DC Film Festivals’ Bottom Line – AFI DOCS 2016

aDOCS16_Stacked_att_4C_reg_NEW02Washington, DC has film festivals, not markets. That’s the difference between DC and Sundance, Toronto, Tribeca. But there’s another bottom line for DC film festivals: IMPACT. How does a story move people to action? Support key legislation? Who should see it and why? What understandings or changes are inspired?

AFI DOCS devotes 5 days (June 22-26) to documentaries from around the world from filmmakers who have an impact goal in mind. Some of the filmmakers will be meeting on the Hill. They and others will also let their stories unfold in hopes that general audiences will connect with the people and the stories they live even after the cameras and boom mics are put away, and festival programs are archived.

For me drama or narrative has the same potential for impact. But that’s a tough sell in an information/data junkie city like DC. In either case, story drives everything. And I’m happy to be in the thick of another AFI DOCS festival.

AFI bannerI’m working with Margaret Byrne (director/producer) and Ian Kibbe (producer) to navigate their impact on Washington, DC for the AFI DOCS screening of their documentary RAISING BERTIE (June 25 and 26). RAISING BERTIE’s getting a nice buzz in festival and documentary circles. The film raised questions for me about the growing distance between my urban life and non-farming rural communities. Or to put it this way…
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Bertie (pronounced Ber-tee), is a small community in North Carolina. There are no neighboring towns 30 minutes away where there are jobs. The primary employers are Perdue Chicken (factory) and 100 prisons that dot the NC landscape. It’s hard keeping a superintendent of schools. Most teachers are not from the Bertie community. But Bertie is where Reginald, David, and Davonte were born, grew up, and Bertie is where they choose to stay.

There was a time people planned and packed food for trips to “the country” during the summer to visit family, get some fresh air, and fresh perspective. DC was the mid-point for the Great Migration. Many from South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia stopped here. Many stayed and assimilated within a generation into urban life and culture. Southern food became “soul food.” Hip Hop became the urban “blues.”

There is little to no reaching back except for possibly the next migration to the South as rents in northern cities rise, and jobs shrink especially for unskilled or obsolete skilled labor. How many secretarial positions are posted? That was the first step to office manager and more on the corporate ladder. Do we still have mail rooms? What happened to that US Postal Service or entry level government job with the guaranteed pension or savings plan to send your kids to college. Diminished. Gone with the shrinking of government. For Bertie, even the diminished options aren’t available.

If there is an impact for RAISING BERTIE it’s to raise up this community to find its own way to opportunity (education, health, transportation, infrastructure) — with some help of course. RAISING BERTIE doesn’t fit into a neat familiar narrative of rural poverty. Bertie may be struggling but the people are proud. Call it rural resilience and a sense of reality. Opportunity is RAISING BERTIE’S bottom line.

Finding Fathers

Each year this blog reposts its favorite fatherhood PSA. That’s no different today. By the way, the phone number to fatherhood.gov at the end of the spot still works. Here we go!

This year I’m adding an audio conversation from StoryCorps via NPR: a conversation between a returning veteran and his young son. Have tissue on hand.

Fathers Day has its own emotional particulars. For fathers, it can be a personal day of parenting reflection and assessment. It’s a celebration of the fathers who love and are loved. For some it’s a time of both celebration and mourning for the great fathers who are no longer with us. Fathers Day is also a curious day of celebration and mourning for the fathers some of us never had. And a time of sadness for fathers who have lost sons and daughters over the years and in recent days to senseless violence, war, or illness.

Gratitude, loss, and love are all part of the package of being a father and being human.

Here’s to finding fathering love.

Eternally “GREATful” Muhammad Ali (1942 – 2016)

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The death of champion boxer and humanitarian Muhammad Ali seems to bring the 20th century to its final and definitive close. He called himself “The Greatest.” “Champion” wouldn’t do. It’s rare, when someone calls him/herself “The Greatest” and the title sticks even in times of defeat. Because it’s not about accomplishments and winning, but who you are and what you do with the rest of your life for the benefit of others.

I always said, you can never make a bad documentary about Muhammad Ali. And I’m happy to say they were made in his lifetime. I’ve selected a few of The Greatest’s moments in and outside the boxing ring to post with this appreciation and with love.

If heaven is where he aimed to be, I seriously doubt they’ll even ask his name. “The Greatest” has arrived.

Eternally “Great-ful”.

“When We Were Kings” (2010)
The famous 1974 “Rumble in the Jungle”. The show of all shows in Zaire when Ali fought champion George Foreman. Boxing, music concerts featuring the Fania All Stars. Can’t beat this.

CBS “60 Minutes” interview with Ed Bradley – this interview covers Ali’s life with Parkinsons and a humanitarian trip to Cuba. (1996)

“The Trials of Muhammad Ali” (2013) – Ali battles public opinion, the U.s. government, and sacrifices everything (career, title, fortune) when he refuses to answer the draft and enlist during the Vietnam War.

CBS News – Muhammad Ali prevents a suicide by talking a man off the ledge (1981)

Are We Safe in Girls-Only School Bathrooms?

Bathroom talk isn’t one of my favorite topics. And I don’t enjoy its humor either. But as the bathroom wars continue over transgender access and rights, and students and parents voice concerns about privacy and safety for girls and boys in school bathrooms, my friends and I dove into our school memory boxes.

Cell phone image of a fight in a Delaware high school girls bathroom resulting in the death of 16-year-old Amy Joyner-Francis (in orange top). Source: CBS News

The fact is the girls bathroom and locker room at school can be the most dangerous place on earth. The girls bathroom was the tough’s turf for hanging out, smoking, and waiting for their unsuspecting student mark. Most of the stall doors were missing. Most of the toilets didn’t work at all. On occasion there was no water from the sink faucet. Yes, we’re talking about the United States of America public schools. The bathroom environment is ripe for anything except its bottom-line function.

Under these conditions some of us held our pee and other business until we got home. You were warned that this holding practice could lead to kidney failure later in life. But hey, we wanted to live to see another school day, and hug the ones we love again.

When this scene is played out for entertainment purposes in a movie or episodic, the tendency is to make the bathroom the proving ground, separating the cool kids from the squares or geeks. The strong from the weak. The geeks have to draw their line in the sand. The confrontation is the rite of passage to stand up for yourself and assert your right to be who you are. To be free.

America can be a “bullying” culture. And proud of it from the school bathroom, to the locker room, business, politics and down the rest of the chain. Even North Carolina’s bathroom legislation is the state house’s bullying tactic to reign in their urban communities from having control over raising the minimum wage and establishing anti discrimination policies.

Where is an American girl safe?

Bathroom talk stinks.