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 filmFaubourg 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 themselves and 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.
Transgender Awareness Month
November is also Transgender Awareness Month, a time to celebrate, raise the visibility of, and expose the challenges faced by transgender and gender non-conforming people. New Day’s catalogue includes a number of films about trans people. Prodigal Sons reveals a surprisingly universal story about identity, gender, adoption, and mental illness. 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. Check out these films and more here.
At a time when Europe is reeling from record numbers of refugees, renewed attention has been cast on the issue of migration. The term “refugee” has come to encompass individuals fleeing environmental change, food insecurity, and generalized violence—such as Syrian civilians fleeing drought and the onslaught of ISIS. Those who fall outside the internationally recognized definition of a refugee but are nevertheless fleeing very serious socio-economic rights deprivations are termed “survival migrants.” Many of the other Middle Eastern, African, and South Asian immigrants featured nightly on our television screens fall under this category. They are running for their lives, seeking to find a new home where they can become productive citizens and raise their children safely.
New Day Films hosts a collection of films that address the issue of survival migration into the United States, especially from the viewpoint of those most impacted: the children. The feature-length documentaryAbrazos follows the transformational journey of 14 children of undocumented immigrants as they travel to Guatemala for the first time to meet their grandparents and other family members. Their journey highlights the plight of 4.5 million children living in mixed legal status families. Director Luis Argueta was moved to capture this epic experience, noting:
In the process of filming several of my most recent documentaries, I have witnessed the negative consequences of family separation which is caused by a broken immigration system. The ones most affected by the separation are the children.
Sin Pais is an award-winning documentary short that attempts to break through mainstream media’s “talking points” approach to immigration by focusing on the intimate experiences of one family. In the early 90s, Sam and Elida Mejia fled a violent civil war in Guatemala. 17 years later, they have built a new life for themselves and their three children in the San Francisco Bay Area. When immigration agents storm their home in search of another person, however, their lives are torn apart. Sam, Elida, and their oldest son Gilbert are all undocumented and become deeply entangled in the U.S. immigration system. Commenting on the experiences of the Mejia family, filmmaker Theo Rigby writes:
Every parent has the responsibility to clothe, house, and educate his or her children. Most immigrants want to provide a better life for their families than the one that they were dealt in their home country. This translates to immigrants being incredibly hard workers and very innovative. More than half of small businesses in the U.S. were started by immigrants, as well as some of the largest businesses.
Documentary shortLife On The Line tells the story of teenager Kimberly Torrez who lives on the Arizona-Mexico border in a mixed legal status family. Co-directing team Sally Rubin and Jen Giloman set about making a film that would bolster the fight for comprehensive immigration reform and highlight the plight of children and their families who are divided by state and national policies. Filmmaker Sally Rubin explains:
Told entirely from Kimberly’s perspective, our film attempts to draw out themes of socioeconomic adversity, the universal challenges of adolescence, the pursuit of opportunity in our education system, and the real-life effects of immigration policies on the ability of students to succeed.
One of New Day’s earliest films featuring children caught up in the immigration debate is Children in No Man’s Land, a short documentary about two young children, Maria de Jesus and her cousin Rene, who attempt to cross the US/Mexico border by themselves to reunite with their mothers in the Midwest. Filmmaker Anayansi Prado was deeply impacted by the stories she heard of unaccompanied children making the dangerous crossing over the border and wanted to put a human face to the crisis. She writes:
I wanted to understand and convey the struggles of a family separated by necessity and the children’s urges for embarking on such a risk journey. What I found out is that at their core they are not that much different than any of us. They are just families who want to be together and will risk it all to survive and have a chance at a better life.
I Learn America is a feature-length documentary set in International High School at Lafayette, a Brooklyn public high school dedicated to teaching newly arrived immigrant teenagers from more than 50 countries. Co-directors Jean-Michel Dissard and Gitte Peng follow five diverse students over the course of a tumultuous senior year to illuminate the broader issues of how the education system and community groups can work together to embrace students in the USA who are first-generation immigrants. Ultimately, the unique learning environment fostered at International High School at Lafayette provides a blueprint for how other schools and society at large can help to support America’s newest arrivals and provide them a path to realizing their dreams. Filmmaker Jean-Michel Dissard writes:
Today, a quarter of our nation’s children are immigrants or the children of immigrants and nearly one third of our population under the age of 34 fits this demographic. How we fare in welcoming these children will determine the nature of America’s continually emerging identity.
To learn more about New Day’s films on immigration, please click here.
We have officially transformed our suite at the 2015 National Media Market in Albuquerque, New Mexico into a New Day show room!
Come find myself and Alice Bouvrie in Room 324, where we’ve got catalogues, DVDs, and two screening monitors waiting for you. Many of the other booths have Hershey’s Kisses or M&M’s. As New Days Films is not one to follow the beaten path, we decided to step it up a bit and serve our visitors some local fare: chocolate infused red wine (Black Mesa) from a Santa Fe vineyard and fudge laced with pinions. First come, first serve!
In the afternoon we attended Media Mania, a forum where exhibitors briefly present their collection. Kanopy a rising star in the world of streaming service and New Day’s newest partner, spoke first, helping to set the stage for our presentation. I talked about what makes us unique — a group of independent filmmakers who are deeply passionate about our work and equally passionate about reaching our audiences.
Then onward to screening the impressive composite promo clip of the new releases created by Karen Skloss. One man sitting in front of us winced in response to the clip from The Land, a short documentary about an experimental adventure playground where children learn to manage risks such as fire and sharp objects on their own. There were sighs and laughter followed by an enthusiastic applause, making us very proud to represent New Day!
Now the real media market begins. Please feel free to drop by and see us. We’d love to chat with you in person!
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. In hopes of helping victims through their pain and moving forward in the fight to eradicate domestic violence from our world, two New Day filmmakers are making their films available for free streaming the entire month. Kimberly Bautista‘s feature documentary Justice for My Sisteris a feature-length documentary that follows one Guatemalan woman as she pits herself against her country’s notoriously machista justice system in search of answers to her sister’s brutal murder.
Peter Cohn‘s Power and Control: Domestic Violence in America is a powerful and dramatic exploration of family violence in the US. The feature documentary is accompanied by two shorter, more specialized companion pieces: Domestic Violence in Law Enforcement and Domestic Violence and Health Care.
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.
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.
During National Child Awareness Month, we address the growing challenges and needs of children. New Day is proud to host a collection of award-winning films on youth, including our latest acquisitions The Land, a short documentary about an unusual “adventure” playground, Top Spin, a feature documentary about three teenagers coming of age in the competitive world of table tennis, and The Year We Thought About Love, a diverse theater troupe of LGBTQ youth.
Disability Awareness Month
Disability Awareness Month is a time to foster a greater understanding of disability in society, and to dismantle stereotypes and stigma. New Day Films has a wide range of films about disability that offer diverse perspectives challenging ableism and redefining “normal.” New additions to the New Day catalogue, such as E Haku Inoa: To Weave a Name, a filmmaker’s personal exploration of mental illness in her family, and Making Noise in Silence, a short documentary about Deaf immigrant teens, expand the dominant narrative of disability.
As we celebrate Disability Awareness Month this October, we recognize the many gains the Disability Rights movement has made over the past four decades. Through grass-roots protests and political campaigns, activists helped put in motion legislation guaranteeing equal access under the law to jobs, schools, transportation, public spaces, housing and attendant care. Later victories included the de-institutionalization of hundreds of thousands of people with disabilities under the Olmsted Decision.
While these gains have improved the quality of life for many, the Disability Rights movement has left a number of “cliffhangers,” as Patty Berne, a leader in the Disability Justice movement, puts it. The focus on single-issue rights and highlighting of wheelchairs as the primary symbol of disability have unintentionally left many behind. By ignoring the influence of race, class, gender, and sexuality on disability, we overlook the complexity and needs of the broader disability community. Similarly, the exclusive focus on mobility impairments has meant that bridges have not always been built with members of our extended communities—such as people with mental health disabilities, or who experience chronic pain, or who are blind or Deaf. In response to these needs, the Disability Justice movement has arisen with people of color at the forefront, articulating a new framework that is intersectional and interdependent.
Sins Invalid: An Unshamed Claim to Beauty documents a Bay Area performance project that highlights artists with disabilities who are queer, gender non-conforming, and people of color, and who create work around themes of disability, sexuality, and social justice. Director Patty Berne, poet Leroy Moore, and a dozen other artists share their intimate and beautiful process and work, offering an entryway into the absurdly taboo topic of sexuality and disability.
When filmmaker Christen Marquez was born, her mother, a kumu hula (master hula practitioner), gave her a Hawaiian name that was over sixty letters. Eight years later, her mother was diagnosed with schizophrenia and Christen and her siblings were taken away from her. E Haku Inoa: To Weave a Nametells of Christen’s return to Hawaii, and is an elegant depiction of how the act of sharing indigenous knowledge can play a healing role in restoring otherwise estranged relationships. Marquez reflects, ”There is a stigma of sickness that is imported into indigenous communities and although there are many health problems that exist in indigenous communities, I wonder if some diagnoses aren’t a fulfillment of an expectation.Many people don’t need a diagnosis; they just need someone to help them heal.”
Director/producer Mina Son explores the richness and complexities of Deaf culture in Making Noise in Silence, through the perspective of two Korean high school students who attend the California School for the Deaf, Fremont. Born and raised in South Korea, Jeongin Mun and Min Wook Cho have strong ties to their Korean heritage and learned Korean as their first language. However, what separates Jeongin and Min Wook from most children of immigrant families is that they are also deaf. Filmmaker Mina Son shares: “Deaf immigrants face many of the same challenges people with multiple identities face. Navigating multiple languages, cultures, and histories can be overwhelming, especially for a young person who is still trying to understand who they are and where they belong.”
Mind/Game: The Unquiet Journey of Chamique Holdsclaw, by Academy Award-nominated director Rick Goldsmith, is the portrait of a Black woman with a mental illness. Chamique Holdsclaw is a 3-time NCAA champ and No.1 draft pick in the WNBA from Astoria, Queens– sometimes called “the female Michael Jordan.” With the help of narrator Glenn Close, Mind/Game intimately chronicles her athletic accomplishments, personal setbacks, and her decision—despite public stigma— to become an outspoken mental health advocate.
Dan Lohaus’ powerful film,When I Came Home, follows the struggles of Herold Noel, an African-American Iraq war veteran who becomes homeless in New York City after returning from combat with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Focusing on Herold’s struggle with the Veterans Administration and city agencies to find the help he needs, When I Came Home reveals a failing system and exposes the “second war” that many veterans must fight after they return home from war.
These films reveal the multiple layers of struggle that disabled people of color must navigate every day, with insight into the human drive toward beauty, empowerment and connection. What is it like to learn American Sign Language as a new immigrant to the US? What are the cultural misunderstandings between the western medical model and indigenous ways of knowing? What does radical embodiment at the intersection of multiple identities look and feel like? How do people heal from the devastation of war when they come home to find a culture that doesn’t include them? New Day hopes these films will illuminate the perspectives of those who have typically been at the margins of the Disability Rights movement, whose daily existence is the embodiment of intersectional activism.
To see our whole collection of disability films, click here.
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.