Who Am I To Stop It asks hard questions about life with acquired disabilities from traumatic brain injury (TBI). As an artist with traumatic brain injury myself, I wanted to know if other people like me felt isolated and abandoned after brain injury, and whether they felt that people understood their art better than they understood the person. I ask audiences to move away from the usual TBI storyline of tragedy to rehabilitation to inspiration. Instead, I ask them to let go of the urge to indulge in graphic descriptions of injury and impairment and come with me for conversations around identity, sexuality, loneliness, depression, poverty, and stigma. Nothing is cut and dry, nothing purely positive or negative. The film shows how peers with TBI are interdependent, creative, fabulous people with agency and richly complex identities.
Making the film was an accident. Back in 2012, I still wasn’t very clear-headed. I signed up for a crowd-funding platform without realizing I had to have a project to fundraise for. When someone called and asked what my proposed project was, words came out of my mouth saying that I would be making a documentary about TBI survivors who use the arts for every reason except art therapy. And then I made it. Because I’m very literal, and I said I would. I wholeheartedly endorse art therapy. But it was important for me, as a member of a proud disability community, to counter the public belief that peers with TBI are all patients for life, and that everything we do is focused on eliminating or avoiding disability.
The most beautiful thing for me is how many people at screenings tell me that they saw themselves on screen or saw their family member shown without any sensationalism or objectification. I’ve had audience members crying, saying they thought they were alone in their experiences of impairment and isolation until the screening. Other TBI survivors have said that just like the people in the film, art saved their lives.
Hispanic Heritage Month runs from September 15 to October 15, coinciding with the anniversaries of independence of several countries including México, Chile and Guatemala. Follow the rise of immigrant rights in Chicago in 2006-2007 through Immigrant Nation! by Esau Melendez—a topic that is all too relevant today. Justice for my Sister, by Kimberly Bautista, follows one Guatemalan woman during her three-year battle to hold her sister’s killer accountable. Palenque: Un Canto delves into the African heritage of the Colombian village where filmmaker Maria Raquel Bozzi grew up. Explore these films and more here.
NATIONAL DISABILITY AWARENESS MONTH
October is National Disability Awareness Month, a time to educate about disability issues and to celebrate the contributions of Americans with disabilities. In UNSTUCK, filmmakers Kelly Anderson and Chris Baier document OCD through kids’ eyes only, avoiding sensationalism and instead revealing the complexity of a disorder that affects both the brain and behavior. Concerning Barriersis a collection of three films by Reid Davenport that center the perspectives of people with disabilities, including those on opposing sides of issues. Who Am I to Stop It, by Cheryl Green, centers the narratives of six artists with traumatic brain injuries, creating complex portraits that go beyond medical aspects of brain injury. Learn more about New Day’s wide range of films on disability here.
Our short film Forever, Chinatown follows the story of an unknown, self-taught, 81-year-old artist, Frank Wong, who has spent the past four decades recreating his fading memories by building extraordinarily detailed miniature models of the San Francisco Chinatown rooms of his youth.
Corey (Producer): The film was the perfect confluence of our interests: romantic, exquisite, emotionally loaded artwork; an eccentric artist; and our unique hometown of San Francisco with its complex historical neighborhood of Chinatown. We were excited to work together, and were also fortunate enough along the way to find partners in the Independent Television Service (ITVS), Center for Asian American Media (CAAM), California Humanities, and the city of San Francisco.
We combine real-life vérité footage with a romantic, highly stylized studio shoot to tell Frank’s unique story. In doing so, we pay homage to the artist himself, who describes his work as “half wishing and half memory.”
James (Producer, Director): Forever, Chinatown is Frank’s commentary on the encroaching changes to the neighborhood, and it is a love letter to a beloved community and city. The film needed to seamlessly weave together three parts: the contours of the artist’s life, the intimacy of his artwork, and the heart and soul of the film, Chinatown. It also highlights the profound changes wrought by the hyper-gentrification that is sweeping through San Francisco. The voices of those displaced by rising housing costs, conversions, and upscale redevelopment often go unheard, becoming only a statistical number in the harsh realities of Bay Area housing.
We’ve just completed our first year of our festival run and it’s been incredible. Screenings have included San Francisco’s Chinatown, North Carolina, the Philippines and Poland. Audiences have shared their moving personal family stories during Q&A’s, and some have returned to second screenings with their family members. Asian Pacific Islander health professionals who serve their community have said our film is a great visual aid in highlighting the complex dynamics of growing up in an ethnic minority, while local politicians and community organizations have reported that the film invites policy makers to sit through a film about gentrification and redevelopment, and be emotionally moved. The most touching moment was perhaps our packed screening in Vietnam at Hanoi Cinematheque where a tearful Mr. Saadi Salama, Ambassador of the State of Palestine, used our film to illustrate the importance of film in preserving community and culture.
June is Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month(LGBT Pride Month), commemorating the 1969 Stonewall riots in Manhattan. New Day has a collection of films that highlight the resistance and empowerment of LGBT voices and stories. Becoming Johanna, by Jonathan Skurnik, follows the story of a sixteen-year-old transgender Latina girl as she grows into herself and finds community, despite the judgment of her mother.
Out Run, by Johnny Symons and S. Leo Chiang, follows the Ladlad Party in the Philippines — the only LGBT political party in the world — in the run-up to what could be a history-making election.
May is Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month, a time to highlight and celebrate the stories, perspectives, and histories of Asians and Pacific Islanders in the United States. One of our newest films, Forever, Chinatown, by Corey Tong and James Q. Chan, tells the story of an unknown, self-taught 81-year-old artist who recreates his memories of the Chinatown of his youth by building intricately detailed miniature models.
In the Matter of Cha Jung Hee follows acclaimed filmmaker Deann Borshay into the mystery around her identity, which was switched with another child when she was adopted at age eight from Korea by American parents. Find these and other movies by and about Asian-Pacific Americans here.
New Day is delighted to announce that the 2017 DWG George C. Stoney Award for Outstanding Documentary Work has just been awarded to our very own filmmaker Kelly Anderson! The “Stoney” award has been given since 2013 to individuals who demonstrate the values George Stoney promoted throughout his career–stories that represent the poor, the lesser known, the working class, and as a hallmark, engage social injustice themes. Previous winners include Michael Rabiger, Alan Rosenthal, Patricia Aufderheide, and Gordon Quinn.
Kelly is Professor of Media Studies at Hunter College (CUNY) where she teaches in the Integrated Media Arts MFA program. Her most recent film My Brooklyn on the gentrification and redevelopment of downtown Brooklyn was broadcast on the PBS World series America ReFramed. Her other work includes Never Enough, a documentary about clutter which won an award for Artistic Excellence at the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival, and Every Mother’s Son (co-directed with Tami Gold), a documentary about mothers whose children were killed by police officers, which won the Audience Award at the Tribeca Film Festival, aired on POV, and was nominated for a national Emmy for Directing. Kelly’s other documentaries include Out At Work (with Tami Gold), which screened at the Sundance Film Festival, was broadcast on HBO and won a GLAAD Award for Best Documentary. She is the author (with Martin Lucas) of Documentary Voice & Vision: A Creative Approach to Non-fiction Media Production. Kelly is currently working on the short documentary UNSTUCK: An OCD Kids Movie.
Did Donald Trump’s mother teach him to play nice, to use his inside voice, and chew with his mouth closed? It’s hard to say. Though we know a lot about the president’s real-estate mogul father, Fred Trump, Sr., we know little about his immigrant mother, Mary Anne, who came to New York from Scotland in 1930 with just $50 in her pocket. She presumably did her best to raise Donald and his four siblings. But, as with many mothers, whose lives are underrepresented in the media, her experiences have taken a backseat to the actions of the men in her life.
In this month when we celebrate Mother’s Day, consider these New Day Films that put the experiences of mothers front and center. They capture the broad spectrum of motherhood, each mining the mystery of a role as noble, challenging and complicated as life itself.
Every Mother’s Son follows three very different mothers with a common purpose – justice for their sons killed by police. In the wake of aggressive “zero tolerance” policing practices that swept through American cities during the 1990s, the mothers negotiate the difficult journey from individual trauma to collective action. Filmmakers Tami Gold and Kelly Anderson recall that, “The challenge was to find a unique angle on something that had had a lot of media coverage already. We found the mothers as a way in that was different, and decided to focus on their transition from this terrible experience to speaking out for changes in policing. The mothers find a resilience in themselves that is remarkable and can provide inspiration to others.”
Sunshine tackles the issue of single motherhood and offers a refreshingly rare glimpse into the ever-changing nature of family. When filmmaker Karen Skloss became pregnant at the age of 23, she decides to keep the baby – even when it becomes clear that her relationship with the baby’s father won’t work out. Her decision compels her to find her own biological mother, who had given her up for adoption. “The plan was to explore themes surrounding single parenthood through other people’s stories,” says Skloss. “However, as things developed, it became clear that the story I had to tell was actually my own. I thought that if I explored issues surrounding single parenthood, I might be able to take more pride in my own little family.”
A similarly dramatic journey unfolds in Christen Hepuakoa Marquez’s film, E Haku Inoa. At the age of eight, Christen was separated from her mother, a kuma hula or master hula practitioner in Hawai’i, due to her mother’s diagnosis of schizophrenia. Raised in the continental United States, Marquez develops a deep longing to reclaim her Hawaiian heritage and identity and returns to Hawai’i to reestablish contact with her mother. “When I returned for the first time, our interactions were strained because we were essentially strangers,” observes Marquez. “I think what makes this story incredible is that over that course of the film you see the emotional changes not only in my mother and I, but the gradual rebuilding of our relationship.”
Adoption is the focus of Wo Ai Ni Mommy, which features eight-year-old Fang Sui Yong, aka Faith Sadowsky, whose life is upended when she leaves a foster family in China and is adopted by a Jewish family in New York. An intimate and honest look at the issue of international adoption, the film documents Faith’s struggle to adapt to her new life and offers a rare glimpse into a personal transformation that neither she, nor her American mother Donna, could have ever imagined. “Adoption is complicated,” says director Stephanie Wang-Breal. “Faith gains a new language, a new home, a new sister and brother, but she loses her foster family, her birth language and access to her culture. These are losses for everyone, even for Donna.”
Finally, in my personal film Mimi and Dona, a rupture between mother and child occurs not in the beginning of life but at the end. For 64 years, my grandmother Mimi has cared for my aunt Dona, who has an intellectual disability. But at age 92, Mimi can no longer manage Dona. Reluctantly, she agrees to move Dona to a state-supported living center in Texas. I made the film to spotlight the challenges of aging caregivers of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Also, as the mother of a young son with autism, I wanted to honor Mimi’s fierce devotion to her daughter. Was she over-protective of Dona? Possibly. Was she perfect? No. But in the end, no mother is, and therein lies the beauty of the endeavor.
For more New Day films on motherhood and family life, click here.
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.