My film Divided We Fall, chronicles the most exhilarating, and heartbreaking, political experience of my life: the 2011 Wisconsin Uprising in my home city of Madison. For two weeks, tens of thousands of people crowded the capitol square, up to 100,000 on the weekends, with hundreds occupying the statehouse. Never in my life did I expect to see so many people roused to resist a corporate and union-busting legislative agenda. I thought surely the revolution was here.
Yet despite the masses of determined and resourceful protesters, we lost. Divided We Fall explores some of the reasons why. Originally, I planned to write a book, utilizing my skills as a sociologist. But I had always wanted to try my hand at filmmaking, and this story demanded to be told as a film.
Earlier films on the topic focused on the heroism of the protesters in their conflict with Governor Scott Walker and his ALEC-inspired agenda. Our film also honors the courage and creative initiative of the protesters and highlights their successes. But we go further, turning a critical lens inward to reveal tensions that challenged the movement’s solidarity and contributed to its ultimate defeat.
An engineer once told me that often more is learned from failure than from success. My goal has always been to prepare for a win next time. In this era of deeply compromised elections, through gerrymandering, voter suppression, and the influence of big money, direct action becomes vitally important. As writer and activist Jamala Rogers (author, Ferguson Is America) said in response to our film, “We have to get smart, strategic, and serious.” Divided We Fall is my contribution to those goals.
In light of recently renewed debates about the rights of women, the fight for reproductive justice is more important than ever. In 1971 – while the women’s movement was still coming into its own – a group of independent filmmakers were unable to find distribution for their feminist films. New Day Films, born out of necessity and determination, remains a group of filmmakers committed to the ideals of equality, education, inclusion, hope, collaboration, and social change. In 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court’s historic decision on Roe v. Wade legalized a woman’s right to choose throughout the country. As the volatile and deeply personal issue of abortion becomes headline news once again, New Day Films will do what it does best – illuminate the past and inform the present by distributing social justice films that reveal a history of the people, by the people. This month we feature timely and provocative films that focus on the continuing struggle for women’s empowerment and reproductive justice.
Acclaimed by the New York Times as being “forcefull, intimate, unpretentious and devastating…” the multi award-winning, P.O.V. broadcast film, Leona’s Sister Gerri, directed by Jane Gillooly, tells the dramatic story of Gerri Santoro, a mother of two and the “real person” in the now famous photo of an anonymous woman on a motel floor, dead from an illegal abortion. Reprinted thousands of times on placards, and in the media, this grisly photo became a pro-choice icon. Should the media have used this image? What circumstances led to Gerri’s tragic death? This film is a moving portrait of Gerri Santoro’s life and society’s response to her death.
First released in 1972, Amalie R. Rothschild’s film, It Happens to Us remains the classic plea for a woman’s right to choose. Through the personal stories of a wide range of women, both rich and poor, young and old, black and white, married and unmarried, it presents the most cogent arguments as to why ending a pregnancy must remain an available choice. In particular, it reminds people of the consequences when abortion was illegal and what life was like before the Roe vs. Wade 1973 Supreme Court decision. The New York Times called it “a jolting indictment of the furtive illegality of abortion”
Silent Choices, directed by Faith Pennick, is about abortion and its impact on the lives of African American women. The film is a “hybrid” documentary – part historical piece, part social and religious analysis, and part first-person narrative. From African Americans’ cautious involvement with Margaret Sanger during the early birth control movement to black nationalists and civil rights activists who staunchly opposed abortion (or stayed silent on the issue), Silent Choicesexamines the juxtaposition of racial and reproductive politics. Justine Wadland of Video Librarian called the film “A solid investigation into the social, economic, and political aspects of reproductive rights for African-American women…”
For a list of more films on a variety of topics related to Women’s Studies, go here.
October is National Disability Awareness Month, a time to learn about issues facing people with disabilities and celebrate their contributions. Kū Kanaka/Stand Tall, by Marlene Booth, follows a young disabled Native Hawaiian man, whose traumatic accident leads him to find healing through his indigenous language and history, and fight for his people. Tocando la Luz (Touch the Light , by Jennifer Redfearn, tells the story of three blind women in Havana, Cuba, who pursue their dreams while illuminating Cuba’s current economic and social landscape. Sins Invalid: An Unshamed Claim to Beauty documents a Bay Area performance project that highlights people of color and queer people with disabilities, creating work about disability, sexuality and social justice. See more films about disability here.
My film Water Warriors tells the story of a community’s successful fight to protect their water from the oil and natural gas industry. When an energy company begins searching for natural gas in New Brunswick, Canada, indigenous and white families unite to drive out the company in a campaign to protect their water and way of life.
This 22-minute film evokes the intensity of the Elsipogtog First Nation’s water protection blockades, which were a precursor to the Dakota Access Pipeline protests lead by the Standing Rock Sioux. It can be accompanied by a scalable exhibit that features large photographs, projections, and a soundscape. The project was designed so it could be presented on a range of scales and to a variety of audiences – from individual viewing online, to community screenings, pop-up exhibits at Pow Wows and outdoor events, to full gallery-style installations. Each venue will create a different viewing experience.
In response to a court ruling that banned protest near SWN worksites, a multi-cultural group of land protectors blockade Rt 126, blocking Royal Canadian Mounted Police vehicles, burning tires and shale gas exploration equipment. The few regional highways are major arteries for local traffic and the most direct routes through the thick forest. They provide an efficient thoroughfare for SWN to collect seismic data on the amount of natural gas hiding in the underground shale formations. On October 17, 2013, anti-fracking protests turned violent when the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) raided the encampment that had been peacefully blockading SWN’s equipment, preventing them from doing seismic testing- a prelude to fracking. The RCMP arrested 40 people while torched police cars sent clouds of black smoke into the air. Police pepper sprayed elders from Elsipogtog, fired sock rounds to control the crowd, and an RCMP officer was infamously recorded shouting “Crown land belongs to the government, not to fucking natives.” The community responded by steadfastly maintaining encampments in key locations to disrupt any attempted work by SWN. On December 6, 2013 SWN pulled out and ended their operations in New Brunswick. Community members believe they will return, and that the fight is far from over.
We have already partnered with communities in Oregon, Oakland, New York, Virginia, North Carolina, and New Brunswick, Canada – all locations threatened by pipelines, fracking and offshore drilling. Water Warriors screening events have proven to be a fresh way of bringing together diverse groups of residents who don’t often intersect, who aren’t already involved with advocacy or an organizing effort, and who might not normally attend an “activist” meeting. We’ve also worked with Indigenous educators to develop a screening kit to accompany Water Warriors : a step-by-step guide that makes it easy for anyone to plan, promote and host a successful Water Warriors event or incorporate it into existing programming—even (and especially) if they’d never organized an event like this before. We are most proud of the ways that Water Warriors has directly inspired ordinary people to take action in their communities.
This September, New Day is offering a 40% back-to-school discount off all films streamed directly from the New Day website (Promo Code: STRM40).With New Day’s robust film streaming service featuring over 250 titles, you are only a click away from bringing compelling, emotional, and relevant social issues to your classroom or organization.
Customers who purchase a streaming license gain immediate access to the film of their choice and never have to worry about storing, damaging, or losing DVDs. Professors can share a link with their students for easy viewing, inside and outside of the classroom. New Day’s easy interface also allows customers to communicate directly with filmmakers. You can request a free preview of a title, and even arrange for a virtual Q&A with the director!
New Day Films is a filmmaker-run distribution company that has been providing social-issue documentaries to customers for 47 years. It is the only cooperative of its kind to build and maintain its own personalized streaming platform. When you purchase directly from New Day, you are supporting the work of independent filmmakers and making it possible for them to continue making the films they feel passionately about.
Our growing collection of films are organized into 45 categories that cover everything from Addiction, Anthropology, and the Arts, to Disabilities, Education, Human Rights, and Women’s Studies… and everything in between. Here are some of the most recent, award-winning titles we’ve added:
Life on the Ganges is a short film that captures a different side of the Ganges River and explores why visiting Varanasi and bathing in the river still remains a spiritual pilgrimage. Director Indira S. Somani’s beautiful imagery and vivid portrayal of devotion give the viewer a rare look at why people from all over India and the world, travel to Varanasi to wash away their sins and purify their souls.
Man on Fire takes place in Grand Saline, Texas– a sleepy, unremarkable town that finds itself the center of a media storm in 2014 when a white preacher Charles Moore lights himself on fire to protest the town’s racism. A deep investigation into the human spirit, the film explores the life and death of Moore while examining the theme of racism in rural America. Catch Joel Fendelman’s award-winning film before it premieres on PBS’s Independent Lens, December 17, 2018!
America I Too is the portrayal of three arrested and detained, undocumented immigrants that must navigate the legal system to fight impending deportation. Based on actual testimonies and true experiences, Anike Tourse’s film gives a real sense of what undocumented immigrant families and detainees are struggling with in the United States.
New Day offers a variety of streaming licenses, from our popular 1 and 3 year licenses to licenses that run anywhere from 14 days to 7 years. Colleges and universities can access films through their library website, and professors can simply provide a link to their students. Most films are also available via a digital 3-day license should a customer prefer to stream from their own server. In addition to the 40% discount we’re offering throughout September, there are substantial discounts available throughout the year on multiple-title purchases. Stay tuned for more exciting features as we continue to grow our service!
To read more about our streaming options, please click here.
I grew up as an inner-city kid, and at the age of eight years old I made an early suburban trek in search of a better education and opportunity. My unique education and exposure to communities outside of my own opened my mind to the many socioeconomic disparities that continue to divide our nation.
My film On The Line: Where Sacrifice Begins highlights METCO, one of the longest running voluntary school desegregation programs in the country, its historical impact on the city of Boston and those personally involved in the program itself. The idea for the film was born out of my desire to share my personal story with a broader audience, to inform others about the importance of equity, access and opportunity through education.
The lessons drawn from former & currents participants of the METCO program have a lasting impact. The educational harms of segregation and the academic benefits of desegregated schools have been well documented. Public schools are the first places where migration patterns and cultural differences manifest themselves and are also where the potential to learn from diversity is likely the greatest.
On The Line first screened in front of a sold out audience on the Graduate School of Education campus at Harvard University. It was in that moment that I recognized my calling to deliver meaningful stories with a sense of purpose. The heartfelt post-screening panel discussion reminded all in attendance of the importance for every high school and university to continue the conversation about our country’s path to recovering from formalized racial segregation.
At New Day Films, we’re known for our decades-long reputation of creating compelling social issues films, but as a co-op of member-filmmakers we do so much more than just sell educational media through our catalog. We’re passionately engaged in the educational sphere and the social issue landscape. Here are some exciting ways our members are engaging with the larger world at conferences, and other events in the near future:
On Oct. 6, New Day filmmaker Robin Lung will deliver the keynote presentation and host a screening of her film Finding Kukan at the American Association of Chinese Studies conference in Baltimore, Maryland. The film is a compelling investigation into the making of Chinese American Li Ling-Ai’s 1942 Academy award-winning documentaryKukan, a filmdetailing the Chinese experience of World War II neglected in the news media.
On Oct. 19, New Day filmmaker Katherine M Acosta will host a screening and discussion about her film Divided We Fall at the North American Labor History conference in Detroit, Michigan. Divided We Fallcombines original in-depth interviews with dramatic citizen-produced video and photos to tell the story of the movement that inspired workers around the world yet failed to achieve its most urgent objective – defeating Governor Scott Walker’s signature union-busting and austerity legislation.
When the Mountains Tremble, by Pamela Yates, offers a remastered version of the 1983 classic documentary about Nobel Peace Laureate Rigoberta Menchú, a Maya K’iche indigenous leader who exposed violence and repression during Guatemala’s brutal armed conflict.
Land of Opportunity by Luisa Dantas and Rebecca Snedeker, dives deep into the tumultuous post-Katrina reconstruction of New Orleans through the eyes of urban planners, community organizers, displaced youth, immigrant workers, and public housing residents.
Mr. Cao Goes to Washington
Mr. Cao Goes to Washington, by Leo Chiang, follows the journey of one of New Orlean’s rising political stars. Rep. Joseph Cao is the first Vietnamese American elected to the US Congress, the only non-white House Republican of the 111th Congress, and the only Republican to vote for President Obama’s Health Care Reform Bill. Can he keep his integrity and idealism intact in the face of political realities?
A Village Called Versailles
A Village Called Versailles, also by Leo Chiang, is the inspiring account of a community of Vietnamese refugees in New Orleans who rebuild their homes after Hurricane Katrina— only to have them threatened by a toxic landfill planned in their neighborhood. As the community fights back, it turns a devastating disaster into a catalyst for change.
Young Aspirations/Young Artists, by Shirley Thompson, is about a youth arts program that thrived in New Orleans before the flooding, and regrouped afterward in order to continue to offer life-changing opportunities to young artists in New Orleans.
Conversations about power, ownership and representation in the documentary field are as old as the documentary tradition itself. Ours is a history rooted in a patriarchal society defined by cultural, racial, and class-based colonialism. Recently, these conversations have left the confines of the classroom or the backroom of a festival cocktail party and are now taking place under a spotlight at festivals, conferences, and most importantly, they are beginning to have a real impact on who tells what stories and how. New Day Films, a distribution coop created by and for independent documentary filmmakers in 1971, has recently been grappling with what it means to be truly representative of the broad spectrum of filmmakers that exist including filmmakers of color, working class filmmakers, trans and gender non-binary filmmakers and those with disabilities – groups that have historically been underrepresented or poorly portrayed in the industry.
At our Annual Meeting in upstate New York this past June, a panel was convened to discuss the findings of an Equity and Representation task force, and to open up the conversation to all member-owners of the co-op.
“Very often in the documentary space, I’m the only person of color,” remarked Michael Premo. Premo is the director of Water Warriors, the story of a community’s successful fight to protect their water from the oil and natural gas industry. “This is also sort of dually equated with poverty which is equally as racist as being the token black guy.”
Cheryl Green, the director of Who Am I To Stop It – a documentary about individuals with traumatic brain injuries – shared her perspective as a filmmaker with acquired disabilities herself, saying, “There is no one disability community. What is a film about disability? What is a person with a disability? We’re not a monolith. There’s not one way to talk about it; there’s not one way to present it. The main way disability is represented is non-disabled people parachuting in and filming a medical story. Usually it’s one that starts off as ‘That’s gross or scary or painful! Phew! They got better.’”
This formulaic narrative is problematic. One solution Cheryl offers is that non-disabled filmmakers consider co-authorship, “Or, when you can, just put it in the hands of the disability community.”
These tropes of tragedy and triumph are not exclusive to representations of those with disabilities – they are embedded in stories about every underrepresented community. Co-authorship is a concept that has been practiced by a number of filmmakers within New Day, though it’s not nearly as widespread as we would like it to be. Not only does it aim to address the inequity of ownership that has plagued our field for so long, but frequently it results in more nuanced filmmaking.
Brenda Avila, the director of Vida Diferida (Life deferred), a six-year journey into the life of a young, undocumented woman before and after DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) spoke about being born and raised in Mexico City and coming to the US as an adult. “I didn’t grow up used to being a minority per se.” She described the transition after moving to the U.S. “It was hard to just make myself heard: as a woman, as a woman of color, as someone whose second language is English. I was constantly second-guessed… sometimes it’s hard to navigate circles in [the film industry] where there are so many things taken for granted.”
Avila shared some of the organizations that have supported her journey as a filmmaker and as a woman of color. “I’m really happy about this equity task force,” she said. “I’ve been working a lot with Brown Girls Doc Mafia (BGDM), and with the National Association of Latino Independent Producers (NAILP).” BGDM is working to ensure that directors and producers have access to collaborators that are also members of the communities being filmed. She added, “There’s no excuse [not to hire us]. Here’s a list of talented POC ready to work.”
Samantha Farinella, the director of Hunting in Wartime, which profiles Tlingit veterans from Hoonah, Alaska, made a light-hearted interjection, “I’m sure you’re all wondering why the white lesbian from the East Coast [is commenting on this topic]. I’m the first person in my family to get my Bachelor’s and I will be the first person in my family to get my Master’s. I remember in my late 20s, finding out that a lot of filmmakers are really rich and privileged.” Becoming increasingly emotional, Samantha added, “Being working class, I think I devalue my work. If we really want to make the New Day experience diverse economically or racially, that’s a big ask.”
Filmmaker and panel moderator Kathy Huang echoed the sentiments of many New Day members in the room who were visibly moved. “That was really powerful,” she said. “It’s so important that you shared that, and it goes back to issue that Michael raised, that people often equate race with class. What we think we know about someone may not be true. If you don’t come into this world with a certain amount of social capital – it can be very hard to access the gates of power.”
She then posed the question, “Are there other ways that we can make the coop more welcoming?”
Michael Premo weighed in. “It’s complicated. There are ways to invite broader conversation related to meeting design. It’s such a delicate balance between equity and tokenism… I’m glad we’re having this conversation around freedom of movement and language access… We could have more group design where people are in smaller groups. We could think about reorganizing all the relationships.”
Kathy Huang, whose film Tales of the Waria features four transgender women searching for love and intimacy in Indonesia, offered some information about the task force’s process, which all of the panelists were a part of. “When we met for the task force, one of the things I did was make cold calls to our members of color, and we asked for ways that the coop might become more welcoming to all types of members.”
She also pointed out the potentially exploitative practice of hiring interns to work for free. “Who does that automatically eliminate from our roster of people who can work for us?”
Mike Mascoll, the director of On the Line, which highlights one of the longest running voluntary school desegregation programs in the country, stood up in the audience to share his thoughts: “I grew up in poverty, but through the years gained access to privilege… snippets of it. I think what we’re all looking for at the end of the day is access to the resources to be independently successful.” The room broke into applause.
As a co-op, we’ve unanimously voted to pursue the following goals this year:
Promote a culture of Equity and Representation within New Day where diverse stories, storytellers and storytelling practices are represented and uplifted.
Provide opportunities for conversations with members from underrepresented groups about their experiences in New Day and the industry in general.
Create and support sustainable financial, professional and New Day culture strategies for recruitment and retention of filmmakers from underrepresented groups.
We have a long way to go in this industry when it comes to access, equitable funding, implicit bias and ownership over the stories of underrepresented and marginalized people and communities. There is still much work to be done, but the meeting was a big step in the right direction for the member-owners of New Day Films – resulting in actionable steps that we hope will have real, positive impact.
Finding KUKAN chronicles my search for a long-lost 1941 Oscar-winning documentary called KUKAN – and Li Ling-Ai, the Chinese American woman from Hawaiʻi who was its un-credited producer. Itʻs a fascinating detective story that highlights how easily history can be lost or forgotten – especially the history of women and minorities.
I was a book and movie lover while growing up in Hawaiʻi, but in all the books and movies I devoured, I rarely came across Chinese American heroines I could identify with. When I became a filmmaker, I sought to fill that void and hit the jackpot when I discovered Li Ling-Ai. Even though she had died several years before I started the project, her larger-than-life personality came through in her letters and interviews and the remembrances of her friends and relatives, who referred to her as a “Chinese Aunty Mame.” She was bold and brash, glamorous and egotistical, but she also had a generous heart and used her charm to break down negative stereotypes associated with China and Chinese people. I wanted to know everything I could about her. Although I did end up finding the “lost” film KUKAN, I still have many unanswered questions about Li Ling-Aiʻs life.
I made a difficult choice to put myself into my own film. And Iʻve been pleasantly surprised by audience reactions to my on-screen search. All across America and Canada viewers of all ethnicities have responded very emotionally to Finding KUKAN. Itʻs been a touchstone that prompts people to contemplate the lost or forgotten stories in their own lives. Several viewers have told me that after seeing the film, they sat down with their mother or grandfather or children to record stories or pass them on. Many young women have also shared that I am now a role model to them. I started looking for one womanʻs life, and it has led to so much more.