Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Behind the Screen: American Heart.

Note: Moving Pictures is featuring some of the filmmakers from the CSWE 2014 Film Festival sharing the stories behind the making of their films. The films will be shown at the CSWE Annual Program Meeting in Tampa, FL, on October 24-26, 2014. For schedule, trailers, and film descriptions, visit the film festival Web page. 

Director Chris Newberry
Director Chris Newberry explains below the background to American Heart, his film on refugee health care. American Heart received a regional Emmy in the "Topical Documentary" category and the Bronze Jury Prize (Feature) in Seattle's Social Justice Film Festival.

In the closing days of 2005, I was introduced to an extraordinary group of people. It was a serendipitous case of a filmmaker (me) looking for a project and a project looking for a filmmaker. I sat down across the table from Dr. Pat Walker, Dr. Bill Stauffer, and author Biloine Young. Little did I know that these extraordinary people would soon be taking me on a 7-year journey into a whole world populated by extraordinary people.  

The original pitch given to me by Drs. Walker and Stauffer was “every patient that walks through our doors has an amazing story to tell” and “don’t you think there’s a documentary film here?”. As it turns out, there were several documentary films. Together, we embarked on what would become known as the Medicine Box Project, in which we documented the health care ups-and-downs of the patients at HealthPartners Center for International Health. The clinic’s patient population consists entirely of immigrants, with a substantial number being the refugees living in the surrounding Midway neighborhoods of St. Paul, MN. These refugees come to Minneapolis/St. Paul from all over the world, and the metro area boasts one of the most robust and diverse contingents of refugees in North America. 

The clash that arises when an influx of newcomers arrives in a place like Minnesotain the “American heartland”is nothing new, but it comes into clear focus when these newcomers interact with complex American institutions, and no institution is more complex than the American health-care system.   

Over the course of several years, the Medicine Box Project spawned four short documentaries, all of which are widely used in health-care education and outreach, but I knew I wanted to do something more with the material.  I had always wanted to tell a personal story of real individualssomething that the public at large could appreciate and be touched by. I wanted to make a feature-length documentary and thus began the making of what that would become American Heart. So, I turned my attention to “casting”that is, seeking out a handful of patients whose stories could be told in an intimate way.

The stars aligned when, in a matter of a few months in 2007, I met three men that would open up their lives to me: Alex Gliptis, a refugee who fled violence in Ethiopia in the early 1980s; Patrick Junior, a member of an oppressed ethnic minority (the Karen people) in Burma; and Thor Lem, a former political prisoner who suffered under the Khmer Rouge in 1970s Cambodia.   

Each one of them had a backstory filled with harrowing journeys and heart-breaking lossthe kinds of heavy burdens that a person carries with himself or herself for a lifetime. But that is not all that connects these three men. They also face, over the course of the film, a jaw-dropping series of life-threatening health emergencies. This may sound like the makings for an exposé of the health-care system’s failings. And at times, it seemed like I might be documenting the health care fits-and-starts that would inevitably lead to three unhappy endings.   

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Preview, CSWE 2014 Film Festival.

Musician Jeremy Oxley, from
The Sunnyboy (dir. Kaye Harrison.
This Australian film on schizophrenia
will have its U.S. premiere at the
CSWE 2014 Film Festival) 
Take a sneak peek below at the films that will be screened at the CSWE 2014 Film Festival in Tampa, FL, on October 24-26. Its subjects range from adoption, alcoholism, and refugee health to military sexual assault, sex trafficking, and older adults tackling technology.

Want to view the schedule, trailers, and film descriptions? Visit our Film Festival Web page.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Behind the Screen: A Civil Remedy

Note: Moving Pictures is featuring some of the filmmakers from the CSWE 2014 Film Festival sharing the stories behind the making of their films. The films will be shown at the CSWE Annual Program Meeting in Tampa, FL, on October 24-26, 2014. For schedule, trailers, and film descriptions, visit the film festival Web page.

Director and Suffolk University Law School professor Kate Nace Day explains below the background to A Civil Remedy, her film on sex trafficking that has been nominated for an EMMA Award (presented by the National Women's Political Caucus). 

The story of sex trafficking involves vulnerability, violence, entrenched inequalities, a shocking profitability, and the failure of law. Over the past decade, the stories of victims and survivors have emerged in published books and texts, Hollywood feature films, investigative news reports, and video advocacy projects. But it was a sex-trafficking documentary film that came into my law school classroom, charged with empathy and shock, a form of human vision. It was a gift. 

I experienced the power of documentary to bring us back from law’s language to the living world—from the abstract to the real, from the general to the personal and particular, from the shadow of law’s indifference back toin Eudora Welty’s words“each other’s presence, each other’s wonder, each other’s human plight.” Sex trafficking then became the subject, documentary the form of my challenge to law’s own vision, law’s own way of knowing. 

Read in appellate court opinions, performed in courtrooms, perpetuated in classrooms, law’s stories take the form of dialogue, a highly structured exchange of questions and answers that often translates the messy details of human stories—bodies, emotions, social contexts, and moral doubts—into apparently neutral and universal stories of written texts, precedent, and authority. Law’s stories say simply, “this is what law is.”   

I made A Civil Remedy to render visible what law does.