Intersectional and Interdependent: Disability Films that Embody Complexity

Sins Invalid
Sins Invalid

By Nomy Lamm and Regan Brashear

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.

New Day’s catalogue offers a collection of films that expand our understanding of disability. Five films in particular explore the intricate intersection between disability and race:  Sins Invalid, E Haku Inoa: To Weave a Name, Making Noise in Silence, Mind/Game, and When I Came Home.

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.   

E Haku Inoa To Weave A Name square still
E Haku Inoa To Weave A Name

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 Name tells 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.   

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Breaking News

Luis Argueta (photo by Bea Gallardo)
Luis Argueta (photo by Bea Gallardo)

New Day Filmmakers have been busy breaking ground in August! On August 4, our very own Luis Argueta was 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 Raid and ABRAZOS.

David Alvarado
David Alvarado

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.

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Meet New Day: J. Christian Jensen

Christian Jensen (vertical)
Christian Jensen

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.

Learn more about Christian here.

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New Day Films Look Back at New Orleans

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 communitiesAs 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.

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Land of Opportunity

While Faubourg Treme turns to history to understand the present, Luisa Dantas and Rebecca Snedeker’s film Land of Opportunity immerses 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.

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A Village Called Versailles

Finally, Leo Chiang’s A Village Called Versailles brings 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).
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Hispanic Heritage Month

ABRAZOS Square no text
Abrazos
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Life on the Line

 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.

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I Am New Day: Kimberly Reed

KIM REED headshot_color_LowResolution
Kimberly Reed

My film Prodigal Sons is an autobiographical documentary about my first trip back to my Montana home after coming out as transgender. I set out to make the film because I felt a responsibility to introduce viewers to what would likely be the first trans person they would “meet.” Frankly, with so much misunderstanding of trans issues, I knew nobody else could get the story right. I also felt a responsibility to make viewers forget I was trans, because only then could the big “TRANS” label on my forehead disappear and allow viewers to humanize someone they’d always seen as different.

I thought the story of my homecoming would be “the film.” But what happened, especially regarding my relationship to my older adopted brother who suffers from a brain injury and mental illness, was much more interesting! Basically, our film is about family, and the love that can hold a family together despite great challenges.

I’m currently completing Dark Money, a documentary about Citizens United and the political nonprofit groups it enabled. More recently, in addition to my filmmaking, I’ve stretched my aesthetic wings and started working in the world of opera, writing libretti and creating films to replace sets.

To learn more about Kimberly’s work, click here.

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New Day Films for the Summer

F36GvM9UXImmigrant Heritage Month

June is Immigrant Heritage Month! Celebrate our rich diversity as a nation by watching one of New Day’s award-winning films on immigration. 

 

NUR_JusticeJackson-1World Day for International Justice

Every July 17, people around the world host events to promote international criminal justice, especially support for the International Criminal Court. Check out New Day’s robust collection of films on international relations and global issues.

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Putting the “T” in LGBT

By Greta Schiller

PRODIGAL_SONS_PHOTO
Prodigal Sons

“It’s not unusual for me to be the first transgender person someone has known. I’m happy to be in that position, because the best way to dispel misunderstanding and increase empathy for The Other is to simply get to know someone,” says Kimberly Reed, the director of New Day’s Prodigal Sons. “That’s how we’ve made progress in the LGB communities, and now it’s time for the T.”

New Day Films has been at the forefront of distribution of films on Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual topics as they play out at home, in the workplace and in academia. As society expands its look at transgender identities, we at New Day have also been expanding our collection of films with transgender stories from around the world. LGBT Pride month seems a perfect time to profile four films that explore transgender identities.

In Prodigal Sons, filmmaker Kimberly Reed takes us on a personal journey back to her Montana hometown where family histories are revealed in many surprising ways. Kim is an articulate and ardent spokeswoman for trans people. She has appeared in a wide variety of media outlets, from Oprah to The Moth, and recently released this “Day in the Life” video as part of the New York Times web series “Transgender Today.”

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Trinidad

PJ Raval’s Trinidad follows the journeys of three transwomen whose paths cross in the unassuming town of Trinidad, Colorado– “sex change capital of the world.” With a compassionate eye, the film shows us the passion, commitment, and bravery it takes to align one’s external body with one’s internal gender identity. Thanks to Caitlyn Jenner’s recent media debut alongside the popularity of the Emmy award-winning showTransparent as well many notable outspoken figures such as Laverne Cox entering the media, Trinidad has garnered new attention and is currently broadcasting on SHOWTIME.

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Tales of the Waria

In the world’s most populous Muslim country, Indonesia, we find a different take on gender identity. Kathy Huang uses an observational, ethnographic approach to profile the lives of warias, or transgender women, in her award-winning PBS film Tales of The Waria. Unlike the characters in Raval’s Trinidad, the warias in Huang’s film are not interested in sex reassignment surgeries because of religious reasons. As one waria explains, “We were born as men and must return to God as men.” Perhaps the most striking difference about transgender women in Indonesia is their visibility in daily life. While many Indonesians are still unfamiliar with the term “gay,” they commonly recognize “waria.” One of Indonesia’s biggest celebrities—on a scale comparable to Oprah—is a waria who started off as a young boy in show business and transitioned into her waria identity as a teenager in front of millions of Indonesians.

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No Dumb Questions

Three siblings aged 6, 9 and 11 are the stars of No Dumb Questions – an early entry into the burgeoning field of transgender studies. While the first three feature documentaries are rather serious, director Melissa Regan uses humor to tackle some big questions about identity and gender.  This makes an excellent introduction to the subject for high school students in particular as the family setting is non- threatening and inclusive for younger audiences.

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I’m Just Anneke

Finally, Jonathan Skurnik’s short films revolve around kids who don’t conform to conventional gender roles. I’m Just Anneke tells the story of a gender fluid twelve-year-old girl who’s taking hormone blockers that delay puberty so she can decide if she wants to be male, female, or somewhere in-between, when she grows up. In The Family Journey: Raising Gender Nonconforming Children, parents and siblings of children in transition relate their experiences. Maria Jose and Pam, for instance, talk about boys who longed to wear dresses, and Jeannine relates the hostile reactions to her son’s going to school in girls’ attire. All of the adults find acceptance of their children’s differences difficult but necessary, with one saying “You have to get over yourself, and get over your own fear.” The Youth & Gender Media Project has recently received grants from The Arcus Foundation and The Fledgling Fund to complete the third and fourth films in the series, Becoming Johanna & Creating Safe Schools and to create curriculum for teachers and administrators to use in the classroom.

You can explore New Day’s full collection of films on LGBTQ issues here.

 

 

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Active Voice Profiles Two New Day Films as Changemakers

Active Voice is a San Francisco based organization that helps filmmakers devise and implement engagement strategies for social issue films. They recently launched a new website to help filmmakers, funders, and social change agents measure the impact of their strategies. The site, howdoweknow.net, presents a set of horticultural metaphors to help categorize the various ways films contribute to change. Two New Day films — Granito and Ask Not — are profiled on the site as “Trellis Films.” According to Active Voice founder Ellen Schneider,

Whether the story of an unlikely hero, an extraordinary leader, or a group of people working together to solve social problems, Trellises provide a hopeful structure whereby challenges can be overcome and solutions — big and small — can be celebrated. Trellises are distinct because they support an ongoing, already established solution to a social or policy problem.

FYmaUhNpGJohnny Symons, the director of Ask Not, an exploration of the history and effects of the US military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) policy, says the production was designed with outreach goals in mind. “The impact I was striving for was very specific,” he says. “We wanted to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and that infused the creative process. The choice of subjects and their narrative storylines, as well as the use of statistics throughout the film, all underscored the need for repeal.”

Symons partnered early on with the Palm Center, a university think tank focusing on military issues, and they collaborated throughout production. “I think the PBS broadcast, and our community screenings at more than 50 venues, definitely contributed to the lifting of DADT,” Symons says. “The evidence for that is that I was invited to the White House ceremony where the act was repealed.”

itunes_granitoThe other film profiled on howdoweknow.net as a “Trellis” is New Day’s Granito: How to Nail a Dictator. This film is about another kind of war crime: the massacre of Mayan peoples in Guatemala during the 1980s. In a stunning milestone for justice in Central America, a Guatemalan court recently charged former dictator Efraín Rios Montt with genocide. Pamela Yates’ 1983 documentary, When the Mountains Tremble, provided key evidence for bringing the indictment. Granito tells the extraordinary story of how a film, aiding a new generation of human rights activists, became a “granito” — a tiny grain of sand — that helped tip the scales of justice. “I’m not sure why Ellen classified us as a Trellis rather than a Trowel or something else,” Producer Paco de Onis says. “It’s fine with us, though, and seems like a good fit – we do work in the long term after all!”

Granito is used across the world to inspire and convince people, including the children of those massacred, that it is possible to seek justice – even after 30 years. The filmmaking team also followed the trial and appeal of General Montt and have created learning modules available online at their website.

These examples are just two of many New Day Films that work – whether as rakes, trowels, wheelbarrows, trellises, or shovels (to use the metaphors offered by howdoweknow.net) – to raise awareness, inspire and create social change. Visit our website and click on a film page’s “Study Resources” section to find out what is available for a particular film. New study guides and additional resources are available for:

  • Sins Invalid, about a performance project that incubates and celebrates artists with disabilities, centralizing artists of color and queer and gender-variant artists
  • Rebels With a Cause, which documents how a ragtag group of disparate citizens banded together to protect and preserve open spaces near urban areas from rampant development
  • TRUST: Second Acts in Young Lives, which follows an 18 year-old Hondureña who, with the help of a troupe of immigrant teenage actors, courageously leaves behind the sexual and cultural violence of her past and creates a bright future for herself
  • The Marion Lake Story: Defeating the Mighty Phragmite, which follows one woman who rallies her skeptical community to undertake the largest citizen led invasive species eradication and habitat restoration project in New York State
  • Choosing Children, the 1984 film that helped start the lesbian baby boom, has just released The Back Story, a 20-minute piece that tells the story of the making of the film, invaluable for anyone interested in the history of LGBT filmmaking and the lesbian parenting movement
  • My Brooklyn, which follows director Kelly Anderson’s journey, as a Brooklyn gentrifier, to understand the forces reshaping her neighborhood

Many other New Day Films have free engagement materials and bonus features available. Explore our website to discover the rich collection of resources available there.

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