My short filmThe Land is set in a Welsh junkyard playground where kids can play with fire, hammers and nails. Their play makes us cringe with fear, while simultaneously reminding us of our own favorite childhood memories. Most of what you see in the film are scenes of children immersed in deep, sometimes risky, play.
I was born in 1981 and was fortunate to have a very playful childhood. I roamed the neighborhood with kids of all different ages and headed home only when the streetlights came on. In the subsequent decades since my youth, I have seen children’s culture diminish dramatically. It is a troubling trend. As a new parent (my baby Asa was born last December), I feel even more strongly about advocating for a child’s right to play with fire, climb trees, and swear (just during playtime… not ALL of the time).
One step onto The Land playground left me dizzy with inspiration. It is a beautiful contradiction. Though it looks like the LAST place you’d want to release a crew of kids – with its loose saws, tires, broken bikes, mud and more – The Land is the most child-centric environment I’ve ever experienced. Adult aesthetics, norms and rules simply do not apply. And it is completely liberating!
What I hear from adult viewers is that The Land portrays childhood as they remember it. That is to say The Land portrays childhood with humor and delight but also grit and darkness. Play is not always nice or pleasing to adults. I did my best to have adults speaking as LITTLE as possible which is unusual for media about play and childhood. Usually films about this are packed with developmental experts reinforcing the benefits of play. I wanted the actions of the children in the film to speak for themselves.
The Land is a really effective tool for organizing. It’s short enough to view and have a solid discussion during a lunch break or staff meeting. It has some good buzz among its core audience so when one person gets their hands on it, others will make a point to attend events to see it.One of my favorite screenings so far was at the Providence Children’s Museum in Providence, Rhode Island. The room was packed with parents and teachers who were fed up with the diminishment of free play and children’s culture. The Landreally blew the conversation open because it shows what is possible. It shows that the spectrum of possibility for what we can let children do is much wider than we think. At that screening, parents were able to meet, mingle and commiserate. Even more exciting for me was that teachers met other teachers and swapped strategies about how to support play in their classrooms despite strict curriculum and protocol. I’m really proud of the film’s impact so far, and we’re just getting started!
Just in time for Women’s History Month this March, New Day member Briar March interviews four filmmakers whose collective body of work on gender equality span the past 45 years. Just how far do they think we’ve progressed and what is the relevance of their films today?
The history of New Day Films is very much entwined with that of the women’s movement. In 1971, our documentary cooperative was born when a small group of feminist filmmakers decided to band together to distribute their films—films that had been deemed too controversial for traditional distributors. One of the original three films to be included in New Day’s groundbreaking collection was Amalie R. Rothschild’sIt Happens to Us. Shot by an entirely female crew in 1971, the documentary explored women’s legal right to choose. Rothschild explains that her strong desire to make the film arose out of her own experience with abortion and the prejudices she had towards women who chose to abort. She writes:
Until it happened to me I basically thought that any woman who found herself with an unwanted pregnancy was somehow personally responsible. When I had an unplanned pregnancy myself I realized through my own circumstances that it certainly was not the case, and I had to confront my own unsuspected attitudes.
A year after Rothschild’s film was released, the Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court decision made abortion legal throughout the U.S. and Rothschild was both relieved and overjoyed to see the issues she had been campaigning for finally being taken seriously. But looking back in 2016, she is not so sure how far women’s rights and access to abortion have really progressed. She points out how attacks against Planned Parenthood in Congress and an increase in closures of pro-choice clinics throughout America have made abortion and birth control services practically impossible for some women. She explains:
While on paper many things have changed, and many educated young women of today take for granted that they have equal rights, the reality is actually quite different. I think most young women are not aware of how many of their rights have actually been taken away with arcane laws enacted at the state level.
It Happened to Us is not the only film from New Day that explores these issues. Leona’s Sister Gerri, made 23 years later by JaneGillooly, 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 hotel floor, dead from an illegal abortion. Reflecting on the use of her film during Women’s History Month, Gillooly says she is often frustrated by how the documentary is solely marketed towards women, and that she would really like to see more men access the story:
Abortion affects men as well as women… I was just struck by how empathetic (and clueless actually) many men are about abortion. I’m not the first to say women’s films should be seen 12 months a year.
Gillooly’s desire to engage with male audiences got me thinking about Emma Watson’s inspiring speech at the UN recently in which she launched theHeForShe campaign. Watched by millions on social media, the young British actress investigates why the feminist movement has been mostly dominated by women and asks, “How can we effect change in the world when only half of it is invited or feels welcome to participate in the conversation?” Interestingly at New Day Films there are a number of male filmmakers who have already chosen to join this important discussion, making films about gender equality both inside and outside America.
Leaving Home, a documentary by Robert Richter, tells the story of Renu, a bright teenage girl in a small northern village in India who planned and dreamed of becoming a teacher in the big city, only to be thwarted by traditions that force her into an arranged marriage. Richter tells me that he had planned to show “progress” in the village, but while he could see evidence of material progress in many ways, he found the lack of social progress for women even more significant. When I asked Richter how much he felt things have developed since filming his documentaryin 2011 he remarks,
There has been increasing attention in India to the abuse of women, particularly after a gang rape and death of a woman riding a bus in Delhi. But I doubt that much has changed about gender roles, other than the terrible event bringing briefly to public awareness an awful symptom of an entrenched societal disorder.
Thanks to films like Leaving Home, we are able to access a personal and direct insight into issues facing women outside America. And as Richter adds, it also allows for a point of comparison when thinking about the issue of gender inequality at home:
In contrast, gender inequality in America is a widely recognized issue and is increasingly challenged — a challenge that as the father of four daughters I strongly support. In classrooms, Leaving Home does more than illuminate the coming of age of one girl. It challenges students to examine and compare gender roles where they live and how those roles are, or are not, changing. Our hope is that the film will inspire positive action.
Instead of focusing directly on gender equality, Pat Ferrero’s two films Quilts in Women’s Lives and Hearts & Handslook at the act of quilting, a pastime specific to women that reveals unique insights into the female experience. Quilts in Women’s Lives, first released in 1981, presents a series of portraits of female quilt makers, including a Mennonite, a Bulgarian immigrant, an African American, and two Midwestern sisters. Made a few years later, Hearts & Hands uses women’s quilts to chronicle the lives of women through significant events of the 19th century, including industrialization, the Civil War, and the suffrage movement. By using quilts to speak the language of politics and social justice, or by simply celebrating the artistic process of women quilters, these two films form a visual anthropology reflecting on the diversity of women’s culture. Speaking of the relevance and potential use of her work, Ferrero says,
The film’s issues are as alive and relevant today as when they were first made. As long as people use the needle to make quilts to reflect the issues of the day such as the Aids Quilt project did, or the quilts that raised money to fight apartheid in South Africa, or the disappeared son and daughters in Latin America, quilts will continue to reflect the most pressing issues.
As we celebrate Women’s History Month this year, there is no better time to contemplate some of the issues Ferrero and the other filmmakers have raised. How can we best engage men in the feminist movement? And how can we educate young people about not only the rich history of past women’s movements but also the current issues still facing us in America and abroad? These films and others in the New Day collection offer us creative and inspiring ways to engage with these timely conversations. Through screenings of our collection on campuses and throughout our community, stories about gender equality and women’s issues are getting the attention they deserve. To find out more about these films and other critically-acclaimed works such as Growing Up Female, Betty Tells Her Story, Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines, and TRIPTYCH: 3 Women Making Art, visit our collection today!
The U.S. Department of Education hosted a special screeningof Jean-Michel Dissard and Gitte Peng’s documentary I Learn America, during which Secretary of Education Arne Duncan declared, “The students represented in the film need to be seen and supported as national assets in our schools.” This fall, the New York State Department of Education started using the film to train teachers to work with immigrant youth, and is now looking to make the project available to all of its middle and high schools.
2015 was the year TIME magazine declared the “Transgender Tipping Point,” and director Kimberly Reed was invited to make appearances on NBC, MSNBC, and ABC due to her autobiographical film Prodigal Sons(the first theatrically-released film by a trans director). The film has continued to move audiences, leading one transgender viewer to say, “Thank you for choosing to be so visible about yourself, your life, and your identities — your film certainly helped me in my process of transitioning,” and another to add, “Your film Prodigal Sons was instrumental in helping me by bringing understanding to my family. Thank you.”
A researching team at Notre Dame University published a study
in the Journal of Responsible Innovation on how Regan Brashear’s documentary Fixed: The Science/Fiction of Human Enhancement shifted the viewpoints of scientists and bioengineering researchers on the ethical and social implications of their work. The research cited how the film’s varying perspectives of disability caused viewers to reconsider “profound personal and societal questions.”
In New York’s Nassau County, over 50 matrimonial lawyers were
treated to a screening of Split, Ellen Bruno‘s short documentary on divorce, shot entirely from the perspective of children. The film received glowing reviews, with many lawyers declaring their intention to show the film to their clients and others making plans to share it more widely with child advocate attorneys and family court judges.
Greta Schiller’s The Marion Lake Story inspired several community ecological restoration projects, including the clean-up of a phragmite-overgrown wetland in Groton, Connecticut, and the creation of a rain garden by students at Timber Creek High School, a service learning school in Orlando, Florida. Wendy Doromal, a supervising teacher at Timber Creek High, wrote that the “moving story exemplifies environmental stewardship and beautifully shows how a united effort can positively impact a community.
about a cutting-edge group of Latin American social entrepreneurs, played widely across Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru as the centerpiece of the Disrupt Poverty Tour. Following screenings of the film in town centers, local youth and women were trained to design and administer digital surveys analyzing the level of women’s financial inclusion in their communities for eventual presentation to NGOs and governments.
The West Virginia Foundation for Rape and Information Services began using Debra Chasnoff‘sStraightlaced—How Gender’s Got Us All Tied Up in statewide rape crisis centers to help with its mission to prevent and address sexual violence, stalking and dating violence. The film has been instrumental in helping to create understanding around how gender norm pressures can lead to unhealthy decision-making– a key to preventing future violence.
After a screening of Tracing Roots: A Weaver’s Journey at Yale University, a student and member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma told filmmaker Ellen Frankenstein how important the film was to affirming her identity: “A lot of Yale students have never been around Native Americans before and it feels strange when I’m trying to explain where I come from.”
Hospitals, medical schools, and rehab facilities across the country
held screenings of States of Grace. After a screening at the Rhode Island Hospital in Providence, the Senior Vice-President & Chief Nursing Officer wrote to filmmakers Mark Lipman and Helen Cohen, “The response for days following your presentation was nothing short of overwhelming…Many people said that they felt it could make a difference in the way we care for patients.” Others added: “You have nourished my spirit as a bedside nurse” and “Reminds us all why we became health care professionals.”
Ellen Brodsky traveled to Seoul, South Korea, with The Year We Thought About Love, her award-winning film about a LGBTQ youth theater troupe. After the screening, a young woman shyly raised her hand and said, “I have two friends who came out to me. After watching your film, I think I can now be a better friend. Thank you.
New Day Films is proud to announce our partnership with the Kanopy streaming service. Through this collaboration, students and faculty at more than 800 universities and colleges worldwide are already streaming all or part of New Day’s collection, and the list continues to grow.
“We are incredibly excited about this partnership because it will extend the reach of our collection, which has been a trusted resource for educators across a wide range of subject areas for over four decades,” said New Day Co-Chairs Leo Chiang and Kelly Anderson. “We are particularly enthusiastic about Kanopy’s innovative Patron-Driven-Acquisition (PDA) program, which allows institutions to make licensing decisions based on what students and faculty are actively watching.”
Kanopy augments our existing streaming platform, New Day Digital, which continues to provide a variety of digital streaming licenses for New Day titles. New Day and Kanopy will be at the National Media Market together and look forward to talking with librarians and educators about our new partnership and streaming our films on your campus.
New Day Filmmakers have been busy breaking ground in August! On August 4, our very own Luis Arguetawas awarded the Order of Quetzal following the premiere of his latest documentary ABRAZOS in Guatemala City. Argueta, whose 1994 fiction film The Silence of Neto set a precedent in the Guatemalan film industry, became the first-ever filmmaker to receive Guatemala’s highest national medal for his passionate stories about migrants. In a moving acceptance speech, Argueta said “I dedicate this award to the millions of migrants who’ve left their homes, risked everything and who toil every day without knowing if they will return home that night.” Learn more about his important works abUSed: The Postville Raidand ABRAZOS.
And on August 13, New Day filmmaker David Alvarado and filmmaking partner Jason Sussberg made history when their documentary-in-progress on Bill Nye the Science Guy became the highest grossing documentary ever on the crowdfunding website Kickstarter. With an initial goal of $650,000, their campaign raised nearly $860,000 thanks to the help of 16,850 backers. Their new film follows Bill Nye the Science Guy, host of the popular children’s science show, in his “epic quest to change the world.” Both filmmakers cite Bill Nye as a large influence in their decision to start making films about science and technology. Learn more about Alvarado’s previous short film Indelible Mark.