Show and Tell: An Evening about Citizenship with Documentary Filmmakers || Radcliffe Institute

Show and Tell: An Evening about Citizenship with Documentary Filmmakers || Radcliffe Institute


– Good evening, everyone. I’m Liz Cohen. I’m Dean of the Radcliffe
Institute for Advanced Study, and it’s my pleasure to
welcome you to tonight’s show and tell exploration of
citizenship, gender, and film. This program kicks off our
Annual Gender Conference, which is focused this year
on the topic, “Who belongs? Global Citizenship and
Gender in the 21st Century.” Before we dive in, I’d like
to thank all of our speakers for joining us tonight. And, again, tomorrow
they’ll be another crew. I’m also grateful to Rebecca
Wassarman, Executive Director of Academic Ventures,
Jessica Viklund, the Director of
Radcliffe Events, and their fantastic teams. Thanks as well to
Dan Carpenter, who chaired the Faculty Organizing
Committee for the conference, and to committee members,
Professors Sara Bleich, Melanie Cammett, Jane
Kamensky, Michele Lemont, and Mark Tushnet. And, finally,
thanks to all of you for joining us here tonight. Every spring, we
organize this conference to address an issue of
broad public concern through the lens of gender. In recent years we
have examined topics such as sports, language,
violence, and public health, to name just a few. This annual conference
is one manifestation of Radcliffe’s
founding commitment to the study of
gender and society, which we trace
back to our legacy as the institutional descendant
of Radcliffe College. Today, as Harvard’s
Institute for Advanced Study, Radcliffe provides a vibrant
interdisciplinary forum, and convenes leading
thinkers working at the forefront of all fields. Each year we open
our gender conference with an evening
dedicated to the arts. And we do this to fulfill
another core commitment, which is the integration of the
creative arts with other forms of scholarly inquiry. We begin with the arts because
artistic expression compels us to consider challenging
issues, like citizenship, from a unique vantage point. Tonight we are joined by
three talented filmmakers, and a distinguished
critic, who will engage in a discussion about
the power of film to shape our understanding
of citizenship and gender in important ways. Film portrayals, both
fictional and documentary, can bring to life the
complexity of citizenship, and can show us its relationship
to belonging and exclusion. These issues inform our
everyday experiences. So what better medium than
film to capture and elucidate how individuals navigate
this lived reality? Whether films are shown on
the big screen of a theater, viewed on a college
campus, or watched on a television in our homes,
they offer us a unique entry point into how our society
understands citizenship and national identity. And films also shape that
societal understanding. One infamous example
is the 1915 film The Birth of a Nation, a silent
film directed by D.W. Griffith. Premiering under the
original title, The Clansman, this film presented a
three-hour dramatization of white supremacist
ideology told through the lives of two
intertwined families, one Northern and one Southern,
during the Civil War and into Reconstruction. The film romanticized the Ku
Klux Klan as a healing force for the South, and it
depicted black people in overtly racist
caricatures that became widespread and deeply harmful. The Birth of a Nation
also had a profound impact on the nascent film
industry largely because of its immense popularity
among white audiences. In reaction to the film in 1915,
the Boston branch of the NAACP published a 47-page booklet
condemning the film, and showing a keen
awareness of the threat it posed to black citizenship. They wrote, and I
quote, “We believe this film teaches a propaganda
for the purpose of so stirring up the people of the East
and the West and the North, that they would
consent to allowing the Southern program
of disenfranchisement, segregation, and
lynching of the Negro. And finally to the repeal of
the 14th and 15th Amendments.” In the 100-plus years
since that first screening of The Birth of a
Nation, mainstream films have continued to reinforce
ahistorical storylines and damaging stereotypes,
whether intentionally or not. Still today, widely
distributed films tend to reflect a narrow
white and male experience. According to research
out of the University of Southern
California’s Annenberg School for Communication
and Journalism, in the top 100 highest-grossing
films of 2016, less than a 1/3 of all speaking
characters were women. That’s pretty stunning. Some 70% of all
characters were white. Even more stunning. And a 1/4 of these same films
featured no black speaking characters, while over
1/2 lacked Latino speaking characters. Representation is important
both in front of the camera, and behind it. I doubt it will surprise anyone
in this room that increasing diversity among
directors and producers also remains difficult. The
people in those roles shape which stories are
told, what we learn, and how we collectively
think about important issues. Felix Contreras, who is the
host of the weekly NPR program Alt.Latino, lamented
in the run-up to the recent Academy Awards,
and I quote, “Very often we have to leave the studios
of the Hollywood ecosystem, and enter the world
of independent film to find the diverse communities
that we actually live in.” Issues of representation
and portrayal in film are closely connected to
the question, who belongs, that animates our conference. The litany of challenges
is clear, but so too is the potential for
storytelling through film to serve as a positive force. I’m delighted that we have such
an outstanding group of experts with us tonight to
explore these issues, and to consider whose
stories get told, by whom, and for whom. Gender is our particular
concern over the next 24 hours, but I’m sure it will come quite
clear that sexual identity is deeply intertwined with
race, ethnicity, and class. Claudia Puig will moderate
tonight’s discussion between filmmakers Maria Agui
Carter, Heather Courtney, and Cynthia López. Claudia is a nationally
recognized film journalist, the president of the Los Angeles
Film Critics Association, and a movie critic
for NPR’S FilmWeek. She’s also the former lead
film critic for USA Today. Claudia will introduce
the panelists, and you can read full
biographies of everyone in your printed program. Before Claudia and our
panel come up to the stage, I just want to give you a
quick note about logistics. We’ll hear and see presentations
from all the panelists, and then Claudia
will engage them in conversation as a group. And following that
discussion, we will open up the floor
to your questions. We’ll place a microphone
in the center aisle. You’re invited to
join the conversation, but please identify yourself
before you ask your question. I also hope to see many
of you again tomorrow morning when the
conference continues in this room at 9:00 AM. So now please join me in giving
a warm welcome to our speakers as they come up to the stage. [CLAPPING] – Hi, everybody. I’ll begin with just
a couple of remarks, and then we will go through
with each of us speaking. And then we’ll have
a joint conversation, and then we’ll
open it up to you. I want to talk about,
just for a moment, about the power of film to
broaden us, and to educate. How many of you’ve
watched a movie that opened your
eyes to something you knew very little about? Raise your hand if you’ve
seen the movie that broadened your knowledge
in the past six months. OK, good. People often talk about
escaping into films, but films also escape into us. They open our eyes, and they
help us understand ourselves. They help us understand
our fellow human beings. They reveal us to
ourselves, and reveal the experiences of others. The best films connect us
to our shared humanity. Films are all about revelation. They illustrate the
human experience in all its glory, messiness,
complexity, and fullness. Movies provide a window
into the magnificent breadth of who we are, often
exploring the lives of people we might otherwise never know. Films can lay bare the deepest
emotions, and innermost thoughts of others, providing a
uniquely revelatory experience. Films work on our hearts
and minds on so many levels, engaging and moving us in
conscious and subconscious ways. Their images make a
powerful impression and stay with us, sometimes
throughout our lives. If I were to go around the
room and asked you to come up with an iconic
image from a film, you’d have no trouble
coming up with it. What makes it even
better is that the what made those deep
impressions will probably be different for everybody here. I immediately thought
of the little girl in the red coat in
Schindler’s List, and all the black
and white around her. The chess game between
the knight and death in Seventh Seal. Howard Beale screaming,
I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to
take it anymore, which seems appropriate these days. So images on screen
seep into our pores, they burrow under our skin,
they live on in our minds. Films engage us orally,
emotionally, intellectually. The combined effects of
cinematography, score, dialogue, sound
design, and of course, the characters themselves,
provide lasting images that we often
compare to real life. Sometimes real life
feels like a movie. The best movies
feel like real life. The three filmmakers
whose work we are so fortunate to be
exploring here tonight offer just that kind
of deep revelation. The process of
watching their films is almost like excavation. They mine their own experiences,
and those of others, grappling with
adapting to society. Their work digs deeply
into the fraught process of emigrating and acclimating
to a new environment. Watching films like
those of our panelists can help us understand
one another. They can help us keep
from seeing those who are not like us as the “other.” They remind us that we are
all citizens of the world, and as such, we have more
in common with each other than we have differences. By delving into portrayals like
the ones we’re about to see, we can better understand,
empathize with, and ideally, help one another in our
common global citizenship. And as we recognize our
commonalities as human beings, we get a clearer sense of
what others experience, the barriers they face– whether literal walls, or
psychological and cultural obstacles. I was thinking that the word
“citizenship”– and citizenship means so much more than
living within certain borders. When we were all in grade school
it meant behaving responsibly. You get a citizenship
grade, and that pertained to our behavior,
our human decency, even as children. So good citizens are human
beings who behave well. They care for their
brothers and sisters, and they make the
world a better place. Films can offer us that portal
to being better citizens, more exemplary humans. The best films go
beyond the obvious and deepen our understanding,
challenge our expectations, and reshape our preconceptions. They illuminate and
elucidate, and in the process, encourage essential compassion. In the best cases,
they can transform us. I’m very grateful to
be here in this room as we ask today and
tomorrow, who belongs? The answer as I see
it is, we all do. And films powerfully
and passionately make our global sense of
community abundantly clear. So I’m happy to be hosting this
opening panel on citizenship and gender as viewed
through the lens of masterful cinematic
storytellers. I’m delighted to introduce
you to Cynthia López, Heather Courtney,
Maria Agui Carter, and they will each show clips
from their impressive body of work. So I’ll start with Cynthia. – Hi, good evening. I think I’m going to stand at
the podium a couple of minutes. And I’d first like to say
that I’m thrilled to be here this evening to be part of
this conversation, citizenship, gender, and film. I’d like to thank you, Dean
Elizabeth Cohen, Rebecca Wassarman, and Maria Agui
Carter for inviting me this evening to share some
insights and some experiences. During my past 25 years,
I’ve had the privilege to be a library advocate raising
money for the nation’s poorest libraries. Then I turned, and I
was executive producer of the award-winning
series, POV. And, most recently, I
was film commissioner of New York City, where I
was the steward of the media and entertainment
business industry. To begin, I’d like to share with
you a transformational moment in my life, and tell you
a little bit about myself. I call it “Rosary
Beads and Sundance.” In 2005, it had snowed
more than 20 inches, and I had anxiously arrived
at the Salt Lake City airport. I was going to New York City. I was making it home. I had just attended the
Sundance Film Festival. I had one of those
rare moments that you have in your career, where
you feel accomplished. And I kept on
thinking, this is what it feels like to be
a star quarterback, running that last stretch right
before you have that touchdown. I felt just like that. I had met with all the
filmmakers I wanted to meet. I had all the business
meetings I wanted to do. I successfully completed, and
I actually saw some films, at Sundance, too. And now, even though I
was thoroughly exhausted, I had to get on this flight,
and get to the Reuters studio at 6:00 AM the next day. I was meeting Gloria Steinem. I had reached out
to her and asked her, could she help us promote
a film directed by Shola Lynch, called Chisholm ’72, which
was about Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman to run for
President of the United States. My cell phone rang, and
it was my colleague. And all I could hear her say,
flights are being canceled, I’m very concerned. Maybe you won’t
be in the studio. Maybe we’ll lose this string
of interviews that you set up. Before my cell
phone died, I heard Cynthia, I canceled flight,
was able to purchase a business class ticket. Get to counter immediately. I ran frantically with my
carry-ons, and my Sundance bags, and my heavy snow boots. I was a wreck. An absolute wreck. All of the sudden,
I thought, how can I go from being
that quarterback, to totally feeling
demoralized and absolutely with nothing left? But, oh my god, I have
to get on this plane. And all I kept on
thinking was, nothing will change and diminish
this moment, because I will meet Gloria Steinem tomorrow. No matter what. When I was a kid, I went
to all these marches. My mother and I– she
wanted to teach me. You have to fight for equality. You have to fight for justice. These things won’t come
to you, unless you work. I was looking down in
a haze of exhaustion, when two US patrol
officers started walking up and down the aisles. And people were lined up to do
the final security checkpoints. And then, as if I was the
central character of a Lifetime movie special, I heard, Cynthia
López, please step out of line. You were wanted for inspection. Cynthia López, step out of line,
you were wanted for inspection. And as I saw the patrol officers
walk near, I kept thinking, this can’t be happening. This just cannot be happening. I was terrorized, and for a
quick second, I said to myself, did I have a jelly
donut in my backpack? Did I have extra sugar? Was it my Chinese
herbs that somehow look weird to the inspectors? What had I done to
engender an inspection? Frantically, I started
saying, why are you taking me? I’m an American. I’m a citizen. I was born in this country. Sit down, ma’am. Please be quiet,
and do not move. Sit here, and someone will come
and ask you a few questions. I have to get on this flight. Can you please call PBS? Call my superior. Call the Sundance Festival. They’ll vouch for me, really. I’m an American. They opened my luggage and took
everything out, piece by piece by piece. And I have to say,
if anyone could have an internal nervous
breakdown, I had one that day. For sure. Please call the main office
at Sundance, I pleaded. Please. You can even see the
program in my luggage. Ma’am, do not get excitable. There is nothing to
get excited about. You don’t need to get anxious. I was having an
out-of-body experience, and I understood that
everything that we had to contend with at the
time was the extra security measures. If you remember I
said this was 2005. My stepsister works in
the financial industry. Hell, I understand
that we all have to deal with extra security. Thankfully, her office
was on the 68th floor of the World Trade Center. Thankfully, she was
not there that day. But I understand,
as an American, we have to take precautions. When I heard the
woman inspectors say, she looks Syrian, we have
to take all precautions. I died inside. And I said, I’m from Brooklyn. I am from Brooklyn. I am an American. As she looked
through my luggage, she found rosary beads that
I had purchased in Italy, and I had joked with my brother,
these will protect my luggage from ever being stolen. The agent then asked,
are you Catholic? And for a second I said, I’m
actually Episcopalian now. And then I caught
myself and said, absolutely I’m a
registered Catholic. Joe, call Sundance and see
if they can vouch for her. My hands were shaking,
and I kept thinking, I’m not from another country. But when they asked me where I
was from, and I said Brooklyn, they didn’t really like that. But where are your
parents from, they said. I snapped back, well my
father is from Puerto Rico, and my mother is
from Long Island. All your family is
from another country. I was terrorized again,
but I tried to explain, well actually Puerto Rico is a
territory of the United States. It’s like Guam or
the Virgin Islands, and a few other islands
that the US owns, that they usually get
from wars that they have, and Puerto Rico specifically
came from Spain. And then I caught myself,
and I remembered my oh my mother always saying,
just answer the question. And I became quiet. The male patrol guard
came back and he said, the Sundance office
vouched for her. She’s legit. Ma’am, do you understand
why we brought you to the security check? Do you understand,
ma’am, why you’re here? And I was shaking
because I thought, I didn’t bring my passport. I just had my driver’s ID. But I always used my
driver’s ID to travel. Well let me explain. You canceled your flight,
purchased another ticket, and it was all through a
third party in New York. And your luggage is on the
other plane, and truth be told, you don’t look like
you’re an American. Plus our cameras picked up
that you look pretty frantic in the lobby. What were you doing? What were you looking for? And I tried not to engage. I kept my head down,
and I just thought, I have to get on the plane. I am meeting Gloria
Steinem, I said in my head. I was looking for an
outlet to plug my phone. That’s what I was doing, I said. Well, no problem. We’ll run you over to the plane. When I ran through the
terminal with the two agents and the dogs– they escorted me to my
business class ticket– I felt devastated. Ms. López, on behalf
of the US government, we deeply apologize for any
inconvenience this may have caused. When they said that, all
the other passengers looked at me like, what had I done? And if you know me, I’m a very
actually quiet, shy person. Please have a good day, he said. I nodded out of compliance. I just put my head
down, and I was shaking. And I finally cried
uncontrollably when the airplane doors closed. And all I could
think of was lots of people get trapped like
this every single day. And I just felt
like it wasn’t over. And now every time
I go to the airport, my heart flutters until I
pass the final security points because I never want my
citizenship, or my identity, to ever be confused. So I will not take the
remaining couple of minutes that I have to give you a
Puerto Rican history lesson, but there are a couple of
things I do want to say. Puerto Rico was acquired by
the United States in 1898. Puerto Ricans are US citizens
since the Jones Act in 1917. And the US wanted to ensure that
Puerto Rican men participate in all US wars. Puerto Rico is a commonwealth
of the United States, which means that Puerto
Ricans are US citizens, but we cannot vote for the
President of the United States unless you live on the mainland. Currently, the Puerto
Rican government, not the Puerto Rican people,
owe $72 billion in debt. And the US federal
government is currently deciding how that
debt should be paid. And due to Hurricane Maria,
the Puerto Rican debt crisis, Puerto Ricans on the
island are facing the worst humanitarian
crisis in its history. 450 Puerto Rican people
have left the island over the last year and a half. And recently– I have to say,
in doing research for this panel and also for a project
I’m working on– I learned that the Harvard
Student Labor Movement, along with activists from
Hedge Clippers, and others, marched here at Harvard
Yard, protesting in support of divestment. Because the Harvard endowment,
which currently totals $36 billion, has $2 billion
invested in a company called Buy Post Investment. And they, in turn, have $911
million invested in COFINA in Puerto Rico. As an American, I
ask, shouldn’t we learn more about how daily
decisions impact other US citizens? Shouldn’t we think about solar,
water, and renewable energies, and how that investment
could maybe yield long-term and higher results? So I thank you for listening
to me, and for me sharing “Rosary Beads and Sundance.” But I also want to
show you a little clip. For 14 years, I was part of
an incredible team at POV– point of view
documentaries– and this shows you a little clip
of, a little taste, of what some of the most
powerful Latino filmmakers are doing today. Thank you very much. [APPLAUSE] [VIDEO PLAYBACK] [MUSIC PLAYING] – This is going to happen
to any institution, and any oppressed community,
that does not respond to the needs of the people. – Part of my role as a
documentary filmmaker is to work for human rights. And I feel that my
work is not done yet. [MUSIC PLAYING] – In this situation,
somebody in the place has got to have courage
to risk everything. [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH] – Let go of my camera. Let go of my camera. – I felt that the documentary
could be the most immediate way to get to people, to
make them understand, to see and actually
feel what was going on. – Workers started coming in
to the garment workers’ center with complaints about owed
wages, injuries on the job. – I was trying to get very
close with the characters, that you could
almost smell them. [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH] [SPEAKING SPANISH] – I think a documentary
has the unique power to let you experience
someone else’s life. – I knew something big
was going to happen. I knew I was going to get
some type of awakening. [SPEAKING SPANISH] – In many countries
in the world, governments do things that their
people wish they didn’t do. [SPEAKING SPANISH] – Who are we, as Latinos? Do we matter? What’s our role as an American? – Both my parents,
they came here to work, and to better the
lives of their children, of us. – What I really wanted to do
was capture the sense of humor and the culture behind
the economic crisis. [SINGING] – I love making
documentaries, and I want to keep making films,
and telling stories. – The camera illuminates
so many things. – On a personal level,
this film has changed me. – Without documentaries,
if we don’t have that, if we can’t look at
ourselves and see what’s going on right now, how
do we know what’s out there? – We don’t need cover-ups. We don’t need interference,
we need the truth. – Dear Selena, I
give you this letter so you would know that
lots of people love you. – We’re showing the
power that we have. We’re not a minority,
we’re the majority. [CHEERING] – We are making films. We are talking
about our stories. People can now say, I
can make a documentary. And they can be a
part of my experience, and part of my culture,
and a part of me. [END PLAYBACK] – Thank you. [APPLAUSE] – Let me introduce you. Sorry about that. This is Heather
Courtney, and she is an independent filmmaker–
documentary filmmaker. She was a 2014
Guggenheim Fellow, and won an Emmy and an
Independent Spirit Award for her film Where
Soldiers Come From. It was broadcast on
the PBS series POV. She is currently co-directing
and producing the feature documentary The Unafraid about
undocumented immigrant students in Georgia. Welcome. [APPLAUSE] – Yeah, I have the
actual privilege of having worked
with Cynthia for– while I was making Where
Soldiers Come From, because it was broadcast on POV. And she really is
that powerhouse, she’s running
through the airport, and she’s an amazing person. And I just wanna thank
the Radcliffe Institute for inviting me to
be on this panel. I think when you first
e-mailed me I was, like– I think I emailed you back–
and I was, like, are you sure you want– am i the
person you meant to email? No. But anyway, so here I am. And thank you very much
for inviting me to this. So I want to talk about
a couple of documentaries that I made in, not my
past life, but a while ago. Before Where Soldiers
Come From on POV, I made a couple of
films about immigration. And I was interested in
the topic of immigration for a lot of reasons, but I
worked for about eight years for various NGOs that worked
on immigrant refugee rights. Including, I worked in
the Rwandan refugee camps after the Rwandan genocide. And that was when
I decided I needed to be better able to tell
a story because of all the stories I had heard there. And that’s when I came
back, and I did a film– well and I went to– I applied to film school. And that’s what led
me down this path now. So the first documentary
I actually made was called Los Trabajadores,
and that was my thesis film at the University of Texas. And shortly after that, I
made a film called Letters From the Other Side. And they’re both films
about Mexican migration– migration to the US from Mexico. One is from the
male point of view, and Letters From
the Other Side is from the woman’s point of view. So, the two sides of
the immigration story. One is the husbands, the
fathers, the sons, and brothers who leave their families and
communities behind in Mexico to find work in the US, to
provide for the families they leave behind. And the other side, which
was often less talked about, is that of the women
and children left behind when their husbands
and fathers migrate, and how their lives,
their responsibilities, and their roles change. They’re all being
affected by these forces beyond their control. And it’s not just
here in the US, it’s back home in
their home villages. So I want to start with a
clip from Los Trabajadores– The Workers. It was my first documentary,
as I said, my thesis film at The University of Texas. It came out in
2001, so I apologize for the 4:3 format
and the low quality, but that’s what
it was back then. So just to give you a brief
background to the clip you’re going to see. In Austin, where I was
going to grad school, there was a day laborer site
where immigrant day laborers would wait for work every day. And there was a lot of
grumbling from the people in that neighborhood about how
they didn’t want this day labor site there. They didn’t understand,
or know any of these men. And I thought, well, they
had a lot of misperceptions, and maybe one way that I could
fight these misperceptions is if I got to know
some of these men, and humanize the issue, and
told a story about them. So that’s how I met Ramon,
who is the man you’re going to see in this clip. I met him at the day labor site. He had come from Mexico. He was a husband to
Virginia, and the father of 19-year-old [INAUDIBLE],,
and 12-year-old [INAUDIBLE].. And this is just a short clip
that gives you a sense of him, and why he came to the US. [VIDEO PLAYBACK] [SPEAKING SPANISH] [END PLAYBACK] [APPLAUSE] – I feel like that clip
kind of speaks for itself. I mean, especially when
we think about the theme of this conference,
citizenship and who belongs. And for Ramon, and for
most of the men like him, who have migrated
to the US to work, to support their
families back in Mexico, it’s not really about– they don’t consider
crossing the border as doing something illegal. It’s like the thing they have to
do to provide for their family. Like he says it’s not
against the law of me as a husband and me as a father. And I feel like a lot today– I hear this a lot because in the
current film that I’m working on– which actually I just
finished with my co-director, Anayansi Prado– is a film called The Unafraid. It’s premiering on Saturday. It’s about DACA
students, actually. And a lot of times you’ll
hear in the news, people say, oh, well, you know those kids
didn’t do anything wrong. As if their parents, who
sacrificed everything to cross the border, and
who work 18 hours a day, two or three different jobs so
their kids will have a better life– as if they did
something wrong, right? So anyway, sorry. I’m just getting on
my soapbox there. It always really angers
me when people insinuate that their parents, who
have sacrificed everything, have done something wrong. OK. Anyway, so what I’m– sorry I just, like, really
got off on a tangent there. OK. So while I was making Los
Trabajadores, I went to Mexico, and I met Virginia and– Ramon’s wife, Virginia,
and his two daughters. And it was– I wish I could
show clips of them but we don’t have enough time. But it was through
them that I got the idea for my next
film, which is about women and children in Mexico
who have been left behind by the men who come to the US. Because I was really
struck by that. That it was something
that I, even, hadn’t thought a lot about
until I met his family. And I feel like it wasn’t
really a story that was talked about that much. So I started to do a lot of
research, and I was reading– and this was, like, 2003-ish. And I was reading a
lot about how there’s whole villages in Mexico
where there’s only women, and children, and old men left. There’s no men, or
young men, left there. So that’s when I decided
to go down to Mexico. And I met some– I met various women through
some different programs that work with women
in the villages there. And I followed–
well unlike Ramon, who was sending money
home all the time, the women I met there were– several of them were forced
to be, like, the breadwinner for their family. And it was, for
various reasons, I met two widows
whose husbands died in the biggest immigrant
smuggling case at the time. It was the truck that
had 100 men– or, 100 people in the back of it that
was stopped in Victoria, Texas. And so I met two widows of two
men who died in that truck. And even though they were
just grieving they still now were forced to think
about how they were going to provide for their children. And then I also met a
woman named Eugenia. And her situation was
much more complex. I mean, her husband
went to the US, and initially he was
sending money back, and keeping in touch. But it’s very difficult for a
lot of people who come here, obviously. And I’m sure you
know why, and can– and so he kind of lost
his way, started drinking, and went down a bad
path, and sort of lost touch with his family. And so Eugenia was then– kind of had to step up,
and try and figure out how to provide for her family. So I’m going to show
a clip of Eugenia. And, just to set up the
clip, it’s a video letter. That’s what the Letters
From the Other Side is, which happened organically
when I was making the film. I was going back to Texas
to visit some friends, and Eugenia said, well, can
you visit my son in Arizona? And can you show him the
videos that I’ve been- that you’ve been making of me? And that’s when I
realized how messed up it was that I could go visit
her son, a complete stranger, and she can’t visit her son
because she lives in Mexico, and she can’t cross the border. So it became a part of the film
where I would go back and forth with these video letters. So this is one clip
I’m going to show– it’s actually one scene that
I broke into two small clips because it’s too long
to play the whole scene. So we’ll just show the first
part of the scene, and then the second part. [VIDEO PLAYBACK] [SPEAKING SPANISH] [END PLAYBACK] – And then there’s just
this little second part where they are reacting after
they see a video from their– from her husband, and
they’re reacting to it. He talks about how he wants to– [VIDEO PLAYBACK] [SPEAKING SPANISH] [END PLAYBACK] [APPLAUSE] – So, it’s very complex,
their situation. It’s not that, like,
oh he’s a jerk, you didn’t send any money back. It’s a very difficult thing
that a lot of these families go through. And even if he had been
sending money back, the women’s roles are changing
because they’re there alone with the kids, as well. So I definitely– I wish
you could see the whole film because I don’t want it to
seem like I’m demonizing her husband– because he’s
been through a lot as well, and he left with
all good intentions because he wasn’t able
to survive financially there, and support
his family there. And he thought he could
do that in the US. I’m running out of time. But I just wanted to say
one other thing about– migration from Mexico has
actually changed a lot since I made those two films. It’s definitely gone down
since the recession of 2008, and even more so
in the last year, or so, because of the
current administration. Trump. So anyway, it’s changed a lot. And a lot of– talking about gender
and citizenship, a lot of people
coming to the US now are women and children
from Central America. And the women are fleeing
domestic violence, or they’re fleeing just
violence in their countries of Honduras, and
Guatemala, and I’m sorry– in El Salvador, right? Yeah, and so there’s a lot
of– and I sat with the asylum attorney and listened
to some women’s stories a couple of months ago. And it’s really awful
what’s going on there. And so I know Trump is all
about sending National Guard troops to the border now. But I mean, these are women and
children fleeing gang violence. Where they’re getting
murdered, their daughters are getting raped, and the
kids are forced to join gangs, and if they don’t join gangs,
they’ll also be killed. So I just wanted
to bring that up. And I have a new
film out that I’ve made with my colleague and
friend, Anayansi Prado, called The Unafraid. It premieres on Saturday,
but you can check it out on Facebook. You can see the trailer. It’s called The Unafraid
documentary, if you search it, and it’s about DACA
students and who belongs. [APPLAUSE] – And next up, we have
María Agui Carter. She’s a writer, director,
and filmmaker, as well as an assistant professor
of visual and media arts at Emerson College. She’ll soon be directing her
new script, The Secret Life of La Mariposa a fable
about an undocumented girl, immigrant rights, and
the environment, which is based on her own experiences
growing up undocumented. [APPLAUSE] – Hello. Latinos make up the largest
ethnic minority in the US, but have been erased from
the American narrative. We’re framed as
eternal immigrants who just swam across the
border, and therefore, have no right to the American
present or the American future. I was drawn to the story of a
19th century Cuban immigrant, Loreta Velazquez. Because for over a century,
she’s been dismissed as a hoax, even though contemporary
researchers have found her records in
the National Archives, in newspapers, and personal
papers of the time. And I’ll share a short three
minute clip of my film. It’s a feature
documentary called Rebel. [VIDEO PLAYBACK] [MUSIC PLAYING] [CLANKING] [TYPING] – There is a secret
history of this war, which exists only in memory. [SUSPENSEFUL MUSIC] – Reader, I will tell you
my tale as I lived it. [MUSIC PLAYING] – May my words convey
what war really is, such that good people will
hesitate to solve anything with war again. [GUN SHOT] [MUSIC PLAYING] [GASPING] [GUN SHOT] [MUSIC PLAYING] – I wake to the
rattle of the tracks, and pain shooting
through my body. The sick and the
wounded surround me. I am in imminent danger
of being discovered. I’m known as Harry T.
Beaufort, Confederate soldier. But I am not who I appear. [CAMERA SHUTTER] – If my identity is revealed,
I could be tried for treason. [TRAIN WHISTLE] – Only one photo of
Loreta Janeta Velazquez has been identified. Although it is not certain
this is her picture. We really don’t know
what she looked like. Loreta was not the only woman
soldier in the American Civil War, but few left a record
of their experience. She published a memoir,
The Woman in Battle. [END PLAYBACK] [APPLAUSE] – Loreta struggled to prove
she was a true American. She was an immigrant,
grew up in New Orleans. And when the Civil
War broke out, she joined the Confederacy,
disguised as a man. By the end of the
war, records show, she had become a union spy. Her memoir criticized
the Confederacy and the corruption of war. I was interested in
the complex interplay between the woman, the myth,
and, really, the politics of national memory. In today’s America,
post-Charlottesville, my film about her has
become a political target for its feminist and Latino
historical perspective, with one contemporary historian
dismissing her as a prostitute. Just as her 19th
century attackers did. So she continues to be
considered, by some, as a hoax, even though there are so
many records about her. Loreta arrived in the
US as a 7-year-old. As did I. And in
the 19th century, prior to the Civil War,
you didn’t need permission to come to this country. But in the 20th
century, my mother waited years for
permission to immigrate. You could only get
US tourist visas. In New York City, on
the day they expired, we became criminals. Patrick, would you mind
putting up the PowerPoint? My newest film, The Secret
Life of La Mariposa, is set in a dystopia
where the government hunts the undocumented,
and climate change has reached a tipping point. It’s a theatrical
fiction film based on my personal experience,
told as a coming-of-age fable about the struggles of
an undocumented girl. When my mother was
fired from jobs without pay, when the roaches
crawled our walls like a horror film scene, we bore it quietly. Complaining to any authority
was out of the question. We understood that
nobody, such as we, were not considered human
beings, with human rights. We were considered
illegal aliens. We had no safety net. Received no welfare. Reflected in the eyes
of the dollar shop clerks, of my teachers,
of my neighbors, I could see we were nobodies. I learned not to ask for help,
not to imagine I deserved any. We hid our status. Never spoke up against
injustice or those who took advantage of us. Afraid to unleash a hurricane,
afraid it might destroy us, and that tenuous world we
had built up around us. As a child, I
internalized we had done something terribly wrong. And I wasn’t sure why, but
I accepted we didn’t belong. That we were criminals. I knew fear, not facts. And there was no one to ask,
lest we reveal ourselves. I was 10 when my mother
met an American who promised to marry her
and sponsor our papers. I was 18 when we
became legal residents. It came at a price. You see, being
undocumented isn’t just about being denied a
driver’s license, or college. Those kinds of obstacles
are prohibitive enough. Lack of citizenship
often waterfalls into being denied
civil and human rights. As an undocumented immigrant
mother such as mine, she had to consider,
what would happen if she reported her citizen
husband for molesting her undocumented daughter? What if her husband had
deported her instead? What if her daughter
was taken away? And if she successfully
defended herself, and myself, against him, how would she take
care of her new infant boys if she sent their
father to jail? What would become of them when
her chronic asthma sent her to emergency rooms
and lost her, her job? My mother was forced to
choose between the needs of a teen daughter
and two infant boys. She chose the boys. Akira Kurosawa, the
great film director, once said, the role of the
artist is never to look away. My role as an artist
is not to recount, but to find shape
and meaning in a way that argument and
reason can never do. Here’s the story behind my film. After I turned 18, I never
lived with her again. I would call once in a blue
moon, always drawn to her– my first love– even after her betrayal. Given our troubled past,
many subjects were taboo. One of the few safe
ones being gardening. And so we would
communicate in the language of flowers and plants. She especially liked to
tell me about her garden. Whether the papaya
tree had fruited yet. That her hibiscus was blooming. If I veered into other
territory, emotions, politics, my film, she
changed the subject. I figured she wasn’t
really listening. That she didn’t care. Now I think she didn’t
know what to say. She wasn’t really educated
beyond sixth grade. She spoke English
with a thick accent, and covered her mouth when
she smiled or laughed. She had a chipped front tooth. But also as if any
happiness seeping out was unseemly for
the likes of her. She is one of those
generous Latina women. The kind that fed you and gave
you the shirt off her back. The kind that desperately
wanted to be a good mother. The kind whose choices
in life were never fair. The kind that believed
in decency and morality, and never, ever cursed. When I had my own daughter,
I became even more enraged at her. I would walk through
fire to save my daughter. How could she have allowed my
stepfather to do what he did? What kind of narcissistic
monster was she? I judged her, with my
good job, and my options spread out before me. And so passed 20 years, as
my children grew and did not know their grandmother. My stepfather left
her for another woman. She called me after she
was about to be thrown out of her house in foreclosure. And I took over her payments. After that we spoke
every few months. When the air conditioner broke,
or the washing machine needed fixing, I would send a check. But I had long ago
stopped visiting. Until I learned she was dying. She had cancer, and they
operated on her immediately. I went to see her. Her cancer had been cut out,
but dementia had set in. Perhaps the forgetting would
finally bring her some peace. She had always taken
care of her appearance. And I was shocked by
the thin frail woman with the lined, unadorned
face in front of me. She had always made
it a point never to be seen in public
without her lipstick. I hardly recognized her. She looked at me blankly. Do you know who I am, I said. Si, she said. You’re my mother. And my hands immediately
flew up to my few gray hairs, and I vowed to dye
them immediately. And I also remembered that her
mother had died very young. I stroked her
hand, and I nodded. I’m whoever you want
me to be, I thought. How are you,
beloved, I whispered. And that word just slipped
out of me unbidden. I hadn’t professed my
love for her in decades. My mother tilted her head
and thought a minute. On top of everything,
at the hospital she had fallen in the
bathroom and broken her femur. [SPANISH], she said. In English that
means, I’m F-U-C-K’d. [LAUGHTER] Before I left, I laid out one
of her favorite dresses, a plum silk, and lace, and rhinestone
dress that she loved. And she was one of
those seamstresses who had no buttons or zippers
in any of her clothes. Everything was put
together with safety pins. And I pulled out
a diaphanous scarf and a lovely, sort of
flirty, pair of shoes– just in case I didn’t get back
in time, I said to my brothers. But I knew I couldn’t return. When I got home, I
knew it was time. I stayed awake for
weeks after that. And I wrote a
script about a girl who can hear the songs
of the butterflies. Who tries to escape her
abuse by poisoning herself with their milkweed, but
learns to fly instead. These are a few images from
my director’s notebook. I’m keeping my visual ideas
for the film that’s coming. We’re in development now. [VIDEO PLAYBACK] [END PLAYBACK] I’ve made many films. Why had I remained silent
about my own story for so long? First, I remained
silent out of love for my mother and brothers. It was my choice not to
denounce my stepfather, to agreeing to my
mother’s silence so our family could
stay together. Later, I was waiting
until my children could bear the weight of this story. And finally, I was
waiting for my mother to pass, so that I wouldn’t
out her during her lifetime. My mother died just as her
favorite crimson hibiscus burst into flower. And the hummingbirds
arrived to sip their nectar. I cleaned her house out. So many things she had
valued I easily threw away. Her life reduced to
60 black plastic bags melting in the hot
asphalt driveway, waiting for goodwill trucks. On her bureau, my mother had
a shrine with many saints, and candles, and rosaries. And in the center
was a broken bust of the Virgin Mary with a
nose that had fallen off, and she’d taped it back on. That was her altar. And in front of the Virgin,
a little cheap candy tin. Inside, scraps of paper in
mom’s handwriting in Spanish because she’d never really
picked up English very well. [SPEAKING SPANISH] Little Virgin, please
help Carlitos get a job. My brother, Carlos, over
6 feet tall, is very ill and has not held a
job in over a decade. [SPANISH],, please make
Vicente’s tumor disappear. My brother, Vince,
has a brain tumor and intestinal obstructions. He’s also over 6 feet
tall and 150 pounds. I found one prayer for me. [SPANISH] help my girl get money
for that film about that woman soldier. It’s been forever. She’d been listening. A lottery ticket for a million
dollars had no note attached. I think she expected the
Virgin to figure that one out for herself. And one final note, written
in very large shaky letters, perhaps closer to
the end of life. [SPANISH] World peace. She asked nothing for herself,
even in her secret prayers. My mother was afraid of
breaking her silence, of releasing hurricanes. She quietly scribbled her
“please” on paper scraps. She did not expect
anyone in this world to hear, shutting them
tightly in a cheap tin box, in front of a
broken Virgin Mary. Perhaps when you see my
mother, you see a monster. I see a woman who made terrible
choices based on options that I wouldn’t wish
on my worst enemy. Subject to a broken immigration
system that brings people to their knees every day. I’ve carried the pain of
my childhood all my life. But my mother carried
that pain, too. Her pain and mine. If my mother had
spoken, if I had spoken, perhaps my stepfather
would not have targeted my two brothers,
his own sons, next. As a child, I believed
silence and secrecy were my mantle of safety. As an adult, I am
committed to telling the stories of those beautiful
souls that have been programmed to believe they were nobodies. History gives our
present perspective. In this country once, there
were no visas, no passports. Only vast lands that Europeans
decided were full of nobodies. There for the taking. US citizenship is a
birthright in this country, but too many Americans
mistake it for a virtue. The undocumented are
criminals according to our judicial system. And our democracy stands
under the rule of law. But let us not mistake
law for justice. Remember, slavery
once was legal here. And loving a person of the wrong
race, or gender, was illegal. My family’s experience was
not just our personal failure. It was destined in a
broken immigration system. Keeping the system broken
benefits the American economy, and a social order
that privileges some at a steep
price for others. In fact, around the
world, governments determine human worth according
to lines drawn on maps, before people are even born. My mother was afraid
to unleash a hurricane, but sometimes they
are the only thing that will do when we know
our systems are rotten. You see, it’s true
hurricanes destroy. But they are nature’s
way of restoring needed ecological balance. They destroy and
they also renew. Because sometimes you
need a new ecosystem. Thank you. [APPLAUSE] – Those were all so powerful. All your words moved
us all, I know. They moved me very much. And I went wanted– the through-line here is the
broken immigration system. And I want to ask you, how– you make films about the
broken immigration system– Do you see those as helpful in– Do you think that
those will help transform our problem
with this, the way people perceive this issue? And do you have examples of
people coming up and speaking to you afterwards about
their changed perceptions? And any of you can jump in. – I actually do have some– an anecdote from when I
made Los Trabajadores, my neighbor at the time was– I didn’t know it but I found
out after– anyway, she is a very conservative person. We were in a duplex. And she knew I’d been
making this film, so she asked to see it. So I gave her a DVD. And I saw her the
next week, and she said, oh, I don’t think I’ll
ever look at a day laborer again the way I used to. She’s, like, I just assumed
they were not good people. And your film has shown
me that that’s not true. – Wow. – But whether she went
out and talked about it to other people? I don’t know. I mean, I feel like
on a big grand scale that’s what you wanna do. You want to have it not
just be one person, but– – We live in such polarized
times that I wonder if people– I’m glad to hear
stories like that because I wonder
if people just get entrenched in their positions. But I hope not. – Sure. I think I have one example. When I was at PBS,
at POV, I always used to say documentaries– great documentaries– take you
to a place you’ve never been, capture you there for a while. And when you come back,
you should learn something and feel changed. And there was one film that’s
called My American Girls– and it is about a Dominican
family in Brooklyn– and the parents– the mom
works in custodial services in a hospital. And the father
also is a janitor. And I cannot tell you how many
phone calls we’ve received from people who said, I had no
idea how hard Dominicans work. To send, to make sure, when I
walk into that hospital room, when I walk into various
public institutions, you never think about
who was there before to make that place a
special place for you. And I have to say,
even myself, who understands Dominican
immigration very, very well, I learned
a lesson in that film. Because I have a perception
on who is a philanthropist, and what that
philanthropist looks like, and how much money
they contribute. And this family, even
though probably combined they made $65,000,
every year they would send back to the
Dominican Republic $5,000, $6,000 to help the local
government do certain things. And to give back clothing,
and to give back– and it really taught me a lesson
on what local and community philanthropy is all about. And so I do think
many of these films– I have to say, María
is a very close friend, and Heather I’ve had the
pleasure of working with– these filmmakers are our
change agents for the future. When we see these
films, I can read– and I’m not saying
anything negative about the academics
in the room– but I can read
volumes about abuse. I can read volumes even
about my own experience. There was a whole
series in The New York Times on how people were
being mistaken in terms of illegals at airports. But there’s nothing
like seeing a film. Seeing a visual expression of
that experience to understand. When I see even just the visual
experience that María shows of the wings being trapped,
it just does something to my spirit. Because I think
again, as Americans, we need to do
things differently. My parents came to this
country because, not only did they– they weren’t all
about, what can I get here, but what can I give? And I think most
immigrants in this country want to be part of
that experience. And I have to say, I know
I shared a little bit about my frantic experience
at the Salt Lake City airport. But for me, I think, I want to
make America a better place. I want to contribute. And it shouldn’t be at the
detriment of other people, in other places, for us
to make this place better. I have to say, and
Maria knows this– [APPLAUSE] María knows this. In the fall, I was
very distressed. I was very distraught. And I went to a party, and
Gloria Steinem was speaking. And there were many of us– [INTERPOSING VOICES] – She’s a theme in your life. – She is because she’s– There’s many women
who they don’t falter in their political beliefs. Who they stand up, and no
matter how many times they get knocked down– When you think of María’s
mother as an example, that kind of strength,
no matter what, is what propelled
María and her family. And when you think about it,
I don’t know how many of you know, but María
ended up at Harvard. She’s a Harvard graduate. She teaches now at Emerson. Some women, and
also men– but you have to have an
unwavering spirit to survive in these times. And I was at Gloria Steinem’s
80th birthday party, fast-forward, in November. And I was distraught about what
was happening in this country. And she began her
toast by saying, look what’s happening today. More women have marched
in the United States than in the history
of the United States. Two, more women are running
for public office in the United States than in the history
of the United States. So women don’t look so down. We’re supposed to be
celebrating my birthday. [LAUGHTER] And then she said, third
thing, the women of Hollywood are finally speaking out. So, if in November, you
can’t see these three major accomplishments,
regardless to who we have in
the White House, women are moving forward. And so I have to
hold on to that. And I have to believe– I have to say I didn’t go to
your reception, I’m sorry. I’m not a party person. I didn’t go to the reception. I didn’t go to the green room. I kind of hunkered
down, and I’m quiet. But I was in the
courtyard sitting down. And I kept on saying, wow, how
lucky am I. I am at Radcliffe. I’m going to speak at Radcliffe. And I’m sitting in the
courtyard, in the cold. How many women it passed
that courtyard who’ve done such substantial things. And I’m only a little piece. I’m a little piece of a
wing of a butterfly, right? But together, wow,
what can we do? So for me, when I think of
filmmakers like these, I just– I’m privileged. And I’m very lucky. And thank you so
much for having me. And I hope by not going to the
party you’ll invite me back. – Have another party. – I think she needs
to go to a party. [LAUGHTER] – I don’t do parties well. – I want to pick up on that. I think one of the
issues for me is the fact that media is voice, right? And it is such a public voice. And when you look
at the statistics of our lack of having had
access to that voice– I’m talking about women, I’m
talking about people of color– it is our 21st century
communication medium. And the more of us that are
able to tell these stories– we can touch hearts
in a way that is almost impossible
through the art form. It’s both a
communication but also a visceral lived experience. It’s a time-based art medium. And I would say I’ve become
frustrated by documentaries. I’m making a narrative
film right now. And part of it is
that I also want to reach the person who
is already convinced. They don’t want to hear from me. They don’t want to
hear from immigrants. Yuck. Those criminals coming
and ruining our country. And I think about the fact that
if I tell a universal story about a young girl, a fable,
it is like Harry Potter. It is like all of
these other things that have entered into our culture. And you can learn
a little something. Hide it in there. But people are coming to
the entertainment, right? People are coming
for a good story. And then you catch them. And so what I love
about documentary is that you can move
the needle from people who are ready and willing to
listen, and perhaps activate. And then what I love
about entertainment is all those people that don’t
want to hear from you, you can talk to them anyway. [LAUGHTER] And captivate them. And captivate their
hearts, right? People used to say– I did a film about jazz
music and restrictions against early jazz. It’s kind of like how people
first thought about hip hop, right? There was dangerous– and
what happened with jazz music is, it grew up right around
the time the recording industry and radio grew. And it could enter in
homes where those musicians could never enter. Right? So you could have
an experience– and actually there were
things like injunctions against jazz palaces. There was one in Cincinnati. There was a jazz palace
next to a YWCA home for pregnant mothers. And they had an injunction
for the jazz palace because they felt that music
could enter into the fetus and corrupt it. Right? But I think that’s
media today, right? We can enter deeply
into your blood. And you can have feelings about
people who you would otherwise dismiss or not care
about, because you can enter into their shoes,
and enter into their hearts. – I think someone said that
in the POV documentary. They said that films
offered unique power to let you experience
someone else’s life. And I thought that really
distilled it really well. I also– it made me
think about all of you as documentary filmmakers. I was thinking of you,
Heather, because your life is very different from that
of a day laborer from Mexico. So it lets you, as a
filmmaker, experience someone else’s life, and
sort of dig into their life. And how does that change
you, in doing that? – Well, yeah. Well before I go
into that, I do want to say that I do think
documentaries can be entertaining, too. Probably not as much as a
Harry Potter kind of movie. But I think that
what I try to do, and especially what my
co-director and I, Anayansi, tried to do with the DACA film–
that’s all about the Dreamers that’s coming out
in a few days– is to really show their lives
as sort of normal teenagers. Because they are
normal teenagers. And to really sort of
show their daily life. And I think that’s the key
to get maybe somebody who would not necessarily be really
pro-immigrant to maybe react to this film in a
more positive way. To sort of just
see the daily life, and not just hammer
them over the head with issues, and stats,
and things like that. So it’s very much– I think that’s kind of key to– I think it’s key for a
lot of documentaries, if you want to reach people,
is to tell a very human story in a vérité way. But that said, I do think
narratives– obviously fiction films are a
lot more entertaining than documentaries. So, I’m sorry. Change. Well yeah, I mean, my life
is very changed in many ways from– I mean, I’m still in touch
with, well, Ramon’s family, I’m still in touch with. Juan– who was also
in Los Trabajadores– he still lives in Austin with
a wife, and they have two kids. And his wife actually
has permanent residency, one of his kids has permanent
residency, and one of his kids is a citizen. And he still is undocumented. But I’m still very much
a part of their life. So I think my life
is changed by staying connected with the people
that I’ve met through filming. But I do think it’s really
important, in this day and age that there are other
voices telling the stories, and not myself as
a white person. And I am so thankful that I
collaborated with a Latina on this project, because
I feel like the film is so much better for that reason. And I feel that she and I bring
different perspectives that both inform the
story in a way that, if we were making
it alone, hadn’t. But yeah, I’m very changed. I mean, very much changed by the
film I made about the soldiers, who are actually kids
from my hometown. Very changed by that. Even though I’m
from that same town, and I grew up in
that area, and I know all about this little
town in Northern Michigan, I still am very changed by the
people I met through that film. – And you bring up
a really good point. I wanted to ask the two Latina
filmmakers on this panel– I’m a first generation American. My parents were born in Mexico. And it bothers me
as a film critic to see so few films about
the Latino experience, especially living in
Los Angeles, where we are such a huge
proportion of the population. I’m the lone member of the
L.A. Film Critics who’s Latina. I mean, you just– it’s awful, in this day and
age, to be the lone anything, especially when we have– the minority is almost a
majority in some places. What– and I realize
we’re talking about documentary
filmmaking, but I also am concerned about
Hollywood, because you know we see the
strides being made by Black Panther, and other
minority groups, particularly African-Americans, but so
little being done by Latinos. And even the three
guys, the three amigos, that
everybody points to– Alfonso Cuarón, Guillermo del
Toro, and Alejandro Iñárritu– they don’t hire other Latinos. What is going wrong? What is going on
among our people? – Do you want to take it? [LAUGHTER] You know that’s a big– obviously that’s
a big issue, and I don’t want to not give
it the appropriate time to answer that question. But one of the things both María
and I have been engaged in is an organization that’s called
the National Association of Latino Independent Producers,
NALIP, and it’s www.nalip.org. [INTERPOSING VOICES] Oh, OK. Well, I was one of
the founding chair people of that organization. And later on María
was the chairperson. And the goal of the
organization– and it’s more than 18, 20 years
old at this point. – 20. – 20 years old. And I can’t believe it’s 20
because it dates me in terms of the group that started it. But our whole goal with
starting that organization was to bring community
filmmakers, and Hollywood filmmakers, and public
television filmmakers together. And have a conversation
and share resources. So that we knew
what, potentially, we could potentially do together. Now, the organization grew from,
I want to say, 400 members to– I don’t know how many
members there are now. – 10,000. – 10,000. And it’s going strong. But I do think
what you’re raising is a real critical issue
as to who gets hired. Why they get hired on
certain larger productions. That is something that needs
a very specific approach at variety of levels, not just– if you want– not just
looking at public television or documentaries. Or, as in the case of
Hollywood, I have to say, when I was commissioner of media
and entertainment in New York. On average, there’s about 150
films that shoot in New York. And I was always
looking at the credits to try to find the diverse
people who were working. So it is a serious, serious
issue that needs attention. – Yeah, I would just
add very briefly that, if you look at the last
1,000 films that have come out in the top box
office in Hollywood, there’s been one Latina woman. The woman who did 33. And before that, she did
Real Women Have Curves, like a decade– – Josephine. – Well, Josefina was the writer. It’s Patricia. – Patricia? – And so, the problem is
particularly an issue. I’m a member of the
Writers Guild of America. I’m on their diversity alliance. I do a lot of work around trying
to bring in more inclusive voices, but unions are unions. Right? To be working for a
signatory– in order to get into that union, and in
order to work for a signatory, you have to have made a script. You have to have worked for– so it’s this catch-22. And as a Latina woman, writer,
director, I’m less than 0.02% of the screenwriter,
directors in the country. So it’s not like there’s
this huge pipeline. That said, there’s a lot more– a new generation growing
up making digital media. There are incredible
opportunities because now we have streaming. We have more
programming than ever. And so they’re coming. They just haven’t been
given the green light yet. – And are there
greater opportunities– and we were talking about
this a little bit before– in documentary
filmmaking than there is in the Hollywood system? – I would say not– no, I would say not. I think we have
the same problems in terms of documentary. A lot of documentary
is grants-based. And we know that
foundation dollars, less than– what is it, Cynthia? Maybe 2% of all
foundation dollars go to Latinos in every field. OK? If you think about the
fact that documentaries are working in that little
space, it’s really problematic. So, no, I would say
it’s not any easier. It’s equally segregated. – Equally challenging. – Switching back a little bit
to what you were talking about. You were both of you– all three of you were talking
about very nuanced situations, complex situations. You were talking about a
very personal experience that you had to deal with. And you were talking about,
Heather, women’s roles, and how people
don’t look that much at the person who’s left behind
in the case of immigration. And I’m curious about both of
your new films in that regard. I know you’re doing
The Unafraid, which is about undocumented. And you’re doing this
very personal film. I guess my first question
is for you, María, if it’s been difficult because
you have to deal with this very emotional– all the sort of
trauma, and the pain, of what you personally
went through? – Essentially, being
able to move it– the story that I
told you is personal. The film itself is
a fictional piece. So I was able to get much
more authentic, and real, and raw because I removed
myself and created a fictional set of characters,
its scenes, et cetera. So I think I could get closer
to the truth in an odd way with this fictional
piece, partly because what I’m expressing is a
psychological world, and a set of systemic
circumstances, not necessarily characters themselves. – Makes sense. – Yeah. – Yeah. – And for me, I didn’t
mention this before, but I’m developing a project
called The Puerto Rico Initiative. And I have to say, if you would
have asked me 10 years ago, would I be making a film called
The Puerto Rico Initiative? I probably would have said
no, because all of my work has been not about
Puerto Ricans. But given the
current complexities, and what people understand
about Puerto Rico, I feel like it’s
very important to do a film about the
current debt crisis, and the current humanitarian
crisis that we face. And so it is very personal. But at the same token, I
do think– and, for me, it will be a documentary
because we’re– but it goes back to
what María was saying. This year, I’ve been on eight
juries, the Overseas Press Club, various juries. And I’m always astounded
when I’m sent via email 600, 200 applications for funding,
and there is probably– that made the cut to be
seriously considered– and there’s probably, if
any, maybe one Latino story among them. Or one black or Asian
story among them. And in many instances,
I hate to say this but, even in terms of
women filmmakers, the diversity in
terms of women to men. And this, as I said,
we are in April, and I’ve probably been on
seven panels this year. That a problem exists even
on the documentary side? Absolutely. – Well I want to open
it up to the audience because I know that– there’s a microphone there
for you to all go to. Please, when you step up
to ask your questions, if you could identify
yourself, and make sure that you are asking a question
and not making a comment. Yes, we have– we
have our first. – Thank you so much. This was just an amazing
panel and so moving. And all of your film clips
were just incredible. My question is about a
tension between telling immigrant stories that focus on
the positive and the wonderful, and focus on the dysfunction
and the difficulty. And both of those are true. And I often feel like I
have to move to one pole. And I’m curious how you manage
that tension in your work. Thank you. – Sure. [INTERPOSING VOICES] – In terms of PBS,
and POV, specifically. I used to call it, films that
were for a PBS audience that tended to be, I want to say,
90% an American audience, of a certain education,
of a certain demographic. And films that were made
for an internal conversation within a particular community. And so, often, what we did
to deal with that chasm, was hold community
events with churches, with universities, with
nonprofit organizations. And have the difficult
conversations about incest, and all the
difficult things that happen in these communities,
but in more secure settings, if you will. And also, always
having the facts. I have to say, coming
from PBS, I would always– and Heather and María
can attest to this– I would always want
all of the facts about a particular
community before analyzing what was actually going
on in that specific story. So I think one way to do
it is community engagement. And being very careful about
who sets up those community engagement events, et cetera. I don’t know if other
people would have– – I just want to say
that, as an artist, I’m frustrated by the
very few stories that are told about my community. And yet, I’m not interested
in making plaster saints. I’m only interested
in complex characters. If there were enough
stories about us, it wouldn’t matter if I’m
showing a villain, or whatever. And I feel that it’s my
responsibility to get deep, and to get complicated. And that’s the only way I
truly serve my community. – Well, I can say
my collaborator on The Unafraid, the new
film about the DACA students, that we worked hard to find
those kids who were not getting a 4.0 and
going to Harvard because we wanted to tell a
story about regular teenagers who aren’t necessarily off the
charts successful, or whatever, because they also
deserve a chance as well. So yeah, I agree. It’s not all about making
everyone a saint, although I love these kids. But they’re complex too,
and it’s not a good story unless they are complex. – Next question. – Well our immigration
system is broken, all right. But fortunately our president
is setting about repairing it. And the American public
supports him in that. The latest Harvard-Harris
poll this year shows that 81% of
the American public want the border reinforced. 80% want to see lower
immigration numbers, including legal immigration. 65% of the population
supports his call for an end to chain
migration, and lottery visas, and so forth. So how can we even
have a society at all if we don’t have
the rule of law? And everyone in this society
respecting that rule of law, instead of acting
on their own law, and believing that
they are above the law? This kind of idea that
you’re your own law, where does that come from? – OK sir, what is– your question is– – Do you believe in
the rule of law– do you believe that everyone
should be their own law? That they should believe
in the law of me, and act upon the law
of me rather than on the laws of the
societies that they’re in. That’s the question. – Like Trump does, right? – [INAUDIBLE] this panel. [INTERPOSING VOICES] – I think we’re
going to move on. We have a lot of other people. – Yes. – Hi. Some films and documentaries– and documentaries
and fiction films as well– can help
influence the future, as well as act as warnings. For example, a film that
comes top of my head is Children of Men,
which is based in the UK, and has two– it has
subplots, and it’s amazing, personally I think. What advice would you
have for future filmmakers who want to go make a change,
and make the world better, and who would want to, well,
make a difference in the world and try to– – Are you one of those? I hope. – OK, good for you. Yes. – Well, I would
say, for starters, to tell a story
in your community, in your neighborhood. You don’t have to go
across the world to do it. Just really get to know the
place where you’re living and the people there. And tell a story
there, for starters. If there’s an issue
you care about that’s happening in your neighborhood– The thing that’s great now is
that you can get cameras pretty easily, and software to edit. And get out there. And I don’t know if you want to
do documentaries or narratives but, either way, telling a
story about where you are now in your daily– the people in your community. I think it’s a
good way to start. – Any other advice? – You can make wonderful
films on your iPhone, Witness, Tangerine. Many schools are
now actually trying to divest themselves from all
the fancy buttons and lenses. And I have friends,
who are professors, who teach how to make
films on the iPhone so that you think about story,
because that comes first, right? Have something to
say, and that usually comes from here, and
from your own experience. – Absolutely. I have to say,
for myself, my 8– my 11-year-old niece has
a little pack of girls, the friends– really good kids,
really good kids. I say “pack.” That implies something bad. And they came to me one
afternoon, and they said, we made a movie. And it was with their iPad. And they had actually
spent all afternoon recording these incredible
local community– They went to the owners of
certain local restaurants. They went to old people. They went to this man that
was on oxygen. How did he carry around his oxygen tank? Well they– and they ask
the unaskable questions. And then they wanted
to show it to me, but they didn’t want my advice. They just wanted me to
enjoy the film because this was about the community. So I think, if 11-year-old
girls can go and figure out who their community is, I think
we have a responsibility to, as filmmakers, and as people
in the future thinking about media– going locally, I think,
is the way to go. – And we encourage you. – Yeah, absolutely. – Yes? – Hi, my name’s [INAUDIBLE]. I am one of the students of
Michael Sheridan of Community Supported Film. I recently finished a short
film called Another World. It’s about the
sociocultural difference between some of the parent
and the American children. A lot like you guys. Some immigrants and [INAUDIBLE]
tell stories about immigration. Now I think, like you guys
have already mentioned, documentary is to
educate the public. In my opinion, is to start
that from a young age. So how do we get young people
to be interested in watching documentaries? Because mostly, I
think, that documentary is mostly targeted
to older generation. [LAUGHTER] – Even though we
have reality TV. – Yes. – So what’s your
opinion and that, in terms of getting young people
to view this because I think starting from a young
age teaching people about different cultures,
different ethnicities is the best way to start. – See, I think it does
go back to education. And that if young
people are in schools where documentaries are shown– again, an example I can give is
that my niece’s charter school, every time there’s
a good NOVA program, I make sure to send it
to her science teachers. And so that she’s aware of
what’s out there in terms of documentaries. And I do think it starts
with the educational system. It also starts with the
Boys and Girls Clubs. And there are many nonprofits
across the country that are doing really innovative things. Training young people to
be documentary makers, and also training folks
to be critics of media. But, I think, in people
of color communities, we need to see more
of her to understand that you can make a living
doing this kind of career. [LAUGHTER] So I do think that it exists,
but definitely more needs to happen. – Yeah I think also with
the whole online world now, short documentaries
have a real platform. Well, I mean, I’m cant
really make money, but at least you can
get it out there. I feel like short
documentaries, online docs, are a thing that a
younger generation is very much about
watching and tuning into through social
media, or otherwise. Don’t Netflix and Amazon
buy those sometimes too? HBO? – Absolutely. And also, remember that we have
YouTube, and YouTube is global. And YouTube now, even
if you are making– there are ways to
monetize this work. And that the number
of clickthroughs– You can get millions
and millions of views. And actually people
are making a living. There’s a whole world,
actually, of weblebrities that are actually bigger than
the movie stars that we know, that our generation knows. Actually the biggest
stars are now weblebrities for the
younger generations. So they don’t even need
to be taught by us. We’re like way past their prime. And their new
generation is already picking it up and doing it. And they don’t need our rules. And that’s wonderful
because it also means there’s a flourishing of
creativity with new languages, right? The stuff that my kids are on– Snapchat, stuff
that disappears– there’s this whole nother world,
and every social media platform now has video as well. And every brand has video. And every– so you can
do it commercially. You can do it for
social justice issues. Everybody needs it. So it’s actually a
flourishing field. – Thank you. – Yes, next question. – Well, first of all,
that was my niece. – You have to
invest in her film. [INTERPOSING VOICES] – Uncle investment. [INTERPOSING VOICES] – She needs an uncle investment. – Awesome. So my question is,
how do you get this into curriculum in the schools
because they need to be talked about on specifics– This is the Catcher
in the Rye stuff, this is the Hamlet stuff. This is stuff that you
learn in grade school. And that’s for now, because
they did it for then. And it needs to be talked about. There needs to be a
conversation, because when you go into communities– First of all, my name’s Ian,
and I was a city manager in very small towns. One was a Hispanic town. One was Afro-American
town, one was a white town. So a very [INAUDIBLE]
experience. But the conversation was little. And even amongst the kids. So you have to create
a culture where you talk about this stuff. And it needs to be, I
think, if there is a way– is there a way to put it
within the educational system as a curriculum? – I can speak to that
because Rebel, for instance, is in many curriculums
throughout the nation on PBS LearningMedia. Hundreds and hundreds
of thousands of teachers have been using
educational modules that we created,
along with teachers who did lesson plans, that are
integrated with curriculums, available for free. And so used extensively. The National Parks and
the Department of Interior asked to use Rebel,
and brought it to places around the country. So it’s been seen. It’s begun to enter into
that national narrative. And I think that is
a fantastic question. I think the sense of, how do
we enter into the conversation in the first place, right? And you guys both have had
that experience as well. – Yeah, I have– several of my
films are with an educational distribution co-operative
called New Day Films. If you– I mean you can
just look it up online. And a lot of what we do
is target universities. And they’re used in
university classes. We try to get them into
high schools as well, but it’s a little
bit harder because of curriculum requirements
that the state has. So I think, if you’re a
parent who wants this– or an uncle– who wants these
films to be shown in your local school, you should go to,
like, the local PTA meetings and stuff, and say– and, kind of, demand that that
be part of the curriculum, because it is a little
more tricky in that regard. There’s definitely schools
that are open to it. And there’s definitely films
that have had a huge influence like Bully, for instance– Lee Hirsch’s film about
bullying is in every school around in the country, I think. So there’s definitely
examples of it happening. But I think it starts with
a demand from the parents of the students as well. – PBS.org, they have a whole
educator section that has lesson plans, clips. I can’t remember
the last statistic, but they have thousands and
thousands of teachers a year– a month– get educational
materials for free on the site. So it’s PBS.org, and
it’s under for teachers– and for educators, excuse me. – And also, there is also
community-based screenings that are not necessarily in a school,
but that your local church might have, or a library,
or a community center. And if there’s anyone here
that is interested in showing a film– a documentary
about DACA students– we’re going to embark
on community outreach and engagement over the
next 6 to 12 months. So let me know, and
we’d love to come to your church or your town. Maybe the place where
you worked we can show it to city council, or something. – And I strongly
encourage Heather’s film, Where Soldiers Come From. It is a portrait, for
people who’ve seen it, it is a portrait about
our American boys fighting in the Middle East. And where they’re from. And what they are fighting for. And it is poignant. And it was on POV. Please look up Where
Soldiers Come From. And in terms of María’s
film, it is coming. And like every good
filmmaker, these filmmakers need investments and contacts. And maybe, if you don’t want to
give cash to that initiative, but you can connect filmmakers
to someone who’s a critic, to someone in your local
community to do a screening, there’s always– again, when we think
about philanthropy, we cannot just think about the
people who have loads of money. My parents didn’t
have loads of money, but they were so connected. So every time someone
had a problem, my mother could figure
out who was going to solve that for that person. And it didn’t have
to do with money. So if we could all just
think about– not me, I’m not making
something that’s pivotal right now to this conversation–
but these two ladies are. So we have to support them. – Well speaking of
this conversation, I want to thank you,
Cynthia, Heather, and María. I can’t wait to see your films. And I want to thank
you for your artistry, your commitment to your passion,
and for taking the time. And thank you, here, for letting
us have this conversation. [APPLAUSE] – And I just want to add
my thanks, and the thanks of the Radcliffe
Institute, for what was, really, a fabulous panel. And a great way to
start the discussion we’re going to have tomorrow. So it’s late, but I hope we’ll
see you back again tomorrow to keep the conversation going. Thanks for coming.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *