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Remembering Robert

June 2nd, 2014 by Anna Lee

old photo of robertThis Friday, June 6th, 2014 will mark a year since our co-founder Robert West passed away. All this week we will be posting tributes to him from his friends, family, and colleagues. Today we are sharing the remarks given by Robert’s dear friends Betsy Bilger and Tom Warshauer at his memorial service held last June at the Cameron Art Museum in Wilmington, NC.  Re-reading these remembrances brought smiles to our faces, and we’ve spent the morning in the office telling stories about our dynamic friend and colleague. We hope that as you read and gain glimpses into Robert’s rich life that you too will recall your favorite anecdotes and share those memories of Robert with us in the comments section or on our facebook page.

Tom warshauer Remarks for Robert Kyle West
By Tom Warshauer

Welcome. I am so gratified to be a part of this community of Robert’s friends and family as we remember our friend and celebrate his legacy.

He wanted us to gather here, built by his friend Ren Brown and the location of Ren’s Memorial service. Robert spent his last decade here in Wilmington, and the firehouse in this coastal town and his friend’s home in Windy Point were the places Robert loved as his final home. After he became ill, he didn’t travel. He stayed here and watched the boats, dolphins and birds on the intracoastal, the sunsets over the marsh, and you visited. He loved it here, so it is fitting that we should gather here today, and thank the Cameron Museum for making it possible.

He loved you and planned this day for you.  He wanted you to relax into some good music that he selected with his friend Tom Noonan.  He wanted you to think back into his life and your life with him as you hear from speakers he invited to address you today.  He was always in control and is in control of this day too.

Robert left no one behind.  He remembered his illustrious family – the 14th great grandson of Pocahontas, a descendant of Robert Pleasants who freed his slaves in 1782 and encouraged Thomas Jefferson and George Washington to do so to.  His Uncle Charles Butterworth worked for the Catholic Workers Movement for social equity. His activism was deeply rooted in his family. So as you listen to stories from these aspects of his life, I believe we will see more clearly how this man we admired and loved was constructed.

Robert collected people about him, connected them together and then connected us to the world. When at Robert’s you knew that you mattered, that one person could change the world, because one person sitting with you, Robert, was doing just that.

He built a community as he served us with dinner and served us with thought.  He never shied from something difficult. In fact, he preferred something difficult to talking about what you agreed on. He didn’t mind being challenged, or pushed in the pool.  He knew that rigorous thought was honed by challenges, as steel is strengthened by fire. We argued,and we knew it was ok.  So any arguments I may have had with anyone are no match for the arguments with Robert.  I am practiced. His dinners weren’t empty conversation, but places where thinking mattered and good stories prevailed.

So today we all try to rise to the occasion to tell the stories Robert would love you to hear and to remember. Today you will hear of Robert’s impact on the world of film and activism on issues critical to our world, you will hear from family about their brother and uncle, and you will hear from friends, in Wilmington and long-time friends from Richmond. You may have heard some before- that’s not new – but today we hear them together and remember your friend, your brother, your uncle, and my good good friend – who challenged me and helped me grow.

Memories of Robert West betsy bilger
By Betsy Bilger

When I say the name Robert West it feels like I am saying a word that is bigger than the individual. The name Robert West is like saying The Fourth of July – we all recognize it as something important. Because he is kind of famous… He is the director of Working Films; he is the guy that lives in the firehouse; he’s the person that kayaks on the Cape Fear River; he is the host of legendary dinner parties….

But then there is the personal experience. And that is the Robert West that unfolds slowly and is revealed when you get to spend time with him and pay attention.

Robert has been a regular presence in my life for around 30 years. So, I am really fortunate to have had that time with him. He was first someone I admired; then was a neighbor, a colleague, and a friend. Twice we lived on the same street at the same time. We partnered on projects together, and we went to the farmers market and planned meals together. In fact, I say that Robert was a rhythm in my life. If we were in the same town on Saturday, we were at the farmer’s market. That was true when we lived in Charlotte and in Wilmington. And if one of us was out of town, we picked up provisions for the other. I told people that Robert was the punctuation to my week. Saturday mornings with him was the thing I started to look forward to on Monday.

I told Robert before he died that he has been a steady, stalwart friend. And that is a big deal. But he was more than that. He was one of the most generous people I know. Many of us here have been the lucky beneficiaries of Robert’s generosity in the form of his dinner parties. Not only have I been lucky to eat at his table many, many Saturday nights, but he has welcomed friends of mine that he had never met to his house. In fact, he has welcomed friends of friends of mine to dinner. He just welcomed them without hesitation in his non-effusive, authentic way.

He was not effusive, but he was generous. He didn’t care about receiving or giving gifts in the traditional sense. But he gave many gifts. One of his gifts was the way he celebrated individuals. He acknowledged them and recognized their worth. Sometimes they were people he barely knew, and sometimes they were people close to him. When I started a new job at a museum in Charlotte he showed up with a carrier of coffee, cream, cups, and sugar for the whole staff.  He wanted to celebrate my new job by giving to those around me so that they thought I was pretty cool. When I worked on projects with him he gave credit to me—even though he was the one who came up with the idea, who found the funding, made the contacts, and facilitated the activities.

He was also generous in his honesty. When you were at his house for dinner and it was time for you to leave he would say, “Ok, it’s time for you to go now.”  When he was first in the hospital, and he needed time to himself he would again say, “Ok, it’s time for you to go now.” He once asked me if that was ok to do, and I told him it made it so much easier to be his guest, because I never had to worry about overstaying or being an imposition. He wouldn’t let you.

His honesty pushed him to guide people to unaccustomed and sometimes uncomfortable ways of seeing the world… and also of seeing your own life. I think of myself as a pretty happy person, but he often needled me about having more fun. In fact, in one of the last conversations I had with him, he asked me what I was doing for fun. I am a social studies teacher, and I told him that I was enjoying reading about history and preparing my classes. That didn’t satisfy him, and he said, “Yes, but, what are you doing for fun?” And I said, “Well, Eddie and I are taking lots of walks together.” And he said, “But what are you doing for fun?” And I realized that I wasn’t really taking care of my fun needs. And I am still not very well. And part of that is because he died and I am sad. But you know what—I have had such a great time thinking about and talking about him as this memorial was being planned, I think his final gift to me has been to have fun this weekend.

Robert taught me so much through the questions he asked, the way he lived in this world, and the opportunities he made happen and included me in. He could make me so annoyed at times, and at other times we would both be laughing so hard we were in tears.  And, then of course, we shared tears of sadness and concern. First, after watching Judith’s film, A Healthy Baby Girl, and then, last, when he told me he was dying. He was not only generous until death but because of death.

I am grateful for all the experiences he offered me, and I am grateful to his family for sharing him with me.

Thank you.

Please share your own memories and reflections about Robert with us. If you would like to honor him by contributing to the Robert West Reel Engagement Fund, which we set up with his blessing and encouragement last spring as a way to memorialize his role in founding the organization and his vision for our work, you can do so at  Thank you!
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Moral Movies continues with American Winter

May 14th, 2014 by Andy Myers

The Moral Movies Film Series got off to a great start last month with screenings of  the Teacher Salary Project’s American Teacher. Hundreds of people turned out across North Carolina to witness, discuss, and take action in response to the struggles on screen and those faced by public school teachers every day in a state ranked 46th in the country in teacher pay. The screenings were timed just as shocking teacher turnover numbers were released in the wake of a legislative assault on public education.

It wasn’t hard for audiences to make the connection between the film to the challenges educators in N.C.are dealing with. After the screenings they composed postcards for state legislators and signed up for the Tar Heel Alliance for Classroom Teachers’ action network.

Moral Movies will continue this month with screenings of American Winter, which  follows eight families struggling in the wake of America’s Great Recession and reveals the devastating human impact of rising economic inequality, a shrinking social safety net, and the fracturing of the American Dream.

The NC AFL-CIO will co-present this month’s round of screenings. Communications Director and Operations Manager, Jeremy Sprinkle says, “Many working families in North Carolina will be able to relate to the powerful stories of personal loss and struggle told in American Winter because the devastating and long-lasting effects of the recession continue to be felt here. It may be springtime on the calendar, but for all those who are now falling into poverty, it still feels like our economy and policymakers have left them in the cold. We hope American Winter opens people’s eyes to the new faces of poverty in America, which increasingly include those of well-educated and once middle-class working families. Only by working together can we build an economy that works for all of us.”

American Winter will screen May 29th in seven cities across North Carolina, more details below:

Asheville: Thursday, May 29th, 7pm

Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Asheville, 1 Edwin Place. Asheville, NC 28801

Charlotte: Thursday, May 29th, 7pm

NCAE, 301 S McDowell ST. Suite 1200, Charlotte, NC 18204 Parking is available in the lot beside the building and your parking pass will be validated once you come upstairs

Wilmington: Thursday, May 29th, 7pm

Hannah Block Community Arts Center, 120 S 2nd St. Wilmington, NC 28401

Raleigh: Thursday, May 29th, 7pm

Kenan Hall at William Peace University, 15 E Peace St. Raleigh, NC

Durham: Thursday, May 29th, 7pm

Full Frame Theater in the center of the American Tobacco Campus, 320 Blackwell St. Durham, NC 27701

Greensboro: Thursday, May 29th, 7pm

Weatherspoon Art Museum, 500 Tate St. Greensboro, NC 27412

Greenville: Thursday, May 29th, 7pm

Lucille W. Gorham Intergenerational Community Ctr. 1100 Ward St. Greenville, NC 27834

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Coal Ash Stories: Join us in June!

May 12th, 2014 by Kristin Henry
Film still from Downwind and Downstream: With Power Comes Responsibility. Coal ash impoundments along the Catawba River with the Charlotte skyline.

Film still from Downwind and Downstream: With Power Comes Responsibility. Coal ash impoundments along the Catawba River with the Charlotte skyline in background.


Imagine being afraid to drink your water, take a bath, fish, or farm. These are the fears facing communities near the Duke Energy coal ash spill and in areas around other coal-fired power plants in North Carolina.

You’re invited to Coal Ash Stories, an event featuring four short films focused on coal ash, public health concerns, related policy, and ways that communities are responding. Events are taking place in Wilmington, Raleigh, Durham, Greensboro, Belews Creek, Winston Salem, Charlotte, and Asheville. Come learn about the issues, talk with community members, and find out how you can get involved.

The NC screening tour is co-presented by Appalachian Voices, Earthjustice, North Carolina Conservation Network, NC WARN, Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, and Working Films. Contact Kristin Henry,, with any questions.

Winston Salem
Thursday, June 12, 7pm
Old Salem Single Brothers Workshop
10 West Academy Street Winston-Salem, NC 27101
Hosted by: Sierra Club Foothills Group

Belews Creek
Tuesday June 17th, 7pm

Pine Hall Ruritan Club
1555 Pine Hall Rd Pine Hall, NC 27042
Hosted by: Appalachian Voices

Tuesday, June 17th, 7pm
723 Rigsbee Ave, Durham, NC 27701
Hosted by: NC WARN, Sierra Club Headwaters Group, Durham People’s Alliance

Wednesday, June 18th, 7pm
Area 15
514 E. 15th St., Charlotte, NC 28206
Co-hosted by: Charlotte Environmental Action, Greenpeace NC, The Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation

Thursday, June 19th, 7pm
Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Asheville
1 Edwin Place, Asheville, NC 28801
Co-hosted by: Southern Alliance for Clean EnergyMountain People’s AssemblyClean Water for NC

Thursday, June 19th, 7pm
Central Library Nussbaum Room
219 N Church St., Greensboro, NC 27405
Co-hosted by: Fund for Democratic Communities, League of Conservation Voters, Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League

Thursday, June 19th, 7pm
Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Raleigh
3313 Wade Ave, Raleigh, NC 27607
Co-hosted by: Triangle, Neuse Riverkeeper Foundation, Sierra Club Capital Group,  League of Conservation Voters-NC, Triangle Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom

Thursday, June 19th, 7pm
Jengo’s Playhouse
815 Princess St. Wilmington, NC 28401
Co-hosted by: Cape Fear Sierra Club, New Hanover NAACP, Cape Fear River Watch



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Working Films, North Carolina NAACP & Allies Present MORAL MOVIES

April 9th, 2014 by Anna Lee


Working Films, the NC-NAACP, and state and local organizations from around North Carolina are partnering to present MORAL MOVIES – a four month series of award-winning films to jumpstart community dialogue and action on social, economic, and environmental issues relevant to the state. The series of free screenings will kick off with American Teacher, a documentary that follows the  lives and careers of four teachers and offers an opportunity to spotlight teacher pay and public education in North Carolina, which recently dropped to 46th nationally in rankings of teacher salaries.

MORAL MOVIES will take place the last week of each month from April through July in Asheville, Charlotte, Durham, Greensboro, Greenville, Raleigh, and Wilmington  (See the schedule below for details on exact locations in each city). In addition to Working Films and the NC-NAACP, collaborating organizations include: The North Carolina Association of Educators, the Tarheel Alliance of Classroom Teachers, the NC AFL-CIO, Democracy NC, the NC Justice Center, The Durham People’s Alliance, The Mountain People’s Assembly, Beloved Community Center, Action NC, Pitt County NAACP, New Hanover County NAACP, and the Black Arts Alliance. Films that are part of the series include:

American Teacher - April screenings presented by the NCAE and Tarheel Alliance of Classroom Teachers
American Winter - May screenings presented by the NC AFL-CIO
Freedom Summer- June screenings presented by Democracy NC
Inequality for All- July screenings presented by NC Justice Center

Working Films was inspired to pursue this series by the unprecedented civic engagement sparked by the Moral Monday demonstrations that began at the NC state capitol last year. As an organization that has worked nationally for over a decade to use film to raise awareness and catalyze community and civic engagement, we see an opportunity to use great films to inspire community dialogue and citizen action around the critical issues at play in our home state. The series will offer people a way to actively participate and have their voices heard when the legislature reconvenes, even if they can’t make it to Raleigh every Monday to protest. Working Films is co-presenting the Moral Movie Film Series with the North Carolina NAACP, which is nationally recognized as the leader of the Moral Monday / Forward Together movement.

Below is a list of all Moral Movies Screenings across the state, organized by city.

Hosted by The Mountain People’s Assembly

American Teacher: Friday, April 25th, 7pm
Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Asheville, 1 Edwin Place. Asheville, NC 28801

American Winter: Thursday, May 29th, 7pm
Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Asheville, 1 Edwin Place. Asheville, NC 28801

Freedom Summer: Thursday June 26th, 7pm
Jubilee! 46 Wall St. Asheville, NC 28801

Inequality for All: Friday July 25th, 7pm
Ferguson Auditorium at AB Tech, 340 Victoria Rd. Asheville NC 28801

Hosted by the NC Association of Educators(NCAE)

American Teacher: Thursday, April 24th, 7pm

American Winter: Thursday, May 29th, 7pm

Freedom Summer: Tuesday, June 24th, 7pm

Inequality for All: Thursday, July 31st, 7pm

All screenings will be held at the NCAE, 301 S McDowell ST. Suite 1200, Charlotte, NC 18204
Parking is available in the lot beside the building and your parking pass will be validated once you come upstairs

Hosted by the Durham People’s Alliance

American Teacher: Tuesday, April 29th, 7pm
Motorco, 723 Rigsbee Ave. Durham, NC 27701

American Winter: Thursday, May 29th, 7pm
Full Frame Theater in the center of the American Tobacco Campus, 320 Blackwell St. Durham, NC 27701

Freedom Summer: Thursday June 26th, 7pm
Hayti Heritage Center 804 Old Fayetteville St. Durham, NC 27701

Inequality For All: Thursday July 31st, 6:30pm
Durham County Public Library Auditorium, 300 N Roxboro St. Durham, NC 27701

Hosted by The Beloved Community Center

American Teacher: Thursday, April 24th, 7pm
Joseph M Bryan Jr. Auditorium, 5800 West Friendly Ave. Greensboro, NC 27410

American Winter: Thursday, May 29th, 7pm
Weatherspoon Art Museum, 500 Tate St. Greensboro, NC 27412

Freedom Summer: Tuesday, June 24th, 6:30pm
International Civil Rights Center and Museum, 134 S Elm St. Greensboro, NC 27401

Inequality for All: Thursday, July 31st, 7pm
Central Library Nussbaum Room, 219 N Church St. Greensboro, NC 27405

Hosted by Pitt County NAACP

American Teacher: Tuesday, April 29th, 7pm
ECU Mendenhall Student Center, Hendrix Theater, Greenville NC

American Winter: Thursday, May 29th, 7pm
Lucille W. Gorham Intergenerational Community Ctr. 1100 Ward St. Greenville, NC 27834

Freedom Summer: Tuesday June 24th, 7pm
Unitarian Universalist Congregation, 131 Oakmont Dr. Greenville, NC 27858

Inequality for All: Tuesday July 29th, 7pm
Unitarian Universalist Congregation, 131 Oakmont Dr. Greenville, NC 27858

Hosted by Action NC

American Teacher: Tuesday April 29th, 7pm
NCAE Headquarters, 700 S. Salisbury St. Raleigh, NC 27601

American Winter: Thursday, May 29th, 7pm
Kenan Hall at William Peace University, 15 E Peace St. Raleigh, NC

Freedom Summer: Tuesday, June 24th, 7pm
Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Raleigh, 3313 Wade Ave. Raleigh, NC 27607

Inequality for All: Tuesday, July 29th 7pm
Community UCC, 814 Dixie Trail, Raleigh, NC 27607

Hosted by The Black Arts Alliance and the New Hanover County NAACP

American Teacher: Thursday, April 24th, 7pm
Cameron Art Museum, 3201 S. 17th St. Wilmington, NC 28412

American Winter: Thursday, May 29th, 7pm
Hannah Block Community Arts Center, 120 S 2nd St. Wilmington, NC 28401

Freedom Summer: Tuesday, June 24th, 7pm
New Beginning Christian Church, 3120 Alex Trask Dr. Castle Hayne, NC 28429

Inequality for All: Thursday, July 31st, 7pm
Cameron Art Museum, 3201 S. 17th St. Wilmington, NC 28412

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Host a Come Hell or High Water Watch Party

March 20th, 2014 by Kristin Henry

With extreme energy disasters like the West Virginia chemical leak and the exploding tar sands trains fresh on people’s minds, many of us are searching for ways to ensure the safety and health of our communities. The national television broadcast of Come Hell or High Water: The Battle for Turkey Creek on April 29th offers an opportunity for you to spark discussion and action among your friends and neighbors about how to forge a sustainable and just future.

Come Hell or High Water tells the story of a Gulf Coast community threatened by urban sprawl, hurricanes and an unprecedented manmade disaster.

Sign up today to host a watch party of Come Hell or High Water: The Battle for Turkey Creek when it premieres on April 29th or within 30 days following the television premiere. You can access the film by finding your broadcast on a local station, or watch when it streams for free online through America ReFramed. After you register your event, we’ll provide you with a guide to host a successful party.



Come Hell or High Water: The Battle for Turkey Creek follows the painful but inspiring journey of Derrick Evans, a Boston teacher who moves home to coastal Mississippi when the graves of his ancestors are bulldozed to make way for the sprawling city of Gulfport. Over the course of a decade, Derrick and his neighbors stand up to powerful corporate interests and politicians and face ordeals that include Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil disaster in their struggle for self-determination and environmental justice.

This is an inspirational story of how one community banded together to save their land and culture. After watching the film with your friends, family, neighbors and colleagues, Reel Power logo and burst crophave a conversation about how the film moved you and encourage everyone to get involved locally. Sign up to host a house party today!

Come Hell or High Water Watch Parties are a partnership with Working Films’ Reel Power.

“This intimate film tells a gigantic story — about race, about power, about so-called development. But it is also a saga of community, resilience, resistance, and hope. It’s about everything that matters in our society.”
– Bill Bigelow, Rethinking Schools

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Come Hell or High Water Hosts Washington, D.C. Premiere on March 30

February 19th, 2014 by Kristin Henry


Reel Power collaborating film Come Hell or High Water: The Battle for Turkey Creek will host it’s D.C. premiere at the Environmental Film Festival in the Nation’s Capital. The film will be followed by a panel discussion with the filmmaker, the film’s protagonist, Derrick Evans, and special guests Brentin Mock, regular Grist contributor; Reilly Morse, president of the Mississippi Center for Justice; and Leslie Fields, national environmental justice director at the Sierra Club. The discussion will focus on social and environmental justice challenges on the Gulf Coast and will include frontline community leaders working for change through strategic alliances and the use of independent media.

If you’re in the area, please join us!

Sunday, March 30th, 2014
4:30 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.
Carnegie Institution for Science
1530 P St NW, Washington, DC 20005
Free tickets:


Derrick Evans is director of Turkey Creek Community Initiatives and a managing advisor to the Gulf Coast Fund for Community Renewal and Ecological Health. Before returning to his native coastal Mississippi community he taught for many years in the Boston Public Schools.

Leslie Fields is national environmental justice director at the Sierra Club. She teaches international environmental law at Howard University and serves as a Commissioner on the Joint Center for Economic and Political Studies’ Commission to Engage African Americans on Energy, Climate and the Environment.

Leah Mahan is an independent filmmaker. She spent a dozen years making Come Hell or High Water and was invited to work on the rough cut at the Sundance Institute Documentary Editing and Story Lab. Her first film was Holding Ground: The Rebirth of Dudley Street.

Brentin Mock writes regularly for Grist about the connections between environmental policy, race, and politics. He was lead reporter on Voting Rights Watch, a reporting partnership between Colorlines and The Nation. Before moving to D.C., he worked from New Orleans with The Lens and Bridge the Gulf.

Reilly Morse is president of the Mississippi Center for Justice. He worked for many years with grassroots leaders in the Turkey Creek watershed and collaborated with the Sierra Club and Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights on legal strategies.

Come Hell or High Water held its national premiere at the New Orleans Film Festival, where it won the Audience Award for Documentary Feature. It will broadcast on PBS’ America ReFramed on April 29th. This date was just chosen, so stay tuned for more details. The community media site Bridge the Gulf places the Turkey Creek story in a broader context, connecting viewers to a network of Gulf Coast community journalists with deep roots in diverse communities and fields who report on pressing social and environmental issues. A redesign of the site will be launched in March and celebrated at the Washington, D.C. film premiere.

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Working Films Provides Tactful Support to Public Education

February 5th, 2014 by Andy Myers


The New Public, a film by Jyllian Gunther is the most recent addition to the Reel Education co-hort. The film follows an ambitious group of teachers who create Brooklyn Community Arts & Media High School (BCAM) a small, public high school in an under served neighborhood of Brooklyn. The film provides a close-up look at the struggles teachers face in and  outside of school.

In North Carolina, a state where teacher pay is ranked at 46th in the nation and public funds are being diverted to private schools, Working Films connected The New Public to the Tarheel Alliance of Classroom Teachers (tACT).  TACT is a new organization that works to unite public educators in North Carolina in order that they might assume a more active role and voice in the decisions made that impact public schools and the students enrolled in them. They seek to promote teacher respect, recognition, compensation as well as improvements in public education as a whole.
tact logo

With support from Working Films tACT held screenings of The New Public in key cities across the state. In addition to promoting awareness of the struggles and triumphs in public education, the screening series raised tACT’s profile and helped grow its membership. Specifically the screenings resulted in Sixty new members joining this new and growing organization.  TACT staff and board members said that putting the series together helped them to establish or strengthen existing  alliances with prestigious, well established state and national organizations including the American Association of University Women (AAUW), UNC CH Education Law & Policy Society, Public Schools First of NC, Women AdvaNCe, NC Justice Center, and the NC Association of Educators. The screenings were also used to collect audience information on working conditions and challenges for North Carolina teachers to help inform tACT’s agenda for the school year.

Sandy Younce, a board member for tACT, said the discussions following each screening were overwhelmingly fruitful. Participants “agreed that a free public education for all children is basic to the maintenance of a free and democratic society.” Out of the many complex issues depicted in the film, one of the major takeaways is the incredible burden on public school teachers to be all things to all people. According to Younce, “Public educators are expected to do everything for their community. Teachers are expected to be mothers, fathers, moral guides, nursemaids, and administrators.” tACT is working hard to create recognition of the challenges educators in NC and across the country face and to assure that teachers are given credit for their commitment to their students, knowledge and professionalism. Working Films is proud to have been able to support them in using film to advance these goals.

Keep your eyes open for further collaboration with tACT on additional screenings of education films this spring!

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January 27th, 2014 by Charlon Turner

Working Films is excited to be a Community Partner of the Center for Media & Social Impact (CMSI)’s 10th Annual Media That Matters Conference in Washington, DC February 6 -7, 2014.

Media That Matters is an annual symposium presented by the Center for Media & Social Impact at American University. It is designed for established and aspiring filmmakers, nonprofit communication leaders, funders, and students who want to learn and share cutting-edge practices to make their media matter. The conference opens Thursday February 6th with workshops on fair use of copyrighted material, designing for impact, and incorporating transmedia theory into media projects. Friday’s agenda will include a keynote address by Alden E. Stoner, Vice President of Social Action Film Campaigns at Participant Media. The conference will also feature networking opportunities and sessions focused on digital games, using play for social impact and graphically visualizing policy, history, news and more.

Media Matters Conference

Register now to be a part of this awesome opportunity!

The Center for Media & Social Impact at American University, formerly the Center for Social Media, is an innovation lab and research center that studies, designs, and showcases media for social impact. CMSI focuses on independent, documentary and public media, the Center bridges boundaries between scholars, producers and communication practitioners across media production, media impact, public policy and audience engagement. The Center produces resources for the field and academic research; convenes conferences and events; and works collaboratively to understand and design media that matters.

To learn more about Media That Matters and the Center for Media & Social Impact:
•   Read the Rapporteur’s Report from the 2013 conference.
•   Visit the Center for Media & Social Impact‘s website.
•   Follow CMSI/Media Matters on Facebook and Twitter (@cmsimpact, #MTMDC).

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Movies For a Moral Movement

December 13th, 2013 by Molly Murphy

Working Films’ home state of North Carolina gained national attention this year for its Moral Monday protests, when thousands gathered at the capitol building every Monday from April through July to protest the regressive actions of the state legislature. From cuts to unemployment insurance, to tax cuts for the state’s wealthiest citizens, loosening of environmental regulations, to suppressing the right to vote – a multitude of harsh new policies are threatening the social safety net, education, the economy, voting access, women’s health, and the environment.

We’ve responded with a plan to position and leverage Reel Engagement films to support and build on the momentum of the Moral Monday/Forward Together movement.

Participants at the NC Engagement Strategy Convening October 2013.

Participants at the NC Engagement Strategy Convening October 2013.

On October 29th, in collaboration with stone circles, the North Carolina NAACP, the North Carolina Justice Center, Clean Water for North Carolina, and Democracy NC, we hosted a full day training and strategy convening among nonprofit leaders from around the state. The meeting was designed to offer best practices and specific guidance in using film to advance organizing for social and environmental justice, and to facilitate strategy development across multiple issues with film at the center of those efforts.  Participants left with specific plans to take back to their organizations and to pursue in partnership with each other. In particular, we devised ways to use films, online and off, to reach the “movable middle”. These efforts will unfold as part of a screening series and tour in 2014.

After the convening, in partnership with Responsible Wealth and stone circles, we hosted a closed-door sneak-peek screening of Citizen Koch. The event brought together individual donors, representatives of giving circles and community foundations with leaders of the Moral Monday mobilization, including NC-NAACP President, Rev. William Barber.  Citizen Koch is a new film by award winning filmmakers Tia Lessen and Carl Deal that highlights the ways in which big donors are influencing elections and gaining control of the entire political process. After the screening, audience members had an opportunity to speak with NC-NAACP, NC Justice Center, and Democracy NC organizers about specific ways they can be supportive through giving and as spokespeople.

The day energized us and reinforced our commitment to fight alongside our allies in the state to protect the people and the environment in North Carolina. Stay tuned to our blog in the new year for updates on our work build power and participation among citizens in the Tarheel State for a brighter and more sustainable future.

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Help Stories Lead to Action!

December 9th, 2013 by Anna Lee

Since 1999, Working Films has harnessed the humanity, power and vision of nonfiction filmmaking to educate viewers and mobilize communities for positive social change — at home, on the street, and in the halls where public policy gets made.

We’re asking you to give today to support Working Films’ unique approach to making “stories lead to action.”

2013 has been a year of transition. In June we tragically lost Robert West, our beloved co-founder and executive director, to brain cancer. Although deeply saddened, we renewed our commitment to carry out Robert’s vision for Working Films.  With the extraordinary support of our board, our co-founder Judith Helfand, our dedicated staff, and long-time allies in the field we have begun the next chapter for Working Films, and we’re reaching out now for your help.

In 2013 we watched a growing number of states become battlegrounds and testing-sites for ultra conservative policies that are eroding social safety nets, damaging the environment and threatening voting rights.  Working Films’ home state of North Carolina is a prime example!  We responded by putting our Reel Engagement initiative to work in the states, where change is happening.

Reel Engagement supports  organizations, issue leaders and on the ground organizers to use collections of films to reach critical audiences and achieve meaningful impact on some of the biggest issues of our time: climate change (Reel Power), education (Reel Education), the economy (Reel Economy), the growing aging population (Reel Aging) and Reproductive Justice (Reel RJ).

For the past year we’ve had our ear to the ground while field testing ways in which state level organizations working for social and environmental justice can use award-winning Reel Engagement films to build their base, strengthen their efforts, create coalitions, and actively address the critical issues at play. Here are some highlights of that work in 2013:

Strategic, sneak peek screenings of Inequality for All and Citizen Koch launched our Reel Economy campaign – now unfolding in Florida, North Carolina, and beyond.

With filmmaker Josh Fox, we designed a Southeast tour of the Reel Power film Gasland 2. The tour spotlighted the work of local organizations and anti-fracking networks in Texas and North Carolina.

We worked with film festivals like True/False, CIFF and Cucalorus to design and lead strategy summits among leaders in the fields of aging and reproductive justice.

In the last three months alone, we’ve convened over 80 organizations in states across the country to identify shared goals and specific strategies for using Reel Engagement films as a central component of new coalition efforts.

We’re excited about our progress, and we need your help to keep going!

In 2014, we’ll expand the Reel  Economy campaign in North Carolina, Florida and other states in partnership with United for a Fair Economy. We’ll use new Reel Power films like Come Hell or High Water, Bidder 70, and Gasland 2 in Texas and North Carolina to fight fracking and advance clean energy solutions.

We’ll help to strengthen the Moral   Monday/Forward Together movement in our home state of North Carolina, using documentary films from the Reel Engagement cohorts to educate citizens on important issues like fracking, economic inequality, education budget cuts and threats to reproductive rights and justice.

We’ll also train hundreds of social justice and environmental organizers and nonprofits in states around the country on how to make the best use of documentary films to advance their critical work.

Please consider a donation to support these efforts.

$50    helps cover a training session with a nonprofit partner.

$100  helps pay for screening rights fees for under-resourced groups and organizations

$500  helps support a strategic convening of filmmakers and organizers working to advance progress in states where the issues are at a critical tipping point.

We are trying to raise $20,000 in individual donations by December 31, 2013.  Please contribute today.

Thank you for your support of and belief in Working Films!

We wish you, your loved ones and your community a healthy, peaceful and hopeful holiday season.



Anna Lee and Molly Murphy

Interim Co-directors

P.S. Make an even bigger impact with a recurring monthly donation to sustain our work in the new year.

If you would like to make you contribution  in honor of Robert West’s life, vision and legacy, you can donate directly to the Robert West Reel Engagement Fund. Like Robert, the work supported by the Fund is nimble, creative and responsive to the needs and opportunities for social change.

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