My film E Haku Inoa: To Weave A Name is the personal story of how I reconnected with my estranged mother while trying to learn the meaning of my incredibly long Hawaiian middle name. By spending time with my mother I began to question the diagnosis of schizophrenia she was given – a diagnosis that contributed to our separation.
As a filmmaker working behind the camera who also appeared on-screen with my Mom, I learned how intimate the collaboration between filmmaker and documentary subject can be. It takes a great deal of care and time to develop that trust, but respecting your subjects is one of the most important parts of a documentarian’s work. Making my film, I learned so much about the importance of culturally-specific approaches to mental health, but in the end it really comes down to having as much respect and understanding as possible for those around you.
I have received many great responses from people who have seen the film. One mental health care provider on Oʻahu said she had seen some new clients come in because the film helped them get past the stigma.
New Day filmmakers are joining colleagues across the country urging educators, librarians and organizers to tell PBS why they need independent social issue films.
PBS, recently accused of lessening their commitment to independent film, is now holding a “National Listening Tour,” soliciting input on the place of indie film on public television.
The tour’s first stop was in San Francisco on January 17, where about 200 filmmakers, educators, organizers and documentary lovers let PBS know they are upset about the recent attempt by New York’s WNET to push POV and Independent Lens — the two indie documentary shows — onto WLIW, its smaller, secondary station. The shows would also continue on WNET, but in a late-night time slot.
After filmmakers protested the decision, WNET postponed it, and organized the Listening Tour. While PBS officials repeatedly told the audience they support independent film, many of the filmmakers were skeptical. They insisted that losing support from WNET — public television’s flagship station — would make it increasingly impossible for them to make films. Furthermore, they suggested that by going along with WNET’s plan, PBS tacitly supported it.
At the January 23 New York stop on the listening tour, New Day Films member Tami Gold told PBS officials:
What is at stake by PBS decreasing its commitment to independent documentary films is the loss of one of the last remaining outlets for alternative views and independent thinking on American television. Primetime programs like POV and Independent Lens are more important now than ever. Most documentaries bring to light widespread injustices, their human consequences and underlying causes. They tell stories that are all too often hidden among the thousands of vacuous TV stations and programs.
Many filmmakers are calling on PBS to require primetime “common carriage” for Independent Lens and POV — meaning that major stations in each market would have to run the shows at the same time. They argue that only common carriage can attract national media — and a national audience — to a film.
In San Francisco, New Day Films member Susan Stern said, “What we’ve been hearing from our members and other documentary makers is that common carriage in prime time is the baseline. We need that. We want to work with you, because we think the audience is there. We think that’s what people want.”
Gold also made the point that while PBS is expanding its offerings on digital platforms, millions of people can’t access their programming that way. “Some of the people in our documentary Every Mother’s Son wanted to join us today to talk about what it has meant to have their stories broadcast on national primetime PBS, but they couldn’t rsvp for this very meeting because they don’t have internet acccess,” she said.
While the exchange between filmmakers and PBS was pointed, some of the most poignant testimony came from people who use independent film. In San Francisco Esta Soler, founder of Futures Without Violence, one of the world’s leading violence prevention agencies, said at-risk youth are inspired when they see films about incarcerated low-income people of color who turn their lives around. “If you want to see students engaged — put on a documentary,” Soler said.
Chris Armes, a young public health student, agreed. Armes suffered a childhood disability that rendered him mute, and isolated in front of the TV. He said he was saved by documentaries. “Don’t take away the voice of the voiceless,” Armes said.
The next listening tour will be in Chicago in March (date TBD). To attend or contact PBS on behalf of independent film, go to the website to preserve indie film on PBS: http://www.indiecaucus.org/
400 copies of Bag It, Suzan Beraza’s film about the impact of plastic on our environment, were given away to schools throughout the U.S. and abroad. The effort was funded by Patagonia and the Johnson O’Hana Charitable Foundation.
Luis Argueta personally handed Pope Francis a copy of his film abUSed: The PostVille Raid, which highlights the devastating effects of US immigration enforcement policies on children, families and communities. Read the full story here.
Debra Chasnoff presented Straightlaced – How Gender’s Got Us All Tied Up to a standing-room-only audience at Shantou University in southern China. Hundreds of students came to the first ever public lecture and screening on that campus to focus on gender and queer sexuality issues. Afterwards students shared their own concerns, fears, and questions: “I am the only girl to go to the gym to lift weights and everyone makes fun of me”; “Aren’t gay people the reason there is a population decline in the west?”; and, “I think I might be lesbian. How do you know if you are a lesbian?”
The University of North Carolina in Charlotte used Lisa Gossels’ film My So-Called Enemy to bring together students from Hillel, the Muslim Students Association and Students for Justice in Palestine. The night after the screening, the Multicultural Resource Center organized a “Civil Discourse” dinner where student leaders from these groups (and others!) bonded and made a commitment to work together.
At Parsons School of Design, a student told My Brooklyn director Kelly Anderson that seeing her film about gentrification and redevelopment in Downtown Brooklyn made him drop his career and go to graduate school in Urban Ecology.
44 years after it was made, Anything You Want To Be opened the first major conference on the early history of the Women’s Movement (Boston University’s “A Revolutionary Moment: Women’s Liberation in the Late 1960s and Early 1970s”). One participant who saw the film in the 1970s told director Liane Brandon, “That was the film that made me a feminist!”
Andrea Leland‘s film Yurumeinscreened for Garifuna audiences in Belize. The Garifuna (Black Caribs) are the indigenous people of St. Vincent in the Caribbean, who were nearly exterminated and most were exiled to Central America by the British 200 years ago. The screenings sparked a desire in Central American Garifuna to reach out to their brethren in St. Vincent, in an effort to re-establish their culture and history, lost to those living on St. Vincent.
Clips from Alice Elliott’s documentary Body & Soul: Diana & Kathy appear in a new training video, ACTIVATE HERE!, designed to help disabled people advocate for themselves (funded by The Fledgling Fund and the Arc of the United States and available free online with closed captioning and audio description).
The 2015 theme for Women’s History Month this March is “Weaving the Stories of Women’s Lives.” Visit New Day’s collection of films that present the individual and collective stories of women, and reflect on their importance in our society.
National Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month
This commemorative month, in its 27th year this March, calls on us to recognize the mixed-ability world in which we live, and the unique contributions, needs, and desires of every person. What does it mean for us to live in a world where people of all different abilities are supported and recognized? Explore New Day’s collection of excellent films on disability-related topics.
National Criminal Justice Month
March is Criminal Justice Month, established to promote societal awareness regarding the causes and consequences of crime, as well as strategies for preventing and responding to crime. New Day films on Law and Criminal Justice are the perfect vehicle for education and discussion about policing, the criminal justice system, and efforts to achieve justice through international and domestic courts.
Based in Oakland, California, I’ve been working on social and economic justice issues for over twenty years through documentary film, union organizing, community forums, directing teen theater and grassroots activism.
Fixed: The Science/Fiction of Human Enhancement broadens the bioethical debates around emerging enhancement technologies from brain-machine interfaces to bionics to prenatal screening, and in doing so, stretches our understanding of disability. Who or what exactly needs to be “fixed,” people’s bodies and minds or our society which stigmatizes and prevents full inclusion of disabled people? Who is excluded by these new technologies which promise to give us super-abilities and perfect babies? Who benefits?
As a person with a hidden disability, I wanted to make a film that centers people with disabilities as the experts, as the active agents in this debate, to counter the common narrative of disabled people as passive, helpless and in need of fixing. Fixed strives to represent a range of opinions within and without the disability community. As a filmmaker, this project challenged me in representing tough social questions that don’t fit neatly into good/bad, black/white frameworks, but instead into many shades of gray. This is a film that is about raising better questions and sparking dialogue between communities that don’t often interact. How can we bring a social justice analysis into the fields of science and technology innovation?
Elise Vidal from Thomas Branigan Memorial Library in Las Cruces, New Mexico won the drawing of a free title from New Day at the National Media Market in Charleston in November. She selected Susan Stern‘s film, The Self-Made Man. The poignant documentary explores the “right-to-die” issue through the story of the filmmaker’s father. Congrats to Elise, and congrats to Susan!
I gravitate towards making films in different languages and cultures, which poses numerous challenges but ultimately is an incredibly fulfilling experience, which is probably why I keep making them.
My documentary Making Noise in Silence is about Korean and Deaf culture from the perspective of two teens. Growing up as a Korean American, I definitely struggled with my ethnic and cultural identity. When you’re young, it’s harder to see that being different can be a good thing and instead, you just focus on how different you are from your friends and wish to be more like everyone else. So I naturally became curious about these two teenagers and their experiences being Korean American, as well as being Deaf.
When I first started making this film, I didn’t realize the unique challenges I would face in communicating with my subjects. Over email, sometimes we’d write in Korean or English. Then in person, we communicated in American Sign Language through an interpreter or wrote words on a piece of paper. When I was filming, I didn’t have simultaneous interpreting, so if there was a conversation happening, the interpreter wouldn’t fill me in until I stopped rolling because I didn’t want her voice in the film. On a few occasions, I filmed without knowing exactly what was happening and had to rely on my instincts. Because of these circumstances, I tried to be even more aware of how my subjects were feeling and tried to check in often to make sure they were comfortable with the filming process.
This commemorative day was established by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States as a way to encourage people to “talk to and listen to people from faiths different than their own and to understand the basic tenants of other religions.” New Day has an extensive collection of films about Religion, Theology and Ethics to help in this endeavor.
February is Black History Month
Pay tribute to the generations of African Americans who struggled with adversity to achieve full citizenship in American society. Check out New Day’s collections of films about African Americans and the African diaspora before planning your events for 2015.
New Day is proud to announce that Granito, by Pamela Yates, Paco de Onis and Peter Kinoy, has received a 2014 BRITDOC Impact Award. Granito tells the extraordinary story of how the filmmakers’ 1982 film When The Mountains Tremble aided a new generation of human rights activists and helped tip the scales of justice in Guatemala. Ultimately, dictator General Efraín Ríos Montt was pronounced guilty of committing genocide and crimes against humanity against the Maya Ixil people, and sentenced to 80 years in prison.
“Granito serves as a vital reminder that courageous documentary filmmakers can profoundly impact the cause of justice in the world,” said Jury Member Amy Goodman, who is also the Host & Executive Producer of Democracy Now!. “This film helped the Maya people of Guatemala hold the perpetrators of their genocide accountable. It poignantly portrays their suffering, their resistance and their hope for the future.”
The BRITDOC Impact Award celebrates “the documentary films that have made the greatest impact on society.” Granito shares the award with American Promise, Blackfish, The House I Live In and No Fire Zone. Each film receives $15,000 to reward their commitment, passion and achievements in using storytelling to provoke change.
Since 2005, BRITDOC has been developing expertise around impact and evaluation in documentary film. The organization’s Impact Field Guide & Toolkit is a new free online curriculum designed to help those who are working with film improve their impact. For more information about BRITDOC’s impact reports and educational tools visit britdoc.org.
Through the American Film Showcase, New Day members are finding new audiences in countries as varied as the Dominican Republic, South Korea, Uzbekistan and Zimbabwe. In the process, they are introducing filmmakers to the documentary genre and expanding understanding of the vital role independent media can have in social change.
Suzan Beraza, whose New Day film Uranium Drive-In was included in the AFS, just returned from a ten-day stay in the Dominican Republic. Beraza’s favorite part of the experience, aside from the screenings themselves, were the one-on-one workshops. “You could see the wheels turning,” she related. “Making films is a powerful way of telling and keeping stories alive, and it was so exciting to watch the students start to understand this and to look at filmmaking in a very different way.”
Alice Elliott was one of the first New Day members to join the Showcase under its predecessor program, the American Documentary Showcase. She traveled to Uzbekistan, where she spent ten days showing her film Body & Soul: Diana & Kathy and participating in workshops for people with disabilities. It was the first time that the U.S. Embassy in Uzbekistan had hosted an audience of people in wheelchairs.
Modeling a critical concept that is central to the disability rights movement in the United States — “Nothing about us without us” – Elliott included Diana, a main character in her film, in the journey. Showing that people with disabilities can travel and be out in the world stands out in a country like Uzbekistan, where this is far from the usual practice. Alice took note of the many barriers to mobility for disabled individuals in Uzbekistan and came home with a fuller awareness of the rights we have fought to attain in this country.
Deaf Jam, a film by Judy Lieff, was shown in South Korea, Turkey, and Zimbabwe. The venues, approaches, and audiences were radically different in each country.
In South Korea, Judy met with deaf students to screen her film and talk about disability rights. South Korea is a country where disabled people are largely shunned (see Mina Son’s excellent documentary Making Noise in Silence for more on this topic), so it was particularly important to empower this group of students to talk openly about cultural practices and to encourage them to find their individual and collective voices through poetry. Leiff also helped educate independent filmmakers and activists in South Korea about disability rights in the United States, and about how to effectively organize communities of people with disabilities. She also met with broadcast producers to help them understand why it is paramount to include and embrace a diverse audience.
With a backdrop of protests taking place in Turkey, Judy’s participation in the Showcase there was poignant. The U.S. Embassy reached out to schools it had never worked with before because of Judy’s film and her involvement with deaf communities. In Turkey, there is no standardized sign language and, as in South Korea, people with disabilities are often an invisible part of society. In addition, educational distribution for documentaries has not been fully explored, so Leiff met with university students and independent filmmakers, festival organizers, and local producers to discuss New Day’s cooperative structure.
Zimbabwe presented unexpected challenges as well. There, there are no broadcast outlets for filmmakers and no distribution opportunities, so the time there was spent exclusively with independent filmmakers. Leiff offered advice and resources, feedback on rough cuts, information about New Day’s unique model, and encouragement to work together to enhance their power and visibility as agents for disseminating ideas and information, and effecting change.
Judy came away from her participation in the AFS with a clear and potent realization of the intrinsic value of our films as educational tools in a variety of global contexts. “New Day members are real teachers, whether they hold an academic post or not, and it is the educational value of both our films and us as filmmakers that makes this international connection so valuable,” she recounted.
The Showcase focuses on topics that include civil rights, disabilities, social justice, sports, freedom of the press, technology, and the environment—subjects that are the DNA of our cooperative. The organization recognizes the educational value of our films on an international level and the capacity of New Day filmmakers to serve as grassroots educators in areas where films and filmmakers are not part of the mainstream. It is a great fit for New Day Films, and increasingly our members are partnering with this organization to further our mission of reaching diverse audiences with our pressing messages, and collaborating with and teaching other filmmakers in different countries. It offers us, as filmmakers, an opportunity to be international emissaries for our respective causes and issues, and it shows our ability, as a collective, to be a far-reaching force for positive social change.