Tag Archives: Nicole Opper

An Exciting New Partnership

New Day Films Partners with Visual Communications on Groundbreaking Asian-American Films

by Nicole Opper

Wong Sinsaang

Visual Communications, one of the nation’s premier Asian Pacific American media arts organization, has forged an alliance with New Day Films. This means select titles from their award-winning filmography are now available for streaming license to schools, universities, and individuals. The release of ten classic Visual Communications titles on New Day’s website represent an exciting new chapter in New Day’s ongoing mission to develop and support cinematic voices of multiple ethnicities and generations.

This exciting alliance is underscored by both organizations’ unwavering commitment to social change. The films in the Visual Communications collection are works of art, of great historical importance, and are now under the extraordinary care of New Day Films. The members of New Day are honored to include them in our catalogue.

Founded in 1970 as a film production collective seeking to build a greater consciousness of Asian Pacific history in America, today VC is a full-service media arts center and home to film festivals, workshops, and an array of artists services. Their long history runs parallel with New Day Films, and many MOs have deep ties to this groundbreaking organization

The ten groundbreaking Visual Communications films newly in the New Day Films collection are:

YUKI SHIMODA: ASIAN AMERICAN ACTOR
by John Esaki
A film celebrating the thirty-year acting career of the late Yuki Shimoda – reflecting his achievements as well as career disappointments typical of being a minority actor.

WATARIDORI: BIRDS OF PASSAGE
by Robert A. Nakamura
This important tribute to the Issei (first generation Japanese Americans) integrates the stories of three people who describe a collective history through their personal memories.

KITES AND OTHER TALES
by Alan Ohashi
Kite maker Tom Joe seeks to preserve the craft of kite making as well as the traditional Asian folklore behind it.

TO BE ME: TONY QUON
by Pat Lau and Don Miller
Tony, an active ten-year-old Chinese immigrant, describes adjusting to an American school. Tony describes his first impressions of “strange new classrooms” as the film journeys with him through Los Angeles.

…I TOLD YOU SO
by Alan Kondo
A film that weaves scenes of Japanese American poet and professor Lawson Inada’s life with his writings.

CRUISIN’ J-TOWN
by Duane Kubo
A film celebrating the music and influences of contemporary Asian American culture on Dan Kuramoto, June Okida Kuramoto, and Johnny Mori — three musicians who make up the core of the jazz fusion band Hiroshima.

CITY, CITY
by Duane Kubo
This experimental narrative piece offers an abstract view of a contemporary city and the people who inhabit it.

PIECES OF A DREAM
by Eddie Wong
A lyrical, expressive film history of Asian Pacific Americans on the Sacramento River Delta.

WONG SINSAANG
by Eddie Wong
A lyrical portrait of the filmmaker’s father, a proprietor of a dry-cleaning business in Los Angeles’ Silver Lake neighborhood.

CHINATOWN 2-STEP
by Eddie Wong
Capturing the all-American fervor of parade competition, the film profiles the Los Angeles Chinese Drum and Bugle Corps, an important fixture of the Chinese American community.

For more information on these films and important contributions of Visual Communications, please visit: https://www.newday.com/filmmaker/301

10 Ways New Day Films Changed the World in 2018

1. Visitor’s Day

Following the festival and broadcast premiere of Visitor’s Day, Nicole Opper’s film about an innovative group home for formerly homeless boys in Mexico, there was a private screening held for executives at Volkswagen in Mexico, which subsequently raised one million dollars toward the construction of a home for formerly homeless girls two miles away – the first of its kind in the country. Just like the original IPODERAC (Instituto Poblano de Readaptación) home for boys featured in the film, this new home will provide housing, food, education and counseling for 72 vulnerable youth from all over Mexico. It will open its doors in February 2019 – fifty years after the institute was founded.

2. The Year We Thought About Love

The Year We Thought About Love

The University of North Carolina, Charlotte invited Ellen Brodsky’s film, The Year We Thought About Love, and three of the film’s LGBTQ youth to their annual OUTSPOKEN event in October. There was a moving Q&A afterwards. The discussion covered the importance of safe places and one of the film’s youth said, “Our theater troupe ’True Colors’, was the place we shed the faces we wore throughout the day.” Some people applauded, others shifted in their seats, and some may have even shifted their perceptions.  One student chose to publicly thank them on the film’s Facebook page for bringing this “incredible documentary” to their campus. Brodsky and her team are working to make spaces safer, one screening at a time.

3. In the Executioner’s Shadow

From L to R:  Former chief executioner Jerry Givens with filmmakers Maggie Burnette Stogner and Rick Stack at the International Social Change “ChangeFest” Festival in Los Angeles, Nov. 10, 2018.

In the Executioner’s Shadow by Maggie Burnette Stogner and Rick Stack is a catalyst for conversation and action, stirring debate about criminal justice reform at festivals and grassroots screenings across the country.  The filmmakers recently brokered a partnership with The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty in order to promote a strategic roll-out of community screenings, discussion and call-to-action. Audiences are asked to organize additional screenings in their homes and communities, creating a word-of-mouth momentum to overturn capital punishment. In addition, anti-death penalty coalitions in Pennsylvania and Oregon are launching statewide efforts at town hall meetings. In the Executioner’s Shadow will be the centerpiece of their legislative campaigns to help rally citizen support to sway state legislators.

4. New Day’s Earliest Films

In 2018, some of some of New Day’s earliest films – by New Day founders Amalie R. Rothschild, Liane Brandon, Julia Reichert, Jim Klein – were featured as “groundbreaking feminist films” by separate screening series at The Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Barbican Theatre in London, and UnionDocs in New York.  Each respective series focused on the artistry, advocacy, and innovation of the early feminist films and filmmakers that gave birth to New Day Films as the thriving co-op it is today.

5. The Campaign

The Campaign

To mark the 10th year since the passage of Proposition 8 in California – the 2008 law passed by California voters banning same-sex marriage – filmmaker Christie Herring held a special screening of The Campaign in San Francisco. The film follows the people behind California’s historic No-on-8 campaign to defend same-sex marriage through exclusive behind the scenes footage, interwoven with the national history of same-sex relationship recognition since the 1950s. After the screening, veteran activists and organizers had a powerful conversation about current risks for the LGBT community, ways to cultivate a sustainable movement, and the impact of Prop 8 on the LGBT movement and the country.

6. Detroit 48202: Conversations Along a Postal Route

Pam Sporn screened her film Detroit 48202: Conversations Along a Postal Route in Professor David Goldberg’s “The Black Worker in US History” course at Wayne State University. A mixture of black and white, as well as older and younger students engaged in a powerful discussion about historical memory and perspective. Some students shared memories of once vibrant neighborhoods decimated by urban renewal while others said they gained a new understanding of the structural racism that impacted Detroit once they moved from the suburbs to study in the city.

7. Man on Fire

Director, Joel Fendelman and Producer, James Chase Sanchez screened their film Man on Fire in Salt Lake City for Clearlink Media, a marketing company, and hosted a one hour workshop at the company’s headquarters on “Implicit Bias.” They used clips from the film to teach attendees about the various forms of bias that might appear in the workplace.

8. Gaza Ghetto: Portrait of a Palestinian Family

Joan Mandell screened excerpts from Gaza Ghetto: Portrait of a Palestinian Family in October at the Oral History Association conference at Concordia University in Montreal. Now 35 years old, Gaza Ghetto, was the first documentary to record scenes of Palestinian daily life impacted by the rule of Israeli-occupation in Gaza. Shown within the context of the 70th anniversary of Palestinian displacement and exile, the film was a revelation for a new generation of students. Audience members said that the first-hand discussion about the risks and rewards of filmmaking in difficult circumstances was an inspiration for their own documentary and oral history work.

9. The Sandman

Lauren Knapp recently participated in a live webinar with The National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. She screened selected clips from The Sandman and moderated a conversation with Dr. Jonathan Groner, a nationally recognized voice opposing lethal injection. The Sandman continues to contribute to a much-needed conversation about the use of medicine in executions.

10. Drawn Together: Comics, Diversity and Stereotypes

Drawn Together: Comics, Diversity and Stereotypes, directed by Harleen Singh screened at dozens of festivals around the world during which the filmmaker had a chance to see and hear the audience shift their opinions about diversity and stereotypes. The note below – received by Harleen at a screening – summarizes the kinds of audience experiences her film continues to foster.

Drawn Together: Comics, Diversity and Stereotypes

Toppling Structures of Inequity in Documentary Film

By Nicole Opper

Conversations about power, ownership and representation in the documentary field are as old as the documentary tradition itself. Ours is a history rooted in a patriarchal society defined by cultural, racial, and class-based colonialism. Recently, these conversations have left the confines of the classroom or the backroom of a festival cocktail party and are now taking place under a spotlight at festivals, conferences, and most importantly, they are beginning to have a real impact on who tells what stories and how. New Day Films, a distribution coop created by and for independent documentary filmmakers in 1971, has recently been grappling with what it means to be truly representative of the broad spectrum of filmmakers that exist including filmmakers of color, working class filmmakers, trans and gender non-binary filmmakers and those with disabilities – groups that have historically been underrepresented or poorly portrayed in the industry.

At our Annual Meeting in upstate New York this past June, a panel was convened to discuss the findings of an Equity and Representation task force, and to open up the conversation to all member-owners of the co-op.

New Day’s Panel on Equity and Representation (photo courtesy of Amalie Rothschild)

“Very often in the documentary space, I’m the only person of color,” remarked Michael Premo. Premo is the director of Water Warriors, the story of a community’s successful fight to protect their water from the oil and natural gas industry. “This is also sort of dually equated with poverty which is equally as racist as being the token black guy.”

Water Warriors

Cheryl Green, the director of Who Am I To Stop It – a documentary about individuals with traumatic brain injuries – shared her perspective as a filmmaker with acquired disabilities herself, saying, “There is no one disability community. What is a film about disability? What is a person with a disability? We’re not a monolith. There’s not one way to talk about it; there’s not one way to present it. The main way disability is represented is non-disabled people parachuting in and filming a medical story. Usually it’s one that starts off as ‘That’s gross or scary or painful! Phew! They got better.’”

This formulaic narrative is problematic. One solution Cheryl offers is that non-disabled filmmakers consider co-authorship, “Or, when you can, just put it in the hands of the disability community.”

Who Am I To Stop It

These tropes of tragedy and triumph are not exclusive to representations of those with disabilities – they are embedded in stories about every underrepresented community. Co-authorship is a concept that has been practiced by a number of filmmakers within New Day, though it’s not nearly as widespread as we would like it to be. Not only does it aim to address the inequity of ownership that has plagued our field for so long, but frequently it results in more nuanced filmmaking.

Vida Diferida

Brenda Avila, the director of Vida Diferida (Life deferred), a six-year journey into the life of a young, undocumented woman before and after DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) spoke about being born and raised in Mexico City and coming to the US as an adult. “I didn’t grow up used to being a minority per se.” She described the transition after moving to the U.S. “It was hard to just make myself heard: as a woman, as a woman of color, as someone whose second language is English. I was constantly second-guessed… sometimes it’s hard to navigate circles in [the film industry] where there are so many things taken for granted.”

Avila shared some of the organizations that have supported her journey as a filmmaker and as a woman of color. “I’m really happy about this equity task force,” she said. “I’ve been working a lot with Brown Girls Doc Mafia (BGDM), and with the National Association of Latino Independent Producers (NAILP).” BGDM is working to ensure that directors and producers have access to collaborators that are also members of the communities being filmed. She added, “There’s no excuse [not to hire us]. Here’s a list of talented POC ready to work.”

Hunting in Wartime

Samantha Farinella, the director of Hunting in Wartime, which profiles Tlingit veterans from Hoonah, Alaska, made a light-hearted interjection, “I’m sure you’re all wondering why the white lesbian from the East Coast [is commenting on this topic]. I’m the first person in my family to get my Bachelor’s and I will be the first person in my family to get my Master’s. I remember in my late 20s, finding out that a lot of filmmakers are really rich and privileged.” Becoming increasingly emotional, Samantha added, “Being working class, I think I devalue my work. If we really want to make the New Day experience diverse economically or racially, that’s a big ask.”

Filmmaker and panel moderator Kathy Huang echoed the sentiments of many New Day members in the room who were visibly moved. “That was really powerful,” she said. “It’s so important that you shared that, and it goes back to issue that Michael raised, that people often equate race with class. What we think we know about someone may not be true. If you don’t come into this world with a certain amount of social capital – it can be very hard to access the gates of power.”

She then posed the question, “Are there other ways that we can make the coop more welcoming?”

Michael Premo weighed in. “It’s complicated. There are ways to invite broader conversation related to meeting design. It’s such a delicate balance between equity and tokenism… I’m glad we’re having this conversation around freedom of movement and language access… We could have more group design where people are in smaller groups. We could think about reorganizing all the relationships.”

Tales of the Waria

Kathy Huang, whose film Tales of the Waria features four transgender women searching for love and intimacy in Indonesia, offered some information about the task force’s process, which all of the panelists were a part of. “When we met for the task force, one of the things I did was make cold calls to our members of color, and we asked for ways that the coop might become more welcoming to all types of members.”

She also pointed out the potentially exploitative practice of hiring interns to work for free. “Who does that automatically eliminate from our roster of people who can work for us?”

On the Line

Mike Mascoll, the director of On the Line, which highlights one of the longest running voluntary school desegregation programs in the country, stood up in the audience to share his thoughts: “I grew up in poverty, but through the years gained access to privilege… snippets of it. I think what we’re all looking for at the end of the day is access to the resources to be independently successful.” The room broke into applause.

As a co-op, we’ve unanimously voted to pursue the following goals this year:

  • Promote a culture of Equity and Representation within New Day where diverse stories, storytellers and storytelling practices are represented and uplifted.
  • Provide opportunities for conversations with members from underrepresented groups about their experiences in New Day and the industry in general.
  • Create and support sustainable financial, professional and New Day culture strategies for recruitment and retention of filmmakers from underrepresented groups.

We have a long way to go in this industry when it comes to access, equitable funding, implicit bias and ownership over the stories of underrepresented and marginalized people and communities. There is still much work to be done, but the meeting was a big step in the right direction for the member-owners of New Day Films – resulting in actionable steps that we hope will have real, positive impact.

Women’s History Month

Mezzo

Silent Choices

March is Women’s History Month, an opportunity to recognize the lives and stories of women, and to draw to the center those who have been marginalized. Mezzo, by Nicole Opper, celebrates the life and artistic endeavors of Breanna Sinclaire, an African American opera singer and openly trans woman. Silent Choices, by Faith Pennick, is about abortion and its impact on the lives of African American women. See these and other films relevant to Women’s History Month here.

 

 

 

 

 

Meet New Day – Nicole Opper

Opper_Headshot_2015
Nicole Opper

I’m an Oakland-based filmmaker and film educator who is endlessly fascinated by how young people construct their identities – especially young people who are adopted or growing up in foster care and group homes. I’ve taught grad students at Stanford, undergrads at San Francisco State University and teenagers at The Bay Area Video Coalition. I currently teach students of all ages at Diablo Valley College.

Off and Running tells the story of Avery, a sixteen year-old African American track star, adopted and raised by two white Jewish lesbians. When Avery decides to contact her birth mother, it leads her to complicated and sometimes painful exploration of race, identity and the meaning of family. The film is about the lengths we all go to in order to become ourselves.

When I began this film in my mid-20s, I’d never met a family with queer parents before, and I glimpsed the possibilities of my own future. I wanted to document Avery’s quest in order to understand her perspective as a transracial adoptee with two moms, and to better prepare myself for adoption and parenthood. To this day she remains my most trusted guide.

Avery and I share a co-writing credit on this film. About halfway through filming, Avery disappeared and broke contact with most of the people in her life, including me. This lasted for two months and I lost a lot of sleep, but one day she showed up on my doorstep ready to continue with the film. I told her I was glad she wanted to get back to work, but first I needed her to watch the footage we had shot so she could offer her feedback. And that’s exactly what she did. Day after day, through her reactions to the footage and the voiceover narration she wrote herself, Avery took ownership of the film. Her troubles didn’t go away, but her commitment to the project and her confidence strengthened immeasurably as she discovered her own power as a storyteller. She was honored by the Writers Guild of America with the Best Documentary Screenplay award, and takes great pride in that.

Off and Running has impacted countless parents, social workers, adoption agencies, nurses, psychologists, and youth.   It is on the “required viewing” list at many adoption agencies.  We are excited to see the power of the film harnessed as a tool for understanding and change in the world of adoption.