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Reel Power in TX and NC

July 24th, 2013 by Kristin Henry

ReelPower-banner-shadowOur core Reel Power effort in 2012 was a series of targeted grassroots screening events where this year we are going deeper with two of the Reel Power Film Festival hosts to do more interconnected work.

We are working with statewide climate coalitions to use Reel Power film collections, starting in Texas. Our lead partner is the Texas Drought Project (TDP), which works to bring together experts in farming, ranching, climatology and environmental science across the state to present forums and work with communities in key regions most affected by drought to develop and pursue specific solutions. We are working with TDP to convene stakeholders this Summer when we will plan tactics for using Reel Power to launch a statewide campaign. The focus will be on generating awareness and action in key Texas regions that are feeling the effects of climate change and dirty energy practices.

Target audiences include students, academics, farmers and ranchers and those communities most affected by the ravages of climate change. TDP’s participation builds on their involvement in the 2012 Reel Power Film Festival. This, along with 2013 efforts, will offer a case study and “how to” resource for using media to bolster organizing efforts to curb climate change. We intend to use this as a model that we can replicate in other states.

In North Carolina, we’re planning a strategy meeting this Fall featuring Reel Engagement films with our goal to support and assist with further building and mobilizing the Moral Monday movement and to advance the work of NC organizations working for economic, environmental and social justice. Moral Monday is a series of ongoing, nonviolent protests at the North Carolina General Assembly that have been happening every Monday since April 29 (not including Memorial Day) led by the NC NAACP with a coalition of allied groups participating. The protests are meant to demonstrate a push back against an extreme agenda that includes cuts to education, social programs and
unemployment benefits; a rush to frack; rejecting Medicaid expansion; new restrictions on voting and labor rights; among other policies. Select Reel Power films will be highlighted to offer participants a way to keep the momentum of Moral Monday going after the legislative session ends and to build a broader base. Our statewide partners include Clean Water for North Carolina who hosted the Reel Power Film Festival last year.

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Citizen Koch in North Carolina

July 3rd, 2013 by Andy Myers

citizen kochWhat do North Carolina and Wisconsin have in common? On the surface of it, perhaps not much: one has subzero winter temperatures and the other sweltering summers with off the charts humidity. But more and more people are seeing parallels between the tar heel and badger states, particularly the power of unregulated big money in politics. As more and more North Carolinians come to the state capitol every week protesting cuts to unemployment insurance, tax cuts for the state’s wealthiest citizens, loosening of environmental regulations, and threats to voting rights, we see a need for greater discussion about the ways in which big corporate money has been a factor in these policies being pushed. That’s why Working Films partnered with Democracy NC and United for a Fair Economy to host two screenings in North Carolina last week of Citizen Koch, a story about money, citizenship, and democracy that looks closely at the influence large donors –  in particular the Koch Brothers – had in the election and recall of Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin. As Jake Geller-Goad, Field Organizer for Democracy NC, said “We may have Art Pope (conservative campaign financier and now budget director for NC Gov McCrory) instead of Koch, but there are a lot of similarities between that movement and what’s going on [in NC] with Moral Mondays. And there is a lot to learn from those who have gone through this process before.”

On June 25th, we screened Citizen Koch in Greenville, NC to a packed church of community members and organizers. The audience heckled some of the subjects on the screen with angry shouts. The crowd erupted in laughter at the almost absurd level of similarity between the two states; including statements from politicians in Wisconsin that are now playing like a broken record in NC.
After the film, there was a robust dialogue focused on how attendees can get involved locally and in Raleigh, which is where citizens from across the state are gathering each Monday. We discussed long term strategies to limit the influence money is having in NC and the current work of organizations and groups audience members are involved in. It was a great opportunity for cross pollination and networking amongst diverse organizations. Organizers and members of groups like the NAACP, AFL-CIO, Democracy NC and others were able to share ideas, inspire each other to step up their work, and lay ground for future collaboration.

The second screening was in Durham, NC last Sunday, June 30th. Citizen Koch played to a full house at the 115 seat Full Frame Theater – so full that we had to turn some folks away because we just couldn’t fit anymore. The crowd responded with cheers and jeers and gave it a resounding ovation as the credits rolled.

We’re always looking for that moment after a screening when we can facilitate the move from a personal experience and reaction to the film, to channeling the audience’s emotions into action. This screening provided one of those. As the film concluded, a woman in the front row described feeling overwhelmed and saddened at the power that the enormously wealthy have to drown out the voices of regular people in our democracy. Bob Hall of Democracy NC honored her frustration, and immediately jumped in with an answer, “That’s why we have Moral Mondays. Join us!” Moral Mondays are demanding that representatives and senators to work in the interests of all North Carolinians, not simply the wealthy few. There was a shift at this point. 9184706263_e7473907d1_oThe audience was energized, letting out some audible “whoops” and “yeahs!” Bob and other audience members shared more about the Moral Monday mobilizations for those that were unfamiliar. We did a quick audience poll to find out who had been or was planning to go the following day and more than two thirds of the group said Yes. (Our co-director, Anna Lee ran into a few of them the next day on the porch of the General Assembly). Wrapping up, representatives of the NC Justice Center shared information about their work for tax justice and to address money in politics and asked the audience to sign a petition. At least a third of the audience signed.

At both screenings, NC audiences learned about Public Television’s decision to pull funding for and broadcast of Citizen Koch. This was news for many in the group. They were incensed at the censorship and ready to take action in support of the film. Just last week, Working Families started an online petition calling on PBS to air Citizen Koch.

The power of films like Citizen Koch to anger, inspire, and motivate people to actually DO SOMETHING is core to our mission. These two showings are a kick off to more work we have planned in our home state. We can’t wait to see impact.

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Putting Reel Economy to Work

June 20th, 2013 by Andy Myers


We’ve recently returned from a week in Boston with our Reel Economy partner, United for a Fair Economy (UFE) for Raise the Roots, the annual conference of the Tax Fairness Organizing Collaborative. We kicked off the conference with an sneak peek screening of the dynamic documentary Inequality for All. Starring Robert Reich, it’s being lauded as the Inconvenient Truth of the Economy. We packed the house at The Brattle Theater in Cambridge and the screening was followed by an engaging panel discussion on organizing for progressive state tax policy.


The next day, we led a workshop entitled From Seats to Streets: Using Film to Move the Masses. We presented case studies that showed how the Reel Economy collective can and is being used to help advance a fair and just economy. Workshop attendees included directors of organizations from all over the country who are a part of UFE’s Tax Fairness Organizing Collaborative, a network of 28 member organizations in 24 states that use grassroots power to promote progressive tax reform.


A main focus of the session was on developing specific strategies to put the films to use for state level shifts – we’ve recognized, as has Reich, that this is where change is happening and our work with Reel Economy in the next year with UFE will field test a state level organizing strategy. The workshop participants came up with specific examples of how they can put these films to work at home and envisioned the impact Reel Economy can have.

We’ve already begun some of this work in North Carolina with UFE and Democracy North Carolina, where we are hosting two screenings of Citizen Koch, one in Durham (June 30th) and one in Greenville (June 25th), to spotlight the similarities between the issues in the film (which follows the gubernatorial election and recall in Wisconsin) and the current political climate in NC. Our goal is to support and assist with further building and mobilizing the Moral Monday movement and to advance the work of NC organizations working for economic and social justice.

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Memorial Service for Robert West

June 10th, 2013 by Molly Murphy

The Working Films team is grateful for the care and support we’ve received from so many in the days since Robert West, our co-founder and long-time executive director passed away. Hearing and reading stories of love and appreciation for Robert – for his strategic thinking, generosity, passion for the work, and joux de vivre – expressed by friends and colleagues from around the world has made this difficult time much easier.robert west

The memorial service celebrating Robert’s life and legacy will be held on Saturday, June 22nd, at 2:00 PM, at the Cameron Museum of Art, 3201 South 17th Street, Wilmington, NC. It will be followed by a celebration that he planned at the historic firehouse at 602 South 5th Avenue, which was Robert’s home and is also the headquarters of Working Films.

If you are planning or even considering coming to Wilmington for the memorial, please let us know as soon as possible by emailing or calling Andy Myers ( / 910-342-9000). We can help make sure you have all the information you need and your stay is comfortable. We’ve reserved a block of rooms for Saturday night, June 22nd at the Hilton in downtown Wilmington. You can book a room in the block by calling the Hilton directly at 910-763-5900 by Friday 6/14. The Reservation ID is WST.

For those who would like to honor Robert’s life and legacy, contributions can be made to the Robert West Reel Engagement Fund, which will support an issue-driven Working Films’ initiative developed and evolved under Robert’s leadership. Dedicated to innovation, strategy and on-the-ground implementation, this Fund, just like Robert, will be nimble, dynamic, creative and responsive to the many urgent needs for change. Robert’s obituary as printed in the Wilmington Star News is below.

Again, thank for your concern and solidarity. It is sincerely appreciated.

The Working Films’ Staff and Board

Robert Kyle West 

Robert Kyle West, Co-founder and long-time Executive Director of Working Films, a nationally recognized non-profit dedicated to linking non-fiction films to activism, passed away at home in Wilmington, North Carolina on June 6, 2013 from brain cancer (GBM).

Robert and his twin sister Jane West were born on April 6, 1953, in Philadelphia, PA to parents Roberta Kyle West and Joseph F. West. As a child he resided in Lansdowne, PA and Cape May Point, NJ. In 1960, Robert’s father died, and in 1967 his mother, a native Virginian, moved the family to Richmond, VA. Robert attended Douglas Freeman High School and Virginia Commonwealth University where he developed what would become a life-long passion for art, history, politics, literature and film.

Early jobs in publishing and bookselling led West to the Mint Museum in Charlotte, NC, where he was curator of film and video from 1985-1999. He was most noted for founding and directing the Charlotte Film and Video Festival, drawing fiction, non-fiction, experimental filmmakers and animators from all over the U.S. and the globe. In this same period he and a team of friends also founded Charlotte’s Gay and Lesbian Film Series.

Robert considered the use, curation and moderation of a public convening – especially one built around an independent film – an art form in itself. In 1999 he turned his deep belief in the power of film to build community and galvanize hearts, minds and concrete change, into the nonprofit Working Films, which he co-founded with filmmaker Judith Helfand. That year he moved to Wilmington, NC to establish his home and the headquarters of Working Films in a historic firehouse on South Fifth Avenue.

Robert and Working Films were pioneers in the field of media engagement, crafting long-term and innovative partnerships between filmmakers and some of the nation’s and world’s leading nonprofits and NGOs. The engagement methodologies he crafted are now part of the parlance of making, funding, distributing and actively using non-fiction films, nationally and increasingly internationally – particularly in the UK where he collaborated with BRITDOC. The working motto he loved and helped coin: STORY LEADS TO ACTION.

Robert tirelessly gave back to the field by sitting on boards including the National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture , serving on juries and nomination committees including the Paul Robeson Fund for Independent Media, the Rockefeller Media Fellowships, the Media Arts Fellowship Program of the NEA, Creative Capital, the NC Arts Council and The Independent Television Service, a production arm of PBS and serving on film festival panels including NC’s Cucalorus and Full Frame, The Center for Social Media’s “Making Media that Matters”, Sundance and in the last few years, Sheffield (UK) and Eso-Docs (EU).

An out gay man since he was twenty-five, Robert had an unrelenting commitment to the rights and equality of all people. He truly believed that everyone has the right to “be who they are.” Robert credits his uncle, Charles M. Butterworth, Jr., a Harvard trained lawyer who devoted his time and skills to the catholic worker movement, with giving him the gift of “considering a life committed to justice outside the mainstream.”

Robert’s surviving siblings and family members include; Fred and Hillary West of Chestnut Hill, PA and their children Kyle and Emily; Jane and Bruce Bench of Seattle, WA and their children, Robert, Jordan and Christopher; and brother John West of Santa Barbara, CA. He is predeceased by brother Joseph West, Jr. Robert also deeply loved his friends from Wilmington, Charlotte, NY and around the world. Too numerous to name, he appreciated their thoughtful care and their many messages of support throughout this year.

Robert turned the past very difficult year into a series of life-giving lessons offered to family and friends: Be Who You Are; Unplug from Technology, Take the Time to Feel the Wind and the Sun, and Be Present. It is in that spirit that we will gather on Saturday, June 22nd, at 2:00 PM, at the Cameron Museum of Art, 3201 South 17th Street, Wilmington, NC for a memorial service celebrating Robert’s life and legacy. Memorials in Robert West’s honor may be made to the Robert West Reel Engagement Fund at Working Films, 602 S. Fifth Ave, Wilmington, NC 28401 or Online condolence may be sent to the family at Atlantic Cremation Service.

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Thank you Robert

June 6th, 2013 by Anna Lee

2013 rw legacy

UPDATE: The memorial service celebrating Robert’s life and legacy will be held on Saturday, June 22nd, at 2:00 PM, at the Cameron Museum of Art, 3201 South 17th Street, Wilmington, NC. It will be followed by a celebration that he planned at the historic firehouse at 602 South 5th Avenue, which was Robert’s home and is also the headquarters of Working Films.

Our much beloved Robert West, Working Films’ Co-Founder and long-time Executive Director, passed away peacefully in his home early this morning. He approached death the same way he lived his life — with grace, dignity, intention, honesty, and whenever possible, humor.

Since Robert’s diagnosis of brain cancer (GBM) last September, he has been embraced by the love and support from friends and colleagues in Wilmington and around the world. Be it fresh cut peonies straight from the Saturday farmers market, a stunning hand-worked velveteen quilt from LA, a box of posh UK chocolates, heartfelt responses to his revelatory posts on Caring Bridge, or the myriad emails, hand-drawn cards and letters he received, he was held closely and cared for deeply. And, along with him, so was Working Films. For that, we will be forever grateful.

We are heartbroken. But we are buoyed by the knowledge that Robert’s singular vision and unique spirit live on. He leaves all of us a legacy. Whenever the lights come up after a stirring film we will take a deep breath… smile, think of him and welcome the catalytic moment when stories lead to action. And in that moment, Robert will be with us.

Details of a memorial and celebration (designed and curated by Robert himself) will be forthcoming. For those who would like to honor Robert’s life and legacy, contributions can be made to the Robert West Reel Engagement Fund, which will support an issue-driven Working Films’ initiative developed and evolved under Robert’s leadership. Dedicated to innovation, strategy and on-the-ground implementation, this Fund, just like Robert, will be nimble, dynamic, creative and responsive to the many urgent needs for change.

With deep appreciation, love and solidarity,

Working Films’ Staff and Board

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Schedule a Consultation with Working Films!

June 3rd, 2013 by admin

Schedule a one-on-one consultation to hone your audience engagement and outreach strategy, gain input on your fundraising approach, and meet the double bottom line - making an impact while making a living. Our team can provide grounded and strategic advice to ensure your documentary film or media project will make a measurable and meaningful difference. For more information on what we offer in these personalized sessions and to schedule an appointment, click here.

marcia jarmel

Marcia Jarmel

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Robert West Awarded the Frank Harr Community Service Award

May 8th, 2013 by Andy Myers

rw uncw 2Working 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.
rw unce 3

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Raise the Roots & Reel Economy

April 15th, 2013 by Andy Myers

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.

raise the roots

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Honoring Robert West at Full Frame Film Festival

April 5th, 2013 by Anna Lee

Full Frame logoAs 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.

On Sunday, The Southern Documentary Fund, The Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University, Chicken & Egg Pictures, P.O.V., The Garrett Scott Memorial Fund, The Johnson Family Foundation, Thom Powers, Liz Shaw, Betty Hahn and filmmakers Julia Reichert, Steven Bognar, Marco Williams, Cynthia Hill, Alice Elliot, Tia Lessen, Carl Deal, Michele Stephenson, Joe Brewster will be celebrating the work and vision of Robert West and Working Films’ unique brand of Reel Engagement – past, present and future.

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.

robert photoPlease 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)

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Reel Power Film Festival Review

February 19th, 2013 by Kristin Henry

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.

New Mexico Interfaith Power & Light, Albuquerque NM

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.

Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards (SAMS), Wise VA

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, Ithaca NY

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, Corpus Christi TX

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]

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