Things are heating up at the Working Films’ firehouse this summer – literally, the heat index has hovered around 100 degrees the past month. I recently arrived to Wilmington in June as a 2011 George Stoney Fellow from Ithaca College in Ithaca, New York. I’m really excited and passionate about my work so far to help racial justice advocates across the country use the new Two Towns of Jasper Education and Outreach DVD. We’ve started partnering with an array of organizations so far, each one looking to host their own distinct event to inspire discussion and action that combats racial bias that continues to appear in our communities today.
Early last week, we were invited to brainstorm with chapters of the National Federation for Just Communities (NFCJ), a grassroots social justice organization whose former chapter memberships were known as the National Conference for Community and Justice (NCCJ). The former NCCJ was a key partner around the original launch of Two Towns of Jasper in 2003 so it was great to reconnect these allies with the project.
In our conversation, representatives from eight current NFJC groups in Oklahoma, Arkansas, Virginia, Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Nebraska and New York each saw potential in either screening the entire film or presenting selected clips from the film to youth and adults in their respective communities. Lana Benatovich, from NFJC of Western New York, brought major energy to the call, reflecting on the powerful impact Two Towns of Jasper had on her region in Buffalo, NY when they used the film for when it was first released. In the special DVD feature Two Towns of Jasper: Move Hearts, Minds and Policy (below), you can see firsthand how the film had the ability to push the Western New York citizens and government officials to consider the visible and all too dangerous “invisible” racial divisions in their area. Proving that Two Towns of Jasper is timeless tool for activists, Lana told us last week that she is eager to host another screening event with the new education and outreach DVD of Two Towns of Jasper. She noted that there is still much work to be done as her city of Buffalo was just named the 6th most segregated city in the U.S.
I couldn’t agree more with Lana and everyone on the NFCJ call that the issues the film brings up are just as relevant today as ever. That’s why we are working so hard to get the Two Towns of Jasper DVD into the hands of educators, community organizers and racial justice activists across the country. If you’re interested in hosting a screening, you can buy the DVD here.
This Education and Outreach DVD includes a host of resources that will help facilitators and audiences work through the essential but often difficult conversations that the film brings up. Two Towns of Jasper covers a city’s reaction to a horrible hate crime. At the same time, it uncovers the racism that can lead to this kind of tragedy. I found it difficult to get my head around. I thought to myself, “Why?”, “How?”, “And could this happen again?” The new resources on this DVD, including the educators guide written by Facing History and Ourselves and the interactive community discussion guide helped me process those questions, and I know they will provide screening hosts which a starting point for individual or group reflection and action.
Two Towns of Jasper truly does have limitless audience reach. Once only available on VHS and at film festival screenings, now you can feature Two Towns in:
local leadership development institutes
public forums on racial reconciliation
college campus discussions
civic response team workshops
educational film series
grassroots training sessions
youth leadership programs
town hall meetings
high school classrooms
diversity and inclusion training sessions
There is no better time than right now to bring Two Towns of Jasper to a community near you. Purchase the DVD and organize a screening today!
Christina Bryant is a George Stoney Fellow at Working Films for Summer 2011.
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:
We may not be holding a rally like Jon Stewart did, but we do hope that our newly revised curriculum New Faces: Latinos in North Carolina will bring more sanity to conversations about culture, identity, immigration and globalization in classrooms and communities across North Carolina. With laws like the one passed this spring in Arizona and politicians running ads saying things like “This is Alabama; we speak English. If you want to live here, learn it,” it’s clear that anti-immigrant sentiment in the United States certainly isn’t diminishing. There is clearly a lot of education that we need to do.
New Faces Video: From Latin America to North Carolina
Here’s a sample of one of the videos from the New Faces curriculum explaining why a diverse range of Latinos have moved to North Craolina from Latin America.
Unfortunately Latinos are the primary targets of this backlash. When I listen to media reports or even participate in conversations with friends and acquaintances I realize that often this sentiment is fueled by a lack of factual information related to Latino communities and to the subset of Latino immigrants. We need more opportunities to get the facts and to have civil dialogues about these important issues. Our multimedia curriculum, New Faces: Latinos in North Carolina uses documentary film clips, discussion and engaging learning activities to help learners understand more about themselves and about the Latino community in North Carolina. Ithas been re-designed to spark meaningful conversations and consciousness-raising on issues such as the roots causes of migration, the immigration system, the breakdown of stereotypes and prejudice, characteristics of Latino cultures, and struggles for workers rights. New Faces is a multimedia curriculum for use in middle and high schools classroom and for adults in professional development or popular education settings.
We’ve worked hard to revamp New Faces so that it encourages learners of all backgrounds to reflect on their own cultural identities and immigration histories, giving them important context for learning more about North Carolina’s multifaceted Latino communities. The curriculum was first released in 2007 and well received by educators, human service professionals, and community groups alike. We’ve expanded the curriculum to include 5 units and better indexed the lesson plans so that teachers and community leaders can pick lessons that will be most useful for their particular purposes. We’ve also added new content and shifted the framing of some of the original content to make it more approachable for learners from all walks of life. All the New Faces lesson plans and documentary films clips are available for free at www.workingfilms.org/newfaces, and a DVD of the films clips is available at no charge for teachers and non-profits in North Carolina
HR 6036, the Excellence and Innovation in Language Learning Act, was proposed by Congressional Representatives Rush Holt (D-NJ) and Paul Tonko (D-NY) on August 1, 2010. This legislation would allow every young American to become proficient in English and a second language within a generation.
What would it be like if you put your children in a school where the teacher spoke a foreign language? Speaking in Tongues follows the experience of 4 kids in language immersion grade schools.
Come watch this award winning film and support Californians Together, a statewide coalition of parents, teachers, education advocates and civil rights groups committed to securing equal access to quality education for all children. $4 from each ticket sold will be donated to their “Seal of Biliteracy” campaign.
September 12th 3:00pm – 5:00pm
@ Aero Theatre (1328 Montana Avenue)
Santa Monica, CA
Please share this exciting event with your networks. Special invited guests include: the filmmakers, community leaders, policymakers and more advocates from organizations at the forefront of multilingual education.
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!
There will be a number of films on Latino issues at this year’s Full Frame Film Festival in Durham, NC. Many of these films relate to issues facing North Carolina’s Latino population, issues which we address in our New Faces: Latinos in North Carolina multi-media curriculum. We’re just wrapping up some revisions to the New Faces curriculum and we’re excited to see the connections between that project and several of the great films playing at Full Frame this year.
A number of these films are part of the 2010 Thematic Program on work and labor at the festival.
Working Films board member and filmmaker Alex Rivera’s The Sixth Section will be playing on Saturday night. The film follows Grupo Unión, a group of immigrant men that pool their earnings for philanthropic projects for their hometown, such as a 2,000-seat baseball stadium and a new well.
Morristown: In the Air and Sun takes us to the fields and factory floors where Mexicans work at “jobs that Americans won’t do,” and present their struggles to organize. We see that the links between Morristown and Mexico are being strengthened, sometimes in surprising ways, by the global economy and the multinational corporations that influence the flow of labor and capital. You can catch this film on Sunday and can see a clip from footage shot by Morristown Filmmaker Anne Lewis on our New Faces website.
Los Trabajadores is playing this afternoon. In 1999 the booming city of Austin, Texas kept on growing – thanks largely to men like Ramón and Juan, who work some of the hardest jobs in an America that doesn’t want them. Through the lives of these two men and a battle over Austin’s controversial day labor program, Los Trabajadores brings to life the vivid contradictions that haunt America’s dependence on and discrimination against immigrant labor. Clips from Los Trabajadores are also part of the New Faces curriculum.
On Saturday afternoon as part of the Career Award, The Fence will be shown. In October 2006, the United States government decided to build a 700-mile fence along its Mexican border. Three years and 3.1 billion dollars later, its stated goals—containing illegal immigration, cracking down on drug trafficking, and protecting America from terrorists—have unforeseen consequences.
In the next few weeks look for an update from us on the revisions to the New Faces curriculum. In the meantime if you are in North Carolina join us in supporting these films at Full Frame!
Only a few weeks ago we hosted a strategy summit in partnership with POV for the Adoption Stories series which will air in late August/early September. At the strategy meeting, we brought together the filmmakers and POV team with non-profit organizations that work on adoption issues on many different levels every day. During the two day meeting, we discussed the multiple layers and complexities of adoption and identified overarching themes in the films such as identity, race, multiculturalism and the concept of family. Their diverse perspectives gave us insight to the best ways to approach an adoption awareness campaign around the broadcast and the films. We’re really excited about the results of the meeting and can’t wait to see the campaign develop leading up to the first film of the series, Wo Ai Ni (I Love You) Mommy on August 31st.
We’d like to congratulate filmmaker Marco Williams who has been selected by the Organization of American Historians to receive the 2009 Erik Barnouw Award, which is given annually for outstanding reporting or programming on network or cable television, or in documentary film, concerned with American history, the study of American history, and/or the promotion of history. On Saturday, March 28, OAH President Pete Daniel and President-Elect Elaine Tyler May presented the awards and prizes in Seattle, Washington, during the 102nd Annual Meeting of the Organization.
Marco’s latest film, Banished, is a co-production of Two Tone Productions, the Center for Investigative Reporting, the Independent Television Service (ITVS), and the National Black Programming Consortium, with major funding provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Sally Jo Fifer, Executive Producer for ITVS.
Banished focuses on a subject of American race relations that has received little attention. In addition to the horrible history of lynchings, many towns in the United States drove away entire black communities and seized their land without payment. The narrative tension in this documentary revolves around the search of the filmmaker and several black families today to track down what happened to their relatives and their land that was seized in the wake of mob violence. The film follows their quest from town to town and library to library, where they interview mayors and other officials and current residents of the towns. The white residents of these towns insist that they know nothing about it and claim that they are innocent because all this happened before they were born. The film illuminates this shameful episode of racial cleansing on American soil, and the legacy of loss and wounds that remain.