Tag Archives: Out In The Night

Documenting Activism in an Age of Uncertainty

by Briar March

I’ve been making films for over 10 years, and while it can sometimes be a struggle I’m always brought back to the fundamental reason for why I do it. I believe that films have the power to inspire and spark social change and respond to important issues that are facing our society. Maybe that’s why I’ve often found myself documenting protests and grassroots movements. But more recently, I have become increasingly aware of what the impact of this type of filmmaking can mean.

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Briar March documents a protest against the removal of government housing in New Zealand

One night I happened to be filming a protest when I noticed the police recording the license plate on my car. A few weeks later a police officer pulled me over while I was stopped at a traffic light. When I asked the officer what was wrong, he said that my vehicle was on file as being stolen. This was odd as I’ve been its sole owner. Maybe these two incidents were just coincidences, but it definitely got me thinking about the recent disturbing trend of arrests associated with filmmakers and journalist documenting activism.

On September 3 of this year, Amy Goodman, executive producer and host for Democracy Now!, was reporting on a protest at a Dakota Access Pipeline construction site. This $3.7 billion project, which has received little attention by mainstream media until late, intends to transport crude oil between the Bakken oil field in Dakota to a refinery in Patoka, Illinois, spanning over 1,172 miles. It has also sparked the fierce opposition of members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, other indigenous nations, and non-natives. They say that the pipeline poses significant environmental threats to water supplies, sacred land sites, and fails to comply with federal laws and native treaties.

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Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! reports from Standing Rock

Goodman’s video showed security guards working for the Dakota Access Pipeline using dogs and pepper spray on protesters. Viewed more than 14 million times on social media, the footage was rebroadcast by many major news outlets. Five days later, Goodman was charged with a complaint for “criminal trespass.” When this charge proved untenable, it was changed to “riot charges.” Thankfully a month later a North Dakota judge rejected Goodman’s arrest, saying it lacked probable cause. A similar arrest was issued to actress Shailene Woodley. In a live video Woodley recorded of herself while being arrested at a Standing Rock protest, she suggests that she has been singled out by the police because of her public profile. Her video proceeded to reach an audience of more than 40,000.

Then in October, filmmakers Deia Schlosberg and Lindsey Grayzel and cinematographer Carl Davis, were arrested for filming activists shutting down pipelines across the country. Grayzel and Davis were charged with up to 30 years in prison for 2 felony counts and a trespassing offense. Schlosberg was charged a maximum potential sentence of 45 years in prison for 3 felony charges related to conspiracy. The extreme nature of her punishment even compelled NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden to tweet, “This reporter is being prosecuted for covering the North Dakota oil protests. For reference, I face a mere 30 years.”

In a statement Schlosberg released following her arrest she says, “When I was arrested, I was doing my job, I was reporting. I was documenting. Journalism needs to be passionately and ethically pursued and defended if we are to remain a free democratic country.”

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Filmmaker Deia Schlosberg

What Schlosberg makes clear is the way in which she and many other filmmakers have been denied their rights under the First Amendment. As documentary filmmakers I feel this is something fundamental to our practice especially if we are to share stories with the world that are often untold or repressed. Perhaps the only good thing to have come out of these arrests is the attention it has cast on the issues being reported and the importance of free speech and a free press.

For civilians filming and sharing incidents of unjustified police aggression, a similar trend of arrests has emerged. In July, civilian Chris LeDay was jailed 24 hours after he uploaded a video of Alton Sterling, an African-American man, being shot and killed by a white police officer. At first police declined to say the reasons for LeDay’s arrest and eventually announced it was related to parking fines. Abdullah Muflahi, the owner of the store where Sterling was killed, was also detained after filming the event and has since filed a lawsuit against the Baton Rouge police department.

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Alton Sterling’s aunt Veda Washington, Chris LeDay, and Abdullah Muflahi in front of Sterling’s memorial

The very next day when Philando Castile was shot and killed by a white police officer in St. Paul, Minnesota, his partner Diamond Reynolds who had filmed and shared online a video documenting the incident, was also handcuffed and detained for several hours. Speaking at a gathering after the event in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, she reported that the police “treated me like a criminal… like it was my fault.”

In a direct response to these arrests, a group of more than 40 documentary filmmakers called on the Department of Justice (DOJ) to investigate the targeting of filmmakers and civilians who record episodes of police violence. One of the organizers of the campaign, filmmaker David Felix Sutcliffe, wrote an open letter to the documentary community declaring that it was “vital we defend the rights of these individuals who use video as a means of criticizing unjust police activity.” Similarly Goodman’s arrest in North Dakota has galvanized several climate action groups to make public statements calling on the DOJ to investigate unjust arrests. Josh Fox, the director of a film that Schlosberg produced, has spoken publicly about his support for Schlosberg and has written an op-ed for the The Nation titled, The Arrest of Filmmakers Covering the Dakota Pipeline is a Threat to Democracy and the Planet.

In light of these recent events, I can say that I am very proud to be part of New Day, a filmmaker cooperative that values and promotes the importance of free speech. There are so many inspiring films from our collection that help to bring insight and background on these issues. For films relevant to the Black Lives Matter movement, check out Every Mother’s Son, Out in the Night and Arc of Justice. For films that help provide perspective on the Standing Rock protests and other indigenous struggles see Smoke Songs, Shellmound, and In Whose Honor? And for stories about climate action and the fossil fuel industry watch Catching the Sun, Deep Down, Uranium Drive In, and White Earth.

At times standing up for what we believe in can be daunting and for some of those filmmakers on the front line, it has come with great personal sacrifice. But seeing the way a film can move audiences and show a new perspective makes me think it is all worth it. I implore you to check out our collection today.

About the writer

Award-winning filmmaker Briar March has released three documentaries through New Day. Her most recent work Smoke Songs is about a Diné (Navajo) punk rock band. The film shares personal insights from band members on what it is like to be an activist fighting for environmental and indigenous issues. There Once Was an Island explores the impact of climate change on a small Pacific island community, and Michael and His Dragon tells the story of a returned U.S. veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress after the war in Iraq.

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Filmmaker Briar March explores indigenous activism in Smoke Songs

Meet New Day: blair dorosh-walther

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My film Out In The Night tells the true story of a group of young African-American lesbians who are out one night in 2006, in New York City’s gay-friendly neighborhood of Greenwich Village, when they are sexually confronted by an older man. After they brush off his advances and state that they are gay, the man becomes violent and threatens to “f**k them straight.” He spits and throws a lit cigarette at one of the women, causing a fight to break out. The women are subsequently arrested, charged and convicted with gang assault, assault and attempted murder. Out in the Night reveals how race, gender identity and sexuality are criminalized in the mainstream news media and in the criminal legal system.

Immediately following their arrest, I became interested in the case. I read the many salacious headlines like “Attack of the Killer Lesbians,” “Gal Gang,” “I’m a man, lesbian growled” and on and on. However, it was the first of many New York Times articles that really gave me pause: “Man is stabbed after admiring a stranger.” I was outraged. I didn’t think the journalists from the NYT would have written the article from the harasser’s point of view had the women been white. A man does not ‘admire’ teenage girls on the street at midnight. At best, that is harassment.

Originally, I believed that this was a story that shouldn’t be told by a white director. After two years of advocacy, however, as their appeals were approaching, I couldn’t stop thinking about this story. I was still just as passionate, but the media attention had severely died down. I didn’t want it to be swept under the rug. I wrote to each of the women in prison and asked if I could come visit to discuss the possibility of a documentary. I spoke with their family members to see if they were also interested. From there we began a long interview process, seeing whether we were a good fit. After many months of getting to know each other, we began filming.

Out in the Night has now screened in close to 150 film festivals, winning over a dozen awards, and kicked off the 2015-2016 season of POV on PBS with a simultaneous broadcast on the Logo Network. Out in the Night continues its partnership with the United Nations’ Free and Equal Campaign to decriminalize homosexuality worldwide. According to RogerEbert.com, “This film could help influence the ongoing LGBT civil rights struggle. Everyone should see it.”

Learn more about blair’s work here.

How to Teach LGBTQ Themes in the Classroom

In honor of LGBTQ Pride Month this upcoming June, queer New Day filmmaker Nomy Lamm offers up a list of suggestions on how best to approach queer and gender-variant issues in the classroom.

  1. Know our history and embrace our elders. Learning about our
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    Reporter Zero

    legacy helps us understand who we are. For example, the film Reporter Zero tells the story of Randy Shilts, the first openly gay journalist in the mainstream media, who covered the AIDS crisis when few others would. Before You Know It offers a loving portrait of gay elders, their wisdom and at times alienation from the culture they helped create, while Beauty Before Age looks at the emphasis on youth and beauty in gay male culture. The Campaign and One Wedding and a Revolution both share histories of the battle for gay marriage, and the trailblazers who paved the way.  

  2. Don’t forget the “T.” Trans people have been here since the
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    Trinidad

    beginning, yet are often left out of the conversation about LGBT communities. Currently, anti-trans legislation is sweeping the country, making the world that much less safe for those of us whose existence lies outside the binary. Learn more about the lives, perspectives, and unique experiences of trans people in New Day films including Trinidad, Prodigal Sons, and The Family Journey: Raising Gender Nonconforming Children.  

  3. Be Intersectional. When we talk about the liberation of LGBTQ
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    Sins Invalid

    people, we must center the perspectives and experiences of LGBT people of color, queers with disabilities, and those of us who are living at the crossroads of multiple identities, and therefore are most impacted by systems of oppression. Pariah, Sins Invalid, and Mind/Game: The Unquiet Journey of Chamique Holdsclaw each tell stories of the often overlapping gifts and struggles of being queer, black, brown, and disabled.

  4. Look beyond the U.S. The layers of identity, experience,
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    Tales of the Waria

    oppression and resilience are mirrored and contrasted when we look beyond the borders of the United States. City of Borders is set in the only gay bar in the city of Jerusalem, exposing the homophobia faced in a conservative religious city, as well as power dynamics and alliances between Israeli and Palestinian queers. Tales of the Waria highlights trans women in Indonesia, home of the world’s largest Muslim population, and the pressures of family, religion, money, and aging, as they strive to be true to themselves and find love.

  5. Honor our youth. Queer youth are some of the most vulnerable
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    Gay Youth

    and most dynamic members of our community, and they have much to teach us. While homophobia and bullying can isolate our youth and make them believe they have no options, the empowerment of queer youth voices is a balm for our collective spirit. The Year We Thought About Love, Gay Youth, and I’m Just Anneke each reveal some of the hardships faced by queer youth, including the threat of violence, homelessness, and suicide, as well as the healing that is possible through storytelling, community, art, activism, and belief in oneself.

  6. Bear witness to the violence and discrimination that LGBTQ
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    Puzzles

    people are subjected to. The LGBTQ community has earned hard-won advances and a sense of pride, but often these victories come in the face of devastating loss and violence. Laramie Inside Out wrestles with the legacy of Matthew Shepard’s murder, while Puzzles teases out contributing factors of a violent hate crime in Massachusetts. Out at Work illustrates what happens when LGBTQ people are not protected from workplace discrimination. Out In The Night shows how interpersonal and institutional homophobia and racism compound each other, when four Black lesbian youth end up serving time in prison and facing assault charges for fighting back against an assailant. 

  7. Encourage students to examine their own homophobia. It’s
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    Straightlaced

    important to explore the connections between homophobia and gender boxes, the ways we sometimes force ourselves and our children into prescribed versions of masculinity and femininity, and punish those who don’t conform in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. These underlying biases fuel the bullying epidemic, and reinforce fear around fitting in. Check out The Boy Game, Straightlaced: How Gender’s Got Us All Tied Up, and It’s Elementary: Talking About Gay Issues in School as jumping-off places for these conversations.  

  8. Examine how we define “family” today.  The “ideal family” is a
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    Daddy and Papa

    cultural construct which is in the process of expanding and becoming more inclusive.  Films like That’s a Family!, Daddy & Papa, and Choosing Children show the joys and complexities of chosen family, while No Dumb Questions, Bubbeh Lee and Me, and The Smith Family show what happens when people in our families defy our expectations.  We can all learn from each other on our individual pathways to meaningful and fulfilling family life.