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.
My film White Earth is a look at a North Dakota oil boom as experienced by people on the fringes of society – in this case, three children and an immigrant mother. It hits on several topics related to the issue of domestic oil production, but at the end of the day it’s about people trying to navigate economic and industrial forces much bigger than they are. And it’s also about my favorite documentary cliché: The American Dream.
The idea for the film was born when I witnessed a huge exodus of people from my hometown in Southern Utah to North Dakota to find work. White Earth is also an ode to misfits. I’ve always felt a special connection with outsiders and misfits – probably because I am one myself. I wanted to look at this major story—a topic of great national debate—and throw out all the authoritative voices that you would expect to hear from in a film about oil work. No oil companies. No activists. No academics. No oil workers.
As a cinematographer I rely on those almost Zen-like moments where after wandering around with my camera for hours on end, I come across an image that elevates the story to places where words are insufficient. The flaming oil fields of a North Dakota winter were a cinematographer’s dream and I’m so glad my production schedule allowed me to just drive around over several nights waiting for serendipity to intervene and place the perfect light or image in my path.
On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina flooded New Orleans and led to one of America’s largest humanitarian crises. Katrina’s aftermath exposed shocking truths about America: our woeful unpreparedness in the face of environmental devastation, and the continuing unjust treatment of African-American communities. As the 10th anniversary approaches, we turn our attention to commemorating the rebuilding of New Orleans in the face of extreme tragedy. New Day is proud to offer three films– including one new title– that offer special insight into the resilience of New Orleans and its people, as well as larger lessons about rebuilding communities in the face of devastation.
The newest addition to New Day’s collection,Faubourg Treme: The Untold History of Black New Orleans, is the fascinating story of America’s oldest African-American neighborhood, Faubourg Treme—where jazz and our country’s first civil rights movement were born. Years before Hurricane Katrina hit, two New Orleans natives, white filmmaker Dawn Logsdon and black writer Lolis Eric Elie, began a unique collaboration documenting the rich culture of Faubourg Treme, then a little known neighborhood overshadowed by the adjacent French Quarter. Their tapes miraculously survived the flooding that devastated the city. Now, ten years later, the award-winning film brings alive Treme’s hidden history and situates it within three centuries of African-American struggle—from slavery to Reconstruction and the Jim Crow laws, to the Civil Rights Movement, to the recent tragedy of Hurricane Katrina and the ongoing struggle for equal justice in communities of color.
While Faubourg Treme turns to history to understand the present, Luisa Dantas and Rebecca Snedeker’s film Land of Opportunityimmerses itself in the tumultuous reconstruction of New Orleans through the eyes of those working on the frontlines. Even before its release, local and national community organizations were using the film to educate their constituents about the pressing issues occurring on the ground in Katrina’s aftermath, including the fight for affordable housing and the equitable rebuilding of neighborhoods. Since its release in 2011, the film has helped to stir and steer important conversations around post-crisis community building, including issues of housing, urban planning and the environment, and civic engagement. Dantas explains:
The tagline of our film is ‘Happening to a city near you.’ As communities around the world grapple with the effects of natural and man-made disasters, the lessons of New Orleans have never been more relevant. Land of Opportunity has helped foster dialogue and action around a vital question: What kinds of cities do we want to (re)build in the 21st century?
In addition to the film, Dantas has built an interactive video player (beta.landofopportunityinteractive.com) featuring stories from six US cities trying to rebuild their communities in the wake of a crisis.
Finally, Leo Chiang’sA Village Called Versaillesbrings viewers into a little known corner of New Orleans society. The film chronicles the struggles of a Vietnamese-American community in New Orleans as they fight a government-driven toxic landfill proposal and restore their ravaged neighborhood following Hurricane Katrina. The Emmy-nominated documentary presents a unique and thought-provoking perspective on community resiliency, disaster preparedness, urban planning, race & class relations, and the political empowerment of underserved groups. The film’s story is powerful and significant because it shows so vividly how a previously disenfranchised community can find its voice and fight for social and environmental justice. Chiang puts his film in a broader context: “Katrina stories document an important event in our country and are a growing resource for people not only in the United States but also in countries all over the world dealing with the aftermath of natural disasters.”
In these three films, compelling stories are drawn from all walks of life, including musicians, civil rights leaders, public housing residents, urban planners, and immigrants. Filmmaker Rebecca Snedeker reflects on the synergistic nature of the collection:
Paired together, Faubourg Treme, looking mostly to the past, and Land of Opportunity, looking toward the future, reveal a powerful narrative of Black New Orleans that is critical to American History and Urban Studies. A Village Called Versailles, as it foregrounds the Vietnamese-American community, and Land of Opportunity, which follows Brazilian workers and a Cuban-born urban planner, among others, together challenge the traditional Black/white race spectrum so often assumed for New Orleans and the South and give voice to other communities integral to our region.
Watch these films at one of these upcoming events listed below, or purchase a copy for your collection off our website.
Land of Opportunity will screen at the University of New Orleans (August 16), the Gulf Coast for the NAACP’s Sunshine After the Storm Conference (August 25), and Georgetown University’s “Katrina @10 Symposium” in Washington DC (October 23).
A Village Called Versailles will screen at the National Association for Multicultural Education Conference in New Orleans (October 1-4). It will also be part of Georgetown University’s “Katrina @10 Symposium” (October 23).
Faubourg Treme co-directors Lolis Eric Elie and Dawn Logsdon will discuss their film at The Atlantic and Urban Institutes’s “New Orleans: 10 Years Later” event in New Orleans (August 24) and at Georgetown University’s “Katrina @ 10 Symposium” (October 23).
Each year, Americans observe National Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15 to October 15) by celebrating the histories, cultures and contributions of people whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America. New Day has a wide range of award-winning films on Latinos in the US and beyond, including two new titles: Abrazos, a feature documentary about the children of undocumented Guatemalan immigrants visiting their parents’ homeland for the first time, and Life on the Line, a short film about a girl coming of age along the US-Mexico border.