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.
In December 2015, I had the rare opportunity to screen my film There Once Was an Island at the Paris climate talks and it got me thinking about the role films can play at environmental conferences and festivals. As international delegates work around the clock to secure a new climate deal and activists lobby furiously on the streets, it’s easy to lose sight of those smaller voices; the communities and individuals who are the first victims of climate change but often the last to be heard. Films can be a powerful and effective way to keep our priorities in focus, and to remember what is actually at stake.
There Once Was an Island was one of two documentaries invited to screen at the COP21 Climate Change Summit as part of an exhibition entitled “Entwined Destinies: Migration, Environment and Climate Change.” The feature documentary tells the story of three Pacific islanders living on an atoll only one meter above sea level and who face the threat of becoming some of the world’s first environmental refugees. Following its screening, a panel of four experts discussed issues related to migration and climate change. Event organizer Daria Mokhnacheva remarked,“The audience was very moved by the message that the film conveyed. The screening also led to a very interesting discussion about how climate change is perceived by local communities, and how we can all act individually to help mitigate climate change.” As a filmmaker who wants to have the greatest impact possible and inspire social change, I can’t think of a better place to screen my film. I also know that for my characters it will mean a great deal to learn that their story is being shared among powerful government officials who have the ability to change the course of their future.
Other New Day films have also been having a powerful impact at environmental conferences around the world. Greta Schiller’s film, The Marion Lake Story: Defeating the Mighty Phragmitescreened at the Justainabilty conference atFranklin Roosevelt University in Lugana, Switzerland. The documentaryexplores one of the largest citizen-led battles to eradicate the highly invasive phragmite reed in New York State. The film’s screening at the conference sparked a discussion among delegates over local conservation efforts in Switzerland versus government policy, and many questions were asked about how the workers involved in the clean up of the lake were being paid. Reflecting on the screening, Schiller writes:
Screenings in academic conferences are important because too often the academics who see my film understand the theoretical principles of biodiversity but have little idea of what cleaning up invasive weeds entails and how much maintenance is involved.
Schiller’s ability to show a more holistic picture of this issue impressed one German professor so much that he invited her to apply for a prestigious fellowship at the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society in Munich and now, as a Carson Center Fellow, Schiller is furthering her conservation work through the production of a new documentary called Earth Repair which explores three distinct ecological restoration projects in Europe, India and Australia.
One of New Day’s most recent releasesWhite Earth, an Oscar-nominated film about the oil boom in North Dakota, is currently gaining significant attention at environmental festivals. In the past few months, director Christian Jensenhas screened the short documentary at three notable environmental film festivals: The Great Lakes Environmental Film Festival, The American Conservation Film Festival, and Telluride Mountain Film Festival. In an email conversation with Jensen, we discussed the ways in which festivals– much like academic and political conferences– allow filmmakers to engage with audiences in a deeper, more proactive way. Jensen noted that the current plunge in oil prices has made his film a jumping point for further conversations on what has happened in North Dakota now that fracking operations have become unprofitable. He also added that while many of his audience members were already involved in activism and familiar with issues of land development and resource management, his film offered them an alternative point of view:
In focusing primarily on the perspective of children living in the oil boom, White Earth has encouraged audiences to shift from the major dialogues about big oil, oil worker safety, and industrial environmental degradation, to the often overlooked inner landscapes of the children whose lives and communities are undergoing dramatic change.
Now that the Paris climate talks have wrapped up and governmental officials have gone home, it seems that world leaders are finally embracing the fact that climate change is a very real global issue that affects all of us. After personally witnessing the power film has to connect audiences and inspire change, I am so grateful that there are so many New Day films leaving a lasting impact across the globe.
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.
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 email@example.com.
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.