This film about violence, media and American culture, won the Cannes Film Festival Jury Prize. In one dramatic episode, filmmaker Michael Moore accompanies two of the victims from the shooting at Columbine as they visit K-Mart and attempt to get a refund on the bullets lodged in their bodies. Moore takes along his camera and other members of the media on the visit to corporate headquarters and the corporation later changes its policy on selling ammunition in its stores.
Raised by a Quaker mother in a racist town, Rustin became a non-violent activist at an early age. He protested chain gangs, racial discrimination, and nuclear tests. After his work on the 1963 March on Washington, he was featured on the cover of Life Magazine and Eleanor Holmes Norton called him, “the best organizer on the planet.” He was pressured to give up being gay by civil rights leaders who thought that it hurt the effectiveness of his work.
In December 1997, 23-year old Julia Hill climbed into a thousand-year-old redwood tree to save it from logging. The documentary shows Julia on her 6 by 8 foot platform, talking to the press on her cell phone, listening to a hand-cranked radio, and risking her life during a terrible storm. She’s fighting to save the tree, people’s homes and animals, but to the timber company and some members of the timber-dependent community, her act is “misguided” and illegal trespassing.
Culture jammers are protesting society’s consumerism and insidious corporate culture with semiological guerrilla warfare. The jammers – the Billboard Liberation Front, media tigress Carly Stasko, and Reverend Billy of the Church of Stop Shopping -- use their paintbrushes, stickers and microphones to deconstruct advertising, like “Luddites jamming the machine.” This film asks us to consider: “Is Culture Jamming civil disobedience? Senseless vandalism? The only form of self-defense left?”
The Democratic Promise: Saul Alinsky & His Legacy
Bob Hercules and Bruce Orenstein
Media Process Educational Films and Chicago Video Project
Color, 56 minutes, 1999
University of California Extension, Center for Media and Independent Learning
According to legendary organizer Saul Alinsky, “someone who sits in a monastery and prays will be told at judgment, you’re a cruddy bastard… The only thing you’ll get is what you’re strong enough to get.” In 1970, Time Magazine hailed Alinsky as “a prophet of power to the people,” while a corporate antagonist called him “a necessary evil.”In this documentary, we see how Alinsky coached ordinary citizens to successfully organize, confront injustice, and participate in the public arena.
Discovering Dominga: A Survivor’s Story
Color, 57 minutes, 2002
University of California Extension, Center for Media and Independent Learning
A young Iowa housewife, Denese Becker, discovers that she is a survivor of one of the most horrific massacres in Guatemalan history, committed in 1982 against Maya Indian villagers who resisted a dam project funded by the World Bank. She becomes a witness in a landmark human rights case, begins to speak out about her experiences before school, church and community groups in the U.S., and says,“ I have started a lifetime of work…I won’t rest until justice is served.”
Retired teacher Margie Richard and the all-black Diamond Community of Norco, Louisiana, measure pollution from a local Shell Chemical plant and fight to get their homes relocated, but residents in a nearby white community have warm memories of employment security and company picnics. This film explores race, economic and environmental issues while following Richard as she walks door-to-door to organize her neighbors, rejects a deal for partial relocation, and travels to Holland to confront Shell executives.
As a student at Yale in 1976, two time Olympian Chris Ernst and members of the women’s rowing team, protested the lack of locker room facilities for women by stripping in the athletic director’s office. The women were accompanied by a stringer from the New York Times and had written Title IX on their bodies, referring to the 1972 legislation that mandated gender equity for all institutions receiving federal aid. The protesters got major international media coverage: generating controversy, anger, support, and facilities.
Legendary choreographer-dancer Judith Jamison, performance artist/actress Anna Deveare Smith and members of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater salute the creativity, inspiration, love and leadership of Alvin Ailey. This film uses archival footage and interviews to tell the story of a man who became a trailblazer of American modern dance. “He made us believe we could fly.” “Working with him was fun.” “He was …like a father image for us.” “He created magic with soul.”
In 1970 Maggie Kuhn was forced to retire from a job she loved at the age of 65, leading to what Ralph Nader called “the most significant retirement in modern American history.” Kuhn went on to found the Gray Panthers and to launch one of the most important social movements of the century.Described as “amazing, canny, lusty, charming and unstoppable,” the self-professed “wrinkled radical” encouraged her followers to “do something outrageous every day.”
Maya Lin: A Strong, Clear Vision
Freida Lee Mock
Color, 989 minutes, 1994
Academy Award for Best Feature Documentary, 1995
National Asian American Telecommunications Association
In 1980 Chinese American artist Maya Lin, a 20-year old undergraduate at Yale, won a nationwide competition over more than 1400 other entries for her design of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Throughout the bitter controversy that followed, Lin calmly defended her design. Later she said that art should make people aware of their physical and psychological worlds. “We can make our time extend beyond our physical existence. We communicate to future generations.”
Rosa Parks is called the mother of the civil rights movement and even before she sparked a revolution by refusing to give up her seat, she traveled around Alabama with a group of young people, teaching them to “be somebody.” In this documentary we see the extraordinary leadership of Rosa Parks, E.D. Nixon, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the organizers of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. After 381 days of walking and non-violent protest by citizens, the Supreme Court declared segregation unconstitutional on November 21, 1956.
Paul Taylor has been hailed as the world’s greatest living choreographer and this film was nominated for an Academy Award Best Documentary Feature. Dancemaker follows Taylor’s creation of a new piece, Piazzolla Caldera, with his troupe, showing the reverence of the dancers and reminding us, according to film critic Janet Maslin, “of how autocratic an artist can be in realizing his vision.” “If you wanted to be a dancer,” says Taylor, “you didn’t just want it, you felt chosen to be one.”
This documentary tells the story of Steven Cozza, who started an organization, Scouting for All, to change the anti-gay policy of the Scouts. As a 12-year old in 7th grade, Steven sets up a little table outside a grocery store to raise public awareness. Later he starts a petition, speaks out at public meetings, gets phone messages of support and death threats, and lives by the words of Dr. Martin Luther King , Jr., “we cannot allow any forces to make us feel as if we don’t count.”
Shackleton’s Antarctic Adventure
Co-production: White Mountain Films and NOVA/WGBH Boston
This is one of several documentaries about Ernest Shackleton’s 1914-1916 British Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, which many consider “the greatest survival story of all time.” Under Shackleton’s leadership his team of 28 men survived nearly two years in the Antarctic when their ship, the Endurance, was caught in pack ice and eventually crushed. Shackleton, with his ambition, courage, optimism, perseverance, and ability to maintain esprit de corps, is the quintessential hero and leader.
This was initially published in Building Leadership Bridges 2004, a journal of the Center for Creative Leadership and the International Leadership Association.