|Avery Klein-Cloud from Off and Running, who will be on a panel at the Leeway Foundation's Women's Empowerment Initiative Film Fest
Tomorrow afternoon the Leeway Foundation, Independent Television Services, and WHYY will screen the five documentaries as part of the day-long festival that I told you about in this week's Agenda section
. All of the films profile women who transformed their communities, governments, and social circles through their right of free expression. Following the films there will be a panel discussion with Rocky Ooto
from Bronx Princess
and Avery Klein-Cloud
from Off and Running
. After the jump, check out my reviews of each of the five movies complete with movie trailers.
Taking Root: The Vision of Wangari Maathai @ 12 p.m.
Directors: Alan Dater & Lisa Merton
In 1977, Wangari Maathai turned the words "let's plant trees" into a 30-years-strong environmentalist movement in Kenya. Maathai's simple idea not only taught women how to nurture the land but also resurrected stories of Kenyan history. Deforestation began when the British colonized the land and now local people are dealing with the symptoms. The filmmakers' research pays off when they delve into Kenyan history; instead of the film resting solely on interviews we see black and white photographs of Kenyan tribes and footage of the Land Freedom Army as it is organized in 1952 to fight British rule. The film also proves Maathai is more than just a tree hugger she organized a hunger strike in Nairobi for the release of political prisoners and led Kenyan people in their fight for a better government. In their hands during these protests were not weapons, but seedlings.
Made in L.A. @ 1:30 p.m.
Director: Almudena Carracedo
You may never shop at Forever 21 again after watching this film and for good reason. This doc is gives a platform to three women who work in garment factories in Los Angeles who call for better working conditions and higher pay. Maria has three children and is from Mexico, Lupe ran away from Mexico City as a teen and Maura left El Salvador to provide for her three children who she hasn't seen since 1987. Their sacrifices are met with long hours and pay that equals around three bucks an hour. Director Almudema's low-profile approach allows for the crux of the film to depend on these women's triumphs and failures he knows how powerful of a narrative it is on its own. Maria, Lupe and Maura organize boycotts of Forever 21s around the country and, even when their hopes wane, continue to fight the unfair exploitation they have received for years.
The Education of Shelby Knox @ 3:30 p.m.
Directors: Marion Lipschutz & Rose Rosenblatt
Supposedly, the only thing to do in Lubbock, Texas is have sex. High school student and teen activist Shelby Knox, along with the Youth Commission in Lubbock, petition to have sex ed in their public schools. Filmmakers follow Shelby for three years as she battles with the school board and the folks in her primarily Southern Baptist, conservative community. Despite the touchy subject and the opposition of what seems like the entire town, Shelby speaks her mind like a true liberal. Only, she doesn't appear liberal. She's a Christian who has promised sexual purity until marriage through a program called "True Love Waits." Admitting she has never seen a condom, let alone touched one, her naivety and strong-willed stance on safe sex are equally captured by the filmmakers. In one scene, she sits among an AIDS advocacy group and watches them role a condom on a dildo. Sure it's amusing, but the film always returns to the real issue: Kids need to be educated on how to wrap it up.
Bronx Princess @ 5:30 p.m.
Directors: Yoni Brook & Musa Syeed
A dose of Ghanaian culture might do Rocky Otoo some good. At least that's what her strong-willed mother would like to think. Following Rocky's high school graduation she decides to visit her father in Ghana and expectations are high he's the chief of Nii Okaiman area, after all. But she quickly learns Ghanaian tradition calls for respecting your elders. The film, though short, follows Rocky on the path to independence before she heads off to Dickinson College as a first-generation college student. Her parents may not understand her, but because of the documentary medium and the directors' fly on the wall approach, we see filming has had a positive impact on this family's relationship. When Rocky's mother drops her off at school the tears start flowing despite any past tiffs.
Off and Running @ 6:30 p.m.
Director: Nicole Opper
In a synthetic style using home video and voiceover, this doc represents a change in the coming-of-age genre. Avery Klein-Cloud who actually received a writing credit on the film for her scripted voiceovers is a 17-year-old African American teenager and the adoptive daughter of two white Jewish lesbians. Locally based director Nicole Opper's decision to include childhood footage adds to the film's overall message that Avery is from an unconventional family. In one such video Avery sits in her fifth grade Hebrew class among her white classmates as her voice over questions her upbringing. Through Avery's voice and the conversations she has with her parents, her Korean and mixed race brothers and her friends she begins to feel an inability to "identify with the African American side" of herself. Avery begins to lash out against her adoptive parents, and while her decision to leave the house for a period of time seems sudden, Opper's cinematic and controlled direction allows Avery's moments of clarity to feel all the more genuine.
Sat., Aug. 7; Taking Root, noon; Made in L.A., 1:30 p.m.; Shelby Knox, 3:30 p.m.; Bronx Princess, 5:30 p.m.; Off and Running, 6:30 p.m.; panel discussion 7:45 p.m.; free (reservations requested), Leeway Foundation, 1315 Walnut St., eighth floor, 215-351-0511, leeway.org.