For the 45th year, the Council of Foundations will include as part of their annual conference the Grantmakers Film + Video Festival. Presenting just a sampling of the media art and stories that they funded, the festival achieved a strikingly broad cross-section of socially engaging documentaries: The following were the fine films I had the pleasure of viewing.
Theo Rigby’s Sin Pais follows the story of the Mejia Family: Parents Sam & Elida, their Children Helen, Dulce and Gilbert. The Mejia parents and Gilbert lived in the United States for 17 years and undocumented immigrates while Helen and Dulce were U.S. citizens. Their journey to fight deportation and remain intact as a family is the heartbreaking thrust of this timely documentary.
Bad Blood: A Cautionary Tale is the documentary by Marilyn Ness that looks at the Factor concentrates, what was heralded as a miracle drug for the Hemophiliac community. This documentary is a frustrating look at how one epidemic is answered with another spreads unabated with a fault-founded government seal of approval. Just… wow.
Two of the festival’s documentaries play out in the great city of Baltimore, Maryland. The Learning follows a quartet of Filipino teachers as they venture to the City that Reads in an unique exchange program with Baltimore Public schools system. They leave their homes and families in hopes of a better life but find that the rough urban schools maybe not be worth the trade-off.
Also in Baltimore, chef and nutritionist Tony Geraci, the new head of food services for Baltimore City schools, does battle with apathetic parents, complacent school board members and a stubborn bureaucracy to bring flavorful food to the public school students. The documentary Cafeteria Man is a stunning testament to the contradictory battle for Geraci to bring fresh, cheaper food to Baltimore students despite the resistant interworkings of an already antiquated, struggling school system.
Other films screened as part of the Film & Video Festival included: No Tomorrow, a death penalty drama by filmmakers Roger Weisberg & Vanessa Roth, Where Soldiers Come From, the tale of friends who join the armed forced together by Heather Courtney, and Henry Hampton award winner The Interrupters, by Steve James, Zak Piper & Alex Kotlowitz
Just one girl’s opinion.
Philip Hallen writes on the program website, “…Even more important, it has been a vibrant example of how film and video documentary projects can help to communicate foundations' points of view, and encourage public policy debate about new social issues.”
What I find interesting, and somewhat disturbing, is the absence of narrative works. Without much effort, one could point to Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner or Do The Right Thing or Crash or Philadelphia or Silkwood or Norma Raye, provocative narrative films that directly ignited the conversation and raised the social consciousness in important social issues. The transformative, informative power of films narrative is a significant. Grantmakers should be exposed to – and funding – those films too.