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.
Working Films is still hard at work with the filmmakers of the Reel Education collective. We’re excited about plans we have in the works to bring the Reel Ed films to cities across the country, where they can advance education organizing and advocacy on important issues such as arts education, the achievement gap, after school programming, and positive approaches to school discipline.
We’re also delighted to announce that we’ve added two new films to the collective, A Community Concern which tells the story of how community organizing can be a powerful force for positive educational change, and Who Cares About Kelsey?, the new project about full inclusion of students with behavioral and emotional disabilities from Including Samuel filmmaker Dan Habib. These new additions address specific topics that weren’t covered in the original groups of seven projects that attended our Reel Education residency.
All of the Reel Education projects have been doing amazing work, winning awards and prompting dialogue and action. Here are a few highlights of their most recent efforts:
You may have seen the champion chess team from Brooklyn middle school I.S. 318 in on the front page of the NY Times a week or so ago. Brooklyn Castle, which features the incredible story of those same kids, is garnering awards and rave reviews on the festival circuit.
The team that produced To Be Heard just got a $100,000 National Endowment for the Arts grant to support their recently launched Power Poetry Project – the world’s first mobile poetry community for youth.
Mariachi High will broadcast on PBS this summer as part of their Summer Arts Festival a multi-part weekly series and collection of new original online content that takes viewers across the country and around the world, hosted by award-winning television, film and stage star Anna Deavere Smith.
In addition to garnering awards in festivals around the world and being put to work in community settings across Europe, Our School recently scored a giant win in their effort to achieve educational justice for Roma children. After a recent special screening at the Romanian Ministry of Education, “the Ministry committed to making Our School part of the teacher training curricula by the start of the new school year. The National Council for Combating Discrimination asked for DVDs that they could start using in training programs the following week.” Read a great overview here of how filmmaker Mona Nicoara, her team and their allies working on Roma education have made this – and more – happen over the last year.
Clips from A Community Concern were recently featured as part of KQED’s American Graduate Teacher Town Hall. KQEDbroadcast the film in April as part of their offerings for the American Graduate project, and later this year it will be offered to all the PBS stations under the American Graduate banner. American Graduate is a public media initiative funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to help local communities across America find solutions to address the dropout crisis.
On Tuesday, October 11th, Women, War & Peace, a 5-part PBS series, will premiere at 10pm (in New York City, but please check your local listings.) The series continues every Tuesday night ending on November 8th with a final overview hour written and produced by Peter Bull (of Dirty Business), titled War Redefined. Watch the clip below:
In the second week, October 18th, the series will spotlight Pray the Devil Back to Hell which features Nobel Peace Prize winner, Leyman Gbowee who won the award jointly with Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Tawakkul Karman. The three women won this years Nobel Peace Prize award “for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work.” Working Films led Pray the Devil Back to Hell’s community engagement efforts in select cities during their theatrical release.
Here is the full schedule of the series with descriptions on each week’s feature:
Tues 10/11: Bosnia:I Came to Testify is the moving story of how a group of 16 women who had been imprisoned and raped by Serb-led forces in the Bosnian town of Foca broke silence and stepped forward to take the witness stand in an international court of law. Their remarkable courage resulted in a triumphant verdict that led to new international laws about sexual violence in war.
Tues 10/18: Liberia:Pray the Devil Back to Hell is the astonishing story of the Liberian women who took on the warlords and regime of dictator Charles Taylor in the midst of a brutal civil war, and won a once unimaginable peace for their shattered country in 2003.
Tues 10/25: Afghanistan: When the U.S. troop surge was announced in late 2009, women in Afghanistan knew that the ground was being laid for peace talks with the Taliban. Peace Unveiled follows three women in Afghanistan who are risking their lives to make sure that women’s rights don’t get traded away in the deal.
Tues 11/1: Colombia:The War We Are Living travels to Cauca, a mountainous region in Colombia’s Pacific southwest, where two extraordinary Afro-Colombian women are braving a violent struggle over their gold-rich lands. They are standing up for a generation of Colombians who have been terrorized and forcibly displaced as a deliberate strategy of war.
Tues 11/8: Overview:War Redefined, the capstone of Women, War & Peace, challenges the conventional wisdom that war and peace are mens’ domain through incisive interviews with leading thinkers, Secretaries of State and seasoned survivors of war and peace-making. Interviewees include Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; Liberian peace activist (and just-awarded Nobel laureate) Leymah Gbowee; Bosnian war crimes investigator Fadila Memisevic; and globalization expert Moisés Naím.
“The generation that fought hardest to come out is going back in to survive”
Gen Silent is a critically-acclaimed documentary from filmmaker Stu Maddux that explores the challenges of six LGBT (lesbian, gay, bi, trans) seniors who face the difficult choice of hiding their friends, their spouses and their entire lives in order to survive in the health care system.
For Family Fest 2011 the Frank Harr Foundation will open the event with a meet & greet reception for Gen Silent director, Stu Maddux, on Thursday, September 29, 2011, at 7 pm. Local film organization Working Films will host the meet & greet at the firehouse at 602 S. 5th Avenue, Wilmington, N.C. on the corner of Castle St. The reception is free and open to the public with catering provided by Front Street Brewery. Filmmakers and media creators interested in learning how to use their projects to promote social change are encouraged to attend. Stu will discuss how he is using his film to encourage more hospices and service agencies to address the specific needs of LGBT elders.
The 63-minute film will screen for free the following day, Friday, September 30, 2011, at 3 pm at UNCW’s Warwick Center. There will be a Health Fair starting at 12:30 pm that will include vendors serving the LGBT community, seminars focusing on legal issues facing LGBT individuals and couples, and LGBT sensitivity training for healthcare providers. The South East Area Health Education Center (SEAHEC) will sponsor four hours of continuing-education credits for nursing professionals for $15, payable at the door.
Following the screening will be a panel discussion about the movie and the realities faced today by LGBT individuals and couples in the healthcare system. Panelists include Stu Maddux, Gillian O’Reilly (MSW from Lower Cape Fear Hospice & Life Care Center), Rev. John McLaughlin (St. Jude’s Metropolitan Community Church), Connie Vetter (attorney), Eleanor Covan, Ph.D. (UNCW Gerontology) and Scott French (SAGE: Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders). This is a free event.
Major sponsors of Family Fest 2011 include Lower Cape Fear Hospice & Life Care Center; UNCW LGBTQIA Resource Office; SEAHEC; Virginia Hager, attorney at law; Connie Vetter, attorney at law; St. Jude’s Metropolitan Community Church; Level 5 at City Stage; Hampton Inns of Wilmington; and the Frank Harr Foundation.
After starting in festivals in Europe and the US, Our Schoolfinally had its premiere in Romania – a homecoming of sorts for the film and an event that we have been anticipating for almost six years.
We shot in a small town in Transylvania, a very real place in Northern Romania. Our intention was to begin to understand, and hopefully improve, race relations between majority Romanians and the Roma ethnic minority by showing under a magnifying glass the story of three spirited Roma children involved in a school integration project in Targu Lapus. After four years of production and two years of editing we ended up with a paradigmatic story of hope, squandered opportunities, and infuriating cultural and institutional inertia. And racism, quite a bit of racism. Some intentional, some merely reflexive, yet all of it profoundly familiar to all Romanians (ourselves, the filmmakers, included). This is precisely why we were bracing so hard and for so long for the Romanian premiere. We knew that in Romania, even more than in other places in Europe or the United States, Our School would be holding a mirror up to its audience – an unflattering one at that. And there are few things as counter-productive and virulent as unexamined, defensive racism.
We did what we could to prepare for the premiere in terms of press, NGO partners on the ground, and the main characters themselves. The NGO partners were as nervous as we were and chomping at the bit to use the film for their own purposes. The characters got to see the film on their own terms before the festival premiere, on the principle that it is cruel and unusual treatment to see your own story projected on a very large screen with a large audience before absorbing it privately. The kids had never been to the cinema before, so they were extra nervous. Our youngest participant, Alin, helped to lighten the mood by eating three ice-creams in rapid succession and contently throwing up right before the screening.
The press was lukewarm, understandably, since they had not seen the film, and the international success of the new Romanian cinema over past ten years has made them unimpressed with projects with the kind of international festival success that Our School has had). The online comments to the advance press coverage came exclusively from people who had not seen it, but assumed that no film on Roma would ever help. They made violent threats and personal attacks against our team for “destroying Romania’s image abroad.” We imagined they were people who had too much time on their hands, but we were still put on notice: Our School had the potential of generating a strong backlash, and that was the last thing we wanted to happen.
Matters were not helped much by the great folk at the Transylvania Film Festival who programmed us in the largest cinema they had: 750 seats. We worried that the seats would remain empty or would be filled with people who do not like what they seen on the screen.
We worried about everything.
Whatever fears we had were dispersed in the first five minutes of the screening. The huge audience laughed loudly at even the smallest jokes in the film. They clapped after particularly poignant lines, making the projectionist worried that they would not hear the soundtrack. They started sniffling, visibly moved towards the end. And, when the credits ended and we all lined up on the stage, we found them giving the children a standing ovation. For five whole minutes.
Alin turned to me and whispered: “Are all of these guys Romanian?” Yes, they were. And they were applauding the courage, resilience, spirit and sass of Alin, Dana, Beni – and all the Romanian friends they managed to make, despite all odds, along the way. The audience had connected to the kids, managing to see themselves in our film without defensiveness or rancor. They found ways to process and understand what they could change in themselves by the time the credits stopped rolling.
After the film…
A teacher confessed to treating her Roma students as inferior. I wanted to put her in touch with the New York teacher who confessed during our Q&A at the Tribeca Film Festival that she had been tracking immigrant children in special education programs because she herself lacked support and know-how to integrate them.
A local mentioned a case of segregation next door to the screening venue – an activist invited the audience to investigate the case, right then and there. A journalist mused about what the Ministry of Education should do with the film – we referred him to the principal in Our School, who despite an awareness that the film showed him in a light that was “a little too true” (his words), ended up generously saying that it is an extraordinary tool that should be used to train and inform people not only in Romania, but abroad.
There were also hugs – lots of them. Alin, Beni, and Dana said that they were treated, for that one night, better than they had been treated, cumulatively, their entire life.
The press reaction that came in response to the screening was no less enthusiastic. A journalist confessed an allergy to issue films and declared herself not only surprised, but cured. An editorial talked about how Our School is not only a film about Roma, it is a film about us. A reputed blog said the audience had come in with fixed ideas and had come out with the urge to apologize to Roma children on behalf of all Romanians.
We know this was an ideal audience in many ways – progressive, trained by ten years of challenging festival experiences, and moved by the presence of the children in the room. But having an initial reaction like this from hundreds of people gives us confidence in what this film can do. It gives us trust that the film can accomplish what we always intended: Point to a systemic problem, make us understand it in the most direct, human way, and do the hardest things of all – change hearts and minds and open up a some hope for the future.
Guest post by Mona Nicoara, Director of Our School.
Eight documentary projects were selected out of hundreds of applications. The selected filmmakers and their projects are:
Dir. Dawn Porter Gideon’s Army is the story of new public defenders working in the South. With long hours, low pay and staggering caseloads, many will not last. But now they have an advocate. Super-lawyer Jonathan Rapping, founder of the Southern Public Defender Training Center, is revolutionizing criminal defense by mentoring and supporting those who represent the people society would rather forget.
We The People
Dir. Soniya Kirpalani
United Arab Emirates, 2010: 17 Indians are given the death penalty for murdering 1 Pakistani. Further investigation reveals 1,785 more Indians languishing behind bars, 200 of whom face capital punishment. As Arab defense teams and India’s Lawyers for Human Rights challenge the Sharia Law Processes, We The People highlights the plight of migrant workers in repressive environments.
Who Is Dayani Cristal?
Dir. Marc Silver
An anonymous body is discovered in the Arizona desert. The only identifying feature is a tattoo reading ‘Dayani Cristal’. To unravel the mystery we must go on an epic journey beginning in a tiny Honduran village and ending in the corridors of power in Washington. Who Is Dayani Cristal? is a groundbreaking fusion of drama and documentary, starring Gael García Bernal, one of the most exciting actors of his generation.
Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry
Dir. Alison Klayman Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry is an intimate portrait of an international art star during two tumultuous years of his life. A “dissident artist” in the headlines, an online god to liberal Chinese netizens, Ai Weiwei blurs the boundaries of art and politics. But can an artist change China?
Untitled Partners In Health Documentary
Dir. Kief Davidson
Partners In Health is a remarkable global public health organization, insisting on quality health care as a basic right. This film delves deeply into their methods and beliefs, exploring the controversial characters that refuse to ‘choose one life over another, when there is all this wealth in the world.’
Dir. Katie Dellamaggiore
Amidst financial crisis and unprecedented public school budget cuts, Intermediate School 318 in Brooklyn, New York, has assembled the best junior high chess team in the nation. Brooklyn Castle follows five young teens for one school year as they struggle, grow and challenge themselves both on and off the chessboard.
Not In Our Town III: Light in the Darkness
Dir. Patrice O’Neill Not In Our Town III: Light In The Darkness follows a community in crisis after the fatal attack of a local immigrant resident. Stunned by the violence, diverse community stakeholders openly confront the crime and the divisive atmosphere, and commit to ongoing actions to prevent future hate crimes and intolerance.
Crime After Crime
Dir. Yoav Potash Crime After Crime is the exclusive documentary on the legal battle to free Debbie Peagler from prison two decades after her connection to the murder of the man who abused her. The film premiered at Sundance 2011 and has been acquired by OWN. Debbie’s Campaign is the accompanying campaign designed to spark public awareness and changes in domestic violence law.
Check out the activity that happened on twitter during the Good Pitch:
On November 11th, Working Films, Chicken & Egg Pictures and The Fledgling Fund screened The Fence (La Barda) for November’s Story Leads to Action. Natalie Difford of Chicken & Egg gives us some highlights on how activism and art are working together:
A new HBO film by Rory Kennedy, The Fence (La Barda), was screened and followed by an invigorating discussion with guest panelists Andre Segura, Staff Attorney, Immigrants’ Rights Project, The American Civil Liberties Union and Christina Baal, LMSW, Immigration Advocacy Field Coordinator, The New York Immigration Coalition and the audience members, moderated by Judith Helfand. Viewers came together with strategic advocates and educators to brainstorm and “design” on-the-spot community/audience engagement strategies for the films.
In October 2006, the United States government decided to build a fence along its troubled border with Mexico. 3 years, 19 construction companies, 350 engineers, thousands of construction workers, tens of thousands of tons of metal and more than $3 billion later – was it all worth it? That’s the question posed in Rory Kennedy’s latest HBO Documentary The Fence (La Barda) as it investigates the impact of the project, revealing how the fence’s stated goals – containing illegal immigration, cracking down on drug trafficking and protecting America from terrorists – have given way to unforeseen consequences.
The takeaway from the night was how important action is in order to change policies and get results. As Judith said, “A documentary is not a silver bullet” and an audience member expressed feelings of helplessness, “What do I do with all this disgust I feel?” We know the fence is already up, but that does not mean that everything is said and done. There are still issues on the table, like Arizona law, that can literally be changed by people getting involved and working to fight for legislation they believe in. How can this film be used in order to enable real change?
–> Target the audience members; congresspeople, journalists, editorial boards, conservative citizens.
–> Address some of the major issues; what is behind the actual crossing of the border, and what corporations are making money off of anti-immigration policies.
Judith & Molly facilitate a discussion after the screening
When doing outreach for a film like this, audience and panelists agreed that it is important to have a geographic focus, and to organize around a political landscape. For example, creating a campaign targeted around specific states where legislation is still subject to change or could seriously effect the lives of the citizens who live there.
The film manages to have a comedic affect, largely because of the absurdity and inefficiency of the policies in place. However, for the panelists, Andre Segura and Christina Baal, the issues are very pertinent and painful.
The discussion was greatly focused on the relationship between activism and art. Interestingly, Christina stated how important it was for these issues to be presented by artists, because it is hard for activists and lawmakers to present the issues in new ways.
Be sure to mark your calendar for next month’s Story Leads to Action featuring A Small Act by Jennifer Arnold on Thursday, December 16th at 7:30pm at 92YTribeca. Check out the trailer below:
Five summers ago, I arrived in the Wilmington firehouse for my first day of work as a summer intern at Working Films. Three days later, I got appendicitis and was rushed into surgery. And one week ago, I watched Good Fortune, a feature documentary I produced and edited, air on POV on PBS. All of these events feel connected to me, I’m just not sure how exactly.
Perhaps it’s the surreal feeling to it all—arriving to work the first day confused to find a firehouse in place of a standard office building, being rapidly wheeled across the ER by a bunch of strange nurses with strong Carolinian accents, and watching, after five years of blood, sweat, and tears, your film beam out to millions of people.
I worked with director Landon Van Soest to tell the stories of Jackson and Silva, two Kenyans whose lives are being destroyed by massive, international development projects. We followed them as they, along with their friends and neighbors, banned together to fight back to protect their community. It was empowering to see their fight, and we felt their stories served as a cautionary tale against imposing aid on a community. So it was an amazing feeling to know that their stories were being watched across the country last Tuesday.
But POV was involved in more than the broadcast. They worked with us to develop discussion guides, community screenings, and an interactive and ridiculously in-depth website. The site features updates on the film, videos exploring positive alternatives to development (made possible by our friends at the Fledgling Fund), an interactive map showcasing similar examples around the world, and more information about foreign aid and Kenya. But perhaps the feature I’m most excited about are the responses to the film by development experts. My favorite was from Erica Hagen of Map Kibera, who showed the film to a group of youths in Kibera. She describes their response this way: “They said ‘This is the truth. This is what it is like to live in Kibera. This is the kind of thing that happens to us. Someone comes by and marks our house with a red X, or cuts our power line, or tells us a new scheme has just been passed and it’s time for us to fall in line.’”
This was the most gratifying thing we could have read as filmmakers. We are continuing our work with the film and hope to bring it back to the communities in East Africa. We are also finishing a companion film, The Captain, about a polygamous family on the Kenyan shores of Lake Victoria that a presents holistic view of modern poverty by exploring the family’s relationship with the poverty, health, and environmental conservation.
And we hope the POV broadcast and our campaign beyond will help advocate for a rethinking of aid and development. Change needs to come from the grassroots; when it is imposed on a community, things often don’t turn out as they are planned.
A few months ago, Working Films consulted with the filmmakers of A New Kind of Listening and Speaking in Tongues about the redesign of their websites. Their new websites launched just in time for summer and we are impressed by the outcome! See the transformation for yourself by clicking on the before and after images below!
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ)was clear in his campaign ad last week: “Complete the danged fence,” he told an Arizona sheriff, who appeared with him in the immigration-themed ad.
The fence that McCain was referring to is actually a series of barriers along the U.S.-Mexican border that were approved by congress in 2006. It’s also the subject of Rory Kennedy’s short film “The Fence (La Barda).”
Kennedy’s film, shot well before Arizona’s new immigration law or McCain’s new ad, calls into question the effectiveness and the unintended consequences of the $3 billion fence.