian surfing legend and breast cancer survivor Rell Sunn came out, it was immediately used by national breast cancer organizations because it provided a positive and empowering image of a woman with breast cancer. Director Charlotte Lagarde, in association with the Independent Television Service (ITVS) and Pacific Islanders in Communications, developed an outreach campaign targeting Native Americans and Pacific Islanders all around the US. Heart of the Seawas the first film portraying a Pacific Islander and Asian American woman with breast cancer, and it enabled unprecedented dialogue among Native communities about cancer, a subject that was taboo and often brought shame to a family.
In Hawaii, the American Cancer society, the Suzan G. Komen Foundation, and many local health organizations used the film in their outreach programs to encourage Hawaiians to talk more openly about breast cancer. In Alaska, the South East Alaska Regional Health Consortium still uses it a to engage people in dialogue about cancer and healthy living.
The changing face of medical education offers great potential for wider use of New Day’s collection of films dealing with physical and mental health, addiction, aging and gerontology, disability, psychology and social work. Visit our website to see the potential for use in your field!
My film E Haku Inoa: To Weave A Name is the personal story of how I reconnected with my estranged mother while trying to learn the meaning of my incredibly long Hawaiian middle name. By spending time with my mother I began to question the diagnosis of schizophrenia she was given – a diagnosis that contributed to our separation.
As a filmmaker working behind the camera who also appeared on-screen with my Mom, I learned how intimate the collaboration between filmmaker and documentary subject can be. It takes a great deal of care and time to develop that trust, but respecting your subjects is one of the most important parts of a documentarian’s work. Making my film, I learned so much about the importance of culturally-specific approaches to mental health, but in the end it really comes down to having as much respect and understanding as possible for those around you.
I have received many great responses from people who have seen the film. One mental health care provider on Oʻahu said she had seen some new clients come in because the film helped them get past the stigma.
New Day filmmakers are joining colleagues across the country urging educators, librarians and organizers to tell PBS why they need independent social issue films.
PBS, recently accused of lessening their commitment to independent film, is now holding a “National Listening Tour,” soliciting input on the place of indie film on public television.
The tour’s first stop was in San Francisco on January 17, where about 200 filmmakers, educators, organizers and documentary lovers let PBS know they are upset about the recent attempt by New York’s WNET to push POV and Independent Lens — the two indie documentary shows — onto WLIW, its smaller, secondary station. The shows would also continue on WNET, but in a late-night time slot.
After filmmakers protested the decision, WNET postponed it, and organized the Listening Tour. While PBS officials repeatedly told the audience they support independent film, many of the filmmakers were skeptical. They insisted that losing support from WNET — public television’s flagship station — would make it increasingly impossible for them to make films. Furthermore, they suggested that by going along with WNET’s plan, PBS tacitly supported it.
At the January 23 New York stop on the listening tour, New Day Films member Tami Gold told PBS officials:
What is at stake by PBS decreasing its commitment to independent documentary films is the loss of one of the last remaining outlets for alternative views and independent thinking on American television. Primetime programs like POV and Independent Lens are more important now than ever. Most documentaries bring to light widespread injustices, their human consequences and underlying causes. They tell stories that are all too often hidden among the thousands of vacuous TV stations and programs.
Many filmmakers are calling on PBS to require primetime “common carriage” for Independent Lens and POV — meaning that major stations in each market would have to run the shows at the same time. They argue that only common carriage can attract national media — and a national audience — to a film.
In San Francisco, New Day Films member Susan Stern said, “What we’ve been hearing from our members and other documentary makers is that common carriage in prime time is the baseline. We need that. We want to work with you, because we think the audience is there. We think that’s what people want.”
Gold also made the point that while PBS is expanding its offerings on digital platforms, millions of people can’t access their programming that way. “Some of the people in our documentary Every Mother’s Son wanted to join us today to talk about what it has meant to have their stories broadcast on national primetime PBS, but they couldn’t rsvp for this very meeting because they don’t have internet acccess,” she said.
While the exchange between filmmakers and PBS was pointed, some of the most poignant testimony came from people who use independent film. In San Francisco Esta Soler, founder of Futures Without Violence, one of the world’s leading violence prevention agencies, said at-risk youth are inspired when they see films about incarcerated low-income people of color who turn their lives around. “If you want to see students engaged — put on a documentary,” Soler said.
Chris Armes, a young public health student, agreed. Armes suffered a childhood disability that rendered him mute, and isolated in front of the TV. He said he was saved by documentaries. “Don’t take away the voice of the voiceless,” Armes said.
The next listening tour will be in Chicago in March (date TBD). To attend or contact PBS on behalf of independent film, go to the website to preserve indie film on PBS: http://www.indiecaucus.org/
400 copies of Bag It, Suzan Beraza’s film about the impact of plastic on our environment, were given away to schools throughout the U.S. and abroad. The effort was funded by Patagonia and the Johnson O’Hana Charitable Foundation.
Luis Argueta personally handed Pope Francis a copy of his film abUSed: The PostVille Raid, which highlights the devastating effects of US immigration enforcement policies on children, families and communities. Read the full story here.
Debra Chasnoff presented Straightlaced – How Gender’s Got Us All Tied Up to a standing-room-only audience at Shantou University in southern China. Hundreds of students came to the first ever public lecture and screening on that campus to focus on gender and queer sexuality issues. Afterwards students shared their own concerns, fears, and questions: “I am the only girl to go to the gym to lift weights and everyone makes fun of me”; “Aren’t gay people the reason there is a population decline in the west?”; and, “I think I might be lesbian. How do you know if you are a lesbian?”
The University of North Carolina in Charlotte used Lisa Gossels’ film My So-Called Enemy to bring together students from Hillel, the Muslim Students Association and Students for Justice in Palestine. The night after the screening, the Multicultural Resource Center organized a “Civil Discourse” dinner where student leaders from these groups (and others!) bonded and made a commitment to work together.
At Parsons School of Design, a student told My Brooklyn director Kelly Anderson that seeing her film about gentrification and redevelopment in Downtown Brooklyn made him drop his career and go to graduate school in Urban Ecology.
44 years after it was made, Anything You Want To Be opened the first major conference on the early history of the Women’s Movement (Boston University’s “A Revolutionary Moment: Women’s Liberation in the Late 1960s and Early 1970s”). One participant who saw the film in the 1970s told director Liane Brandon, “That was the film that made me a feminist!”
Andrea Leland‘s film Yurumeinscreened for Garifuna audiences in Belize. The Garifuna (Black Caribs) are the indigenous people of St. Vincent in the Caribbean, who were nearly exterminated and most were exiled to Central America by the British 200 years ago. The screenings sparked a desire in Central American Garifuna to reach out to their brethren in St. Vincent, in an effort to re-establish their culture and history, lost to those living on St. Vincent.
Clips from Alice Elliott’s documentary Body & Soul: Diana & Kathy appear in a new training video, ACTIVATE HERE!, designed to help disabled people advocate for themselves (funded by The Fledgling Fund and the Arc of the United States and available free online with closed captioning and audio description).
The 2015 theme for Women’s History Month this March is “Weaving the Stories of Women’s Lives.” Visit New Day’s collection of films that present the individual and collective stories of women, and reflect on their importance in our society.
National Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month
This commemorative month, in its 27th year this March, 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.
National Criminal Justice Month
March is Criminal Justice Month, established to promote societal awareness regarding the causes and consequences of crime, as well as strategies for preventing and responding to crime. New Day films on Law and Criminal Justice are the perfect vehicle for education and discussion about policing, the criminal justice system, and efforts to achieve justice through international and domestic courts.
Based in Oakland, California, I’ve been working on social and economic justice issues for over twenty years through documentary film, union organizing, community forums, directing teen theater and grassroots activism.
Fixed: The Science/Fiction of Human Enhancement broadens the bioethical debates around emerging enhancement technologies from brain-machine interfaces to bionics to prenatal screening, and in doing so, stretches our understanding of disability. Who or what exactly needs to be “fixed,” people’s bodies and minds or our society which stigmatizes and prevents full inclusion of disabled people? Who is excluded by these new technologies which promise to give us super-abilities and perfect babies? Who benefits?
As a person with a hidden disability, I wanted to make a film that centers people with disabilities as the experts, as the active agents in this debate, to counter the common narrative of disabled people as passive, helpless and in need of fixing. Fixed strives to represent a range of opinions within and without the disability community. As a filmmaker, this project challenged me in representing tough social questions that don’t fit neatly into good/bad, black/white frameworks, but instead into many shades of gray. This is a film that is about raising better questions and sparking dialogue between communities that don’t often interact. How can we bring a social justice analysis into the fields of science and technology innovation?