Recommended Viewing: February 2011
- Published: 12 February 2011
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Check out this month's selection of DVDs for creative thinkers.
13 February 2011
When I Rise
Director: Matt Hames
Barbara Smith Conrad was born and raised in Center Point, a small town in East Texas. Like many youngsters in Center Point's African-American community, Conrad's first musical training came at the local Baptist church, but with time it became obvious she had a gift that set her apart from her peers.
In 1956, the University of Texas admitted African-American undergraduates for the first time, and Conrad was part of that class of incoming freshman. The university's music department staged an opera every year, and when Conrad auditioned for a role in Henry Purcell's Dido and Aeneas, she was cast in the female lead.
However, her great opportunity turned sour when a number of local conservatives objected to Conrad appearing in the production alongside a white leading man. The local controversy turned into a national news item when the University president removed Conrad from the cast, and while actor and singer Harry Belafonte championed her cause and offered to pay her way through the music school of her choice, Conrad had to chose between leaving Texas and staying to fight for her rights.
Barbara Smith Conrad went on to a distinguished career as a mezzo-soprano who has performed with the world's great operas, and in When I Rise, she and filmmaker Matt Hames look back at the events that first thrust her into the spotlight as she comes home to Texas.
Return of the Scorcher and We Are Traffic! (double DVD)
Director: Ted White
Available from Green Planet Films
We Are Traffic! chronicles the history and development of the Critical Mass bicycle movement, one of the most spirited and dynamic social/political movements of the apathetic 90s. In over 200 cities in 14 different countries, Critical Mass has now become a monthly ritual of reclaiming the streets by bicycle activists riding en masse.
With traffic congestion, pollution, and road rage on the rise, growing numbers around the world are advocating for transportation alternatives, and Critical Mass is at the cutting edge of this mindset.
We Are Traffic! tracks this leaderless, grassroots movement from its beginnings in San Francisco in 1992 to its spread across the globe. With a radical direct-action approach the participants of Critical Mass are celebrating the bicycle and in turn taking on perhaps the century's most sacred cow: the automobile.
Return of the Scorcher This half-hour documentary looks at bike culture and bike lifestyles around the world with beautiful and inspiring scenes of bike use filmed in China, The Netherlands, Denmark, and the US.
In the 1890s, before automobiles ruled the roads, bicyclists were referred to as "Scorchers" because of their blazing speed. A century later, in a world filled with car-related environmental and social problems, Return of the Scorcher discovers an inspired and evolving bicycling renaissance.
This documentary touches on a surprising variety of subjects including romance, rebellion, early feminism, and spirituality - all viewed within the context of bicycling. Return of the Scorcher questions our obsession with "progress" and status and presents a diverse cross-section of cycling visionaries who see the bicycle as a life-affirming vehicle for change.
Heather and Goliath
Director: Thea Lucia Mercouffer
Available from Green Planet Films
Heather works for the Army Corps of Engineers in Los Angeles. One day she hears that her employer is quietly eliminating Clean Water Act jurisdiction for the LA River - a channelized waterway that's seen better days - based on a Supreme Court decision that deems only 'traditionally navigable waters' worthy of protection. She immediately alerts her congressman, who happens to be Chairman of the Government Oversight committee.
A media storm descends upon the issue. George, an intrepid kayaker who plans an expedition down the entire 51 miles of said river, is caught in the public attention spotlight and his mission suddenly finds a higher purpose.
Heather meets George and joins the expedition on its second day, a Saturday. Over the course of a weekend, seventeen boaters navigate down the entire LA River, getting to know their city from a whole new perspective. As it turns out, this river is quite navigable!
Heather and Goliath is a humorous and inspiring short film in which people risk their livelihood or freedom in order to stand for what they feel is right. “At the time I was not thinking I was putting my job and career on the line,” quips Heather Wylie, the Army Corps whistle blower. “The river is one of our most important natural resources, and it needed to be protected.”
Harassed by her employer after she joined the un-permitted expedition down the entire length of the LA River, Heather eventually sued the Army Corps through a whistle blower defense organization, and reached a settlement.
Directors: Micki Dickoff and Tony Pagano
First Run Features
In 1964, a mob of Klansmen murdered three civil rights workers in the small Mississippi county of Neshoba – the infamous “Mississippi Burning” murders. The young men, two Jews from New York and an African-American from Mississippi, were in the Deep South helping to register African-American voters during what came to be known as the Freedom Summer.
Although the killers bragged about what they did, it took the State 40 years to indict the mastermind, Edgar Ray Killen, an 80-year-old Baptist preacher and notorious racist.
Neshoba tells the story of these three American heroes and the long struggle to bring their killers to justice, in a place that is still dealing with the legacy of a violent and racist past.
Wo Ai Ni Mommy
Director: Stephanie Wang-Breale
Available from Wo Ai Ni Mommy
From 2000-2008, China was the leading country for U.S. international adoptions. There are now approximately 70,000 Chinese children being raised in the United States. Wo Ai Ni Mommy explores what happens when an older Chinese girl is adopted into an American family.
This film reveals the complicated gains and losses that are an inherent aspect of international, transracial adoption.
In 2007 Donna and Jeff Sadowsky of Long Island, New York submitted their dossier to adopt eight-year old Fang Sui Yong from Guangzhou, China. From the very first moment Sui Yong meets her new mother, Donna, we get a real sense of the emotional confusion and loss Sui Yong experiences, as adoption workers translate their first words of communication.
This day will change Sui Yong’s life, forever. Language, habits, food, everything she knows will never be the same. Her new life in America is filled with happiness and confusion. As she struggles to survive in this new world, we witness her transform into a lively, outspoken American.
Sui Yong has become someone neither she nor Donna could have imagined. In a sense, she’s the same girl Donna met in Guangzhou all those months ago – and yet she’s utterly different.
Director: Tim Disney
Based on true events in the midst of the 2000 election, American Violet tells the astonishing story of Dee Roberts a 24-year-old African American single mother of four young girls living in a small Texas town who is barely making ends meet on a waitress' salary and government subsidies.
On an early November morning while Dee works a shift at the local diner, the powerful local district attorney leads an extensive drug bust, sweeping her Arlington Springs housing project with military precision.
Police drag Dee from work in handcuffs, dumping her in the squalor of the women's county prison. Indicted based on the uncorroborated word of a single and dubious police informant facing his own drug charges, Dee soon discovers she has been charged as a drug dealer.
With her freedom and the custody of her children at stake, she chooses to fight the district attorney and the unyielding criminal justice system he represents.
DVDs selected by Katrina Fox, Editor-in Chief.
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