Film List with Descriptions
Apaga y Vamonos (Switch Off) (Manel Mayol, Chile, 2005; 87 min.) This documentary constitutes a tale about a usurped nation, about a forgotten genocide, about globalization, about one river. In 1997 the Spanish hydroelectric company ENDESA decided to build a dam in the Biobío River to form the Ralco hydroelectric power station. From the beginning resistance was strong, and now the waters slowly and inevitably rise to flood sacred and ancestral lands.
Aprisionados por Promessas: A Escravidão Rural Contemporânea no Brasil (Bound by Promises: Contemporary Slavery in Rural Brazil) (Comissão Pastoral da Terra e Centro pela Justica e o Direito Internacional; Witness, Brazil, 2006; 17 min.) Every year, more than 25,000 workers are enslaved by landowners in rural Brazil, mostly in the Amazon region. This video tells the story of men who set out in search of work and are taken to isolated ranches, only to find that they have been lured into debt bondage. With no way out, they toil in the hope of buying back their freedom.
Attendre Demain (Awaiting Tomorrow) (AJEDI-Ka/Projet Enfants Soldats, Witness, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 2007; 15 min.) This film highlights the issues of persons living with HIV/AIDS in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Through the personal stories of two women and one young man, the film explores the human effects of HIV/AIDS when conflict and insecurity are added to the equation. Persons living with HIV/AIDS in the DRC face stigma, inadequate nutrition stemming from poverty, and lack of access to health care. The video calls for critical assistance for those already living with HIV/AIDS, while documenting the need to stem the spread of the pandemic by strengthening outreach, testing, and prevention.
Back in Business? (Sierra Leone/United States, 2006; 26 min.) Eleven years of civil war between 1991 and 2002 has left Sierra Leone in ruins. According to the United Nations it’s the second poorest country in the world. Now, after three years of peace, the rebuilding has begun, and Sierra Leone is looking for outside investment to kick-start its economy. Until now, most of Sierra Leone’s foreign earnings have come from exporting diamonds. But it’s rich in other natural resources. Tourism, however, offers the promise of revenue with a far quicker turnaround time. In a country that was once a war zone, could tourism be one of the new industries that moves it to a brighter future?
Bad Sugar (episode four of Unnatural Causes) (California Newsreel with Vital Pictures, Inc., United States, 2008; 28 min.) This episode travels to the O’odham Indian reservations of southern Arizona, which are marked with the dubious distinction of perhaps the highest rates of type-2 diabetes in the world. There it explores a reconceptualization of chronic disease as the body’s response to “futurelessness,” a condition arising from decades of oppression and historical trauma. It looks at the prospects for a new approach that places a community taking control of its own destiny as fundamental to regaining health.
The Band's Visit (Eran Kolirin, Israel, 2007; 87 min.) When the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra flies from Egypt to Israel to perform at the opening of an Arab culture center, they are left stranded at the airport. Their leader, Tewfiq (Sasson Gabai), orders the handsome violinist, Khaled (Saleh Bakri), to solve their predicament, but it turns out that he’s gotten the wrong information. As a result, all eight members are left standing alone in a quiet desert town far from their intended destination with no way to get where they need to go. When the band leaves in the morning for their next intended destination, it is clear that their unplanned detour was worth the trip. In the wrong hands, this material could turn into a quirk-fest that parodies everyday life. Yet under Kolirin’s assured command, it becomes like life itself.
Becoming American (episode three of Unnatural Causes) (California Newsreel with Vital Pictures, Inc., United States, 2008; 28 min.) Recent Mexican immigrants, though poorer, tend to be healthier than the average American. But the longer they’re here, the worse their relative health becomes even as their socioeconomic status improves. This is known as the “Hispanic paradox.” Is there something about life in America that is harmful to health? Conversely, what is protective about new immigrant communities that we can all learn from? Can community and labor organizing reverse the downward trend?
Being Innu (Catherine Mullins, Canada, 2007; 53 min.) This film takes an unvarnished look at life in the village of Sheshatshiu, Labrador. Six savvy, gutsy young people talk to Montreal filmmaker Catherine Mullins about addiction, suicide, lack of jobs, hopelessness. Interviews with elders, grandparents, and teachers round out this portrait of a community in crisis. What is remarkable about Innu youth is their love of the land and of their native language. For them, being Innu means finding a balance between the traditional ways of the past and today’s reality.
Belfast Girls (Malin Andersson, Sweden/Ireland, 2006; 58 min.) This is a quiet, powerful story of two young women growing up in a city where neighbors are cut off from each other by permanent concrete and corrugated iron screens. These so-called peace walls have also become mental walls, dividing one community from another. Living in different worlds within the same city, Mairéad McIlkenny and Christine Savage share the legacy of 30 years of conflict in Northern Ireland. The film reveals how, in their daily struggles and triumphs, these two strong women have more in common with each other than they have differences.
The Beloved Community (Pamela Calvert and Jeff Forster, United States, 2006; 56 min.) This film looks at a Great Lakes oil town facing a toxic legacy head-on. The nerve center of Canada’s petrochemical industry, Sarnia once enjoyed the highest standard of living in the country—but now the bill has come due, in the form of a compromised environment and a devastating community health crisis. The city has already lost a generation of men to workplace-related cancers. Now their widows and daughters are discovering a reproductive time bomb; because of their own exposure to a cluster of hormone-mimicking chemicals called “endocrine disruptors,” the next generation may be at risk. How do you stay in the home you love when the price you pay may be not only your own life but also the well-being of your children?
Caramel (Nadine Labaki, Lebanon, 2008; 95 min.) This film is a drama-comedy movie set in Beirut. The story is about five women who meet regularly in a beauty salon, a colorful and sensual microcosm of the city where several generations come together to talk to and confide in each other. In the salon, their intimate and liberated conversations revolve around men, sex, and motherhood between haircuts and sugar waxing with caramel.
China Blue (Micha X. Peled, United States/China, 2006; 88 min.) Like no other film before, this is a powerful and poignant journey into the harsh world of sweatshop workers. Shot clandestinely, this is a deep-access account of what both China and the international retailers don’t want us to see: how the clothes we buy are actually made. Following a pair of denim jeans from birth to sale, this film links the power of the U.S. consumer market to the daily lives of a Chinese factory owner and two teenaged female factory workers.
Chop Shop (Ramin Bahrani, United States, 2007; 85 min.) After his auspicious debut (Man Push Cart), Ramin Bahrani sets his story of a 12-year-old Latino boy and his older sister in the no-man’s-land of Willet’s Point, Queens, a 20-block stretch of junkyards and chop shops (where stolen cars are dismantled for parts). It is overshadowed by Shea Stadium’s giant billboard: “Make Dreams Happen.” The film conjures up an outsider’s reality with palpable compassion and realism. Without a smidgeon of sentimentality, Chop Shop suggests that for many, New York City is closer to a third world country than the glittering jewel in the crown of a land of infinite opportunity.
City of Men (Paul Morelli , Brazil, 2008; 110 min) In City of Men, producer Fernando Meirelles (The Constant Gardner) returns to the Brazilian favelas of his Academy Award-nominated film, City of God. Growing up in a culture dictated by violence and run by street gangs, teenagers Acerola (Douglas Silva) and Laranjinha (Darlan Cunha) have become close as brothers. With their eighteenth birthdays fast approaching, Laranjinha sets out to find the father he never met, while Acerola struggles to raise his own young son. But when they suddenly find themselves on opposite sides of a gang war, the lifelong friends are forced to confront a shocking secret from their shared past
Collateral Damage (episode six of Unnatural Causes) (California Newsreel with Vital Pictures, Inc., United States, 2008; 28 min.) Patterns of uneven development mark the Pacific islands; and diabetes, cardiovascular and kidney diseases, and even tuberculosis are taking a growing toll on Pacific Islander populations. In the Marshall Islands and in the unlikely spot of Springdale, Arkansas, we can see how U.S. occupation, military policy, and globalization affect people’s health—often in unanticipated ways.
The Counterfeiters (Stefan Ruzowitzky, Austria, 2007; 98 min) The true story of the largest counterfeiting operation in history, set up by the Nazis in 1936. Salomon "Sally" Sorowitsch is the king of counterfeiters. He lives a mischievous life of cards, booze, and women in Berlin during the Nazi-era. Suddenly his luck runs dry when arrested by Superintendent Friedrich Herzog. Immediately thrown into the Mauthausen concentration camp, Salomon exhibits exceptional skills there and is soon transferred to the upgraded camp of Sachsenhausen. Upon his arrival, he once again comes face to face with Herzog, who is there on a secret mission. Hand-picked for his unique skill, Salomon and a group of professionals are forced to produce fake foreign currency under the program Operation Berhard. The team, which also includes detainee Adolf Burger, is given luxury barracks for their assistance. But while Salomon attempts to weaken the economy of Germany's allied opponents, Adolf refuses to use his skills for Nazi profit and would like to do something to stop Operation Bernhard. 2008 Oscar winner for Best Foreign Language Film
Cruel and Unusual (Janet Baus, Dan Hunt, Reid Williams, United States, 2006; 88 min.) Women—transgendered women such as Ashley, Linda, Anna, Yolanda, and Ophelia—are incarcerated in men’s prisons across the United States from Wyoming to New Jersey and Florida. Victims of rape and violence, they are denied medical and psychological treatment. This documentary asks if the punishment for their crimes is indeed cruel and unusual.
The Debt of Dictators (Erling Borgen, United States, 2005; 45 min.) This is the first film to expose the nefarious lending of billions of dollars by multinational banks and international financial institutions to brutal dictators throughout the world. Nobel Peace Prize laureate Adolfo Perez Esquivel asserts that transnational banks “know the price of everything, but have no values.” This film reveals the impoverishment resulting from the odious debts incurred to multinational lending institutions by these dictators. The film transports viewers to Argentina, South Africa, and the Philippines, where they see those who are suffering from the sacrifice of essential social services in order to repay these illegitimate debts.
Deserter (Big Noise, United States, 2007; 30 min.) This is the journey of a deserting soldier and his young wife as they flee across the country to seek refugee status over the Canadian border. As they move from safe house to safe house, we get to know Ryan and Jen—two shy, small-town kids from Central Valley, California, who joined the military because there were no jobs and find they must make a heroic stand in order to escape an illegal and immoral war. This film is a political road movie with one of the few happy endings that this war has given us.
Dispatches, Volume 1 (Big Noise, United States, 2008; 72 min.) With more than an hour’s worth of radical investigations, analysis, and on-the-ground video from the Big Noise team working on four continents, this film gives you Hugo Chavez, Subcomandante Marcos, the war in Lebanon, fraud in the Mexican elections, World Bank famine in Niger, vulture funds, and more.
Dispatches, Volume 2 (Big Noise, United States, 2008; 60 min.) From the front lines in Iraq to the legal lynching in Jena, Louisiana, to the growth of a new poor people’s movement in the streets of Philadelphia and Nashville—once again, Big Noise takes you where mainstream media does not go.
Enemies of Happiness (Anja Al Erhayem and Eva Mulvad, Denmark, 2006; 58 min.) In September 2005, Afghanistan held its first parliamentary elections in 35 years. Among the candidates for 249 assembly seats was Malalai Joya, a courageous, controversial 27-year-old woman who had ignited outrage among hardliners when she spoke out against corrupt warlords at the Grand Council of tribal elders in 2003. This film presents a revelatory portrait of this extraordinary freedom fighter and the way she won the hearts of voters, as well as a snapshot of life and politics in war-torn Afghanistan.
Exposing Homelessness (Kerri Gawryn, United States, 2006; 20 min.) This film documents the experiences of three formerly homeless women who participated in a three-month photography workshop. They were given 35mm cameras and instructed in the art of black-and-white photography. Drawing from their personal experiences, they were asked to use photography to express their insight into the issue of homelessness so that viewers could be exposed to a more intimate and profound analysis of the problem. Diverse in age, race, class, and citizenship status, the women succeed in challenging the homeless stereotype and empowering themselves in the process.
February One (Rebecca Cerese, United States, 2004; 61 min.) In one remarkable day, four college freshmen changed the course of American history. This film tells the inspiring story surrounding the 1960 Greensboro lunch counter sit-ins that revitalized the Civil Rights Movement and set an example of student militancy for the coming decade. This moving depiction shows how a small group of determined individuals can galvanize a mass movement and focus a nation’s attention on injustice.
Michel Gondry, Work of Director (Microcinema, United States, 2003; excerpts) Michel Gondry is currently one of the most acclaimed and respected music video directors in the industry. In 1993 Gondry met pop singer Bjork, commencing one of his longest and most successful professional creative relationships. Their first collaboration, the video for “Human Behavior,” won practically every existing music video award. Gondry went on to helm another five of Bjork’s videos, including “Joga” and “Bachelorette,” while also collaborating with wide-ranging artists such as the Rolling Stones, Beck, Daft Punk, Chemical Brothers, Foo Fighters, Lenny Kravitz, Sheryl Crow, and Cibo Matto.
Granito de Arena (Grain of Sand) (Jill Friedberg, Mexico, 2005; 62 min.) For over 20 years, global economic forces have been dismantling public education in Mexico, but always in the constant shadow of popular resistance. This is the story of that resistance—the story of hundreds of thousands of public school teachers whose grassroots, nonviolent movement took Mexico by surprise, and who have endured brutal repression in their 25-year struggle for social and economic justice in Mexico’s public schools. Completed in 2005, Granito de Arena provides context and background to the unprecedented popular uprising that exploded in Oaxaca, Mexico, in 2006.
Granny D. Goes to Washington (Alidra Solday, United States, 2006; 27 min.) The film chronicles the extraordinary march across the United States by political activist Doris Haddock. Passionate about democracy, she walked 3,200 miles from California to Washington, D.C., to dramatize the need to restore representative government in America and reduce the role of special interest money in politics. The film records her travels and conveys the infectious enthusiasm Granny D. inspired in the people she met.
Grass (Ernest B. Schoedsack, United States, 1925; 71 min.) This documentary follows the journey of 50,000 members of the Bakhtiari, a poor nomadic tribe in Iran, as they herd their livestock up snow-covered mountain passes—barefoot—to get to the grazing lands on the other side of the mountains before their animals die from hunger. Director Schoedsack went on to direct King Kong. The film is a classic and is considered one of the greatest documentary films of all time. With a live film score written and performed by Chris White, Peter Dodge, and Robby Aceto
Hartos Evos Aquí Hay (Hector Ulloque, Manuel Ruiz Montealegre, France/Bolivia, 2006; 51 min.) On December 18, 2005, an indigenous person was elected president of Bolivia for the first time in history. Evo Morales Ayma was supported by 36 native groups, social movements, academic and intellectual circles, and a massive popular backing, allowing him to obtain 53.7 percent of the votes. The coca growers from the Tropic of Cochabamba, better known as Chapare, played a leading role in this process.
Hineini (Irena Fayngold, United States, 2005; 60 min.) The term hineini is Hebrew for “here I am.” The film chronicles the story of one student’s courageous fight to establish a gay-straight alliance at a Jewish high school in the Boston area and the transformative impact of her campaign on her entire community. Shulamit Izen enters ninth grade at the New Jewish High School (now Gann Academy) in Waltham, Massachusetts. She also starts school as an out lesbian. Using interviews with Shulamit, her family, teachers, and other students—both those who support her campaign and those who oppose it—the film allows the members of this community to tell their own stories. What emerges is a potent and inspiring story of Jewish pluralism and a community navigating the crosscurrents of Jewish tradition and social change.
Los Hombres del Lago (The Men of the Lake) (Aaron I. Naar, Bolivia/United States, 2007; 10 min.) This film presents the story of the small Bolivian community of Uru-Muratos, Puñaca Tintamaria. Puñaca Tintamaria is one of the oldest, poorest, and most historically important villages in Latin America. Founded circa 2000 B.C., it is currently on the brink of extinction. Narrated by the community’s ex-leader Daniel Moricio Choque, the film recounts the history of their community, customs, and current problems: their continuous poverty, lack of land and representation, the contamination of Lake Poopó, and the impact of global warming.
Honeydripper (John Sayles, United States, 2007; 122 min.) Iconoclastic filmmaker John Sayles, in his 16th feature film, continues his extraordinary examination of the complexities and shifting identities of American subcultures in this new film. With his usual understated intelligence, Sayles uses the rhythms of the citizens of Harmony, Alabama, to immerse the audience into the world of the Jim Crow south. It’s a fable about the birth of rock ’n’ roll—a quintessentially American subject—but with a fidelity to time and temperament that is unusual in an American director.
How to Fix the World (Jacqueline Goss, Uzbekistan/United States, 2004; 28 min.) Adapted from psychologist A. R. Luria’s research in the Islamic outskirts of the Soviet Union in the 1930s, this film brings to life Luria’s conversations with Central Asian farmers learning how to read and write under the unfamiliar principles of socialism. Colorful digital animations based on Max Penson’s photographs of collective farmers play against a backdrop of landscape images shot in Uzbekistan in 2004. At once humorous, conflicting, and revelatory, these conversations between Luria and his subjects illustrate a particular historical moment when one culture attempted to transform another in the name of education and modernization.
Human Rights in Burma: A Compilation of Recent Videos (Burma Issues, Witness, 2007; series of shorts) Over 40 million people in Burma are living under the brutal military dictatorship of Than Shwe and the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC). Many are engaged in a struggle against this oppression—and for freedom and democracy. The videos in this compilation provide a kaleidoscopic picture of the scale of human rights abuses under one of the most repressive regimes in the world.
In Sickness and In Wealth (episode one of Unnatural Causes) (California Newsreel with Vital Pictures, Inc., United States, 2008; 55 min.) This is a story about health, but it’s not about doctors or drugs. It’s about why some of us get sicker more often and die sooner in the first place. What are the connections between healthy bodies, healthy bank accounts, and skin color? How do social policies and the way we organize work and society affect health? Solutions, the show suggests, lie not in more pills but in more equality.
It (Clarence G. Badger, United States, 1927; 72 min.) In this silent film that defined the career of Clara Bow and launched the phenomenon of the flapper, Bow, as shopgirl Betty Lou, is a young woman with plenty of “it” (i.e., sex appeal). She has designs on Cyrus Waltham, the handsome owner of the department store where she works. Camouflaging herself as attracted to Waltham’s friend Monty, she accepts a date, under the condition that they dine at the Ritz, where Waltham also has a dinner engagement that evening. The plan works, and Waltham falls under her spell, until a misunderstanding sends things awry. With live jazz music performed by Fee Nunn and Friends.
The Jena Six (Big Noise, United States, 2007; 30 min.) Narrated by Mumia Abu Jamal, this is the story of hidden racial inequality and violence becoming visible. It is a powerful symbol for, and example of, how racial justice works in America – where the lynching noose has been replaced by the DA's pen.
The Jungle’s Edge (Gossa Tsgaye, United States, 2007; 30 min.) A film shot locally in Ithaca that portrays life in a storied camp for vagabonds, the homeless, and the many friends who simply like to stop by for ao visit. It features on-camera interviews with the varied characters that make up Ithaca’s “jungle,” revealing their personalities with pathos, humor, and sensitivity. Viewers are introduced to a hidden world that exists “hard by the railroad tracks” and beyond the boundaries of conventional economic and social life. Yet the residents of the jungle defy stereotypes. They camp and eat and drink and socialize, remembering and memorializing lost friends, while appreciating one another.
Kill or Cure? (Reena Mohan, India/United States, 2006; 26 min.) India’s $4.5 billion pharmaceutical industry is at a crossroads following a new law introduced there in January 2005. Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) is an agreement drawn up by the World Trade Organization between 1986 and 1994 to ensure that intellectual property rights are respected within international trade. The government says that despite the new law, they are committed to supplying drugs at an affordable price. But those actually working in the health system have doubts.
A Killer Bargain (Tom Heinemann, Denmark, 2006; 57 min.) The film takes as a case study the production of textiles in northern India, from the growing of cotton through the dying of cloth to its final sale as towels and sheets in European and American stores. A Danish company, Cheminova, produces much of the pesticides used in the Punjab; while they save crops from insects, however, these pesticides are highly toxic. One Indian doctor denounces the purveyors of these pesticides as “merchants of death, marketers of murder.”
The Last Conquistador (John Valadez, United States, 2008; 60 min.) A world-famous sculptor builds the largest statue of its kind ever created in human history, but Native Americans believe it is a monument to genocide and white supremacy. Literally caught in-between are the people of El Paso, Texas, where the statue is being constructed. They are the conflicted sons and daughters of both the Indians who were enslaved and the Spanish who brutalized them. Protests, conflicting versions of history, and an artist’s quixotic quest transform this isolated border town in unexpected ways.
Let's not Disturb the Water (Bijan Zamanpira, Iran, 2007, 22 min.) A group of migrants settle in a new place and build their homes where water is a scarcity. So they decide to go up the mountain and harvest the ice. ON their way back, they load their donkey's with huge blocks of ice. They use the water from the ice for drinking and all other household purposes. This films shows us a day in the life of these villagers, depicting their adaptation to the new place without disrupting nature. Screened in partnership with Voices from the Waters Film Festival.
Living Proof: The Right to Life in Community (Udruga Za Promilanje Inkluzijel, Association for Promoting Inclusion, Witness, 2007; 20 min.) In Croatia one in three people with moderate or severe intellectual disabilities live in institutions, segregated and isolated from the rest of society. Regardless of how well equipped or staffed an institution is, it is still impossible for residents to realize their fundamental human rights and make decisions about their lives. Contrary to prevailing stereotypes and deeply ingrained stigma, people with intellectual disabilities have the right and the ability to live as independently as possible and to be included in the community.
The Lost Water (DaKxin Bajrange, Chhara, India, 2007; 21 min.) The government of Gujarat has consistently ignored the Little Rann of Kutch (LRK) area. The salt workers of LRK, known as Agariyas, are predominantly from the Koli and Chuvaliya Koli tribes. As bonded laborers, they are not only victims of wage discrimination, but they also endure serious physical and mental health hazards due to the dangerous nature of their work. Working in extreme temperatures without any protective gear, many Agariyas suffer major health complications. Living in abject poverty, Agariyas face water scarcity as well as malnutrition. Screened in partnership with the Voices from the Waters Film Festival
Man Push Cart (Ramin Bahrani, United States, 2005; 87 min.) Every night while the city sleeps, Ahmad, a Pakistani immigrant, struggles to drag his heavy cart along the streets of New York to his corner in Midtown Manhattan. And every morning, from inside his cart he sells coffee and donuts to a city he cannot call his own. He is the worker found on every street corner in every city. He is a man who wonders if he will ever escape his fate.
May Justice Be Done (Pascal de Raglaude, Argentina, 2006; 63 min.) By any standard Argentina was a very rich country until the 1970s, with competitive industries, modern agriculture, and a prosperous middle class. By 2001, 21 out of 36 million people were living below the poverty level, and diseases thought to be eradicated such as tuberculosis and leprosy reemerged. This film goes into the streets of Argentina, tracing the roots of the crisis in scholarly detail, back to the irresponsible lending policies of the international lending financial institutions. Millions took to the streets to express their frustration at this crisis, and the police responded, often brutally, resulting in over 30 deaths and thousands wounded.
Milk in the Land: Ballad of an American Drink (Ariana Gerstein, Monteith McCollum, United States, 2007; 90 min.) Milk in the Land tells the disquieting untold story of North America's staple beverage. Farmers, activists, ethicists and historians detail milk's fascinating birth as a replacement for breast milk and booze, and its subsequent evolution into a massive industry. Milk is much more than a mere refreshment, it is also a powerful symbol of America, the embodiment of progress and perfect health. Animation and collage bring milk ads and slogans to life, while stop-motion and time-lapse effects add visual tremor to this history of greed versus need.
More Than a Paycheck (episode seven of Unnatural Causes) (California Newsreel with Vital Pictures, Inc., United States, 2008; 28 min.) How does employment policy and job insecurity affect our health? Residents of western Michigan struggle against depression, domestic violence, and an uptick in heart disease and diabetes when the largest refrigerator factory in the country shuts down. Ironically, the plant is owned by a company based in Sweden where shutdowns, far from devastating lives, are relatively benign events—for some even an opportunity—because of Swedish government policies.
Mountains in the Mist (Sampurno Brujnzeel, Netherlands, 2004; 40 min.) Have you ever heard of cloud forests? These intriguing ecosystems only represent two percent of the world’s tropical forests. And yet, they are important treasure houses of biodiversity and suppliers of large volumes of high-quality stream flow. However, these cloud forests are among the most threatened forest ecosystems in the world. In this film scientists try to unravel the secrets of these amazing ecosystems and understand how forest protection works in Costa Rica. Screened in partnership with Voices from the Waters Film Festival
No Bigger Than a Minute (Steven Delano, United States, 2006; 53 min.) “My name is Steven. I am 48 years old, and I’m a dwarf.” So begins Steven Delano’s unusual new documentary. What follows is neither an academic discourse on the life and times of America’s “little people,” nor a project in self-affirmation in the face of social discrimination—though the film includes healthy doses of both of these. Here, Steven Delano explores dwarfism through images from movies, paintings, and popular culture and through his own experiences as a “little person.”
Nothing to Lose (Robert Y. Chang, United States, 2006; 18 min.) In a culture obsessed with fat, there are groups of “fat activists” who attempt to change what they see as a fat-phobic world into a size-accepting world. These fat activists span the political and religious spectrum yet come together around their commitment to ending “size discrimination.” This film presents the activities of the local New York chapter of the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA) as they promote their platform through engagements with mass media, dissemination of information, and creative local actions.
The Other Europe (Poul-Erik Heilbuth and DR TV, Denmark, 2006; 56 min.) The film is a penetrating study of the economics and politics behind the immigration debate with revealing parallels to the United States. The film provides a cross-section of the immigrant experience, from fairly successful to disastrous in Spain, Germany, and England. It argues that Europe is putting out a contradictory message to immigrants: the economic system says that we have plenty of jobs and will pay you more than you could ever earn at home, but the political system warns that we don’t want you.
Patru luni, trei saptamani si doua zile (4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days) (Cristian Mungiu, Romania, 2007; 113 min.) Set in a single day in Romania, this film tells the story of Gabita as she obtains an illegal abortion and the trials of her friend and accomplice, Otilia. It portrays not only the characters’ personal misery but also the drab grimness of life in the former Communist country. This film was the winner of the Palme D’Or at the Cannes Film Festival.
Place Matters: (episode five of Unnatural Causes) (California Newsreel with Vital Pictures, Inc., United States, 2008; 28 min.) Recent Southeast Asian immigrants, along with Latinos, are moving increasingly into what have been neglected Black urban neighborhoods—and now their health is being eroded. What policies and investment decisions foster neighborhood environments that harm—or enhance—the health of residents? And what local actions can make a difference?
Pop Culture as Genocidal Camouflage
Special surprise film screening
Precious Places (Scribe Video Center, United States, 2007) While tourists head straight for Philadelphia’s official “historic district” and the city’s natives think they have seen it all, Scribe Video Center’s Precious Places Community History Project reveals bypassed neighborhood sites as bright landmarks that surprise and inspire residents and visitors alike. Using the video documentary as a storytelling medium, neighborhood residents have come together to document the oral histories of their communities. And it is the neighbors who are telling their own stories about what makes their communities unique. In the past three years, Scribe Video Center has collaborated with community groups to produce 42 community histories. Philadelphia now joins the ranks of other cities such as New York and Los Angeles to have a citywide oral history.
The Price of Sugar (Bill Haney, United States/Dominican Republic, 2007; 90 min.) Narrated by Paul Newman, this documentary profiles the courageous Father Christopher Hartley, a priest who travels to the Dominican Republic and finds himself trying to stop a modern-day slavery operation. Thousands of Haitian men are forced to work in inhumane conditions to harvest sugar cane for obscenely rich sugar barons. Standing up in the face of multiple death threats, Father Hartley bravely teaches these dispossessed workers to stand up for themselves and improve their lives.
The Professor (Jason Price, United States, 2007; 25 min.) Former law professor and supreme court justice David Kpormakpor served as interim president of Liberia from 1994 to 1995, during its disastrous civil war. He now lives alone, on welfare, among thousands of Liberian refugees, many of whom question why he did not simply take the money and run when he had the chance. This film takes us into Kpormakpor’s everyday life in New York City’s “little Liberia.”
Quay Brothers: Phantom Museums, the Short Films (Microcinema, United States, 2006; excerpts). Excerpts of a 13-film retrospective of shorts by famed identical twin animators Stephen and Timothy Quay will be screened. Two of the world’s most original filmmakers, the Quay brothers have been making their unique blend of puppetry and stop-motion animation for nearly 30 years and have spawned an enormous cult following.
Quilombo Country (Leonard Abrams, Brazil, 2005; 73 min.) This documentary film, narrated by Public Enemy’s Chuck D and shot in digital video, provides a portrait of rural communities in Brazil that were either founded by runaway slaves or began from abandoned plantations. This type of community is known as a quilombo, from an Angolan word that means “encampment.” As many as 2,000 quilombos exist today. Residents celebrate rich and varied cultural traditions, but many of them are subjected to racism and discrimination from the wider Brazilian society.
Return to Penguin City (Lloyd Fales, United States/Antarctica, 2007; 40 min.) This film takes audiences on a virtual journey to Antarctica to explore penguin biology, polar ecology, and evidence of accelerating climate change. Amid Antarctica’s spectacular Adélie penguin breeding colonies (“penguin cities”) leading researchers David Ainley, Grant Ballard, and their colleagues share their latest investigations into how the birds are responding to and coping with a sudden rise in temperature and what that may mean for polar environments and ultimately for the planet.
Mark Romanek, Work of Director (Microcinema, United States, 2005; excerpts) Mark Romanek has directed many of the most distinctive and iconic music videos of the past decade and the 2001 hit movie One-Hour Photo starring Robin Williams. In 1999 he won the MTV Video Vanguard award.
Scouts Are Canceled (John Scott, Canada/United States, 2007; 72 min.) One day John Stiles—a middle-aged writer down on his luck and working as a telemarketer in Toronto—lost it. Finger on the dial button, he threw away his prewritten telemarketer script and launched into the character and accent from his rural upbringing in Nova Scotia. His next customer was greeted with, “Mrs. Farrell, you are tighter than a mouse’s hole stretched over a barrel—give ’er a whirl, girl—you got nothing to lose,” accompanied by the sounds of sirens, dogs, and Ski-Doos. He won a DVD player for making the most sales that month. Subsequently he decided to start going to open-mike readings, developed a cult following, and then published two books with Insomniac Press. Director John Scott, who has known Stiles for 20 years, intelligently crafts a nonlinear approach to this documentary that highlights the medium of film, much as Stiles’s writing plays with the formal aspects of poetry.
Soul of Justice: Thelton Henderson's American Journey (Abby Ginzberg, United States, 2005; 60 min.) Few judges provoke the ire of conservatives more than Thelton Henderson, Senior Judge of the Federal District Court of Northern California. His career in many ways parallels the larger historic arc of the Civil Rights movement and the changing vision of government — from Jim Crow laws to Civil Rights victories and back again with recent attacks on affirmative action. Similarly reflected are the changes and conflicts in judicial philosophy during those 40 years. Henderson’s decisions on affirmative action, environmental protection and prison reform — and the furors that surrounded them — serve as a prism on these changes and what they mean for American society
Steamboat Bill Jr. (Charles Reisner, United States, 1928; 71 min.) This was one of the last—and also one of the best—of Buster Keaton’s great silent films. Keaton plays the role of an educated, effete son. Accident-prone, highly educated, and also seemingly simpleminded, he initially disappoints his burly, red-necked, hard-working Mississippi steamboat captain father. But together they fend off the threatening efforts of a rival tycoon to take over the Mississippi steamboat business in the South. Keaton saves the day and wins the heart of the business rival’s daughter. The final hurricane scene is considered one of the most spectacular special effects sequences in film history. With live Americana music performed by the Common Railers
Steep (Mark Obenhaus, United States, 2007; 92 min.) This is a feature documentary about bold adventure, exquisite athleticism, and the pursuit of a perfect moment on skis. It is the story of big mountain skiing, a sport that barely existed 35 years ago. It started in the 1970s in the mountains above Chamonix, France, where skiers began to attempt ski descents so extreme that they appeared almost suicidal. Men like Anselme Baud and Patrick Vallencant were inspired by the challenge of skiing where no one thought to ski before. Now, two generations later, some of the world’s greatest skiers pursue a sport where the prize is not winning but simply experiencing the exhilaration of skiing and exploring big, wild, remote mountains.
The Story of Stuff (Annie Leonard, United States, 2008; 20 min.) From its extraction through sale, use, and disposal, all the stuff in our lives affects communities at home and abroad, yet most of this is hidden from view. In this short film Annie Leonard, creator of The Meatrix, teaches you something. The film will make you laugh, and it just may change forever the way you look at all the stuff in your life.
Stranger Comes to Town (Jacqueline Goss, United States, 2007; 28 min.) Here filmmaker Jacqueline Goss returns to the themes of alterity and cultural disconnection of How to Fix the World to create an equally charming, humorous, and incisive rumination on the absurdity and moral ramifications of ethnic profiling in a post 9/11, terrorist-conscious society. The film is a subtle, but potent indictment of broad stroke, xenophobic policies that have rendered an essential myth the idea of the United States as a country built on tolerance and a paradigm for a cultural melting pot assimilation.
Summer Palace (Lou Ye, China, 2008; 140 min.) Country girl Yu Hong leaves her village to study in Beijing. At university, she falls madly in love with fellow student Zhou Wei. Driven by passion that neither can control, their relationship becomes one of dangerous games. All around them, their fellow students begin to demonstrate, demanding democracy and freedom. As the protests collapse, Yu and Zhou lose each other amidst the social chaos and panicked crowds. Zhou Wei is sent to a military camp and upon his release moves to Berlin. Meantime, Yu finds a job and a lover, but still she cannot forget Zhou.
Taxi to the Dark Side (Alex Gibney, United States, 2007; 106 min.) The 2008 Academy Awardwinning documentary film directed by American filmmaker Alex Gibney (Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room), this film focuses around the controversial death of an Afghan taxi driver named Dilawar. Dilawar was beaten to death by American soldiers while being held in extrajudicial detention at the Bagram Air Base. The film further examines in detail America’s policy on torture and interrogation, specifically the CIA’s use of torture based upon research into sensory deprivation. This is said to be the first film to contain images taken within Bagram Air Base.
Terror’s Advocate (Barbet Schroeder, France, 2007; 132 min.) What convictions guide the moral mind of Jacques Vergès? Barbet Schroeder takes us down history’s darkest paths in his attempt to illuminate the mystery behind this enigmatic figure. As a young lawyer during the Algerian war, Vergès espoused the anti-colonialist cause and defended Djamila Bouhired, “la Pasionaria,” who bore her country’s hopes for freedom on her shoulders and was sentenced to death for planting bombs in cafés. Vergès obtained Bouhired’s release, married her, and had two children with her. Then Vergès disappeared without trace for eight years. He reemerged, taking on the defense of terrorists of all kinds from Magdalena Kopp to Carlos the Jackal. He represented historical monsters such as Nazi lieutenant Klaus Barbie. Barbet Schroeder follows the winding trail left by this “devil’s advocate” as he forges his unique path in law and politics.
This Is Nollywood (Franco Sacchi and Robert Caputo, Nigeria/France, 2007; 56 min.) First came Hollywood, then Bollywood, and now Nollywood, Nigeria’s booming film industry, which released 2,000 features in 2006 alone. Where else can you shoot a full-length dramatic film for $10,000 in seven days? Little known outside its own country until recently, this film explains why Nigerian video production is becoming recognized as a phenomenon with broad implications for the cultural and economic development of Africa.
Thomas Sankara: The Upright Man (Robin Shuffield, France, 2006; 52 min.) This new film should go a long way towards explaining why, though largely forgotten in this country, Thomas Sankara is still venerated on his own continent as “Africa’s Che,” a legendary martyr like Patrice Lumumba or Amilcar Cabral. The film recovers for the present a detailed history of Sankara’s brief four-year rule and his revolutionary program for African self-reliance as a defiant alternative to the neoliberal development strategies imposed on Africa by the West, both then and today.
Today the Hawk Takes One Chick (Jane Gillooly, Swaziland/United States, 2006; 73 min.) In Swaziland, the circle of life has been turned on its head. Grandmothers—or gogos, as they are called in SiSwati and many southern African languages—watch their adult children die of AIDS and are forced to raise their many grandchildren on their own. This film presents the stories of three African gogos living in a society at the threshold of simultaneous collapse and reinvention, organizing into communities at an age when they expected that their adult children would be taking care of them.
Uncovering the Truth Behind the Anbar Success Story (Big Noise, Iraq/United States; 30 min.) In the heartland of the Sunni Insurgency, a group of tribes has joined with the Americans to fight Al Qaeda. The Americans report that attacks on US forces have dropped dramatically and claim that life is beginning to return to normal. The leader and symbol of this movement that the Americans claim is rapidly securing Anbar province is a sheik named Sattar Abu Risha. But is Abu Risha all he claims to be?
Unnatural Causes (seven episodes) (California Newsreel with Vital Pictures, Inc., United States, 2008; series) This series of films sounds the alarm about the extent of our socioeconomic and racial disparities in health—and searches for their root causes. But those causes are not what we might expect. It has been conceived as part of an ambitious communications and public impact campaign conducted with leading public health, policy, and community-based organizations. The campaign aims to help reframe the national debate over health. It will suggest a new and hopeful approach to tackling health inequities, one that links our individual aspirations for better health not only to medical interventions but also to social and economic justice.
Village of Dust, City of Water (Sanjay Barnela, India, 2006; 28 min.) This film focuses on the issue of water-induced migration. In the past, only landless people would migrate. Now we find that even the medium- and small-landed farmers are migrating to cities because of lack of water. For example, the Indira Gandhi Canal in Rajasthan inspired farmers who sold jewelry and took loans from moneylenders to buy land alongside the canal, thinking that it would green the desert. Fifteen years later, they’re still waiting for water, for their first harvest, while urban areas like Bikaner and Jodhpur benefit at the cost of villages that have been taken for a ride. Screened in partnership with the Voices from the Waters Film Festival
War/Dance (Andrea Nix Fine and Sean Fine, United States, 2007; 105 min.) Chief among the victims of the ongoing warfare in northern Ugandan are the country's children. Three students in the Patongo refugee camp, all victims of terrible violence and losses, nevertheless prepare to enter a music competition that offers them a lifeline of hope. For Nancy, Rose, and Dominic, a former child soldier, the contest provides a welcome respite from the desperate circumstances of their daily lives.
The War of 33: Letters from Beirut (Lebanon, 2006; 30 min.) This film is an intimate, personal, and powerful telling of the story of the 2006 war in Lebanon. A series of letters written by Hanady Salman—a mother living through the war in Beirut—carve a narrative arc through the intense and haunting images of conflict. She tells the stories of her family and the people she lives the war with—the refugees, the wounded, and the everyday Lebanese struggling to maintain their sanity and their humanity during a time of war.
The Water Front (Liz Miller, United STates, 2007; 60 min.) Highland Park, Michigan – the birthplace of mass production is a post-industrial city on the verge of financial collapse. The state of Michigan has appointed an Emergency Financial Manager to fix the crisis. The Manager sees the water plant, which Ford built in 1917 to support his auto industry, as key to economic recovery. She has raised water rates and has implemented severe measures to collect on bills. As a result, Highland Park residents have received water bills as high as $10,000, they have had their water turned off, their homes foreclosed, and are struggling to keep water, a basic human right, from becoming privatized. THE WATER FRONT follows the personal story of Vallory Johnson, who transforms her anger into an emotional grassroots campaign, defending affordable water as a human right.
What Would It Mean to Win? (Zanny Begg, Oliver Ressler, Austria, 2008; 40 min.) This was filmed on the blockades at the G8 summit in Heiligendamm, Germany, in June 2007. In their first collaborative film, Zanny Begg and Oliver Ressler focus on the current state of the counterglobalization movement in a project that grows out of both artists’ preoccupation with globalization and its discontents. The film, which combines documentary footage, interviews, and animation sequences, is structured around three questions pertinent to the movement: Who are we? What is our power? What would it mean to win?
When the Bough Breaks (episode two of Unnatural Causes) (California Newsreel with Vital Pictures, Inc., United States, 2008; 28 min.) Infant mortality rates among African Americans remain twice as high as among whites. Black women with graduate degrees still face a greater risk of delivering preterm, low birthweight babies, a risk even greater than white women who didn’t finish high school. Investigating possible causes, the film hones in on the added burden of racism as a long-term risk factor.
When the Cows Come Home (Joost de Haas, Netherlands/Jamaica, 2005; 27 min.) Away from the beaches and resorts, there’s a rural Jamaica struggling to make ends meet on farming. Milk is part of the staple diet of the 2.6 million people living in Jamaica. But dairy production is difficult in tropical climates. Most of the island’s milk was imported until early-20th-century breeders helped produce a dairy cow that could withstand the island’s heat and tropical diseases. They called the breed Jamaica Hope. Despite the success of the breed, the Jamaican dairy industry is facing a threat from subsidized European Union milk.
The Women's Kingdom (Xiaoli Zhou, China/United States, 2006; 22 min.) Keepers of one of the last matriarchal societies in the world, Mosuo women in a remote area of southwest China live beyond the strictures of mainstream Chinese culture – enjoying great freedoms and carrying heavy responsibilities. Filmmaker Xiaoli Zhou takes a fascinating journey into the heart of The Women’s Kingdom to discover a society of powerful women whose future is on the brink of change.
Zone of Initial Dilution (Antoine Boutet, France/China, 2006; 30 min.) The film looks at the urban transformation of the Three Gorges region in China, disrupted by the implementation of world’s largest dam. The “initial zone of dilution” is a term borrowed from the engineers to define the perimeter of a body of water polluted by waste, which progressively dilutes into the general current. This illustrates the generalized situation in the region, with the gradual erasure of lifestyles and local practices. Screened in partnership with the Voices from the Waters Film Festival