Category Archives: Meet New Day

Meet New Day – Shalini Kantayya

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Shalini Kantayya

I’m a filmmaker, eco-activist, and futurist. My film Catching the Sun follow the stories of an unemployed American worker, a Tea Party activist, and a Chinese solar entrepreneur as they race to lead the largest economic opportunity of our times—clean energy. Their successes and failures speak to one of the biggest questions of our time:  who will win and who will lose the battle for power in the 21st century?

The journey to make Catching the Sun began because I was looking for hope. In post-industrial cities like Richmond, California, the dream of upward mobility is eroding. The oil economy has created monopolies and concentrated wealth and power in the hands of the few. I was fascinated by the idea that solar power could democratize and decentralize energy in a way that rebuilds the ladder of economic opportunity for workers and entrepreneurs.

This is not a gloom and doom climate change film. Catching the Sun focuses on the human stories of workers and entrepreneurs who are remaking our energy system with their own hands. The film builds on the transformative idea that what is good for the polar bears can also be good for the middle class. Solving climate change can unleash innovation and transform an inefficient, polluting energy system into something radically better for our economy. Filmed over five years, Catching The Sun will leave audiences encouraged by the hope and possibility of a clean energy future, and inspired to bring that future into being.

Learn more about Shalini’s work here.

Meet New Day – Nicole Opper

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Nicole Opper

I’m an Oakland-based filmmaker and film educator who is endlessly fascinated by how young people construct their identities – especially young people who are adopted or growing up in foster care and group homes. I’ve taught grad students at Stanford, undergrads at San Francisco State University and teenagers at The Bay Area Video Coalition. I currently teach students of all ages at Diablo Valley College.

Off and Running tells the story of Avery, a sixteen year-old African American track star, adopted and raised by two white Jewish lesbians. When Avery decides to contact her birth mother, it leads her to complicated and sometimes painful exploration of race, identity and the meaning of family. The film is about the lengths we all go to in order to become ourselves.

When I began this film in my mid-20s, I’d never met a family with queer parents before, and I glimpsed the possibilities of my own future. I wanted to document Avery’s quest in order to understand her perspective as a transracial adoptee with two moms, and to better prepare myself for adoption and parenthood. To this day she remains my most trusted guide.

Avery and I share a co-writing credit on this film. About halfway through filming, Avery disappeared and broke contact with most of the people in her life, including me. This lasted for two months and I lost a lot of sleep, but one day she showed up on my doorstep ready to continue with the film. I told her I was glad she wanted to get back to work, but first I needed her to watch the footage we had shot so she could offer her feedback. And that’s exactly what she did. Day after day, through her reactions to the footage and the voiceover narration she wrote herself, Avery took ownership of the film. Her troubles didn’t go away, but her commitment to the project and her confidence strengthened immeasurably as she discovered her own power as a storyteller. She was honored by the Writers Guild of America with the Best Documentary Screenplay award, and takes great pride in that.

Off and Running has impacted countless parents, social workers, adoption agencies, nurses, psychologists, and youth.   It is on the “required viewing” list at many adoption agencies.  We are excited to see the power of the film harnessed as a tool for understanding and change in the world of adoption.   

Meet New Day – Juli Vizza and Alicia Dwyer

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Alicia Dwyer and Juli Vizza

We are Los Angeles-based filmmakers whose collective body of work has garnered an Emmy and numerous film festival prizes. Our film, Nine to Ninety, is a 29-minute character-driven documentary about a family coming together at a crossroads.   

A few years ago, Juli’s mother called and said she was considering bringing Phyllis, Juli’s grandmother, to live with her on the East Coast. Juli was taken aback by the fact that this meant possibly splitting up her grandparents after 62 years of marriage. We didn’t know what was going to happen but felt that something important was going to be revealed and decided to document the journey in a film.

Once we started, we realized that Juli’s grandmother Phyllis was the heart of the story. A 4’10” woman with a fourth-grade education, Phyllis was a charming and plainspoken firecracker. Though talking about death is not a strong part of American culture, Phyllis was not afraid to confront the issue head on. She was actively engaged in trying to make very difficult decisions about her life—a life deeply entwined with that of her husband Joe and the lives of their younger family members. She faced the deepest questions of love, responsibility, burden, loss, and grace in her own way. As the matriarch of her family, she brought an emotional-spiritual intelligence that allowed her to lead them in a process of saying goodbye. She saw, in fact, that sometimes the best way to say “I love you” is to say “goodbye.”

Talking about death is taboo for many people in this country. Over 90% of people say they want to have these kinds of conversations, but only 23% have. When we screen the film, people often come up to us immediately afterwards wanting to share their personal stories. Many also say that it’s inspired them to call their parent or loved one. It has made the conversation around aging less scary and more personal. We were able to achieve our larger goals: to encourage others to start the necessary conversations in their own families about end-of-life care, death, and caretaking; to envision the society we want for ourselves, our families, and caregivers as we grow older; and to demand and contribute to a sea change of policies, resources, and support to enable all of us to age with dignity.

Learn more about the work of Alicia and Juli.

Meet New Day: Dawn Logsdon

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Dawn Logsdon

I’m a documentary filmmaker from New Orleans, now living in San Francisco and New Orleans. Most of my work is about city life and social change, especially at the neighborhood level.

My film Faubourg Tremé: The Untold Story of Black New Orleans documents America’s oldest Black neighborhood and home to the largest community of free Black people in the Deep South during slavery. New Orleans’ Faubourg Treme is also the birthplace of jazz and America’s little known first Southern Civil Rights Movement.  The completed film uncovers Treme’s unique and hidden history and situates it within three centuries of African American struggle – from slavery through the Civil War, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, and the modern Civil Rights Movement, to the recent threats of Hurricane Katrina and displacement.

I made Faubourg Treme with my good friend and co-director, Lolis Eric Elie, who lives in the neighborhood and, at the time, was a columnist for New Orleans’ Times Picayune newspaper.  We were almost finished editing when Hurricane Katrina hit. We had to evacuate the city ourselves and then sneak back in a few days later to rescue our tapes from floodwaters. We decided to abandon our original structure, locate our characters, go back into production to include the impact of the disaster on them and the neighborhood, and reframe the story from a post-Katrina perspective.   

We’ve been astonished at the range of people and organizations that have used our film in creative ways and the impact and responses it’s had.  It has screened widely at music festivals around the world; been used as a policy tool for FEMA and other rebuilding agencies and foundations; been incorporated into training programs for student and church volunteers and Teach America; and screened at many civil rights, journalism, and social justice conferences and rallies. We are personally most excited that a new generation of activists from the Black Lives Matter and other anti-racist movements have begun using it as an organizing and educational tool, often along with a presentation/discussion session with Lolis.  If other student leaders or professors are interested in inviting Lolis to their campus along with the film, please contact us at info@tremedoc.com.

 

Learn more about Dawn’s work here.

Meet New Day: Ellen Brodsky

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Ellen Brodsky

My film The Year We Thought About Love chronicles an LGBTQ youth theater troupe creating a play about love based on their personal experiences. I have always been drawn to the intimacy, vulnerability, and security of the rehearsal room, where I spent a lot of time working on plays in high school and college.

In the midst of production, the film took an unexpected turn when the Boston Marathon bombing occurred in 2013. The troupe had been holding their rehearsals in a room near the Marathon’s finish line. Some members had been present at the marathon, while others made last-minute decisions not to attend. Badly shaken, the troupe and our camera crew gathered for a support meeting the day after the bombing, just a few blocks away from the fatal scene. In the end, the troupe members rallied for one another, and decided to use their performance tour as part of the city’s and their own healing process.

It’s been amazing to travel with the film. Audiences from Seoul to San Francisco, from Missoula to Mumbai have all found some point of connection with the troupe members, most of whom are youth of color. Likewise, audiences react with more laughter and positive energy to the film than they do to other films about LGBTQ youth—perhaps because the film portrays the troupe members as individual artists and activists rather than starting with a mainstream media frame of LGBTQ victimhood. It’s been moving to hear straight kids and adults say it gave them a new way to relate to their friends and family members; professors telling us that the film opened up discussions about culture and policy issues; and LGBTQ viewers saying it captured a view of themselves that they are seeing on the screen for the first time.

Learn more about Ellen’s work here.

Meet New Day: J. Christian Jensen

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Christian Jensen

My film White Earth is a look at a North Dakota oil boom as experienced by people on the fringes of society – in this case, three children and an immigrant mother. It hits on several topics related to the issue of domestic oil production, but at the end of the day it’s about people trying to navigate economic and industrial forces much bigger than they are. And it’s also about my favorite documentary cliché: The American Dream.

The idea for the film was born when I witnessed a huge exodus of people from my hometown in Southern Utah to North Dakota to find work. White Earth is also an ode to misfits. I’ve always felt a special connection with outsiders and misfits – probably because I am one myself. I wanted to look at this major story—a topic of great national debate—and throw out all the authoritative voices that you would expect to hear from in a film about oil work. No oil companies. No activists. No academics. No oil workers.

As a cinematographer I rely on those almost Zen-like moments where after wandering around with my camera for hours on end, I come across an image that elevates the story to places where words are insufficient. The flaming oil fields of a North Dakota winter were a cinematographer’s dream and I’m so glad my production schedule allowed me to just drive around over several nights waiting for serendipity to intervene and place the perfect light or image in my path.

Learn more about Christian here.

I Am New Day: Kimberly Reed

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Kimberly Reed

My film Prodigal Sons is an autobiographical documentary about my first trip back to my Montana home after coming out as transgender. I set out to make the film because I felt a responsibility to introduce viewers to what would likely be the first trans person they would “meet.” Frankly, with so much misunderstanding of trans issues, I knew nobody else could get the story right. I also felt a responsibility to make viewers forget I was trans, because only then could the big “TRANS” label on my forehead disappear and allow viewers to humanize someone they’d always seen as different.

I thought the story of my homecoming would be “the film.” But what happened, especially regarding my relationship to my older adopted brother who suffers from a brain injury and mental illness, was much more interesting! Basically, our film is about family, and the love that can hold a family together despite great challenges.

I’m currently completing Dark Money, a documentary about Citizens United and the political nonprofit groups it enabled. More recently, in addition to my filmmaking, I’ve stretched my aesthetic wings and started working in the world of opera, writing libretti and creating films to replace sets.

To learn more about Kimberly’s work, click here.

I Am New Day: Jean-Michel Dissard

Jean-Michel Dissard (Director I LEARN AMERICA)
Jean-Michel Dissard

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.”

Learn more about Jean-Michel’s work here.

I Am New Day: Sandra Schulberg

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Sandra Schulberg

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.

Learn more about Sandra’s work here.

I Am New Day: Christen Hepuakoa Marquez

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Christen Hepuakoa Marquez

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.

Learn more about Christen’s work here.