Tag Archives: Jonathan Skurnik

New Day Filmmakers Reach Beyond the Screen

by Briar March 

Have you ever reached the end of a riveting documentary and wished you could meet the filmmaker behind it? Just how did they manage to capture those spectacular locations and obtain such intimate access to their characters? Perhaps you’ve been so moved by the story that you are desperate to know what you can do in your own community to make a difference, or help spread awareness. This month I spoke with several New Day filmmakers who have traveled extensively with their films, interacting with diverse audiences and facilitating events to effect change beyond the screen.

Since the release of The Year We Thought About Love, New Day filmmaker Ellen Brodsky has presented her documentary about a LGBTQ youth theater troupe at a variety of conferences, high schools, and universities. The film has elicited a flood of emotional responses from audience members. One of the most memorable moments, Brodsky recalls, was when an African-American female student sitting with her girlfriend approached her and said, “Thank you. I have never seen two Black women kiss on screen, that means a lot to me.”

Whenever possible, Brodsky brings the youth featured in her documentary to answer questions and spark conversations with the audience. At a conference for therapists and counselors, Brodsky recalls an older woman asking Trae Weekes and Niccole Williams, two gay African American women featured in her film, for advice on how to talk to her son who had just come out. Another delegate confessed that she regretted acting poorly when her daughter came out many years before. The youth spent a considerable amount of time consoling the woman, and told her that she still had time to repair their relationship.

Film participants Trae Weekes and Niccole William answer questions at the national conference for American Association of Sexuality Counselors, Educators, and Therapists (AASECT).

“There is the expected and the unexpected,” reflects Brodsky. “We hear from allies grateful for the perspectives shared in the film, but then we also hear the comments and questions nearly whispered out of great relief or fear. There’s energy exchanged with live question and answers. We all receive and give energy and it is so very much appreciated.”

Jean-Michel Dissard

For New Day member Jean-Michel Dissard, his documentary I Learn America is the starting point for a much larger conversation around the issues in his film. Set in a public high school in Brooklyn, I Learn America follows the experience of five teenagers who have recently immigrated to the United States as they strive to master English and adapt to a profoundly different way of life. When browsing through the  I Learn America  website  it’s truly impressive to see the range of places both the film and the filmmaker have been; screening events have been set up inside advocacy groups, cultural organizations, universities, throughout entire high school districts in Florida, Boston, and New York City, schools in Guatemala and France, and even at the US Department of Education. But perhaps what is most interesting about Dissard’s approach to these screenings is the way he has designed specific workshops and projects to help students engage with his documentary.

In particular is the work Dissard has been doing with the organization KIND (Kids in Need of Defense). Together they have created an initiative called Story Labs, a resource for educators which is designed to run alongside screenings of Dissard’s film. “The project creates a space and time in which teachers and their students explore the immigration narrative,” writes Dissard. “It is also a creative space for youth to produce (write, paint, photograph, film) their own personal narratives and to turn their experience into an advocacy tool for them to use.”

High schoolers engage in the Story Lab project following a screening of I Learn America

Work produced by students in the Story Lab project is showcased and archived on an interactive portal which can be accessed through the  I Learn America website  creating another rich and moving resource that audiences can engage with. Buoyed by the success of the project, Dissard hopes to develop it into something more long-term, encouraging schools to repeat the workshops on an annual basis and using the art and stories produced by students to engage the next round of incoming students. He adds, “Their voices once shared can turn their school into a community that recognizes them as assets, not issues.”

Jonathan Skurnik

It seems that almost by default filmmakers who present their work have taken on the role of an advocate or activist, directly facilitating opportunities for social change. This is certainly the case for New Day member Jonathan Skurnik, whose Youth and Gender Media Project is comprised of four short films about transgender youth: Becoming Johanna, Creating Gender Inclusive Schools, I’m Just Anneke, and The Family Journey: Raising Gender Nonconforming Children. As a result of screening his documentaries, Skurnik was recently invited to present a TED style talk on the way storytelling can be used as a form of activism. He explains:

I struggled for a while comparing myself with professionals who just present on the topic of inclusion for trans youth, until I realized that I am offering something different from a 2 hour powerpoint; I show a powerful film that makes people cry and feel things in their hearts that no presentation can do, and then audiences love interacting with me as the storyteller.

After screening Becoming Johanna, a short film about a transgender Latina, at schools and universities, Skurnik invited professionals and agencies in the local community to speak on panels about their services and the ways they can assist trans youth. The panels provided an opportunity for many of the participants to meet each other in person for the first time, and led to fruitful conversations and the possibility of future collaborations. Skurnik explains, “After they have seen the film, they get to talk to all the other agencies about how they can do a better job,  not just talking about what they can do alone, but how they can work inter-agency.”

The opportunities that can come out of screening films with filmmakers and their participants are endless, and can have a greater impact than screening the film alone. With the potential of the internet to broadcast filmmakers into classrooms from far distances, “talkback” screenings are becoming more feasible and popular. As audiences increasingly turn to places like Netflix to get their content, screenings like these provide a more authentic and direct experience, similar to watching your favorite band play live or going to a play. There is something about the exchange that happens between the audience and the presenters that allows the film to have a larger conversation inside a community or classroom, and create a more affecting experience. At New Day we encourage you to consider making use of the rich resources of filmmakers we have at hand, and to work with them to curate your own screening event.

Tips on setting up a screening:

  1. Get a head start

To create an interactive and engaging screening, start planning early. Explore the possibility of creating supplementary learning exercises, or seek out experts to sit on a post-screening panel. Filmmakers, if given advance notice, can also help to publicize the event and make arrangements for themselves or the documentary participants to attend.

  1. Include filmmakers in the planning

New Day filmmakers are more than happy to collaborate with instructors on designing film-related assignments or recommending activities for community engagement. Don’t forget to check for downloadable materials on each film’s New Day page, or on the film’s personal website.

  1. Screenings can work across departments throughout the community

Consider collaborating with other departments at your university to bring a filmmaker to your campus, or working with different organizations to hold a community screening. You’ll raise the profile of the event, draw larger crowds, and foster interdisciplinary conversations.

  1. Make use of Skype

Skype and other video calling applications can offer an effective and more affordable way of engaging with filmmakers and their film participants. Many filmmakers recommend scheduling a dialogue either right after a screening, or within a day or two.

  1. What to budget for?

You can contact individual filmmakers through their New Day pages to request speaking quotes. The cost will vary depending on their geographical location and the nature of the event. If budget is a concern, don’t be daunted. New Day filmmakers are passionate about reaching audiences and effecting change, and will work with you to find solutions to make the screening a reality!

10 Ways New Day Films Changed People’s Lives in 2016

by Alicia Dwyer

  1. Kristy Guevara-Flanagan’s Wonder Women! screened in Mumbai,
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    New York youth watch Wonder Women! and workshop the superheroines in their own lives

    India, in partnership with PBS’s Women and Girls Lead Global to engage men and boys as champions for gender equality. Using a film-based gender sensitization curriculum, the ‘Hero Academy’ engaged young men in the mission to make communities and homes safer for women and girls across India.

  2. Shalini Kantayya’s Catching the Sun was named a 2016 New York Times Critics’ Pick and won Best Feature at the San Francisco Green Film Festival. It is the part of the American Film Showcase to be screened at U.S. embassies and diplomatic missions around the word. Actor Mark Ruffalo called it “a must-see film. An eye-opening look at workers and entrepreneurs on the forefront of the clean energy movement that will transform, and enliven the way you see the future. What is clear is the wonderful opportunity the transition to clean energy represents.”                                                                                                                                       
  3. This year, public school districts in Florida, New Jersey, Missouri, New York, Maryland, and Virginia, as well as France and Guatemala, connected the stories of the five young new Americans in I Learn America to their students and community. With director Jean-Michel Dissard, they worked to trigger “homegrown” in-school events to amplify the voices of immigrant youth in our schools and to increase empathy and welcoming for young immigrants through personal storytelling/exchange of shared experiences.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            
  4. Emily Abt’s Daddy Don’t Go is on a winning streak, recently
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    Emily Abt takes questions after a Daddy Don’t Go community screening

    nabbing Best Documentary Awards from UrbanWorld, ABFF and eight other film festivals. The film also has been connecting with audiences through outreach screenings. At the Osborne Association, one of the participants shared, “I see myself in all these men and it inspired me to really step up for my son. I think every father, and every parent, should see this film because it moved me to tears.”

  5. Filmmaker Alice Elliott was invited to the Orange County, North Carolina Human Rights celebration to show her film, The Collector of Bedford Street. Over two days she screened the film and then met with educators, designers and advocates to envision what it would take to make the Raleigh-Durham area the most accessible place in the United States to people with disabilities. The first step in the action plan was incorporating a curriculum on disability rights into the grade schools.                                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  6. At the International Documentary Association’s recent Getting Real Conference, Ann Kaneko was approached by a visiting filmmaker from Perú, who described her admiration for Against the Grain: An Artist’s Survival Guide to Perú. She said that she often refers to the film and that it continues to impact the country–it is an important reference for Peruvians about their history.                                          
  7. California’s Glendale Unified School District bought more than
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    Skurnik’s Youth & Gender Media Project screens at California’s Glendale Unified School District

    25 DVDs of Jonathan Skurnik’s Youth & Gender Media Project series on trans youth inclusion to train their entire school district on how to create inclusive schools for trans and gender nonconforming students. They also brought in the filmmaker to screen the films for district personnel to launch the initiative.

  8. Following a standing-room only public screening at the University of Hawai‘i of Marlene Booth‘s Pidgin: The Voice of Hawai‘i, an audience member was moved to speak about his experience growing up speaking Pidgin English in Hawai‘i. Though he was taught to be ashamed of his mother tongue, he told the filmmakers, “Your film gave our language respect.”                                                                                                                                                                               
  9. After Nine to Ninety, a short film about producer Juli Vizza‘s
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    Over 100 people participated in an interactive screening of Nine To Ninety, posing questions to the family in the film

    grandmother Phyllis, premiered on PBS this year, AARP declared, “An 89-year-old starlet is born!” Juli and director Alicia Dwyer and worked with partners to host about 90 community and educational screenings around the country. While the story of fierce Phyllis and the tough decisions faced by a family struggling to care for older loved ones hit home for many viewers, 75% of respondents to post-screening surveys said they were more optimistic about discussing their wishes for end-of-life care. As one woman wrote, “It’s something that has to be talked about. I’ll be sharing this screening with my family tonight for sure!”

  10. Directly after the passage of North Carolina’s anti-transgender bathroom bill, Out Run had its World Premiere at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival in Durham, NC. Filmmakers S. Leo Chiang and Johnny Symons used the screening to educate the crowd about the injustices of the new law and mobilize the audience to take action against it through social media. Out Run continues to screen at film festivals around the world, inspiring viewers to join the fight for LGBTQ rights and representation in international politics.

Putting the “T” in LGBT

By Greta Schiller

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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.