I am a Brooklyn based filmmaker who grew up in two radically different cultural zones: Hawai’i and Massachusetts. My film 95 and 6 to Go takes me back to Honolulu where I discover an unlikely creative collaborator in my spry, Japanese-American grandfather. Grandpa Tom is a retired postal worker in his 90s, and recent widower, who keeps his loneliness at bay puttering around his modest home–clipping coupons, rigging an improvised BBQ, and lighting firecrackers at New Year’s. His daily routines are interrupted when he takes an unexpected interest in my stalled romantic screenplay; suddenly, his imagination is unleashed. While slurping noodles or munching on toast, he eagerly comes up with new titles, songs, and a happy ending to the fiction script. Reality and fiction intertwine as Grandpa Tom’s creative ideas converge with memories of his life marked by love, loss, and perseverance.
While growing up in Hawai’i, I never knew Grandpa Tom harbored creative interests. I never saw him read a novel or talk about art. For me, he existed on the fringes; he was a pragmatic, hard-working grandfather who consistently reinforced the importance of family obligation and a steady job. 95 and 6 to Go is about the process of “seeing” my grandfather, and bonding with him, for the first time. The filmexplores the life of an ordinary man, who proves to be exceptional in his creativity, humor, candor, and will to live.
95 and 6 to Go features a distinctive and little known group of Japanese-Americans in Hawai’i who were not interned during World War II and, thus, retained a fascinating fusion of Japanese and American culture. Most of our representations of Japanese-Americans are in the context of suffering during the war; it’s critical to see an alternative portrait. 95 and 6 to Go is an intimate story that has resonated powerfully with audiences of different ages and across cultures, encouraging viewers to reflect on family, memory, and mortality. Folks come away from the film eager to hear the stories of elders and to connect across generations.
February is Black History Month, an annual celebration of achievements by Black Americans, a time for recognizing the central role of African Americans in U.S. history, and the struggles Black communities face as they move toward liberation.
Audio Description is a creative tool to bring blind and low-vision audiences into the world of a film, but those without visual impairments are usually unaware of the importance of this craft. Here’s how it works. A trained narrator (audio describer) orients audiences by verbally describing visuals on screen when there is no dialogue or competing soundtrack. When done well, an audio description is an art unto itself. At New Day Films, we do not view this task as an act of compliance to laws governing disability access. To us, Audio Description (AD) is one more step toward achieving equitable distribution of documentaries to a larger, more diverse audience.
Creating an AD track is much more than just capturing great audio. Thomas Reid, a blind podcaster, considers the audio describer to be a second director: the describer chooses which visuals to describe by homing in on the film director’s original vision for the film. The script has to be lush and descriptive, while also being focused and expansive. Just as New Day strives to broaden representation of our film subjects and our filmmakers, we seek Audio Description that is culturally relevant and sensitive.
Images that make the final cut of a film are not arbitrary, and excellent Audio Description respects the ways that visuals are a major part of film storytelling. When the language and delivery of an Audio Description track feels integrated into the soundscape, it creates an atmosphere that is inclusive and deeply informative for all audience members. Check out Thomas Reid’s insightful podcast episode (text and audio) about what happened when the Audio Description for the blockbuster film Black Panther failed to capture enough of the nuances of Wakanda’s culture and design and ways in which the describer’s voice did not match the tone of the film itself.
Because Audio Description is relatively new compared to captions, it is very rarely included in film budgets from the start. New Day hopes to be a leader in advocating for the inclusion of accessibility features as an integral part of the art, not just as add-ons after a work is completed. We value all of our audience members and honor what accessible media offers to students, instructors, and community members with varying access needs.
New Day Films currently has 15 titles with Audio Description, spanning topics from blindness and other disability experiences to those unrelated to disability at all. Our three most recent acquisitions with Audio Description are I Was Born in Mexico But…,Blind Faith, and America, I Too.
I Was Born in Mexico, But… is a creative portrait of a young woman who thought she was American but finds out as a teen that she is undocumented. Blind Faith follows the stirring personal journey, both intimate and universal, of a man coming to terms with his disability and struggling with the roles of father, husband, and successful entrepreneur, breaking through the myths of blindness and broadening our understanding of the complex hidden realities facing the blind community. America, I Toofollows three arrested and detained undocumented immigrants who must navigate the system to fight impending deportation.
New Day Films titles with Audio Description as of January, 2019 can be found here, and are the following:
I’m Yoyo, an LA-based Chinese filmmaker who focuses on making documentaries about people living in underdeveloped areas in China. My second passion is being an art director for film and TV while also pursuing my primary hobby, dancing.With my documentary short, Under The Same Sky, I observed the vast differences between the schooling of an urban child and a child in the Chinese countryside and got closer to the truth about China’s “equal” education system. This system governed my schooling growing up and had a deep effect on who I am today. To look back on that today with a neutral point of view was something I enjoyed exploring.
Due to the government’s censorship, it’s very challenging for anyone in China to ever report or expose the unequal education situation that exists, which is why it’s my goal and ultimate hope that my film will foster more debate and conversations throughout the Chinese public.The national Chinese media would never report or admit that the educational system has a lot more improvements to make under the “great leadership”, and especially not during the government’s current campaign for “equal education.”
As outsiders, the international media doesn’t have access to the information that comes from personal experience and long-term field research, which requires you to get to know the people and connect with them emotionally. My approach is to be very personal and really enter the lives of my subjects to give an audience authentic insight into what truly happens behind the government’s veil.
In December, we observe Universal Human Rights Month in honor of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, an international document adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 10, 1948. The Universal Declaration states basic rights and fundamental freedoms to which all human beings are entitled, including freedom from discrimination, the right to equality, and the right to be considered innocent until proven guilty.
Nuremberg: Its Lesson for Today, originally made by Stuart Schulberg for the US Department of War in 1948 and remastered by his daughter Sandra Schulberg in recent years, shows the trial that established the “Nuremberg Principles,” providing the foundation for all subsequent trials for crimes against peace, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.
In The Reckoning, by Paco de Onis and Pamela Yates, prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo faces down warlords, genocidal dictators and world superpowers in his struggle to bring perpetrators of crimes against humanity to justice. The Sandman, by Lauren Knapp, is a documentary short about Dr. Carlo Musso, a physician who has overseen Georgia’s lethal injection team since 2003, and his own moral equivocation providing “end of life care” to prisoners while personally opposing capital punishment. See these and other films about Human Rights here.
Following the festival and broadcast premiere of Visitor’s Day, Nicole Opper’s film about an innovative group home for formerly homeless boys in Mexico, there was a private screening held for executives at Volkswagen in Mexico, which subsequently raised one million dollars toward the construction of a home for formerly homeless girls two miles away – the first of its kind in the country. Just like the original IPODERAC (Instituto Poblano de Readaptación) home for boys featured in the film, this new home will provide housing, food, education and counseling for 72 vulnerable youth from all over Mexico. It will open its doors in February 2019 – fifty years after the institute was founded.
The University of North Carolina, Charlotte invited Ellen Brodsky’s film, The Year We Thought About Love, and three of the film’s LGBTQ youth to their annual OUTSPOKEN event in October. There was a moving Q&A afterwards. The discussion covered the importance of safe places and one of the film’s youth said, “Our theater troupe ’True Colors’, was the place we shed the faces we wore throughout the day.” Some people applauded, others shifted in their seats, and some may have even shifted their perceptions. One student chose to publicly thank them on the film’s Facebook page for bringing this “incredible documentary” to their campus. Brodsky and her team are working to make spaces safer, one screening at a time.
From L to R: Former chief executioner Jerry Givens with filmmakers Maggie Burnette Stogner and Rick Stack at the International Social Change “ChangeFest” Festival in Los Angeles, Nov. 10, 2018.
In the Executioner’s Shadow by Maggie Burnette Stogner and Rick Stack is a catalyst for conversation and action, stirring debate about criminal justice reform at festivals and grassroots screenings across the country. The filmmakers recently brokered a partnership with The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty in order to promote a strategic roll-out of community screenings, discussion and call-to-action. Audiences are asked to organize additional screenings in their homes and communities, creating a word-of-mouth momentum to overturn capital punishment. In addition, anti-death penalty coalitions in Pennsylvania and Oregon are launching statewide efforts at town hall meetings. In the Executioner’s Shadow will be the centerpiece of their legislative campaigns to help rally citizen support to sway state legislators.
4. New Day’s Earliest Films
In 2018, some of some of New Day’s earliest films – by New Day founders Amalie R. Rothschild, Liane Brandon, Julia Reichert, Jim Klein – were featured as “groundbreaking feminist films” by separate screening series at The Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Barbican Theatre in London, and UnionDocs in New York. Each respective series focused on the artistry, advocacy, and innovation of the early feminist films and filmmakers that gave birth to New Day Films as the thriving co-op it is today.
To mark the 10th year since the passage of Proposition 8 in California – the 2008 law passed by California voters banning same-sex marriage – filmmaker Christie Herring held a special screening of The Campaign in San Francisco. The film follows the people behind California’s historic No-on-8 campaign to defend same-sex marriage through exclusive behind the scenes footage, interwoven with the national history of same-sex relationship recognition since the 1950s. After the screening, veteran activists and organizers had a powerful conversation about current risks for the LGBT community, ways to cultivate a sustainable movement, and the impact of Prop 8 on the LGBT movement and the country.
Pam Sporn screened her film Detroit 48202: Conversations Along a Postal Route in Professor David Goldberg’s “The Black Worker in US History” course at Wayne State University. A mixture of black and white, as well as older and younger students engaged in a powerful discussion about historical memory and perspective. Some students shared memories of once vibrant neighborhoods decimated by urban renewal while others said they gained a new understanding of the structural racism that impacted Detroit once they moved from the suburbs to study in the city.
Director, Joel Fendelman and Producer, James Chase Sanchez screened their film Man on Fire in Salt Lake City for Clearlink Media, a marketing company, and hosted a one hour workshop at the company’s headquarters on “Implicit Bias.” They used clips from the film to teach attendees about the various forms of bias that might appear in the workplace.
Joan Mandell screened excerpts from Gaza Ghetto: Portrait of a Palestinian Family in October at the Oral History Association conference at Concordia University in Montreal. Now 35 years old, Gaza Ghetto, was the first documentary to record scenes of Palestinian daily life impacted by the rule of Israeli-occupation in Gaza. Shown within the context of the 70th anniversary of Palestinian displacement and exile, the film was a revelation for a new generation of students. Audience members said that the first-hand discussion about the risks and rewards of filmmaking in difficult circumstances was an inspiration for their own documentary and oral history work.
Lauren Knapp recently participated in a live webinar with The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. She screened selected clips from The Sandman and moderated a conversation with Dr. Jonathan Groner, a nationally recognized voice opposing lethal injection. The Sandman continues to contribute to a much-needed conversation about the use of medicine in executions.
Drawn Together: Comics, Diversity and Stereotypes, directed by Harleen Singh screened at dozens of festivals around the world during which the filmmaker had a chance to see and hear the audience shift their opinions about diversity and stereotypes. The note below – received by Harleen at a screening – summarizes the kinds of audience experiences her film continues to foster.
November is National Native American Heritage Month, and New Day has a collection of films on Native American and Indigenous themes.
Badger Creek, by Jonathan Skurnik and Randy Vasquez, is a portrait of Native resilience as seen through a year in the life of three generations of a Blackfeet (Pikuni) family living on the lower Blackfeet Reservation in Montana. Spirit of the Dawn, by Heidi Schmidt Emberling, exposes a history of educational abuse, and introduces us to two sixth graders as they participate in a poetry class where they write poems celebrating their Crow culture and history. In Whose Honor? by Jay Rosenstein takes a critical look at “Indian” sports mascots, following Native American mother Charlene Teters as she struggles to protect her cultural symbols and identity. View our collection here.
This November for Transgender Awareness Month, check out New Day’s collection of titles relevant to trans and nonbinary people. Prodigal Sons, by transgender filmmaker Kimberly Reed, is a profound story about homecoming, identity, and the complexity of family dynamics. Trinidad: Transgender Frontier, by PJ Raval, introduces the audience to three trans women whose lives intersect in the small town of Trinidad, Colorado, the so-called “sex change capital of the world.” Mezzo, by Nicole Opper, celebrates the life and art of Breanna Sinclaire, an African American trans woman opera singer. You can find these films and more here.
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.