Though Provoking

A more intimate view into a family’s life is hardly possible.

Lots of thought provoking films at AFI Docs Festival this yeas, as usual. One of the more immediate films I saw last night was called 17 Blocks. A more intimate view into a family’s home, I could not imagine. Filmed over 20 years, just blocks away from where I live, it provided me a view of the neighborhood that I had only seen from a distance. While I do bike through all parts of the city and follow local political discourse on blogs and neighborhood List-serves, I don’t really know what happens behind closed doors. And if I do know or read about something in the paper, it is still less real than witnessing it from someone’s kitchen and listening to those who have lived it and must deal with the consequences day after day.

The previous evening I watched a similar film about the same topic, After Parkland, which was also deeply moving. The effect of a bullet is the same, whether the victim is rich or poor. Both films take the viewer into their living rooms, where one can see and hear their most intimate thoughts. The subjects’ lives could not be more different, but the pain and sorrow are identical.

Documentary film is ideal for rekindling ones awareness of human suffering. Sparking in the viewer the sense that they should do more to address situations effecting the community in which they live, whether it be a few blocks away, or on the other side of the country. Normally, it is easy to focus on your immediate needs and family, but great documentary film forces you to take a more expansive view, which then demands action. These film will open many people’s eyes to what they would rather not see. It will spur them to take action, whether it be donating money or time, or being more mindful of how their actions/inactions have consequences. It is increasingly more difficult to ignore the fact that as citizens we have a moral and ethical duty to be active participants in the world, not just idol bystanders.

l am looking forward to doing something, perhaps more that just donating money. According to Molly Ivans, the subject of another film at the festival: “What you need is sustained outrage…there’s far too much unthinking respect given to authority.” “You can’t ignore politics, no matter how much you’d like to.” “In truth, there is no rational argument for guns in this society. This is no longer a frontier nation in which people hunt their own food. It is a crowded, overwhelmingly urban country in which letting people have access to guns is a continuing disaster.”

AFI Documentary Festival

AFI DOCS runs June 14–18, 2017, in Washington, DC, and Silver Spring, MD http://www.afi.com/afidocs/features.aspx

I have not studied the program in depth, and none of the films that I screened made the festival, but, if you are interested in documentary film, I recommend you buy advance tickets to at least one film. If you do not buy tickets in advance, you will likely be relegated to the stand-by line, which is not as futile as it sounds. Most films screen once in DC and once in Silver Spring.

Here are a few films that did jump out at me:

AFIDOCS___Features_2

http://www.afi.com/afidocs/features.aspx#dolores

AFIDOCS___Features_3

http://www.afi.com/afidocs/features.aspx#la-libertad-del-diablo

I note that two films below appear to be showing only once (instead of twice) and also seem to be programed for the smallest theater in Silver Spring (theater 3). Seems like one of the high level programmers thought these were very important films, but not anticipated to appeal to a larger audience.

AFIDOCS___Features_1

http://www.afi.com/afidocs/features.aspx#el-mar-la-mar

AFIDOCS___Features

http://www.afi.com/afidocs/features.aspx#insignificant-man-an

If you are a serious documentary film buff or an inspiring filmmaker, you may want to check out the AFI Docs Forum. In the past, it has only been for filmmakers and Industry people. You may want to look at the schedule of events. It does not include films (or food) only lectures. It seems like a good deal, although last year all of the forum sessions were streamed live.

http://www.afi.com/afidocs/forum.aspx

Peace Corps History and the Peace Corps Archive

Were you a Peace Corps Volunteer?  If so, please consider donating letters, diaries, and/or other items to the Peace Corps Archive at American University.

I made the video above about the Peace Corps Archive at a recent history event organized by Jesse Bailey who is the Historian of the Returned Peace Corps Volunteers of Washington (RPCV/W).  He moderated a panel discussion about the history of RPCV/W.  The participants were all former board members of RPCV/W.  There were even many audience members who were very steeped in the history of the Peace Corps.  The event lasted more than 2 hours.  Here is a teaser:

Part one of the panel discussion can be found here:

A Fast Food Company That Cares for the Environment

Here is an example of a fast food company that sources sustainably raised agricultural products, including Niman Ranch pork.  It has hired small media company to produce a video and an iphone application to tell the story of how industrialized agriculture is destroying the planet.  Watch the video they created (soundtrack by Fiona Apple):

and then what the behind the scenes video:

Documented

Documented is a new film by Jose Antonio Vargas

The film had its world premier at the AFI Docs Festival last night to a sold out crowd at the National Portrait Gallery.

It chronicles the struggles and efforts of the Pulitzer Prize-winning former journalist, both before and after he outed himself as an undocumented immigrant in the New York Times Magazine. “Documented” chronicles his decision to transform his life. At some point, he could no longer keep his secret. He had become a successful journalist covering political campaigns and appearing on television. He had all the trappings of the American success story, but he lacked permission to be in the United States. He had been brought to the U.S. as a child and had no way to obtain a valid immigration status. And after seeing and speaking with thousands of immigrants in the same situation, he decided to “let the world in” to his secret and decided to become an immigration reform activist/provocateur.

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Mr. Vargas has made a compelling film that brings into focus what it really means to be an American. It is not a piece of paper, a birth certificate, a passport, or the luck of being born here. It is a love of country, which Mr. Vargas has in abundance. It is also about hard work and struggle. My Vargas’ grandparents were U.S. citizens and brought him to the USA when he was 12. He became an outstanding student and with the help of dozens of friends, mentors, and surrogate parents, he achieved the American dream. However, the cost of this dream were high, and not being able to be open about his status exacted a toll on his psyche. Seeing other young immigrants struggling to keep their families together and lobby Congress to pass the Dream Act., made him realize that he could use his talents as a writer to help America to peel back the layers and understand the complicated issue of immigration reform. The complexity of the topic has been lost in the political bickering and punditry that characterizes our political system and our society. Sound-bites are particularly inappropriate to understand this complex topic. The film sheds a bright and focused light, like very few other films on this topic. It also highlights his struggle to repair his relationship with his mother, who for twenty years had been trapped half way across the world (in the Philippines) with no way to see her son. The film shows that there are thousands of young adults from all over the world who face the same situation. At one moment towards the end of the film, Mr. Vargas is invited to testify before the Senate. His words are profound and he leaves the Senators with the following question that I think we all must consider thoroughly: “What are you going to do with people like me?” There is not one person who does not recognize how dysfunctional our current immigration system has become. Almost as dysfunctional as our political system. It cannot be acceptable in 21st Century America to have some individuals relegated to the back of the bus, or thrown off the bus after having established such strong roots and allegiances to this country. As Mr. Vargas stated, everyone is entitled to his or her own opinions, “but not their own facts.” Before making a decision, one should see this film and lean the facts.

“Granito: How to Nail A Dictator” to air on some public television stations

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I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Guatemala in the late 1980s.  Since that time, I have tried to stay informed about what is going on there.  It is an amazingly beautiful country with a brutally violent history.  It was with great sadness that I recently learned that the United States will no longer send volunteers to Guatemala and many other Central American countries because of an escalation of drug war violence.

(As an aside, I recommend that you watch http://www.thehouseilivein.org/ for why the drug war is a failure.)

The purpose of this post is to highlight the national distribution of “Granito: How to Nail A Dictator,” which I have heard is an amazing film and will be nationally broadcast on public television stations starting on Thursday, June 28.

However, as I explained in the post below, many public television stations have decided not to air it at all (this seems to be true for WHUT and MPT), and some, like WETA, have decided to air this film only in the middle of the night. 

How is it that Antiques Roadshow can air repeatedly occupying many prime viewing slots and an amazing documentary film is relegated to the middle of the nightSee post below to help correct this problem.

If you love great films, Let Your Voice Be Heard!

Do you love great documentary films?  Would you like to see them on your local public television station?  A recent Center for Social Media report showed strong public support for public-purpose programming and popular anger that many public television stations decide to repeatedly air programs like Antiques Roadshow during prime viewing hours, while relegating meaningful documentary films few slots, frequently in the middle of the night.  In addition, many public television station choose not to air many meaningful documentaries at all.

Please help make sure that your local public television affiliate knows what you value. POV and Independent Lens both fund and distribute some of the best new docs on public television stations throughout the United States.  They publicize these films and release schedules for when they are going to air.  However, if you have ever tried to watch a documentary on your local public television station, you have likely found that the show that you want to watch is not airing on the date or time that was advertised.    Local affiliates have discretion over which shows to air and when to schedule them.   Here in the Washington DC area, we are lucky to have three public television stations, WHUT, WETA, MPT.   Unfortunately, WHUT, WETA and MPT frequently air ITVS’ Independent Lens, and POV and other great documentaries not on the dates and times advertised for national distribution, but mostly if they choose to air them at all, they air them days or weeks later, in the wee hours of the night.

Nationally, Public Broadcasting Service (“PBS”) has decided to promote documentaries into a more desirable time frame.  This fall, PBS will program POV documentaries to air on Monday early evening time slot.  The purpose of this blog post is to encourage documentary lovers and all lovers of great films to encourage your local PBS affiliate to follow PBS’ lead and air Independent Lens and POV documentaries on Monday evenings, at the times and days that they air nationally.  To the uninitiated, this seems like a relatively minor issue.  However, for documentary filmmakers, the issue is quite important for building audiences and promoting their films.  Obviously, it is not desirable to have your film air at one in the morning, but having it air on a different date in every major city is also a tremendous impediment to viewers like you and me.   Please contact your local public television affiliate and encourage it air these great films during the same days and times are they are intend to be seen nationally.

Click here to send an email WETA: http://www.weta.org/contact

WETA, 3939 Campbell Avenue, Arlington, VA 22206

Phone: 703-998-2600

Or contact Maryland Public Television here: directconnection@mpt.org

Maryland Public Television
11767 Owings Mills Boulevard
Owings Mills, MD 21117-1499

Phone: 410-356-5600
Fax: 410-581-4298

Or contact WHUT here: http://www.whut.org/whut/?page_id=28

WHUT
Howard University Television
2222 Fourth Street, NW
Washington, DC 20059
202-806-3200

For more context, see:

http://www.centerforsocialmedia.org/blog/future-public-media/pbs-decides-showcase-indie-work

http://www.centerforsocialmedia.org/blog/future-public-media/pbs-finds-spot-independent-lens-and-pov%E2%80%94-where

http://mediadecoder.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/05/09/pbs-will-move-series-of-films-to-monday-night/

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/19/business/media/schedule-changes-hurt-pbs-film-series.html?_r=1

http://kartemquin.com/newsletter/4531/pbs-needs-indies-a-success-%E2%80%94-pbs-moves-pov-independent-lens-to-monday-night

http://www.current.org/indies/indies1209treaty.html

Two Great Films

INCENDIES

Adapted from Wajdi Mouawad’s acclaimed play, Incendies is a moving tale of discovery. Two siblings travel halfway across the world to piece together the troubled history that their mother almost took with her to her grave. Jeanne and Simon are young adults living in Canada, oblivious to their mother’s turbulent past. The siblings are set in motion after their mother goes into a catatonic state. Jeanne seeks to carry out her mother’s wishes and her brother seeks to distance himself from what he sees as the final manifestation of his mother’s incomprehensibility.

Visiting Lebanon for the first time, Jeanne discovers the horrors her mother spent her whole life trying to protect her from. Flashbacks to her mother’s youth during Lebanon’s civil war are effectively used to make Jeanne’s journey vivid and revealing. She walks through the same dusty streets and country lanes as her mother had decades earlier. Many are almost unchanged. The scenery is stark and beautiful. A language barrier is the least of her difficulties. She is fluent in two languages, but cannot decipher her mother’s history without significant assistance and determination. The hostility Jeanne encounters from the women of her mother’s native village, is striking for it ferocity. After all those many years, hatreds have not subsided. After discovering part of the riddle, she convinces her brother to join her to locate their missing family members. Although the story they piece together is brutal, it is also filled with love and sacrifice that is not easily forgotten.

THE HELP

Set in the South in the early 1960s, the relationship of a young white society woman, Skeeter, and a friend’s maid, Abileen, provide an important window into the world of discrimination that was at the time, not only condoned, but by some, even encouraged. It was a way of life that was enforced by law. What starts as a relationship of necessity, becomes a friendship built upon mutual respect. Having been waited on all her life by her family’s maid, Skeeter needs Abileen to provide her the how-to for her newspaper’s household advice column. As an aspiring writer, Skeeter longs to tell a far more important story, from the perspective of the maids in her town. As Skeeter becomes more intimate with the struggles of the black women who raised generations of white children, she, together with the audience, begins to lose respect for many of her white, childhood friends as they attempt to perpetuate the repressive social structure. The maids, who at their time were seen more like posessions than people, are seen through the eyes of Skeeter to be resilient, loving, and beautiful characters. The richness of these characters and the white women surrounding them make this powerful story one that will bring you to laughter and tears. You can’t help but root for Skeeter and Abileen as they traverse the dangerous terrain that must be passed through to arrive at the truth.