As voters head to the polls, take a moment to reflect on civic engagement as it stands today in the U.S. and abroad. From the raucous campaign battles in Newark, N.J. to show trials in China, these films raise the question of what it means to be an engaged citizen and what it takes to maintain democracy.
Watch This: These films are streaming online through November.
Ai Wei Wei: The Fake Case by Andreas Johnsen
Ai Weiwei has a serious problem with authority: The Chinese government not only kidnapped and imprisoned the world-renowned artist in a secret location for protesting its repressive policies, but after his release it conducted a show trial on baseless charges of tax evasion and pornography. Ai Weiwei: The Fake Case, a stunning and stirring documentary by Andreas Johnsen, dissects the persecution and shows how the government’s attempts to silence Ai Weiwei have turned him into China’s most powerful artist and an irrepressible voice for free speech and human rights around the globe. Official Selection of the 2013 International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam.
Georgie Girl by Annie Goldson and Peter Wells
Born George Beyer, one-time prostitute-turned-politician, Georgina Beyer was elected to New Zealand’s Parliament in 1999, becoming the world’s first trans person to hold a national office. Chronicling Georgina’s transformations from farm boy to celebrated cabaret diva to grassroots community leader, Georgie Girl couples interviews and images of Beyer’s nightclub and film performances with footage showing a day in the life of this New Zealand Member of Parliament. The film presents a remarkable account of Beyer’s precedent-setting accomplishment, revealing her intelligence, charisma and humor.
Getting Back to Abnormal by Louis Alvarez, Andrew Kolker, Peter Odabashian and Paul Stekler
What happens when America’s most joyous, dysfunctional city rebuilds itself after a disaster? New Orleans is the setting for Getting Back to Abnormal, a film that serves up a provocative mix of race, corruption and politics to tell the story of the re-election campaign of Stacy Head, a white woman in a city council seat traditionally held by a black representative. Supported by her irrepressible African-American aide Barbara Lacen-Keller, Head polarizes the city as her candidacy threatens to diminish the power and influence of its black citizens. Featuring a cast of characters as colorful as the city itself, the film presents a New Orleans that outsiders rarely see. Official Selection of the 2013 SXSW Film Festival. A co-production of ITVS.
Koch by Neil Barsky
New York City mayors have a world stage on which to strut, and they have made legendary use of it. Yet few have matched the bravado, combativeness and egocentricity that Ed Koch brought to the office during his three terms from 1978 to 1989. As Neil Barsky’s Koch recounts, Koch was more than the blunt, funny man New Yorkers either loved or hated. Elected in the 1970s during the city’s fiscal crisis, he was a new Democrat for the dawning Reagan era—fiscally conservative and socially liberal. Koch finds the former mayor politically active to the end (he died in 2013)—still winning the affection of many New Yorkers while driving others to distraction.
Show This: These films are available for free from the POV Lending Library for community or classroom screenings. Register your screening with us to borrow these (and many more) films for free.
A World Not Ours by Mahdi Fleifel
A World Not Ours is a passionate, bittersweet account of one family’s multi-generational experience living as permanent refugees. Now a Danish resident, director Mahdi Fleifel grew up in the Ain el-Helweh refugee camp in southern Lebanon, established in 1948 as a temporary refuge for exiled Palestinians. Today, the camp houses 70,000 people and is the hometown of generations of Palestinians. The filmmaker’s childhood memories are surprisingly warm and humorous, a testament to the resilience of the community. Yet his yearly visits reveal the increasing desperation of family and friends who remain trapped in psychological as well as political limbo. Official Selection of the 2013 Berlin Film Festival
The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement by Gail Dolgin and Robin Fryday
James Armstrong, whose Alabama barbershop has been a hub for haircuts and civil rights for 50 years, celebrates the election of the first black president in this Academy Award®-nominated short. An Official Selection of the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. (21 minutes)
Big Men by Rachel Boynton
Big Men, executive produced by Brad Pitt, goes to Ghana to provide an unprecedented look at the global deal making and dark underside of oil development — a contest for money and power that is reshaping the world. Official Selection of the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival.
Campaign by Kazuhiro Soda
This is democracy — Japanese style. Campaign provides a startling insider’s view of Japanese electoral politics in this portrait of a man plucked from obscurity by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) to run for a critical seat on a suburban city council. Kazuhiko “Yama-san” Yamauchi’s LDP handlers are unconcerned that he has zero political experience, no charisma, no supporters and no time to prepare. What he does have is the institutional power of Japan’s modern version of Tammany Hall pushing him forward. Yama-san allows his life to be turned upside down as he pursues the rituals of Japanese electioneering — with both tragic and comic results. A co-presentation with the Center for Asian American Media (CAAM).
The Camden 28 by Anthony Giacchino
How far would you go to stop a war? The Camden 28 recalls a 1971 raid on a Camden, New Jersey draft board office by “Catholic Left” activists protesting the Vietnam War and its effects on urban America. Arrested on site in a clearly planned sting, the protesters included four Catholic priests, a Lutheran minister and 23 others. The Camden 28 reveals the story behind the arrests — a provocative tale of government intrigue and personal betrayal — and the ensuing legal battle, which Supreme Court Justice William Brennan called “one of the great trials of the 20th century.” Thirty-five years later, the participants take stock of their motives, fears and the costs of their activism — and its relevance to America today.
Give Up Tomorrow by Michael Collins and Marty Syjuco
As a tropical storm beats down on an island in the Philippines, two sisters leave work and never make it home. Paco Larrañaga, a 19-year-old student, is sentenced to death for their rape and murder, despite overwhelming evidence of his innocence. Give Up Tomorrow exposes shocking corruption within the judicial system of the Philippines and one of the most sensational trials in the country’s history. Two grieving mothers, entangled in a case that ends a nation’s use of capital punishment but fails to free an innocent man, dedicate more than a decade to executing or saving him. Audience Award winner, 2011 Tribeca Film Festival. An Official Selection of the 2011 IDFA. A co-production of ITVS, the Center for Asian American Media and POV’s Diverse Voices Project, with funding provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting in association with the BBC. (90 minutes)
The Law in these Parts by Ra’anan Alexandrowicz and Liran Atzmor
In The Law in These Parts, acclaimed Israeli filmmaker Ra’anan Alexandrowicz has pulled off a tour-de-force examination of the system of military administration used by Israel since the Six Day War of 1967—featuring the system’s leading creators. In a series of thoughtful and candid interviews, Israeli judges, prosecutors and legal advisers, who helped devise the occupation’s legal framework, paint a complex picture of the Middle East conflict and the balance among political interests, security and human rights that has come with it. Winner, World Cinema Jury Prize: Documentary, 2012 Sundance Film Festival.
Chisholm ‘72: Unbought and Unbossed by Shola Lynch
1972 was an extraordinary year. Richard Nixon was president, running for his second, ill-fated term. The voting age had just changed from 21 to 18, and millions of new voters were expected at the polls. The Vietnam War was in full swing, as were anti-war protests, a burgeoning women’s movement, and the rise of the Black Panther Party. Into the center of this maelstrom — shocking the conventional political wisdom — stepped Shirley Chisholm, a determined, rather prim and unapologetically liberal black woman with a powerful message: Exercise the full measure of your citizenship and vote.
Street Fight by Marshall Curry
There’s a saying that democracy is a contact sport. The new film Street Fight gives you a ringside seat. Even if you know the outcome from national reports, or lived in Newark at the time, this insider’s chronicle of the 2002 race for mayor in Newark, New Jersey is riveting, delivering a dramatic account of youthful energy and ideals running headlong into old-guard machine politics and racial demagoguery. These opposing forces are, of course, nothing new in American elections. But, in Newark in 2002, a black mayor was using these tactics against a black challenger.
Read This: POV discussion guides are an invitation to dialogue. They are based on a belief in the power of human connection, designed for people who want to use our films to engage family, friends, classmates, colleagues and communities. In contrast to initiatives that foster debates in which participants try to convince others that they are right, this document envisions conversations undertaken in a spirit of openness in which people try to understand one another and expand their thinking by sharing viewpoints and listening actively. Take a look at the discussion guides below for ideas on promoting a dialogue around civic engagement and democracy this November:
- Ai Weiwei: The Fake Case Discussion Guide
- Koch Discussion Guide
- Big Men Discussion Guide
- Street Fight Discussion Guide
- Georgie Girl Discussion Guide
- Getting Back to Abnormal Discussion Guide
POV also produces lesson plans, reading lists and other resources around our films. Follow POV’s Community Engagement and Education department on Twitter @povengage and we’ll help you find the right resources for your goals. Also, be sure to follow @AmericaReframed on Twitter to keep up with their films and activities.