I am a New York City-based filmmaker from a blue-collar background interested in illuminating stories and histories that are seldom taught. My film Hunting in Wartime profiles Tlingit veterans from Hoonah, Alaska, who saw combat during the Vietnam War. They talk about surviving trauma, relating to Vietnamese people, readjusting to civilian life, and serving a government that systematically oppresses native people. Their stories give an important human face to the combat soldier and show the lasting effects of war on individuals, families and communities.
The main impetus behind this project was to support, document and preserve Tlingit history. There isn’t a great deal of documentation regarding Tlingit history because the Tlingit community uses verbal storytelling. The film is only a piece in what we hope is a lasting historical media presence for Hoonah’s Vietnam veterans and a broader transmedia project that explores racism, history and war from a uniquely Native American perspective.
I was also drawn to the story partly because the Vietnam War has always intrigued me—as a student, activist, and filmmaker. I was born while the war was still taking place and my family watched the carnage nightly on television. Those images must have left an indelible effect on me.
The process of making the film was an emotional one. The most significant moment in the production process was when fellow producer Christie George and I interviewed Tlingit Veteran Kenny Austin in Hilo, Hawaii. He gave us a very long and intense interview. We took him out to dinner afterwards and when we gave him a ride home, we realized he had walked over two miles to meet us for the interview. At the time Ken was close to 80 years of age and not in the best of health. The experience confirmed how important it is for the veterans to have their stories heard. We knew we had to tell this story as best as we could.
November is also Transgender Awareness Month, a time to raise visibility of and expose challenges faced by transgender and gender non-conforming people. New Day’s catalogue includes a number of films about trans people. In Prodigal Sons, a trans woman returns home to Helena, Montana, and confronts her complicated relationship with her brother, opening the doorway to a journey of revelations. Trinidad acquaints viewers with three trans women whose paths cross in Trinidad, Colorado, the “sex-change capital of the world.” The Year We Thought About Love is a story about a queer youth theater project, and includes the coming out process of a young black trans woman.
November is Native American Heritage Month, and New Day has many films that celebrate the cultures and histories of those who were here before the colonization of Turtle Island (aka North America), and those who survive and continue to build futures for their children. Tracing Roots follows master weaver and Haida elder Delores Churchill on a journey to understand the origins of a spruce root hat discovered alongside a 300-year-old traveler in a retreating glacier.
Shellmound is the story of how one Bay Area location changed from a sacred burial ground to a toxic late-stage capitalist consumer zone.
In Whose Honor? follows the story of Charlene Teters, a mother and activist who went up against the University of Illinois to ban the use of a racist mascot. Check out these films and more here.
Holiday time is approaching, making November the perfect time to explore National Family Caregivers Month. Caring for disabled and older family members is an important part of our development as adults and can be some of the most meaningful work we do. At the same time, this vital work is also often undervalued and many family caregivers lack the support they desperately need, whether it is financial support or time for self-care. These issues have been gaining national attention recently, with both U.S. presidential candidates promising to provide benefits for family caregivers. New Day’s excellent collection of films, including those mentioned below, are powerful tools for addressing family caregiver issues that affect the more than 65 million people in the U.S. who provide care for a chronically ill, disabled or older family member or friend during any given year.
A brand new addition to the New Day collection is filmmaker Sophie Sartain’s Mimi and Dona, which premiered nationally on the PBS series Independent Lens, and was named one of the Best TV Shows of 2015 by The New York Times. A longtime documentary writer and editor, Sartain went very personal with her directorial debut, entering the world of her grandmother and developmentally disabled aunt. She beautifully captures dynamics that have resonance for the 855,000 Americans with intellectual disabilities living with a caregiver over the age of 60. Exploring the deep connection between a mother and daughter, and tackling the question of what happens when the aging caregiver becomes ill, dies, or for whatever reason can no longer care for that person, Mimi and Dona spotlights the challenges of aging caregivers—and details the ripple effects of Dona’s disability across three generations of a family.
Debuting earlier this year on PBS, the award-winning short film Nine To Ninety also follows an aging caregiver – the fierce and irreverent Phyllis Sabatini, who at 89 is helping to care for her 90 year-old husband Joe in the home of their daughter Sarah. But as Phyllis and Joe’s health problems escalate, caregiving falls more and more on the shoulders of their children. Like one out of every eight Americans, daughter Sarah is part of the “sandwich generation,” and in her case she’s caring for everyone in her household from nine to ninety years old. Director Alicia Dwyer captures the three generations with intimacy, subtlety and humor as they face a very difficult decision whether to split up Phyllis and Joe after 62 years of marriage in order to care for them with modest resources. Revealing the shocking gap in support for family caregivers, Nine To Ninety is accompanied by a thoughtful discussion guide and functions as a wake up call to start critical conversations about caregiving– from the most personal level with our own families to the policy debates that are bubbling up on the national stage.
Winner of multiple festival audience awards,States of Grace intimately captures the profound transformation of revered physician Dr. Grace Dammann and her family after Grace is involved in a devastating car accident. With dry humor and brave candor, Grace, her partner Nancy “Fu” Schroeder, and their teenage daughter Sabrina recalibrate their lives. Family dynamics are turned upside down as each of them must negotiate new roles and responsibilities. As the only able-bodied person in their household, Fu becomes the primary caregiver to Grace while also taking on a more active role as parent. Filmmakers Helen Cohen and Mark Lipman reflect that, “After screening States of Grace, we’ve had many people comment about the power and honesty of the caregiver/care receiver relationship and thank us for showing the frustrations and challenges that many individuals face as they care for older adults.” Robert Saper, MD, MPH, Associate Professor of Family Medicine, Boston University School of Medicine calls it “an amazing film that poetically captures the many layers of triumph and struggle experienced by both patients and caregivers.”
Andy Abrahams Wilson’s classic film Hope is the Thing with Feathers traverses unexpected places in the emotional journey of caregiving for a loved one who is dying. A lush and lyrical film built around a poem which San Francisco poet and artist Beau Riley wrote as his lover of twelve years lay dying, the film shows one man plumbing the depths of his sorrow to find meaning through the strength of his mind, imagination, and devotion to his partner. “The [film’s] images and words define life, disease and death with utter sincerity, elemental simplicity, brave spirituality, and great beauty… an important film,” writes Philip Yenawine, Former Director of Education at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Not shying away from the messiness and desolation of the dying process, Hope is the Thing with Feathers discovers the spiritual side of caregiving, as Beau finds the magic in the most difficult of life’s journey and, from this palate, creates an art of remembrance, forgiveness, and moving on.
Hispanic Heritage Month runs from September 15 to October 15, coinciding with the anniversaries of independence of several countries including México, Chile and Guatemala. New Day offers an excellent collection of films that tell powerful stories from these countries, and celebrate the contributions
of Hispanic and Latino Americans to the United States. Stages: Intergenerational Theater on the Lower East Side follows a group of older Puerto Rican women as they work with urban youth to create a play out of the stories of their lives, while Abrazos tracks the transformational journey of a group of U.S. children who travel 3,000 miles from Minnesota to Guatemala to visit their parents’ homeland.
October also brings the opportunity to focus on our communities with two more special commemorations. National Community Planning Month honors the role of planners and planning in our communities. New Days films Land of Opportunity and Made In Brooklyn both take a look at the impact of planning in cities like New Orleans, Durham, Albuquerque, Burlington and New York.
National Disability Awareness Month is a time to educate about disability issues and to celebrate the contributions of Americans with disabilities. In The Key of G, we learn about a uniquely successful model of supported living for people with physical and developmental disabilities. In Sins Invalid, a film and performance project conceived and led by disabled people of color, normative paradigms of “normal” and “sexy” are challenged, offering instead a vision of beauty and sexuality inclusive of all individuals and communities.
I am a writer and filmmaker based in Los Angeles. My film Mimi And Dona is a personal documentary about my grandmother Mimi and my aunt Dona, who was diagnosed with an intellectual disability as a child and lived with my grandmother her entire life. When Mimi was 92, she finally admitted that she could no longer care for Dona, then age 64. This set in motion the events chronicled in Mimi And Dona.
When I first went to Dallas to film Mimi and Dona, I wasn’t sure if I was making a home movie, or a larger film. I mainly wanted to capture their life together. They were sweet and quirky Texas characters. My brothers and I often wondered if Dona could have lived a more independent and potentially “bigger” life away from home; on the other hand, she and Mimi were happy. They had a lot of fun together and were close companions for decades. We wondered if a move away from Mimi was the right thing for Dona. Would Mimi fall apart without her?
Back in Los Angeles, whenever I told people about Mimi and Dona’s situation, they would chime in that they knew someone in the same predicament—a cousin, a neighbor or a friend’s sibling, some with developmental disabilities, others with mental illnesses, all struggling to find appropriate care and housing for a loved one. This was an untold story happening all around us, with aging caregivers like my grandmother facing agonizing decisions, often with little support or guidance.
The response to Mimi And Dona has been amazing. After a national broadcast on PBS’s Independent Lens, it was named “One of the Best TV Shows of 2015” by Neil Genzlinger of The New York Times, who called it a “beautiful portrait of parental commitment.” Viewers identify with the characters and say that the film stays with them long after they watch it. Equally gratifying has been the response from professionals who work with people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. They appreciate the film’s intimate and honest look at the dynamics within a family, something they don’t normally see if they interact with individuals outside the home. They are also grateful for the film shining a spotlight on an issue they come across frequently in their work – finding appropriate care and housing for a vulnerable population that is aging, right along with their caregivers.
October is Disability Awareness Month, and it’s the perfect time to make sure that Disability Studies, Art, Culture and Politics are
integrated into any topic you are teaching. Whether you’re teaching Social Work, Medicine, Gender Studies, Black History, Performance Studies, or Early Childhood Development, examining and learning from a disabled experience will provide a fuller and deeper understanding of the course materials for your students. Below are some guidelines to help integrate the perspectives of people with disabilities into your classroom.
DON’T perpetuate the myth of the “tragic cripple.” You know, the story where someone is disabled and miserable, and everything they do is so hard, and everyone around them is brought down by their struggle, and then maybe they almost achieve happiness but then… they die. Learn to identify this trope so you can call it out when you see it. DO offer stories and examples of people with
disabilities who are living complex, full lives, who are in reciprocal relationships, who make choices and have life journeys.Mimi and Dona, one of New Day’s recent acquisitions, documents the symbiotic relationship between an aging mother and her disabled daughter, offering a useful jumping off point for analyzing dynamics of inter/dependence. The Key of Gis another film that shows a disabled person growing and changing in the context of a community who loves them.
DON’T teach our stories solely through the lens of the medical establishment, or assume that all people with disabilities want a cure. DO examine complexities of access to health care,
allocation of resources, and how these privileges break down along race/class/age/gender lines. Fixed is a useful documentary for examining the politics of “human enhancement” and the impetus toward “fixing” people’s bodies rather than taking care of people’s basic needs.
DON’T succumb to the false-positive messaging of ‘inspiration porn’ – you know, the story about the amazing disabled person who, despite all their hardship
s is still able to rise above and overcome their circumstances, inspiring able-bodied people to say, “If they can do it, what’s my excuse?” This narrative centers the able-bodied experience and perpetuates competitive, ableist constructions of “success” and “failure.” DO share materials created by people with disabilities where we frame our own experiences.Who Am I to StopItis a compelling documentary about three artists with traumatic brain injuries, made by a filmmaker with disabilities from brain injury.
DON’T hold up one type of disability as the “true” disability. Disability is an intentionally broad category that includes people with mobility impairments, people who belong to sensory minorities, people with psychiatric disabilities, chronic illnesses, learning disabilities, cognitive challenges, chronic pain, and more. DO
encourage awareness of the ways our society disables us by stigmatizing the ways we show up in the world. Michael and His Dragonand When I Came Homeboth follow soldiers who return from Iraq with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Twitch and Shoutis about people with Tourette Syndrome, a neurological condition that is often misunderstood.
DON’T perpetuate unconscious use of ableist language that frames disability as bad. This includes words like “crazy” when you mean abusive, “lame” when you mean uncool, or “blind” when you mean ignorant, or even words like “weak” or “stupid” that imply ableist hierarchies. DO examine the use of identity labels, including “disability” itself – how are these words used by people who identify with them? Identify nuances of language that differentiate between what we want others to call us, and what we call ourselves. In
DON’T feed into stereotypes of disabled people as sexless and childlike. People with disabilities have desires, are desired by other people, enjoy sex (solo, partnered, in groups…), have relationships, and experience all the ups and downs and ins and outs that come with being an embodied being. People with disabilities are also at high risk of sexual assault, so sex education is crucial to understanding what is happening and knowing that we have a choice. DO promote work by disabled people that explores sexuality. Sins Invalidfollows the eponymous Disability Justice performance project and movement-building organization that creates work around disability and sexuality, centralizing artists of col
or and queer and gender-variant artists with disabilities.
DON’T isolate disability from other identities, or play ableism against other forms of oppression. There are disabled people in every demographic, so any struggle for justice and liberation also affects people with disabilities. DO share examples of people navigating simultaneous experiences of racism, ableism, sexism, and more. Making Noise in Silence looks at intersections of deafness, youth, immigration, and race in the lives of two young deaf Korean students. E Haku Inoa: To Weave a Name
looks at the impact of colonization on a mother’s mental health.
DON’T assume that people with disabilities are always in the position of receiving but not giving. Many of us who are disabled are also caregivers, therapists, parents, medical professionals, teachers, and healers. DO look at the ways our lives change over time and how the amount and type of care we receive and offer fluctuates at different moments. States of Gracefollows the story
of Dr. Grace Dammann, a pioneering AIDS specialist whose near-fatal car accident changes her perception of self and relationship to her body and family.
DON’T assume that nobody in the classroom has the disability you’re discussing. Disabled people are not a separate group – “they” are part of the “we” that you’re speaking to. DO model accessibility in the classroom by providing opportunities for access needs to be identified, including bio breaks, seating options, lighting changes, large print, captions, audio description, scent-free space, or whatever the individuals in your class might need in order to participate. Most New Day Films are closed captioned, and a number of them including Fixed, Sins Invalid, The Key of G,and Who Am I to Stop It are audio described fo
r blind audiences. For more thoughts about classroom accessibility issues, Read Me Differentlyis a powerful New Day film about a young woman’s learning differences.
DON’T imagine that you will always be able-bodied! Everybody experiences some type of disability in their life, whether it’s a temporary injury or surgery, a chronic illness, an accident, or just getting old and losing abilities over time. DO co-create a world that recognizes and respects the many ways we live in our minds and bodies.
Explore New Day’s rich collection of films on Disability here.
August 6 and 9 mark the anniversary of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings. New Day filmmaker Bob Richter shares his thoughts on the continuing legacy of these attacks.
This past May, I was deeply moved to see President Barack Obama embrace a 91-year-old survivor of the nuclear attack in Hiroshima. The scene of the survivor with the President brought back powerful memories about the city’s attack—the first time an atomic bomb was used to destroy people.
It was only a few years ago that my co-producer Kathleen Sullivan and I had joined survivors in Nagasaki, where the second and last atomic bomb was dropped. Thousands of residents, government officials, and religious leaders gathered collectively to remember what happened in that city at 11:02 a.m. on August 9, 1945. At an exhibit at the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum, where a Japanese-language version of our documentary The Ultimate Wish: Ending the Nuclear Agehad premiered a few days earlier, we viewed mangled clocks frozen at that precise moment.
The temperature during the commemoration was so fiercely hot that we draped our necks with ice-cold cloths that had been passed around the large outdoor tent where we were sitting. Hardly worth complaining about, as the temperature from the detonated bomb was several thousand degrees, instantly incinerating an estimated 70,000 men, women, and children. A bell tolled at 11:02 a.m. at the Peace Park—Nagasaki’s Ground Zero—and we stood silently to pay tribute to the moment that forever changed history.
I met many atomic bomb survivors while Kathleen and I were producing The Ultimate Wish: Ending the Nuclear Age. Our film finally came to settle on the remarkable testimony and life of Sakue Shimohira, who at the age of ten was left to hide in a Nagasaki shelter when the bomb dropped. In one of the film’s most powerful moments, Sakue describes her sister’s suicide ten years after the end of World War II. While her sister found “the courage to die,” Shimohira-san found “the courage to live” and has since dedicated her life to abolishing nuclear weapons. We follow her in the company of two Japanese students as they talk with students in London, New York and Nagasaki. We also see her in a gripping encounter with a Holocaust survivor.
Our film strives to cast new light on events that are too easily relegated to a tragic segment of history. We show how there were US military leaders that challenged the belief that Nagasaki was essential for military victory—a prevailing belief that even I had bought into before the making of the film. Through a highly regarded Japanese journalist, we learn about the Press Code imposed by the U.S. occupation government, that for years prohibited him and other members of Japan’s media from reporting on the bomb or its health effects. And we also touch upon the Atomic Bomb Casualty Commission, a U.S. agency that gathered data from thousands of survivors and sent that data to the U.S.—not Japan—and did not attempt to ameliorate the health problems of the survivors.
Other films in the New Day collection also touch upon the costs of living in a nuclear age. In the Academy Award-winning documentary Deadly Deception, filmmaker Deborah Chasnoff juxtaposes GE’s rosy “We Bring Good Things To Life” commercials with true stories of workers and neighbors whose lives have been devastated by GE’s involvement in building nuclear bombs. It tells a powerful story of how consumer activists can challenge corporations causing harm.
In How To Prevent A Nuclear War, Liane Brandon takes a refreshingly upbeat and compelling look at the kinds of activities that Americans engage in to lessen the threat of nuclear war, whether it be visiting their local representative or starting a Concert for Peace. It is a film about grassroots democracy in action, featuring unforgettable vignettes of people working for peace in their communities.
In our film The Ultimate Wish, a nuclear expert explains that there is a strong, but rarely mentioned, link between nuclear weaponry and nuclear power, and we briefly document the burgeoning movements to end both. One of our characters Takako Shishido, who was living in Fukushima at the time of the March 2011 nuclear power plants’ triple meltdowns, tells us what happened and what she would like to see happen now. Filmmaker Suzan Berazasimilarly takes a look at the impact of using nuclear energy in America in her critically acclaimed documentary Uranium Drive-In. The film follows a proposed uranium mill in Colorado—the first to be built in the U.S. in 30 years—and the debate pitting a population desperate for jobs and financial stability against an environmental group based in a nearby resort town. Without judgment, both sides of the issue are brought to life in heart-wrenching detail as the film follows conflicting visions for the future. The film offers no easy answers but aims instead to capture personal stories and paint a portrait of the lives behind this nuanced and complex issue.
I have made several different films covering nuclear issues since the 1970s and the threats are still very much with us. Today, nine countries in the world possess at least a total of 15,375 nuclear weapons, each many times more destructive than the two used at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The United States seeks to monitor and decrease nuclear arms in other countries, as it simultaneously works to modernize its own stockpile. While new vital concerns justifiably dominate our media headlines, learning and remembering nuclear history is fundamental to our existence. We cannot ignore the voices demanding the ultimate wish: ending the nuclear age.
On June 12, 2016, an attack on a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, became the worst mass shooting in modern US history. For three filmmakers at New Day, the tragic massacre was deeply personal. Having worked previously on films about hate crimes targeting the LGBTQ community, they felt compelled to take immediate steps to engage others in discussions about homophobia and the process of healing.
When New Day member Tami Gold heard of the attacks, she was devastated. She writes, “It was a heart-wrenching reminder of the escalating levels of violence gay, lesbian, queer and transgender people face throughout the United States.” For Gold, the incident brought back painful memories of a hate crime that she had documented in her film Puzzles: When Hate Came to Town. Co-directed with David Pavlovsky, the film documents the impact of a 2006 shooting in a LGBTQ bar in New Bedford called Puzzles. The young perpetrator attempted to shoot three bar patrons and later killed himself and two others. Gold and Pavlovsky purposefully include a wide range of voices – from members of the perpetrator’s radical gang, to victims and their families, as well as gay and straight patrons of the bar. These multiple perspectives viewed over several years allow Puzzles to reveal how a culture of hate and fear can eventually lead to violent acts.
After the Orlando tragedy, Gold decided to make her film available for free online. She says the broad reach achieved, including two local broadcasts and several media interviews, has been very encouraging. Gold has also invited audiences to share their responses on her website and Facebook pages. She explains,
“If there was ever a time to tackle this crisis, it is now, and we want to be part of this discussion.”
Viewers have expressed immense gratitude: “Watching Puzzles was the antidote to the sense of despair I felt,” says one woman on Gold’s Vimeo page. Another remarks, “I still hurt over the people murdered in Orlando, but it helps me to talk about this with friends everywhere… it’s a great way to generate a conversation.”
Another New Day film that explores the impact of hate crimes on a community is New Day member Beverly Seckinger’s documentary Laramie Inside Out. In it, Seckinger returns to her hometown to make sense of the tragic murder of Matthew Shepard, a gay student who was brutally beaten and left to die in 1998. The murder put Laramie into the media spotlight and sparked a nationwide debate. As Seckinger confronts her own closeted youth in Laramie, she interviews different community members. While the “God-hates-fags” Westboro Baptist Church continues to condemn Shepard and all LBGTQ people, Seckinger is heartened to see that many people have started speaking out and taking action.
“I realized then that a history lesson was in order, and that my film might provide some desperately needed perspective and inspiration.”
While Puzzles and Laramie Inside Out document the aftermath of LGBTQ hate crimes on communities, Yun Suh’s film City of Bordersprovides a hopeful message about peace and unity. Set inside the only gay bar in Jerusalem, Suh introduces us to five Israeli and Palestinian patrons who have found common ground and a sense of community.
Shortly after 9/11, Suh noticed a growing trend in the media to demonize Muslims, who were often depicted as violent fanatics. Compelled to show another perspective, Suh chose to follow Israeli Palestinians who are proud to be gay and Muslim. She writes, “I was so inspired by the courage of the young people who chose to break the cycle of hatred and violence that they were taught and chose to love and laugh in spite of all the threats that surrounded them just outside their sanctuary.”
In the aftermath of the Orlando tragedy, Suh was struck by the media’s focus on the gunman’s alleged connections to terrorism and radical extremism. She notes, “The Orlando tragedy surfaced the widespread Islamophobia and xenophobia that exists in this country. When the shooter, Omar Mateen, was identified as Muslim, the mainstream media and politicians were quick to push their anti-Islam bias and label this massacre as an act of terrorism rather than a hate crime.”
Amidst all the incendiary headlines and rhetoric, City of Borders provides a voice of reason, reminding viewers that it is possible for a community to find peaceful connections despite war and differences in religion and ideology. As with Gold’s and Seckinger’s films, there is still a chance to take action and inspire social change. Suh writes,
“There is far greater power and beauty in our diversity and unity that remains untapped.”
While many of us are still trying to recover from Orlando’s tragedy, these three powerful films offer up a glimmer of hope. From now until September 1, view them online for free. Simply click on the appropriate film below, add a 3-day streaming license to your shopping cart, and apply the following promo code: NEWS716.
Learn more about the rest of New Day’s award-winning LGBT titles here. And for ideas on how to teach LGBT issues in the classroom, have a look at this excellent blog post by New Day filmmaker Nomy Lamm.
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month (LGBT Pride Month) is currently celebrated each year in the month of June to honor the 1969 Stonewall riots in Manhattan. The Stonewall riots were a tipping point for the Gay Liberation Movement in the United States. New Day has a strong collection of films on LGBTQ topics, including award-winning new releases Out in the Night, about the justice struggle of four young black queer women known as the New Jersey Five, and The Year We Thought About Love, about a Boston-based queer youth theater company.