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.
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.
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.
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?
I gravitate towards making films in different languages and cultures, which poses numerous challenges but ultimately is an incredibly fulfilling experience, which is probably why I keep making them.
My documentary Making Noise in Silence is about Korean and Deaf culture from the perspective of two teens. Growing up as a Korean American, I definitely struggled with my ethnic and cultural identity. When you’re young, it’s harder to see that being different can be a good thing and instead, you just focus on how different you are from your friends and wish to be more like everyone else. So I naturally became curious about these two teenagers and their experiences being Korean American, as well as being Deaf.
When I first started making this film, I didn’t realize the unique challenges I would face in communicating with my subjects. Over email, sometimes we’d write in Korean or English. Then in person, we communicated in American Sign Language through an interpreter or wrote words on a piece of paper. When I was filming, I didn’t have simultaneous interpreting, so if there was a conversation happening, the interpreter wouldn’t fill me in until I stopped rolling because I didn’t want her voice in the film. On a few occasions, I filmed without knowing exactly what was happening and had to rely on my instincts. Because of these circumstances, I tried to be even more aware of how my subjects were feeling and tried to check in often to make sure they were comfortable with the filming process.
I have spent most of my adult life working with survivors of traumatic circumstances including war, genocide, disease, and slavery, first as a relief worker and then as a documentary filmmaker. These experiences have taught me again and again the resilience of the human spirit and the healing power of compassion.
I am a child of divorce, and the mother of two young children. When my partner and I separated, I searched extensively for information, resources and support to help our children through this experience. In spite of discovering a wealth of literature and professional expertise for adults, I found few media tools to help me guide my children through the challenges they faced.
My film SPLIT is a candid, poignant, and often humorous film about kids and divorce made exclusively from the point of view of children. There are no adults and no experts – just kids speaking the powerful truth of what is on their minds and in their hearts as their families change. It is a tool to help children of divorce begin to talk, process, and heal … and to encourage parents to choose a less contentious path as they move through separation.
I’m a San Francisco-based Asian American woman who was born in Virginia and raised in the Midwest. All my life I’ve been hit on and harassed by men who are obsessed with Asian women, and I’ve always wanted to know why so many Western men develop “Yellow Fever” or “Asian Fetish.”
My documentary film Seeking Asian Female tells the story of two strangers – an aging white man with an “Asian fetish” and a young woman from China. They meet online and attempt to build a marriage from scratch in California. During the filming, I became their translator and eventually their marriage counselor.
“Asian fetish” and the objectification of Asian women is a very loaded issue in the Asian American community, yet had always been unrecognized by the mainstream. I tried to approach the subject with honesty and a sense of humor to engender open discussion and shed light the assumptions and prejudices that exist on all sides. Seeking Asian Female ‘s raw, intimate drama is a universal love story for the ages — albeit a complicated one.
I had been involved in solidarity work since 2003 to raise awareness about the violent murders of women in Juarez, Mexico, and that work connected me to feminists working in Guatemala. I began production on a documentary film, Justice for My Sister, which follows a Guatemalan single mother of five on a heroic journey to hold her sister’s killer accountable. When I myself became a target of sexual assault, and experienced first-hand the corruption and complicity of the Guatemalan justice system, I decided my film needed to do more than raise awareness – it needed to be part of a bigger violence prevention campaign. I formed the Justice for My Sister Collectivewith advocates in Guatemala and Los Angeles, and we’ve published a trainer’s training guide, a text-message campaign toolkit, and an activity booklet. We’ve held workshops and screenings with indigenous communities, immigrants, survivors of violence, service providers and police in 20 countries and counting. The film has won Best Documentary in Holland, Los Angeles, Bolivia, and Central America. I have toured universities and embassies to promote healthy relationships, and have since established a non-profit organization in LA to continue the campaign’s work.