After the Film Fest Sun Sets

The Sixth Annual New Orleans International Human Rights Film Festival came to a close last night. It is coined as the intersection of art + social justice. This year, organizers dubbed the festival’s front name “Patois” as a means of embodying the various languages and perspectives and meeting of those cultures throughout the 10 day event.

It once again introduced me to films (and people) I would otherwise never have seen (until the DVD release) in this rather ghost town for film known as New Orleans. Of course, I missed several films that ended up winning awards and I’ll be catching up with at a later date: William Kunstler: Disturbing the Universe, St. Joe (to be a doc feature: “Land of Opportunity”), Robot + Girl (by a friend of mine!), Some Place Like Home: the fight against gentrification in downtown Brooklyn (dir. by Families United for Racial and Economic Equality – FUREE)

I managed to see:

Homeless Power (short doc)
Katrina: man made disaster (feature doc)
Medicine for Melancholy (narrative feature)
Under the Bombs (narrative feature)
Made in L.A. (doc feature)
A Day in Palestine (narrative animated short)
Crips & Bloods: made in America (doc feature)
Hunger (narrative feature)

Exodus (narrative feature) presented some challenges as a viewer – a flat cliched script and meaningless direction – which is why I walked out, a first, after 30 minutes. The only potential going for it were the sets, which had the feel and ambition of “Children of Men,” but knowingly had to work with a severely smaller budget. I’m wondering how much of a coincidence it was that one of the actors was the pregnant woman from “Children of Men.”

Corazon del Tiempo (Heart of Time, narrative feature)
Nerakhoon (The Betrayal, doc feature)
The House that Herman Built (doc short, will be a feature)

Justice for All (doc feature) builds a compelling argument for the complete overhaul of the juvenile “justice” criminal system in the United States by meticulously detailing six or seven egregious cases in different states. For instance, one seventeen year old was sentenced to life in prison without parole in Texas for marijuana possession because a judge retained complete power over the sentencing. He was pardoned by the governor after a long campaign to win his release. However, the system took 16 years of his life. The filmmakers even visit the U.K. to see the rehabilitation programs available to youth as a method of introducing new ideas into our system. I liked the film as a historian likes primary documents–for new facts and stories that make a convincing case for change. The filmmakers inserted themselves too much for me, especially in the editorializing and occasional unprofessional phrases in the narration. But it would be worthy to watch for an educational purpose or in an educational setting.

Cajun New Wave (doc short) is a brief insight into the traditions of Cajun music as talked about by its rising generation of twenty-something musicians. Often hand-held and with sound and visual hiccups, this film might be better as a printed translation of the interviews conducted and released with a CD of the varying worthy musicians such as Pine Leaf Boys, Lost Bayou Ramblers, Beth Patterson, Amanda Shaw, etc.

Crips & Bloods, Hunger, Nerakhoon and Under the Bombs were my top picks from what I saw.

further comments to come…

UPDATE: Here is the lovely ROBOT+GIRL short by Erin Wilson that won the Audience Choice Award.

Published in: on April 6, 2009 at 6:43 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Why is Michael Baisden spreading lies about Color of Change?

Michael Baisden, host of a daily radio show in Alexandria, Louisiana, began rallying in support of the Jena 6 case during the late summer of 2007. He talked about the case daily, gathering more and more information to educate his audience. On the eve of September 20, when thousands were on buses coming to the small town of Jena, Baisden even appeared next to Reverend Al Sharpton as they were interviewed by CNN.

Color of Change is the largest black-led online advocacy organization in the country, founded by James Rucker and Van Jones after Hurricane Katrina and the federal flood. Rucker, who previously worked for two years with MoveOn.org as their Director of Grassroots Mobilization, is based in the New Orleans-area and began going to Jena and working with the families months before Baisden. He is the one who worked with the families on a statement that they could all agree on to appear as an online petition. That statement was only the second statement that all six families approved (the first being a facts and demands document made available through Friends of Justice). The petition, as word and emails spread regarding the injustice of the cases, garnered 45,000 signatures by the time Rucker and family members presented the pages to the LaSalle District Attorney’s office on July 31 (a description of this scene is in my previous post titled “Jena Bears Strange Fruit”).

Recently, despite likely knowing this information, Baisden has slandered Color of Change on his radio show, putting them in the same category as organizations that did fundraising for Hurricane Katrina victims, but then never distributed the funds. Yet, Color of Change has on its website the photos of cancelled checks and the family signed requests for funds that match those checks. $210,000 of $212,000 fundraised through Color of Change has been distributed so far.

In addition, Baisden and his guest Marcus Jones, Mychal Bell’s father, described Rucker as “shady.” While Baisden may have never met with Rucker, Jones certainly has (the petition being one instance and I witnessed a meeting in which everyone introduced themselves and their connection with the case–both Marcus and James were in the room and it was apparent James had relationships with family members as well as the ACLU organizers involved).

Color of Change responded by having their lawyer call Baisden’s producer to work it out, but Baisden didn’t back down from his comments. Now Color of Change has a petition on its website asking Baisden for an apology. With the documents they’ve put on their website proving that their money has been sent to lawyers representing the Jena 6, I signed on to the petition. Here is what I added:

“The grassroots movement that Color of Change and other organizations built prior to Michael Baisden’s involvement brought the case to a national stage. I have met James Rucker and the allegations that he is “shady” and that the families do not know him are false. I was present in Jena for planning meetings where James Rucker and Marcus Jones were in the same room and everyone introduced themselves. Rucker knows the families well, and the ACLU organizers on the case. Rucker was the person who presented the first stack of petition on July 31, 2007 to the Asst. DA of LaSalle Parish. The comments made by Marcus Jones are disappointing, as they falsely undercut an organization that has done so much work on their behalf; Michael Baisden’s comments are in some ways slanderous, spreading lies despite knowing the truth. I hope they recognize their errors and amend the divisions that they just created within the Jena 6 movement.
Thank you for your time.”

These disrespectful and malicious lies are one way to divide movements. From all I’ve ever seen or heard, Color of Change has been front line advocates and approached the families in a humble, accountable way. So it boggles my mind as to why Baisden would go to these lengths, stretching truth beyond the point where it bursts. Color of Change offers up its analysis, arguing that Baisden’s fundraiser day for Jena 6 is coming up and perhaps he wants other fundraising efforts to be distrusted, leaving his own fund more attractive for generous folks. If that has any truth, it is an unfortunate recurrence of ambition for personal power and status within a movement that has many unsuccessful historic precedents. It is what can deride movements precisely by falsely knocking out one of the movement’s pillars, one of its devoted and stable strengths like Color of Change has been for the Jena 6 families. Don’t let that happen. Demand that Baisden apologize and clear Color of Change’s name.

Published in: on November 9, 2007 at 10:00 pm  Comments (6)