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.
Our slate of virtual programming during this year’s Cleveland Book Week means you have continued access, including our collaborations with the Cleveland International Film Festival, Western Reserve Historical Society, Global Cleveland, the City Club of Cleveland, and the Great Lakes African American Writers Conference. Dive into any programs you missed or rewatch your favorite sessions below.
2020 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award Documentary
Hosted by Jury Chair Henry Louis Gates Jr., this documentary features a visit to the hometowns of historian Eric Foner, poet Ilya Kaminsky, scholar Charles King and novelist Namwali Serpell.
CIFF Streams + ABWA
Viewers had the opportunity to stream free Cleveland International Film Festival documentaries, all with an Anisfield-Wolfian flavor. While the selections are no longer available to stream, the post-film conversations with the director and documentary subjects are. These conversations are hosted by Cleveland State University professor Eric Siler and feature captions and sign language interpreters.
Global Cleveland Sister Cities Conference
2020 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award winner for fiction Namwali Serpell and Baldwin-Wallace University Professor Chisomo Selemani discussed “The Old Drift” and Zambia at this international gathering.
Ilya Kaminsky, winner of the 2020 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award in poetry, discussed his art, his heritage, and his insight that disabilities can be “a political position for advocacy for us all,” in conversation with Alexandria M. Romanovich of Cuyahoga Community College.
Charles King in Conversation with Steven Pinker
A virtual conversation between Charles King, 2020 winner for nonfiction for “Gods of the Upper Air” and Anisfield-Wolf juror Steven Pinker, hosted by the Western Reserve Historical Society. Their discussion is preceded by a shorter one between Cleveland historians John Grabowski and Regennia Williams, who bring local context to King’s story of “how a circle of renegade anthropologists reinvented race, sex, and gender in the twentieth century.”
City Club of Cleveland: Eric Foner
2020 lifetime achievement award winner Eric Foner discussed his most recent book, “The Second Founding,” the Reconstruction Era, and the contemporary struggle for freedom and equality.
Great Lakes African American Writers Conference (GLAAW-C)
Award-winning novelist and playwright Pearl Cleage delivered the literary keynote for this writers’ conference, while noted agent Kima Jones from Los Angeles preceded with the professional keynote. Brandi Larsen, a former Penguin Random House executive, discussed engaging the big five publishers.
“I was meant to be here,” 11-year-old Amia said as she twirled around the state capitol building in Sacramento, California.
On a field trip with roughly a dozen other members of the Radical Monarchs, a social justice troop based out of Oakland, California, Amia’s enthusiasm was captured in the riveting 2019 documentary, “We Are the Radical Monarchs.”
Directed by Emmy-nominated filmmaker Linda Goldstein Knowlton, it follows the troop’s co-founders Anayvette Martinez and Marilyn Hollinquest over the first three years as they work to build curriculum, raise funds and add additional chapters.
The troop’s origin was personal to Martinez, whose 10-year-old daughter Lupita came to her in fifth grade with a desire to join Girl Scouts. A community organizer and activist, Martinez hesitated.
“I wanted her to have an experience where she was a part of a troop that centered her identity as a girl of color,” Martinez said in the film. “It wasn’t a week of specialization but ‘you are at the center of this conversation.’”
Martinez approached her friend Hollinquest, an Oakland-based teacher and activist, about creating their own group. Launched in December 2014, the Radical Monarchs are geared toward young girls in third through fifth grades.
Goldstein Knowlton, 55, stumbled upon the Monarchs in January 2015 after reading about the founders’ efforts in The Guardian. The Chicago-born filmmaker had directed and produced other features about young girls and sisterhood, mostly notably 2005’s “Somewhere Between,” and the genesis of the Radical Monarchs struck a chord.
“‘Radical’ and ‘girl groups’ — those words usually aren’t together,” she said. “Just from [Martinez and Hollinquest’s] quotes they sounded like the most intentional people I’ve ever heard from…I’m always drawn to people who have a vision, who are striving, not knowing what the outcome is going to be.”
The director and her team spent the next three years capturing the Monarchs take flight — at monthly troop meetings where they discussed female movement leaders like Dolores Huerta and Yuri Kochiyama and at political protests such as the local Women’s March in 2017.
Their curriculum units are all “radical” and take a youth-centered, age-appropriate approach. The girls learn about the Black Lives Matter movement, parse and challenge societal beauty standards and discuss what it means to be an LGBT+ ally.
One particularly moving scene involves Monarchs learning at the feet of former Black Panther leader Cheryl Dawson. “It’s my desire to plant seeds in the hearts of those who will take them. So you will know as you grow up that part of your responsibility is to the people…You have big work ahead of you.” Later, during a group photo, Dawson needed a moment to compose herself, wiping tears away before take two.
“Making this movie through the cycle of the 2016 election and finishing the movie during this administration has felt like a consistent gift of hope,” Goldstein Knowlton said. “Marilyn always says, ‘We’re radical hope peddlers.’ I have massive gratitude for that. I feel like I can take a big deep breath.”
Watch “We Are the Radical Monarchs” during Cleveland International Film Festival’s reimagined CIFF Streams, where for $8 per film you can view the documentary from the comfort of your home. Tickets are $8 for a single film or $75 for an all-access pass. CIFF Streams ends April 28. This film was the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards community match for 2020.
“As a kid in Israel, my dream was to become a psychoanalyst and a filmmaker,” Ofra Bloch said in a telephone interview from her home in New York City. “Later on, I became a psychoanalyst but I never dared to go to filmmaking school. So when I decided to make a film, it was sheer chutzpah because I didn’t know how to do it. I didn’t have any technical skills. But I knew what I wanted to see.”
Her clear vision led her to make “Afterward,” a new documentary that explores the lingering and cross-cutting trauma embedded in generations of Germans, Israelis and Palestinians. The Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards is sponsoring two screenings at the Cleveland International Film Festival.
Six years ago, when Bloch, 69, began working on her first full length feature, she intended to center her lens on the lingering generational trauma among German non-Jews and second and third generations of decedents of Holocaust perpetrators. After the director left Germany, however, she realized she had an incomplete story.
Growing up in Israel, “you can’t avoid trauma. It’s always present,” she said. Living through wars and under the long shadow of the Holocaust, Bloch was raised to fear and hate both Germans and Palestinians. She needed to include the Palestinian account of trauma and reckoning in her film. After completing the interviews and beginning the editing process, she recognized there was one more layer to uncover: she couldn’t tell either story without embedding hers as well. The triad of viewpoints would complete the narrative.
“I connect them,” Bloch said. “There’s no way those stories can exist, floating, without the presence of the interviewer, me the Israeli. During those interviews in both places, memories started surfacing. I had recurrent dreams that were coming out of nowhere, just by the act of immersing myself in the lives of these people. [My experience] became such an integral part — the glue of the film.”
In that way, her documentary resembles “My Promised Land,” Ari Shavit’s examination of the Israeli creation story along his own family tree, with room for ruminating on the 1948 destruction of Palestinian family trees in the Lydda Valley.
“We’re not exactly in the same place ideologically but [our work] complements each other,” Bloch said of Shavit. “He’s really trying to examine the intricacies of the Israeli society, in the past and the present. It’s really a perfect pairing, in that way.” Shavit’s book won the Anisfield-Wolf nonfiction prize in 2014.
With such a strong personal reaction to her subjects, Bloch determined she should approach the interviews with the objectivity of a therapist.
“As a filmmaker, I had to learn to just listen to people, to do what I do in the office as a psychoanalyst,” she said. “Which means to be very present, without judgment, without necessarily agreeing with what people were saying to me. To give people the space to talk about their experience. When people are able to share that, it creates a dialogue. Without listening to the ‘other,’ without active listening, there is no movement toward any solution.”
She leaned on those therapist skills when interviewing Palestinian activist Bassam Aramin, who in 2005 co-founded Combatants for Peace, a grassroots coalition of Israeli and Palestinian activists working together to stop the violence. But two years later, his 10-year-old daughter Abir was shot and killed by an Israeli soldier while she stood outside of school. Bloch marveled at Aramin’s ability to remain focused on the mission and to honor his daughter’s legacy in his non-violent work. “It taught me that pain is just pain,” she said. “It doesn’t have a nationality.”
During the interview with Aramin, they visited one of the playgrounds that Combatants for Peace built in Abir’s honor. There Bloch had her moment of reckoning.
“Even though I lived in the U.S. for 39 years, I am complicit in some way,” she said. “Being an Israeli, I am part of the problem. I believe this is the reason I made this film….Six years of work and energy and funding, because this is my little contribution toward resolution of the conflict.”
Moviegoers can watch “Afterward” at one of two screenings: Saturday, March 30 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, March 31 at 12:05 p.m. Tickets are $14 for film festival members, seniors and students; $16 for others. Receive a $1 discount at the box office, online or ordering on the phone, by using the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards code: ANWO.
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.
Boston-based filmmaker Adam Mazo is quick to admit that he knew little about Native populations growing up in Minnesota.
He’s committed to changing that for future generations with “Dawnland,” the 90-minute documentary premiering this month at the Cleveland International Film Festival. The film centers on the decades of government policy that forced Native children from their families and into adoptive homes, foster care and boarding schools. The Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards will sponsor three screenings.
The idea for “Dawnland” was sparked from Mazo’s work on another film, “Coexist,” about the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. “We were talking about how it felt wrong to not be teaching about genocide in this country’s history,” he said.
The timing aligned with the formation of the Maine Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission, an innovative attempt between a people and a state government to investigate the harm the state did against indigenous children in Maine.
For the first time, adoptees publicly told their stories of forced assimilation and abuse. “How do you propose that we’re supposed to be healing?” an elder Wabanaki woman asked. “I can’t get over the nightmares . . . where was the state? They were supposed to have been our guardians. But where were they?”
Mazo and co-director Ben Pender-Cudlip produced “First Light,” a 13-minute short film “that gave viewers a preview of the Wabanaki people’s fight to preserve their culture within a system of state-sponsored removal of children. The commission found that from 2000 to 2013, native children in Maine entered foster care 5.1 times the rate of non-Native children.
The duo turned to Kickstarter to fund the full-length project. “We reached our goal a few days before the campaign ended,” said Pender-Cudlip, who has directed more than a dozen short documentary films. “’First Light’ was a huge help. We set up screenings all around New England, events that we used to get conversations started around the film.”
“Dawnland” will be the cornerstone of a six-day professional development training on genocide and human rights at the Updstander Academy that Mazo predicts “will be a transformative experience.”
Above all, the directors hope the film will inspire viewers to consider their blind spots.
“A lot of folks, particularly in the Midwest and the east coast, don’t recognize that there are millions of Native people thriving all across this country,” Mazo said. “As a result of this film, we hope that people will acknowledge them and acknowledge whose land they are on.”
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 the film forum and 9:20 a.m. Sunday, April 15. Director Adam Mazo and Penobscot Nation Ambassador Maulian Dana, who makes a cameo in the film, will speak at the post-film forum on April 14. You will receive a $2 discount per ticket using the Anisfield-Wolf code: ANW0.
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.”
If self-described “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet” Audre Lorde were alive today, you might find her celebrating with the women of “The Revival,” a salon-style poetry tour dedicated to amplifying the voices and experiences of queer women of color.
The tour is the brainchild of Jade Foster, a poet in Brooklyn, N.Y. and founder of Cereus Arts, an artists’ collective. It’s October 2012 outing was immortalized in the documentary, “The Revival: Women and the Word,” making its Northeast Ohio debut this month at the Cleveland International Film Festival. It is the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards community film this year.
“The Revival” women are a mix of 20-to-40something poets, singers and songwriters, all strangers before setting off in a single minivan on an international eight-city tour. There’s Foster, who also goes by Yanni Supreme. Fellow poet T’ai Freedom Ford, a Cave Canem Fellow and New York City high school English teacher, took a break from the classroom to hit the road.
Two of the women were more musically inclined: Be Steadwell, a D.C. native who blends jazz, acapella and folk music to create “queer pop” and Jonquille Rice, who fronts the rock and soul band, The CooLots. Eliza Turner, a music photographer and documentary filmmaker, rounded out the quintet.
Together, they clocked more than 2,500 miles in nine days, setting up shows in living rooms from New York to Toronto to Atlanta. The film is part history lesson, as the women celebrate ancestral connections with women like Lorde at their North Carolina stop.
Sekiya Dorsett, a New York-based filmmaker and writer, came to the project early. She attended one of the gatherings at a Brooklyn brownstone with her partner and once inside, “it was like a scene out of a film,” she said. “Something to me felt very at home there.”
Along with Foster as a producer, the pair set off on capturing the entire tour, fighting fatigue and financial drain to tell the story they envisioned. “It was a really crazy hectic schedule,” Dorsett said. “When you have limited resources you want to get it done as quickly possible.”
The lag between the tour and the film’s debut in 2016 was mostly financial, Dorsett said. They raised $15,000 for the project on Kickstarter, and spent the past three years refining the documentary.
“I wanted to create an authentic experience of what it’s like to be a black queer woman in America,” she said. “People need this film now more than ever.”
Dorsett will answer questions at the two screenings: 8:50 p.m.Thursday, March 30 and 1:10 p.m.Saturday, April 1. Tickets are $14 for film festival members, seniors and students; $16 for others. Moviegoers can receive a $2 discount at the box office, online or ordering on the phone, by using the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards code: ANWO.
Join us for the world premiere of “Good Luck Soup,” a 72-minute documentary on the experiences of Cleveland’s Hashiguchi family before, during and after internment in the U.S. camps of World War II. The Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards is sponsoring the film at this year’s Cleveland International Film Festival.
Matthew Hashiguchi focuses on his grandmother, the 90-year-old matriarch Eva Hashiguchi, to explore the stories of three generations, weaving interviews, historical footage and personal mementos into a chronicle of Asian American Midwestern lives. In production for five years, the documentary is a labor of love for Hashiguchi, who served as director, editor, producer and cinematographer on the project.
“This is the place I really wanted to show it,” said Hashiguchi, 31, an assistant professor of Multimedia Film and Production at Georgia Southern University. “It was a relief when they called me from CIFF. Cleveland is a character in the documentary.”
Both Hashiguchis – grandmother and grandson — will answer questions at the two screenings: 7:30 p.m.Thursday, March 31 and 5 p.m.Saturday, April 2. Other members of the clan plan to attend.
Tickets are $14 for film festival members, seniors and students; $16 for others. Moviegoers can receive a $2 discount at the box office, online or ordering on the phone, by using the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards code: ANWO.
Just who is an American Indian?
For hundreds of years, this riddle of identity has vexed the federal government and the tribes alike, writes Marcos Barbery, an investigative reporter and documentary filmmaker. He and his co-director, Samuel Z. Russell, worked for four years to craft a concise 64-minute movie to explore it.
“The Freedmen descendants are waiting for a decision right now,” Barbery said in a telephone interview. “The issue is ongoing—we were filming in February and we have a new cut. There were protests three weeks ago in Oklahoma City.”
The consequences have economic, racial, and cultural ramifications. If the African Americans lose, the matter could well go before the U.S. Supreme Court, Barbery said. “This is a conflict between tribal sovereignty and the 13th Amendment (which abolished slavery). These are two traditionally oppressed communities battling it out.”
Asked about the tone of “By Blood,” Barbery said, “It’s anything but a downer. It’s a journey through this world—Indian County—populated by an enormous number of African Americans. It has all kinds of twists and turns and there are moments of humor.”
Both directors, both 34, will be present to answer questions at the Cleveland screenings: 9 p.m. Thursday, March 26 and 12:10 p.m. Friday, March 27. Tickets are $13 for film festival members, seniors and students; $15 for others.
Moviegoers can receive a $2 discount at the box office, online or ordering on the phone, by using the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards code: ANWO.
For the first time, the Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards will sponsor a movie at the Cleveland International Film Festival: the documentary, “Alice Walker: Beauty in Truth.” It will screen three times this month.
Directed by long-time Alice Walker collaborator Pratibha Parmar, the film weaves interviews, readings and archival footage to explore the themes of Walker’s literary work and advocacy. At age 70, Walker is best known for writing The Color Purple, 1982’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. It generated enormous controversy, and an influential film, which the documentary explores. Also central is Walker’s lifelong activism – stretching from voter registration drives in the 1960s to championing women’s rights in the present-day. Collaborators and critics and Walker herself speak to the merits of her political life. Watch the trailer below:
“Alice Walker: Beauty in Truth” will screen on three successive days: March 26 at 4:15 p.m., March 27 at 9:30 a.m. in Tower City, and March 28, at 7:00 p.m. at the Shaker Square Cinema. Festival attendees can take advantage of the Cleveland Foundation’s discount code in honor of its centennial (CLE100) and save $2 on the purchase of every ticket to every film throughout the festival. Purchase tickets here.