Filmmakers Leslia Asako Gladsjo and Sam Pollard wanted to make a documentary about the Tulsa Massacre, the two days in 1921 when a white mob burned down 35 prosperous square blocks of Black businesses, churches, schools and homes, killing an estimated 300 Black residents.
But as the 100th anniversary of the massacre generated more awareness, the long-time collaborators pivoted to tell a bigger story.
“So for Sam and I, it was really important to say, wait, it wasn’t just Tulsa!” Gladsjo said via a Zoom interview from her home in New York City. “We wanted to seize this moment, where people were looking at the destruction of Black Wall Street and looking at how it’s a continuing pattern up until today.”
So the pair co-directed “Rise and Rebuild: A Tale of Three Cities,” a documentary following four residents of Atlanta, Chicago and Wilmington, N.C. as they work to reclaim Black neighborhoods after decades of systemic destruction and targeted violence.
Gladsjo and Pollard have spent their respective careers documenting the Black experience in America, having first worked together in 2000 on a project for BET. Since then, Gladsjo has produced several historical projects, including 2019’s “Why We Hate” and 2016’s “Black America Since MLK” miniseries, while Pollard has worked on films chronicling the lives of Sammy Davis Jr, Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali, among others.
But for this film, she said, they wanted to shift the lens to the present day: “We both wanted the background to be this continuing destruction of Black wealth, but also the unbelievable heroism of people who are doing something anyway.”
Enter Erika Allen, one of four subjects in “Rise and Rebuild.” Allen is the co-founder of Chicago’s Urban Growers Collective, a sustainable farming nonprofit that provides more than 18,000 pounds of fresh produce each year to some of the city’s most food-insecure residents.
“They built this huge green energy center, which is not only a place that’s encouraging farming and creating compost for all the farms around the city but it also produces electricity, green energy, that’s going into Chicago’s power grid that the community actually benefits from,” Gladsjo said. “All this out of what used to be a dump.”
Over the course of a year, Gladsjo and Pollard followed Allen through Chicago’s South Side, alongside Wilmington realtor Brenda Dixon, Atlanta club owner Devon Woodson, and South Fulton mayor Khalid Kamau. In each city, the filmmakers tagged historians to provide context of the Black neighborhoods profiled.
“As I started to read the history, the more angry I got. Without reparations, how can you have any conversation?” Gladsjo wondered. “In the film you can feel the hopefulness and the energy from people in the film, but any real effort to address this history has to start with reparations.”
For Gladsjo, the conversation is more personal than theoretical.
“I’m Japanese-American and my grandfather was incarcerated during World War II,” Gladsjo shared. “We got a small reparations check — was it enough to make up for the fact that he wasn’t able to keep his business as a stonemason and his family didn’t have a breadwinner for those years? But we’re talking about a few years here, we’re not talking about generations.”
Gladsjo continued: “It’s important to tell these stories but also to be sure that the foundation of the history was there so you don’t think ‘Everyone should just pull themselves up by their bootstraps and start a little business and it’s all going to be great.’ No, the problem is the history, these generations of injustice that have continued every time Black communities have built something, which shows this incredible resourcefulness. But it’s been stolen. You have to acknowledge that first.”
Watch “Rise and Rebuild” during Cleveland International Film Festival. Moviegoers can receive a $1 discount at the box office, online or ordering on the phone, by using the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards code: AWBA. This film is the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards community match for 2023.
A 2014 road trip to a North Carolina brewery sparked the idea for Aaron Hosé’s film, “One Pint at a Time.” The documentary will screen twice at the Cleveland International Film Festival in April.
The Florida-based filmmaker and his wife/producing partner Brigitte took a weekend trip to Asheville, where the couple fell in love with craft beer. (Farmer Ted’s Cream Ale from Catawba Brewing Company was the specific brew that lit the flame.) But as the Hosés continued to explore their new shared passion over the following year, the director noticed something felt amiss.
“When you consider the amount of people of color who are beer consumers, that makes up one third of the consumer market, yet you have less than one percent of Black people who own breweries, that doesn’t seem to make sense,” Hosé said in a phone interview. “That was the jumping off point for me to make the film about the Black experience in craft beer.”
Over the course of four years, Hosé and his team followed three Black-owned brewing companies as they perfect their recipes, hunt for brick-and-mortar locations, and expand their brew into new territories.
“I like being as observational as I can,” Hosé said. “You’re actually filming people’s lives as they grow. They’re evolving as human beings and professionals. You want to be open to sticking it out as long as it takes.”
Hosé swept the country, traveling from New Haven, Connecticut, where dance instructor Alisa Bowens-Mercado launched Rhythm Brewing Co., to Tampa, Florida, where Huston Lett co-founded Bastet Brewing, named after the Egyptian cat goddess.
Hosé interspersed the journey of the brewers with beer industry experts, who discuss the beverage’s African origins.
One standout is the crew behind Cajun Fire, a brewery attempting to set roots in New Orleans East. Founder Jon Renthrope started dabbling in craft beer after Hurricane Katrina and after founding his company in 2011, is still working on a physical location. The company’s plans to build a cultural hub — an on-site brewery with space for a community garden, event space and cultural museum — have been met with resistance, with neighbors lobbying for a change in local codes to prevent the brewery from being built.
While the challenges accumulate, the wins get camera time as well. It’s incredibly satisfying to watch Lett mingle with customers in his own brewery after seeing him begin the film in his garage.
For Hosé, the progress is the point. His goal is for viewers to question their own habits: Are there local brewers they could support?
“Look around and investigate,” Hosé said. “Show them some love. That’s one of the ways we’ll move the needle in the right direction.”
Watch “One Pint at a Time’‘ Friday, April 1 at 5:05 pm or Saturday, April 2 at 12:05 pm. Tickets are $14 for film festival members; $16 for others. Moviegoers can receive a $1 discount at the box office, online or ordering on the phone, by using the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards code: AWBA. This film is the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards community match for 2022.
Hurricane Maria scythed more than 3,000 souls on Puerto Rico, according to the official death toll. Among that number was “Landfall” director Cecilia Aldarondo’s grandmother, who died in the aftermath of the 2017 storm.
The assessment from the Federal Emergency Management Agency found nearly every building in Puerto Rico damaged, and parts of the island stayed dark for almost two years without power.
Aldrarondo bristled at the “unsatisfying” media coverage, glib reports that she believes glossed over the anemic government response and Puerto Rico’s longstanding economic woes.
She got to work on a film that would concentrate on what residents did to save themselves.
“This is a film that’s not so much about a hurricane as it is about aftermath,” Aldarondo told Deadline. “It’s about how we pick up the pieces in the wake of these kinds of seismic watershed events.”
Aldarondo’s documentary focuses on citizens who banded together to create their own recovery plan. In one scene, locals explain how they broke the lock on a damaged school building and turned it into a community center and emergency housing.
“The hurricane has brought us toward a system where the common denominator is the common good,” one resident said.
The 90-minute film also tells history through archival footage, pulling back the curtain on years of economic destabilization and exploitation from hungry U.S. investors.
“Landfall” has made a splash on the festival circuit, winning the Grand Jury Prize at DOC NYC’s Viewfinders competition, and nabbing Best Documentary at four others.
“People in Puerto Rico have been engaged in really extraordinary acts of solidarity and recovery precisely in the wake of that kind of abandonment by the federal and local governments,” Aldarondo noted in the Deadline interview. “There’s a really quite instructive case study of communities caring for one another when their institutions fail them. I wanted people in Puerto Rico to not be seen as victims but as leaders, as global leaders, in a way that I think colonized people very rarely get to be.”
Watch the trailer below:
Watch “Landfall” during Cleveland International Film Festival’s CIFF45 Streams, where you can view the documentary from the comfort of your home for $9 with discount code AWBA. CIFF45 Streams ends April 20. This film is the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards community match for 2021.
Join us for the Cleveland premiere of “Afterward,” a 94-minute documentary from Jerusalem-born psychoanalyst Ofra Bloch that explores the lingering and cross-cutting trauma embedded in generations of Germans, Israelis and Palestinians. The Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards is sponsoring the film at this year’s Cleveland International Film Festival.
Bloch, who lives in New York City, began making the documentary intending to focus on the second and third-generation descendants of the perpetrators of the Holocaust, her attempt to shed hostility she carried against Germans as a people.
After filming began, however, she recognized her own prejudices – especially against Palestinians, a group she was raised to hate — were preventing her from telling the full story. She expanded her scope to include sit-down interviews with Palestinian men and women, including a professor who lost his position for taking students to Auschwitz. These testimonies give viewers a perspective on generational wounds stretching back to the 1948 Nakba, the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Arabs in the creation of Israel.
“The film points towards a future — an ‘afterward’ — that attempts to live with the truths of history in order to make sense of the present,” Bloch said in an interview. “My wish is that at the conclusion of ‘Afterward’ viewers will see how easy it is to move from a mindset of a victim to that of a perpetrator. ‘Evil,’ for lack of a better word, can be unearthed in each of us given the ‘right’ conditions, regardless of our religious or ethnic background.”
Lawrence Wright, a Pulitzer-winner for his investigative book “The Looming Tower,” called Bloch’s documentary “a brilliant personal exploration of the psychological obstacles to peace in the Middle East, and the tectonic plates of history that have brought two peoples to this tragic impasse.”
Tickets are $14 for film festival members, seniors and students; $16 for others. Moviegoers can receive a $1 discount at the box office, online or ordering on the phone, by using the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards code: ANWO.
Can the United States transition “from being an occupier to being a neighbor”?
The documentary follows four key participants in a truth and reconciliation commission entered into five years ago by the Wabanaki people and the state of Maine. It centers on the consequences of decades of government policy that ripped Native children from their families and placed them in foster homes.
The commission, which ran for 27 months, reported that between 2002 and 2013, Native children in Maine were five times more likely to be forced from their homes than non-Native children.
“Our film,” says Bruce Duthu, a Dartmouth professor of Native studies, “reveals a practice of state power that is ongoing, state action directed at the heart of the family and depriving individuals of something that I think most of us take for granted: the idea not only that we can have children but raise them the way that we want to.”
Duthu looks into the camera to say, “When state power deprives people of that right, we should all be concerned.”
The documentary will screen at Tower City Cinemas on three dates: 8:30 p.m. Friday, April 13; 1:20 p.m. Saturday, April 14 with a film forum and 9:20 a.m. Sunday, April 15. You will receive a $2 discount per ticket using the Anisfield-Wolf code: ANW0. Tickets go on sale March 23.
“It is hard to fathom for many in Maine that genocide occurred here,” the commission report states, “much less that it continues to occur in a cultural form.”
The gritty documentary “Romeo is Bleeding” took home the top audience choice prize at this year’s Cleveland International Film Festival. Now the festival is hosting an encore screening of the award-winning film at the Breen Center for the Arts on Cleveland’s West Side.
The film follows 22-year-old poet and educator Donté Clark as he worked with youth in Richmond, California to mount an adaptation of “Romeo and Juliet” in the hopes of starting a dialogue about the gang-related violence in the community. Clark is a founding member and artistic director of the RAW Talent Creative Arts Program, which offers workshops in visual arts, theater and music production.
But it’s the spoken word component that provides the backbone for the documentary, as viewers watch the students tell a Shakespearean tale using their own life experiences. Since its release in 2015, “Romeo” has picked up more than 20 awards on the festival circuit.
“Romeo Is Bleeding” is Jason Zeldes’ directorial debut. He is best known for editing the Academy Award-winning documentary, “Twenty Feet from Stardom.”
“Richmond is a community facing difficult problems but doing so with real fortitude,” Zeldes said in a 2015 interview. “Furthermore, Richmond is not my city. I am an outsider and the last thing I wanted to do was impose my perspective where it doesn’t belong. So early on I committed to the idea that the story would be told from Donté’s perspective, and adhere to his life’s experience in Richmond.”
Prior to the screening, light hors d’oeuvres and beverages will be available and afterward, audience members will have the opportunity to digest the film during a Q&A with some of the cast and crew.