Working Films’ Co-founder, Robert West was awarded with the 2013 Frank Harr Community Service Award, presented by the University of North Carolina at Wilmington LGBTQIA Office. The award recognizes a person or organization promoting visibility and understanding of LGBTQIA issues and who are working towards improving the health and well-being of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community in Wilmington, NC and surrounding areas.
Robert was nominated for the award because of his tireless effort with Working Films’ Reel Equality campaign in 2012, launched in response to the proposed ballot measure which placed a ban on same-sex marriage and legal recognition of domestic partnerships in the NC constitution. With the goal of turning audiences into supporters of statewide efforts to fight the ban, Robert led the curation of six films to educate citizens on how bans like this can have devastating consequences. These include: The Campaign, Sole Journey, Gen Silent, Marriage Equality, Out in the Silence and Freeheld.
The award was presented at a ceremony on May 4th, honoring Robert’s determination to fight the ban and his unrelenting commitment to the rights and equality of the LGBTQIA community.
We are excited to announce that Reel Economy will be part of the 2013 Tax Fairness Organizing Collaborative’s Annual Conference from June 4-6 in Boston, MA. The Tax Fairness Organizing Collaborative, is a network of state-level grassroots organizations that advocate for progressive and adequate state taxes.
This conference will be open to allies and advocates involved in the tax fairness and economic justice movement: community leaders, activists, and organizers, legislators, people concerned with tax policy, people not yet concerned with tax policy, , journalists, foundation representatives, people with good ideas, and others who believe in the power of a bottom-up movement!
We’ll be there to kick things off with an advanced screening of Inequality for All and we’ll represent Reel Economy in a workshop on how to effectively use film to advance economic justice campaigns. Click here for the full agenda and registration.
As you may know, this past fall, Robert West, Working Films’ cofounder and executive director for the past thirteen years, was diagnosed with GBM, a fatal brain cancer. Robert has embraced this news with grace, love and courage.
This is a special opportunity to honor Robert West’s vision and his invaluable contributions to the field of social issue documentary filmmaking across the country, around the globe and at home in North Carolina.
Please join us if you are at the festival and in the area. We will also post updates on our Facebook page while we are here, so be sure to check them out.
Sunday, April 7
10:00 – 11:15 a.m.
Carolina Theater, Cinema 2
(brief program begins at 10:30)
Our core effort for Reel Power 2012 was the Reel Power Film Festival (RPFF) – a series of targeted grassroots screenings and events to build solidarity among frontline communities and push for renewable energy alternatives. The films in the series offer new points of entry for difficult conversations about changes that need to be made at the local, state and national levels. Through grants to on-the-ground organizers and nonprofit groups, we connected to those leading change in affected communities and encouraged them to cross-pollinate their strategies for environmental justice.
Our goals for offering the Reel Power Film Festival mini-grants were to:
Reach frontline communities where natural resource extraction such as mountaintop removal and fracking, or coal-fired power is made and the residents are leading the organizing efforts. We also included backyard communities where alternative energy solutions are being led by the residents.
Select groups that were working on urgent issues and had tangible ways to engage the community in advocating for just and sustainable practices.
Provide access to the collection of films for grassroots groups that needed funding assistance in order to be able to host the Reel Power Film Festival.
Increase cross-pollination of organizing strategies across issue focus so that groups can learn from other struggle, build solidarity, and explore where they fit in the bigger picture.
Midway through the effort, I posted an update on the events to date, and would like to share more highlights below:
Green Paw Aggies, NC A&T Greensboro NC
Green Paw Aggies is a new organization at North Carolina A&T University that is working to engage students in the green movement and helping to make the sustainability efforts in the Triad more inclusive. They kicked off their RPFF with Gasland in March 2012 and plan to show Sun Come Up in March 2013. They are using the festival to engage their student government association, student activists, and local residents to get involved in issues of fracking, climate change and supporting sustainability efforts.
NM Interfaith Power & Light works with nearly 200 faith communities throughout the state to oppose new coal-fired power plants and natural gas fracking in the state. They also assist faith communities to become sustainable and energy efficient by planting community gardens, installing CFLs and weatherization materials, updating furnaces, cooling systems and appliances to more energy-efficient models, and identifying funding sources for solar installations. NM Interfaith Power & Light partnered with Canterbury Campus Ministry, St. Thomas of Canterbury Episcopal Church and St. Mark’s on the Mesa Episcopal Church for the RPFF. During the month of October, they used Sun Come Up, Gasland, Split Estate and Dirty Business to motivate audiences to call on the Governor to support the pit rule, a law that requires oil and gas companies to line their pits of toxic waste to avoid ground and water contamination.
Preston Citizens’ Alliance for Resources and Environmental Safety (Preston CARES), Kingwood WV
Preston CARES is a grassroots organization in north-central West Virginia fighting the development of a waste separation facility and industrial landfill for hydraulic fracturing waste. They are also resisting the industry’s push to expand fracking into their community. They partnered with local groups including Whiteday Creek Watershed Association, Friends of Deckers Creek, and Friends of the Cheat to host the RPFF on Sunday, October 14th. Screenings supported their efforts to engage area residents on landowner rights, the public health risks and technology behind hydraulic fracturing, and the impacts of gas development on the land and water. Audience members shared what they had learned at an industry-friendly “Town Hall” meeting the following Tuesday. At the meeting, two people with fracking on their property spoke out to industry representatives to change the course of the one-sided pro-industry dialogue, asking hard questions and demanding that decision makers protect citizens and the environment.
SAMS works to stop the destruction of local communities from irresponsible surface coal mining and improve the quality of life in the coalfields of southwest Virginia. In August and September, they showed Split Estate, Gasland, Sun Come Up, Dirty Business, and Deep Down to encourage people to join efforts to stop the Coalfield Expressway – a plan to use mountaintop removal mining to flatten an area throughout Southwest Virginia to make way for the road while the coal companies keep the profits from what they extract. This taxpayer-financed road (a.k.a. strip mine) could potentially receive $2 billion in federal funds.
Sustainable Tompkins is a citizen-based organization laying the groundwork for the transition to a resilient local economy. They are focused on energy efficiency, climate protection, green purchasing, sustainable community development, green collar jobs, sustainable enterprise, greening heath care, and economic/ecological justice. Their initiatives are on the leading edge of new systems for sustainable living. They launched the RPFF with Sun Come Up in Owego, NY early this month. They plan to use the festival to boost support for regional battles against fracking and to share positive stories about building a better future through truly sustainable communities.
The Texas Drought Project works to involve Texans in climate change issues through the lens of diminishing water resources. They used the RPFF in Corpus Christi in partnership with South Texas Alliance for Peace and Justice, Texans for Peace, the Clean Economy Coalition, and Corpus Christi Progressive Caucus. Special guests and experts participated: Sharon Wilson of Texas OGAP for Split Estate; Dr. Al Armendariz, former EPA regional administrator and now Senior Campaign Representative for Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign for Dirty Business; Bruce Melton, Engineer and filmmaker on issues related to climate change for Sun Come Up; and Flavia de la Fuente of Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign for Deep Down. At the screenings, audience members were invited to continue their interest and participation in the issues by joining demonstrations against Corpus Christi becoming a major terminal for coal export, a costly venture in terms of pollution and taxpayer dollars. They were also invited to participate in two town halls: one against a liquid natural gas conversion plant, and the other about fracking in the Barnett shale and the Eagle Ford shale.
The Future of Reel Power
We’re excited to take what we learned in the past two years with the Reel Power collaborative and build on this work to strengthen the movement for climate justice and a clean energy future. Contact campaign director Kristin Henry for partnership opportunities or to host a Reel Power screening event: khenry [at] workingfilms.org.
Published: Saturday, February 9, 2013 at 2:55 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, February 9, 2013 at 2:55 a.m.
WINDY POINT | These days, Robert West enjoys sitting in the sun at his cottage across the Intracoastal Waterway from Holden Beach. He watches finches at the bird feeder, delights in spotting deer in the marshes across the channel, and monitors boat traffic buzzing past his porch and dock. A passing barge makes a day especially notable.
Once a week, a nurse from the Brunswick County office of Lower Cape Fear Hospice & LifeCareCenter comes by to check on him.
It’s a quieter life than he spent during the 12 years he was building the Wilmington nonprofit Working Films into an internationally recognized force for change, using documentaries about social issues to support and encourage activist movements.
It was early August when West found himself momentarily at a loss for words. It happened again, and then again. His doctor said to come in immediately.
After an operation in September, he received the diagnosis: He had GBM.
West spent a weekend researching Glioblastoma Multiforme, an aggressive form of brain cancer.
What he found was not encouraging.
“It’s pretty clear this is a fatal cancer,” he said.
But West refused to give in to despondency or despair.
“This is the truth, and you have to live with what is true,” he said.
Eighty percent of people with GBM die within 12 to 15 months, he said.
“But the quality of life is actually quite good,” he said. “You’re walking, talking. You’re not bedridden.”
He feels lucky. His form of cancer will allow him several months, maybe a year or more, of good-quality life before it sets in. The end, when it arrives, will come in a matter of weeks.
West appears healthy. He’s off many of the medicines he had been taking.
He goes shopping and drives into town. He takes walks around the shady neighborhood off Boone’s Neck Road where he has settled in. The cottage is owned by a friend. It’s a place he has visited for years.
Friends come by for visits.
West laughs often. His eyes twinkle with good humor, as they always have in the years I’ve known him.
“This is not a journey toward death. This is a celebration of life,” he said.
It’s hard for people to talk about death and dying. But West welcomes the dialogue.
“I’m OK with it, and I’ve had a level of acceptance of what this journey is going to be like,” he said a few weeks ago as we set up the interview.
Accepting his fate made him feel healthier.
“You have a better quality of life if you’re not in some fight you’re not going to win,” he said then. “Having that clarity is very reassuring.”
He feels lucky in other ways. He doesn’t have children who need explanations.
He has no regrets about how he has lived. He has spent his time with “smart people,” the staff at Working Films and filmmakers who appreciate how new audiences can give their work greater meaning.
“I made a difference,” he said.
He has shed a lot of the things that cause us stress: “How am I going to live when I’m 70?” He smiled as he said that.
West has a strong living will and has made his funeral arrangements.
He knows death. He has sat at deathbeds.
“I have no huge fear of death,” he said. “I’m feeling very positive about the journey. It’s new for me.”
The south-facing cottage lets him bask in the sunshine from dawn to dusk. He keeps a log of daily happenings, noting changes in the weather or geese flying overhead.
He has started making drawings on an easel on the porch.
“My priorities of life have changed. I’m living life one day at a time,” he said. “My days are rich.”
Issues of global importance, race, gender, as well as economic and environmental justice have all been addressed by Working Films, an independent media organization focused on “linking nonfiction film to cutting edge activism.”
Founded in 2000 by Robert West and Judith Helfand, Working Films began in West’s home in Charlotte, N.C. and has since been based in Wilmington for more than a decade.
Before starting the organization, West said he wanted to help connect filmmakers, their films and the people who would want to help realize the social, health or environmental change their stories prompted.
“Audience engagement seemed like a real missing piece,” he said. “And that was really the focus of Working Films…”
However, last September, West was diagnosed with Glioblastoma Multiforme (GBM), a rare aggressive and terminal brain cancer.
Despite the shock this news brought to the Working Films community, West has been sharing his journey via the Caring Bridge health social networking website and in an interview, Monday, Feb. 4, said he remains positive about his future, as well as the organization’s as he steps down.
“My energy, while it has refocused, remains very positive,” he said. “Priorities shift, and even though I love this organization I really thought what’s best for me and for Working Films was to have an exit strategy.”
While West has played an intricate role in developing Working Films as a nationally and internationally known organization focused on social change, he said his efforts were not unaided.
“I’ve worked with this team for a long time, and we were never that much of a hierarchical organization,” he said.
“I have two strong leaders that have taken the helm, and I have stepped away with no regrets and no real worries that the organization will not survive and remain strong and healthy.”
As Working Films has often collaborated at the local level, such as with the Cucalorus Film Festival and its Work-in-Progress program, interim co-directors Anna Lee and Molly Murphy said they want to continue to bring the work they do nationally and internationally into play here in the area.
“We like the idea of rooting in our home state and having more of a presence,” Murphy said on Saturday, Feb. 2. “We actually just submitted a proposal to focus a state by state effort in N.C. around education and work to address climate change.”
Lee said they plan to move forward with the Working Films mission with the Reel Engagement Fund and project initiative in honor of West’s work, which focuses on a statewide approach and changes in policy.
“We wanted to honor that legacy. He has touched so many people’s lives at Working Films,” Lee said on Feb. 2. “People kept asking what they could do, and we wanted them to be able to channel that and support the organization as it moves forward … the ‘Reel Engagement’ work is going to be the core of the strategy moving forward.”
To continue on the path that West has set, using documentaries to make social change by sharing them with educators and communities, Working Films board of directors chair Reggie Shuford said on Friday, Feb. 1, that his primary role right now is supporting this transition as much as he possibly can.
“Robert has been such a visionary … and we are absolutely committed to making sure that his vision is achieved,” he said. “The primary things are ensuring fiscal and financial stability of Working Films, as well as making sure that its mission is achieved and the work is continued to be done at such a high level.”
Shuford is also the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Pennsylvania. As someone who grew up in Wilmington, Shuford said he is proud of the local organization’s achievements.
“I think it’s a hometown treasure. It has national and international reach [and] it’s been a tremendous ambassador for Wilmington,” Shuford said.
Shuford also said that he has absolute confidence in Lee and Murphy, who have developed with Working Films.
“I have seen them grow into focused, effective and capable leaders of this organization, and were before this situation occurred,” he said. “I can’t think of two better people at this juncture to assume that role.”
To make a tax-deductible donation to the Robert West Reel Engagement Fund or to learn more about Reel Engagement projects at Working Films, visit www.workingfilms.org
Co-founder Robert West announces he is stepping down
Working Films is a nationally and internationally recognized nonprofit organization leveraging the power of story-driven, non-fiction film and media to catalyze social change for equity and justice. Founded in 2000 by Robert West and Judith Helfand, Working Films has raised the bar for “outreach” and impact with documentary media.
Working Films has been a pioneer, leading the development of our field, such that today audience engagement is understood as a core part of independent documentary filmmaking and distribution, and is even a social science studied by scholars. The Sundance Film Festival, Center for Social Media, Film Arts Foundation, National Center for Media Engagement, The Center for Media, Culture and History at NYU, MASS MoCA and the Full Frame Film Festival have highlighted our work and successful community-based engagement campaigns. Working Films’ projects and campaigns has been covered by the Village Voice, LA Weekly, The Nation, Independent Film and Video Monthly and The Progressive.
In fall 2012, Working Films’ Co-founder and Executive Director Robert West was diagnosed with Glioblastoma Multiforme (GBM), an aggressive and terminal brain cancer. This news has come as a shock to our board, staff, and the entire Working Films community. Robert has embraced it with immense courage, grace, and honesty. He remains passionate about Working Films but, in order to focus on his health and well-being, he has decided to step down from his role as Executive Director.
Molly Murphy and Anna Lee, veteran staff members of Working Films, have been appointed by Robert and the board to serve in the roles of Interim Co-Directors. Molly began her career at Working Films in 2001 as the first full-time staff person to join Robert at our Wilmington, NC, headquarters and has served as Engagement Coordinator, Director of Community Initiatives, and most recently Deputy Director. Anna has been on staff for seven years and, as our Manager of Filmmaker and Partner Services, she has led our flagship Reel Engagement initiative.
The Working Films board has assembled a stellar transition team to navigate this sudden organizational shift. Joining Molly and Anna on the team are board members Reggie Shuford, Executive Director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania and board chair; Keryl McCord, Managing Director of Alternate Roots; and Barbara Abrash, recently retired from the Center for Media, Culture, and History at NYU. Also joining and coordinating the transition team is Gillian Caldwell, the renowned former Executive Director of WITNESS and 1Sky. Working Films Co- founder and Peabody award-winning filmmaker Judith Helfand, who has been instrumental in the strategic direction and methodology of Working Films for more than a decade, rounds out the team and will continue to work closely with Molly and Anna as the organization moves forward.
In honor of his visionary work, we are creating the Robert West Reel Engagement Fund. The funds raised will be used to support and advance Reel Engagement, the flagship initiative Working Films developed and evolved under Robert’s leadership. The motto: it takes more than one good film to move the dial for social change. Reel Engagement embeds collections of powerful story-driven media (and all the distribution opportunities that come with them) into strategic grassroots organizing campaigns to achieve progress on the issues of our times. We are encouraging donations to the fund now, so Robert can witness the wide community of support that surrounds him and the organization he has built. To make a secure tax-deductible contribution, click here.
We are deeply inspired by the tremendous care, concern and support expressed by so many during the past several months. We look forward to continuing our efforts with the extraordinary community of activists, organizers and media makers we are privileged to work with every day.
Robert has been posting to the website Caring Bridge ever since his initial brain surgery and subsequent cancer diagnosis. The site shares the history and information of Robert’s journey. His profile can be viewed at www.caringbridge.org/visit/robertwest. To reach Robert directly, contact the Working Films’ office at 910-342-9000 and our staff will provide his contact information.
Timed to the February 4th PBS Independent Lens rebroadcast of his award-winning documentary As Goes Janesville, Brad Lichtenstein is launching BizVizz, the first mobile iPhone app to make corporate behavior transparent. Just snap a picture of a brand’s logo and a simple graphic screen instantly displays essential facts about America’s largest corporations. Do they pay their taxes? How much money do they get in government subsidies? To whom do they give their political donations? BizVizz currently has 300 companies and over 900 brands with plans to expand.
Filmmaker Brad Lichtenstein says he created the app after filming a company in his movie obtaining taxpayer dollars without even so much as a public hearing. “I watched the democratic process being subverted and felt that we should do something on a grander scale to make corporate behavior more transparent; especially when we’re all called on to do our part during these tough economic times.” The Independent Television Service, funded by the Corporation of Public Broadcasting, backed BizVizz to extend the movie’s impact.
Seeking a wider audience for BizVizz, Lichtenstein teamed up with fellow Reel Economy filmmakers, Vicky Bruce and Karin Hayes, whose 2012 Sundance film We’re Not Broke exposes how US multinational companies offshore profits to avoid paying taxes. Together they are working with non-profits including the Tax Justice Network-USA, US PIRG, the F.A.C.T. coalition, and others to expose corporations’ all too often bad behavior.
We think BizVizz will appeal to consumers who prefer to “shop their values”, citizens and activists concerned with corporate accountability, and reporters on the economics beat. With this new app, a walk down the shopping aisle can reveal how most brands are owned by only a few companies. Users can discover that Boeing received over $450,000,000 from South Carolina in subsidies to help build their now grounded Dreamliner; that Wells Fargo, recipient of at least $25 billion in bailout funds, paid negative tax; or that the fiscal cliff deal actually extended a tax break that will allow GE to once again file for a refund instead of paying tax in 2013. “This is public information,” says Lichtenstein. “We’re just making it visible.”
by Dan Habib, Filmmaker in Residence Institute on Disability at the University of New Hampshire
The shooting in Newtown, Connecticut caused shock and grief across this country that lingers – as it should – into this new year. We may never know what caused Adam Lanza to take those horrific actions.
What is possible to determine, based on research, are the educational practices that can help identify and support youth with a variety of emotional and behavioral disabilities.
Although his diagnosis is unclear, reports from Newtown indicate that Lanza was isolated, rarely left his home and was clearly experiencing psychological distress. Many students with emotional and behavioral disabilities – which can include depression, anxiety, ADHD, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and many other diagnoses – feel disconnected from their schools and communities.
Lanza’s violence is the exception, not the rule. Students with emotional and behavioral disabilities are more likely to be victims of violent crime than perpetrators. There is a far more widespread crisis for youth in the United States with emotional and behavioral disabilities: low rates of graduation and high rates of incarceration.
Less than 50 percent of students with emotional and behavioral disabilities graduate from high school, and these students are twice as likely as students with other types of disabilities to live in a halfway house, drug treatment center, or on the street after leaving school. A University of New Hampshire study found that 73 percent of the incarcerated youth at the Sununu Youth Services Center in Manchester, NH, had a diagnosed disability.
Effective school-based interventions can ease the pain of these students, raise graduation rates and help students connect with their community through mentors and peer groups.
Unfortunately, many schools still focus primarily on punitive discipline policies like “zero-tolerance,” which emphasizes the use of suspension and expulsion, and neglect to examine the root causes of problem behavior. Students who are suspended or expelled often drop out of school, which frequently leads to juvenile delinquency, arrests and prison. Zero-tolerance policies do little to improve school safety and disproportionately impact students with emotional and behavioral disabilities as well as students of color.
These grim statistics for students with emotional and behavioral disabilities fueled my desire to create a film that could be a resource to help educators, families and mental health professionals better understand and serve children with behavioral and emotional challenges.
The film Who Cares About Kelsey? focuses on Somersworth (NH) High School student Kelsey Carroll. When Kelsey entered high school, she was a more likely candidate for the juvenile justice system than graduation. She had a diagnosis of ADHD and carried the emotional scars of homelessness and substance abuse, along with actual scars of self-mutilation. As a freshman, she didn’t earn a single academic credit and was suspended for dealing drugs. Many wrote her off as a “problem kid” – destined for drug addiction and jail.
During Kelsey’s freshman year (2006), Somersworth High School had one of the lowest graduation rates in the state (nearly 1 in 10 students dropped out), and discipline issues were rampant. That year, the school implemented a proven approach called Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) to develop a concise outline of the behaviors that were expected of all students, establish clear guidelines for addressing discipline problems and create systems for identifying students that needed more intensive supports.
For students like Kelsey who were at the greatest risk of dropping out of school, Somersworth also implemented a youth-directed planning model called RENEW (Rehabilitation for Empowerment, Natural Supports, Education, & Work).
The results were dramatic: by 2010, Somersworth High reduced its dropout rate by 75 percent, and behavior problems were down by 65 percent.
Who Cares About Kelsey? is the story of Kelsey’s transformation from a defiant and disruptive high school student to a motivated and self-confident young woman who is living on her own and attending college.
It’s too late to reach Adam Lanza, who serves as a horrific example of a gap in our society’s ability to effectively identify youth in crisis, and intervene with services and supports. But it’s not too late to reach and support more than two million other young people in the United States with emotional and behavioral disabilities.
Who Cares About Kelsey? is screening across the country in 2013. For more information about the film and related mini-films, go to www.whocaresaboutkelsey.com. Dan Habib is Filmmaker in Residence at the UNH Institute on Disability and created the Emmy-nominated film “Including Samuel.”
The line up for the 2013 Sundance Film Festival has been announced and we are so excited to see filmmakers that we’ve worked with on this list! Congratulations to the teams behind American Promise, Citizen Koch and God Loves Uganda.
American Promise follows two African-American boys from middle class families as they navigate their way through 12 years at a prestigious New York City Prep school. The film is part of our Reel Education t collaboration, in which nine documentaries about various education issues came together for our residential training in February 2011.
Citizen Koch is the latest film by Carl Deal and Tia Lesson (Trouble the Water) that tells a story about money, power and democracy in the aftermath of the US Supreme Court’s decision to strike down limits on corporate political spending. The film was one of six films that attended our Reel Economy residency held in July 2012 in Washington, DC.
God Loves Uganda follows American and Ugandan religious leaders fighting “sexual immorality” and missionaries trying to convince Ugandans to follow Biblical law. Paige Ruane, the films’ outreach coordinator, attended our Reel Change: Managing Social Issue Film Campaign residency last spring in Washington, DC. At the residency, Paige along with a room full of filmmakers learned how to make strategic plans to get their films and media projects out to the right audiences and form effective partnerships with organizations working on the issues in their film.
We are thrilled about each! Be sure to check them out when you’re at Sundance.