American Factory by Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert screened in its New York premiere at Tribeca Film Festival. The documentary is an alarming view of the foreign factory which may presage the downhill slide for American workers as the trend of foreign investment continues. Factories in China and Russia operate differently. And when such investment comes to the U.S., standards of accountability are not what Americans are used to. Foreign ownership dictates process and operation.
The film presents the anatomy of a GM plant closing December 2008 and its rise from the ashes in the form of a refurbished plant bought by Chinese investors. The idea to invest in the U.S. was to establish profitability. For Americans the hope was that the jobs created would bring greenery back to a state which was choking from the massive rust storms its closed industries had caused.
The devastation in industry as a result of the mortgage debacle and Second Great Depression under the Bush Administration was legion throughout the U.S. and globally. Thus, when news of the GM plant’s restoration by Chairman Cao came, there was cause for jubilation. After the dust of the launch settled, expectations shifted and the hard realities revealed themselves.
The filmmakers lay no blame and avoid a political stance. Any reference to politics is my own perspective. The filmmakers present all sides and attempt to be as objective as possible. Because of that attitude they had total access to the factory floor. Using the techniques of cinema verite and acute editing, we see interviews of workers expressing feelings and opinions. In light of the history of the American factory and unions which the film touches upon, what is now happening with foreign investment coming here and opening factories is not the boon politicians would make it out to be. Based upon what the filmmakers discovered and relate through their interviews and portraits of workers at home and on the factory floor, “the handwriting is on the wall.”
A Bit of History
When the Dayton, Ohio GM plant closed in 2008 filmmakers recorded what was a tragedy for blue collar workers. Dayton, the home of the Wright Brothers, had a prodigious history of industry and innovation. At one point it boasted the most patents per capita than any other city in the US. It was the second largest automotive manufacturing city after Detroit at a prosperous time before the Regan administration. Before the Regan years the wealthy were taxed proportionately with the other classes. The corporate tax rate was triple what it is now. The unions protected/advocated for workers and petitioned the government (OSHA) to safeguard their health and well being when there were violations. CEO salaries were not as exponentially wacked in comparison to their workers’ salaries. Workers faced low inflation: by comparison to today, there was little national debt. A single parent wage-earner was able to support a family of four and put kids through college in middle America and the South. Additionally, the medical industrial complex was not profit based.
None of this was socialism! The wealthy were taxed their proportionate fair share. It was good, old-fashioned American citizens paying to support one another’s prosperity, from the wealthy to the poor based on the graduated income tax. The extremes between rich and poor were not galactic. Banks were regulated repositories of citizen funds; they could not invest.
Ronald Regan and a conservative Republican administration exponentially increased corporate socialism otherwise known as corporate welfare. Everything changed in the nation’s economy and social/economic progress among the classes to benefit the wealthiest and slight the poor and middle class (upper middle, middle, lower middle). Republicans increasingly targeted programs for every-day Americans and pushed for more tax breaks for the wealthy. Unions were broken up. Globalism was used as the excuse, but in effect, the 60/40% power balance upended between unions and corporate higher ups to 80/20. Corporates took advantage. Greed blossomed, inequities grew. Corporations closed factories in the U.S. and went overseas, not happy to make a profit, but happier to make a mega profit to pay a hefty CEO salary and benefits to someone more interested in the bottom line than making product. Banking structure continued to change. Banks consolidated, made investments, funded derivatives, subprime mortgages and became “too big to fail.
Surreptitiously, Regan and others that followed had the laws changed to effect this, all to benefit corporates and the wealthy. There was continued downsizing, outsourcing, lower corporate tax rates, higher middle class tax rates, and lower taxes for the wealthy. Factories went overseas and Americans and farmers went bankrupt as the American Dream evaporated. With the mortgage debacle in 2008, it was the apotheosis of the death of the American Dream. Plant closures bankrupted and retrograded the lives of thousands of blue-collar workers in a chain reaction effect on other businesses.
After filmmakers covered the GM plant closing, they did an update of the area. Founder, chairman and CEO of Fuyao Glass Industry Group in a symbolic gesture acquired the old GM factory to establish an American headquarters of multinational Fuyao Glass. For the promise of hiring American workers and having it launched by American officials, he received enormous tax credits from the Ohio Tax Credit Authority. These breaks have increased under the Trump Tax Reform Act, which gives millions of dollars in tax welfare to corporations and billionaires, while making the other, poorer economic classes pay for it in a now swelling $23 trillion dollar deficit, something once considered anathema by conservative Republican tea partyists, now embraced and lauded by Mitch McConnell Republicans.
Documentarians filmed the plant launch and operations of Fuyao Glass which, to Chairman Cao’s consternation, was not immediately profitable as it would have been in China. It was losing money on top of the $500 million invested to open the plant.
Interestingly, Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert examine a cross-section of Chinese and American workers and managers to gauge the cultural differences, language barriers and work approaches. They interview Chairman Cao (a communist party leader hooked in high up to the party through his family). The Chinese workers, used to long hours and little pay are happy. American workers are upset.
The differences between the two cultures are staggering and problematic when the pressure of financial losses increases. Chinese workers, used to 10-14 hour days, find the 8 hour day unrealistic for profitability. US safety regulations established by OSHA are not understood and often ignored imperiling workers. For example Wong He, lead Furnace Engineer in OEM Tempering at Fuyao Glass America in an area where temperatures exceed 1200 F, a 20-plus-year employee of Fuyo, has burn marks all over his arms gotten in China. China’s safety regulations are not like ours. American workers file grievances, something that Chairman Cao doesn’t understand.
The Chinese and American workers try to become friends; there are humorous clips of Americans bringing Chinese workers for barbecue and for entertainment, showing them how to use guns for target practice. The Chinese workers who are away from their families and room together in tiny apartments are shocked that some Americans have to work two jobs (FGA pays $14.00 per hr.) to make ends meet. Clearly, American standards of living are not what Chinese hear about. Filmmakers interviews who lost homes, went bankrupt and live in one room in a relative’s house with few belongings. Thus, FGA seemed a dream come true. There are caveats.
In the past the former jobs at GM paid $28.00 an hour and the inflation rates and cost of living were lower. With their lower salary and higher costs, inflation and the shrinking purchasing power of the dollar, the FGA workers cannot afford to pay for their own education to retool or pay for their children’s college. Some are happy to have a job. But it is longer hours (they are not paid for training) with unsafe working conditions. The Chinese workers are younger and are used to long work hours under stressful conditions. Chinese workers come from a militaristic/communistic approach to company loyalty. They obey all commands without question, even if it means sacrificing their safety. Americans if have been used to a long tradition since unionization of asking “why?” Chairman Cao and the Chinese officials see this approach as disloyalty. They should just obey orders.
As the financial pressures increase, the Chinese attempt to show American company officials how FGA should be operated; they even pay for their visit to China to understand how plants are run. The hand of the Communist Party is all over the company in China; there are songs, banquets and entertainment to praise Fuyo Glass and the Chairman for his goodness. The sessions appear like brainwashing PR advertisements which inculcate the workers to be loyal, obedient employees for the good of the company/communist party. The visit to mainland China is an eye-opener.
Though American managers who visited China attempt to rein in their American workers when they return home, the historical, socio-cultural and economic disparities get in the way. Everything explodes when American workers at FGA attempt to unionize with the help of the U.A.W. Chairman Cao will not brook this assault on his company. He hires American lawyers and lobbyists to thwart unionization and mount an attack campaign against the union so workers will vote it down. The firm he hires, the Labor Relations Institute is paid over one-million for its assistance to provide everything that Chairman Cao and Chinese managers (Chairman Cao brings over new managers to tackle what the American managers can’t) need for the union vote to fail.
Filmmakers catch all of these interactions on camera and edit cogently so we understand the events with voice over explanations by workers. Surveillance of union representatives at FGA is taken. The right of the worker to voice complaint is discouraged; union reps who work at the plant are the equivalent of traitors. The vote fails; FGA has no union. There are promises made to lift the employee wages. Eventually, with no profitability, American management is fired; union reps are fired and anyone who gives “what for” or doesn’t work at the level required of their Chinese counterparts is put on notice. Retribution for asserting the right to speak out will occur, thus workers fear filing grievances with OSHA. At the end of the film’s shooting in December of 2017, a Fuyao employee was accidentally crushed to death. Additionally, to avoid conflicts in the future, the plant is being increasingly automated. Regardless, workers will be out of jobs, even if they prove loyalty.
Is there any way of knowing what injuries are occurring or what violations are happening in a corporation in the US, a foreign run company, which follows Chinese policies and practices? Only whistleblowers could reveal this; but they need their jobs and would be fired if the the identity of the whistleblower was revealed. The law of profitability is supreme, under a system of loyalty to the Chairman and the company which expects its workers to meet its own standards, not American standards.
Since the film the number of OSHA complaints against the company is down-exactly why is not known. The company has been profitable in 2018; but one of the stipulations for tax incentives of $15 million is that the company fulfill its promise to hire 800 employees, generate an annual payroll of $32.5 million and stay at their current facility for at least 18 years. Filmmakers also discovered that in March of 2018 a Fuyao employee was accidentally killed while working. Fifteen years ago in plants across the nation, to avoid citations, OSHA standards were being followed and the press would have publicly shamed the company.
Chairman Cao is spending $16 million to build a new processing center in South Carolina. It’s a new day. Foreign investment is here. It’s been a long time coming. Those in the “know” needed to prime the nation for such a situation with sub prime loans, so workers could go bankrupt, corporations could make more money overseas, the unions could be broken and those pesky regulations could be obviated. All of this happened and happens so that corporations pay little for a desperate, broken-down, poor, workforce, and foreign companies find the US an attractive place to invest, helped by politicians looking to make a little spare change for their states and themselves. But as automation takes over jobs, much of the need to oversee human production will be moot.
How do we handle the coming foreign factories that are populating our American landscape, offering jobs at what cost to Americans?
The situation has exponentially worsened under Trump. Workers are expendable and invisible; the rule of law and regulations are a thing of the past. No one is watching except Chairman Cao, and other foreign corporate chairmen and Trump. They are watching their bottom line at the expense of workers and the American people. But don’t believe what I’ve written here. See the film for yourself. Corporate socialism has everything to do with what is happening to the “American” Factory. Equitable economic, democratic practices and tax structure had everything to do with why the U.S. was thriving up until Regan. Only the .001% are increasing their wealth exponentially. The reset of the nation is treading water or drowning in rust. Automation will exacerbate these problems.
The film is truly a siren call to citizens in the South and in the Rust Belt who are debilitated and hurting economically, despite promises by Trump. Fox News reports which ADVERTISE for the next election, a “booming economy” (yes for billionaires and Wall Street) are great sources of brainwashing to convince Americans that the shrinking purchasing power of the dollar is not happening and their existing paycheck to paycheck is a good thing. Just don’t get sick. The film posits what is happening and I’ve suggested this is no coincidence if you look at the larger picture. The economy is global. Corporations are not bound by nation-states,’ laws. They are free; their CEOS make incredible salaries; workers can’t afford a night out on the town if they have children. And under Citizen’s United, corporations are people; they can donate any amount they like to their preferred political candidates to perpetuate corporate welfare.
An example of foreign investment that is happening as I write this concerns Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska who is bringing money and jobs to Mitch McConnell’s state of Kentucky after Trump lifted heavy sanctions applied by Obama. against Russia for the Crimean invasion. Oleg Deripaska,Putin’s close friend, is building an aluminium factory in Kentucky. Deripaska has a history of looting, money laundering, corruption, silencing whistleblowers (one woman who shot her mouth off that Deripaska knew about Russian meddling with the U.S. election has been jailed in Russia). Deripaska/Putin have covered up corruption that is the basis of his oligarchic empire which he is making global with the help of Trump and McConnell.
If Deripaska is given carte blanche treatment to “stimulate jobs,” for McConnell’s Kentucky, his company will not ipso facto be subject to former American factory standards, especially if Trump and Mitch McConnell (who has turned a blind eye to Russian meddling in the 2016 election, the Mueller Report’s findings of potential conspiracy and definite obstruction of justice) are in power. If the company pollutes and run roughshod over American workers? Only an aware public and vigilant government can stop any abuse by a company that is processing one of the most toxic substances on this planet, a poison connected to Alzheimer’s and other debilities.
Under Trump, the skies are the limit with foreign investment and foreign companies coming to the US to “create jobs.” There are no regulations worth keeping to improve the profitability of corporations. US tax payers will be subsidizing these corporations and individual states will be subsidizing tax breaks; certainly Mitch McConnell and the Kentucky state tax commission will be offering Oleg Deripaska tax breaks as a condition of hiring American workers. One wonders what else McConnell and others from Kentucky will be offering to “bring jobs” to one of the poorest states in the Union?
If we learn anything from American Factory, we will note that unless guarantees are made with workers, foreign investment will not improve American citizens’ plight and the economy in states that are hurting. Coupled with workers’ inability to easily retool and get an education (they cannot afford it because of bank strangleholds on student loans and interest rates) their options are so limited they are forced to work in such foreign industries for lower pay and questionable safety conditions. The vicious cycle will continue and the divide between rich and poor, the coastal cities and the red States will exponentially worsen. We must ask who does this foreign investment help?
This is a film worth seeing and thinking about. The point is to keep on learning. Ignorance is not a luxury we can afford.
Tribeca Film Festival Review: ‘A Taste of Sky,’ Sparking the Vision of the New Nordic Cuisine in Bolivia
Have you ever eaten at the number one restaurant in the world? For a number of years NOMA received the honor. Chef René Redzepi who runs the new NOMA in Copenhagen is working his way up to first world status again, after having moved and lost the former prestige. Chef Claus Meyer worked with Redzepi in helping to put New Nordic Cuisine and Copenhagen, Denmark, not normally known for sensational food, on the superior gastronomy map to win the title of “Best Restaurant in the World” four times.
A Taste of Sky by Michael Y. Lei features Claus Meyer’s groundbreaking cooking school and fine-dining restaurant GUSTU and chronicles how and why Meyer decided to open the school in La Paz, Bolivia. The film presents two students from GUSTU who are among the best of the best for they have evolved from humble beginnings to become fine chefs who will most probably one day gain the title of helping to be a part of the restaurant team who will have achieved the title of “Best Restaurant in the World.”
Yei’s documentary is a beautifully shot film for foodies and a great way to become acquainted with those who dedicate their lives to superior gastronomy like Claus Meyer. Meyer is culinary entrepreneur, food activist, cookbook author, professor and TV host. Though others assisted in helping Meyer establish the New Nordic Cuisine philosophy (12 chefs in 2004 wrote the New Nordic Food Manifesto to begin the movement, based on Claus Meyer’s initiative, inspirational draft and coordination) Meyer’s genius originated the concept. Over the years after the establishment of NOMA as a working laboratory and kitchen to foster the ideas of the New Nordic Cuisine, the restaurant became globally renowned and the philosophy spawned other iterations. Restaurants materialized similar approaches.
New Nordic Cuisine seeks to foster local agriculture, honor the region’s agrarian traditions, encourage environmentally friendly production, and establish food with a uniquely Nordic identity among the world’s great cuisines. An activist who believes that gastronomy can improve lives and change xenophobic responses to disparate cultures, Meyer has worked on many projects over the years to realize his beliefs. One of these projects took him to La Paz, Bolivia where he opened GUSTU and proved that the concepts initiated in the philosophy of “New Nordic Cuisine” could be retrofitted to any area in the world which has a dynamic environment and varied cuisine.
Lei’s film cuts back and forth to his interview with Claus Meyer and his daughter, and two students trained at GUSTU: Kenzo, a hunter raised in the wild of the Bolivian Amazon and Maria Claudia, a native of the Andean altiplano. Both sacrificed to leave home and attempt to become familiar with another world entirely. Meyer’s hope to establish one of the poorest countries in the world, Bolivia, as a a fine dining destination, is a fascinating revelation and experiment in fostering cultural intersections, between cities and rural areas, between and among cultures, and families educated and not educated.
The filmmaker includes glorious shots of Kenzo’s Amazon rain forest as he delves into Kenzo’s background, familiarizes us with the terrain, visits Kenzo’s parent’s farm and home, interviews his parents and generally helps us get to know this amazing, forward-thinking young man with great ambition. Assimilating the concepts of the philosophy behind New Nordic Cuisine, Kenzo, who completed his training at GUSTU, has made it through a difficult program where his friend dropped out to pursue something else.
Kenzo is currently working as a chef at a fine dining restaurant far away from Bolivia. He hopes to return one day to establish his own restaurant creating dishes whose unique ingredients come from the rain forest, the place he knows best as he learned from his father what plants are edible, healthful and delicious. The cuisine he will create using the local ingredients promises to be incredible.
Lei gives a sensitive and caring portrait of Maria Claudia, revealing that her problems are the usual ones for women. She must launch out into a career, having left home and the ones she loves instead of getting married and bearing children. She is overthrowing centuries of gender folkways with her new beginnings. This has been emotionally painful for her. The power of Lei’s interviews with Maria Claudia are that he allows her to explore and express her feelings so we understand what she has given up for a dream that she herself must manifest.
Lei reveals that in their own way, seeking their dreams using gastronomy as the vehicle, Maria Claudia, Kenzo and Meyer have taken parallel paths, though they are completely different individuals from different countries and backgrounds. Yet, all were inspired by this dream of how food can change one’s life and world, expanding food culture to meld people together so they might appreciate each other.
In his interview with Meyer, Lei brings out the problems with establishing the New Nordic Cuisine philosophy as it might adapt to the cuisine and culture of La Paz, Bolivia. Lei includes interviews with Meyer’s critics who are eventually won over by what Meyer is doing. And Meyer discusses the idea that the obstacle of the perception of the “colonial” coming in to help the “little people” was something he had to overcome. During Lei’s interviews with Meyer, he allows the entrepreneur to discuss his childhood and personal life. From that we understand the forces that shaped Meyer to move in the direction of gastronomy in a world laboratory to change people’s lives for the better.
To his credit, once Meyer established the success of GUSTU and made sure the school was grounded and continuing without him, he gave it over to Bolivia. Meyer’s intellectual genius is in researching whether or not his hypothesis about food works anywhere in the world, in any setting in the world. Is food a vehicle to change lives and improve the lives of the most hurting, the most needy of individuals? In all of Meyer’s projects threads of this belief are present.
Credit goes to Lei’s vision and the perspective he captures in this sonorous, sensual, striking film. The title is ingenious in symbolizing not only the beauty of the sky in Bolivia and the skyward dreams that both Kenzo and Maria Claudia are reaching toward, as they fly up to meet them using their love of gastronomy to create their own unique dishes based upon their culture, background and training.
The film is seamless in its cinematography and editing. It should be seen especially if one is a foodie. Look for A Taste of Sky online.
‘Our Time Machine,’Maleonn working on bird sculpture. Courtesy Maleonn Studio.
OUR TIME MACHINE
Directed by Yang Sun & S. Leo Chiang
Executive Produced by Jean Tsien, Sally Jo Fifer, & Nick Fraser
World Premiere – Documentary Competition – 2019 Tribeca Film Festival
Official Selection – 2019 Hot Docs Film Festival
Pre-Festival 2019 Tribeca Film Festival Screening:
Tuesday, April 16th at 6:00 PM at Tribeca Screening Room (375 Greenwich St.)
To RSVP – Email Vince Johnson at VJohnson@tcdm-associates.com
2019 Tribeca Film Festival Screenings:
Sunday, April 28th at 5:30 PM at Village East Cinema – World Premiere
Monday, April 29th at 4:00 PM at Village East Cinemas – Press/Industry Screening 1
Tuesday, April 30th at 7:00 PM at Regal Cinemas Battery Park
Wednesday, May 1st at 1:30 PM at Village East Cinemas – Press/Industry Screening 2
Friday, May 3rd at 7:00 PM at Regal Cinemas Battery Park
About the film OUR TIME MACHINE
43-year-old Maleonn is one of China’s most influential conceptual artists today. His father, Ma Ke, was the artistic director of the Shanghai Chinese Opera Theater. After being humiliated and forbidden from working for a decade during the Cultural Revolution, Ma Ke immersed himself in theater. The mysterious excitement of Ma Ke’s creative world inspired the young Maleonn, but his father’s absences stoked early feelings of resentment.
When Ma Ke is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, Maleonn pours everything into an ambitious new theater project: “Papa’s Time Machine,” a visually stunning time-travel adventure told with human-sized puppets. At the play’s heart are autobiographical scenes inspired by Maleonn’s memories with his father. He hopes this will bring the them together artistically and personally.
With enthusiasm both domestically and from abroad, the play shows signs of a promising future. But Ma Ke’s condition deteriorates. Maleonn is torn between the original goal to honor his father and the pressure towards commercial success. Ma Ke struggles to contribute to the play, and barely recognizes the play when it is completed.
Facing his father’s painful decline, Maleonn becomes more aware of life’s complexities. There are no effortless masterpieces or simple solutions. And there’s no traveling back in time to retrieve what has been lost. There, is however, the relationship that has developed with co-director Tianyi. He proposes to her, ready to become a partner and a father, and to carry on forward with a new outlook on his art and life.
About Filmmakers Yang Sun & S. Leo Chiang
Yang Sun is a documentary director and cameraman based in Beijing. He was on staff at China’s Central Newsreel and Documentary Film Studio, making documentaries for broadcasters including CCTV, Youku and the Travel Channel. He has directed several short and mid-length documentaries, including THE SECOND ALBUM, AKEN, BACKPACKERS FOR 10 YEARS, AFTER HE ROSE TO FAME, as well as the ten-part series TAKE ME TO TRAVEL. He worked as a director of photography on A CENTURY WITH NANJING, CENTURY MASTER, and SOUTH OF THE OCEAN. Sun Yang holds a Master’s degree from the School of Television and Film Art at the Communication University of China. OUR TIME MACHINE will be his first feature-length documentary.
S. Leo Chiang is a Taiwanese-American filmmaker based in San Francisco and Taipei. His documentary, MR. CAO GOES TO WASHINGTON, won the Inspiration Award at the 2012 Full Frame Documentary Festival. His previous film, Emmy® Award-nominated A VILLAGE CALLED VERSAILLES, picked up eight awards and aired on the American PBS series, Independent Lens. Leo’s work has received funding support from the Sundance Documentary Fund, the Tribeca Film Institute, and ITVS. He also collaborates with other documentarians as editor and a cameraman. Leo received a MFA in film production from University of Southern California. He is the co-founder of A-Doc, the Asian American Documentary Network, and a documentary branch member of the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences.
IN ATTENDANCE AT TRIBECA 2019: S. Leo Chiang (Director), Sun Yang (Director), Jean Tsien (Executive Producer), Bob Lee (Editor), Ma Liang (Subject)
YEAR 2019 | COUNTRY U.S.A., CHINA | RUN TIME 80 mins
Group photo of puppets and puppeteers in a gallery. Courtesy Maleonn Studio.
World Premiere Documentary
at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival
Directed and Written by: Ellen Fiske, Ellinor Hallin
Produced by: Mario Adamson, Ruth Reid
As her childhood turns into motherhood, teenage troublemaker Gemma comes of age in her fading Scottish steel town. But in a place where “you either get knocked up or locked up,” innocent games can easily turn into serious crime.
***Limited Tickets Available***
Friday April 26th at 5:45PM at Village East Cinema 03
Saturday April 27th 11:30AM at Regal Battery Park 06
Wednesday May 1st at 5:00PM at Village East Cinema 02
Friday May 3rd at 8:00PM at Regal Battery Park 06 (no tickets available)
RT: 90 Minutes
FILMS AT TRIBECA FF
THE SHORT HISTORY OF THE LONG ROAD
*World Premiere Screening at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival in the U.S. Narrative Competition*
Written & Directed by: Ani Simon-Kennedy
Starring: Sabrina Carpenter, Steven Ogg, Maggie Siff, Danny Trejo
For teenage Nola, home is the open road with her self-reliant father and their trusty van, two nomads against the world. When Nola’s rootless existence is turned upside-down, she realizes that life as an outsider might not be her only choice.
Saturday, April 27th at 2:30 PM at Village East Cinema 07 (World Premiere)
Sunday, April 28th at 5:00 PM at Regal Battery Park 06
Wednesday, May 1st at 5:45 PM at Village East Cinema 03
Saturday, May 4th at 9:00 PM at Regal Battery Park
Purchase tickets by going to Tribeca Film Festival website. See the film guide at the top of the website page. TRIBECA WEBSITE: CLICK HERE
FRAMING JOHN DELOREAN
HBO DOCUMENTARY FILM THE APOLLO ON WEDNESDAY, APRIL 24
Academy Award® winning director Roger Ross Williams’ film celebrates the historic New York City cultural landmark where musical legends were discovered
Features interviews with Pharrell Williams, Jamie Foxx, Patti LaBelle, Ta-Nehisi Coates and more
NEW YORK, NY – February 13, 2019 – The Tribeca Film Festival, presented by AT&T, will open its 18th edition with the world premiere of the HBO Documentary Film The Apollo. Helmed by Academy and Emmy Award-winning director Roger Ross Williams, The Apollo chronicles the unique history and contemporary legacy of the New York City landmark, the Apollo Theater. The film will debut at the iconic theater itself on Wednesday, April 24, 2019 and later this year on HBO. The feature-length documentary weaves together archival footage, music, comedy and dance performances, and behind-the-scenes verité with the team that makes the theater run. The Apollo features interviews with artists including Patti LaBelle, Pharrell Williams, Smokey Robinson, and Jamie Foxx. The documentary is produced by Lisa Cortés, Nigel Sinclair’s White Horse Pictures, and Williams. The 2019 Tribeca Film Festival runs April 24-May 5.
The Apollo covers the rich history of the storied performance space over its 85 years and follows a new production of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me as it comes to the theater’s grand stage. The creation of this vibrant multi-media stage show frames the way in which The Apollo explores the current struggle of black lives in America, the role that art plays in that struggle and the broad range of African American achievement that the Apollo Theater represents.
The Apollo Theater is internationally renowned for having influenced American and pop culture more than any other entertainment venue. The space has created opportunities for new talent to be seen and has served as a launchpad for a myriad of artists including Billie Holiday, Aretha Franklin, Ella Fitzgerald, Diana Ross & The Supremes, Stevie Wonder, The Jackson 5, Luther Vandross, Dave Chappelle, Lauryn Hill, Jimi Hendrix, and more.
“We’re excited to finally be going uptown to play the Apollo,” said Jane Rosenthal, Co-Founder and CEO of the Tribeca Film Festival. “The Apollo gives audiences an inside look at the major role this institution has played for the past 85 years. It’s seen the emergence of everything from Jazz to R&B to Soul and Gospel – all quintessential American music genres, and this is the time to remind people of our nation’s rich history. ”
“The Apollo is about so much more than just music, it’s about how we used music and art to lift ourselves out of oppression,“ commented director Roger Ross Williams. “The story of the Apollo is the story of the evolution of black American identity and how it grew to become the defining cultural movement of our time. I was fortunate to make my first film with HBO and I am thrilled to be coming back home with The Apollo. Premiering at The Tribeca Film Festival, at the Apollo Theater in Harlem is a dream come true.”
“The Apollo Theater is a symbol of the creative spirit of New York and beyond, and I’m very happy that we’re kicking off our 18th Festival celebrating it with this documentary from Roger Ross Williams,” said Tribeca Co-Founder Robert De Niro.
The Apollo, directed by Academy Award-winning and Tribeca alumnus Roger Ross Williams (Music by Prudence; Life, Animated) and is produced by Lisa Cortés (Precious), White Horse’s Nigel Sinclair (George Harrison: Living in the Material World; Undefeated), Jeanne Elfant Festa (Foo Fighters: Back and Forth, Pavarotti) and Cassidy Hartmann (The Beatles: Eight Days A Week, Pavarotti) along with Williams.
The Apollo will have additional screenings during the Festival. Passes and packages to attend the Festival go on sale on February 19, 2019.
The 2019 Tribeca Film Festival will announce its feature film slate on March 5.
Stockholm, written and directed by Robert Budreau and starring Ethan Hawke as the American who intends to swap millions and a friend for the largest Swedish banks’ hostages is a humorous thrill ride which almost has you rooting for the “wild and crazy” poseur Lars Nystrom/Kaj Hansson that Hawke assiduously portrays. The World Premiere slated as a Spotlight Narrative Film at Tribeca Film Festival 2018 is based on the incredible true story of how a charismatic criminal lures his victims to not only allow him to hold them hostage, but also elicits their help as he attempts to escape from the circumstances which irrevocably close in on him.
Ethan Hawke in a long haired wig, cowboy hat and dark sunglasses (for the film’s beginning) is perfect for the role as the maniac “Lars” whose bravado and energy take over the mild-mannered male and female clerks as he predatorizes their emotions, yet entertains them with his singing. Generally, he is an outrageous and likeable character and is more terrorized himself when he has to browbeat them into corners and submission with a gun.
When the minutes turn into hours with no resolution in sight, an incredible situation unfolds. Himself cornered by police and bank officials who refuse to give him the money he wants and other items for his escape,, Lars depends upon the support of teller Bianca Lind (the fine Noomi Rapace) and others. Lind becomes enthralled and even swept up and attracted to him. Lars negotiates a key point, in getting law enforcement to bring over Gunnar Sorensson (Mark Strong) a former friend whom Lars intends to free as a condition of releasing the hostages. To create conflict, Budreau portrays Gunnar as more menacing, though in real life, he was released and not charged possibly because he helped law enforcement catch “Lars” who was sentenced to ten years for this escapade.
With changes in name and characterizations, the film is primarily based on the true events which happened in 1973 in Stockholm, Sweden known as the Norrmalmstorg robbery. It was this robbery when Jan-Erik Olsson took hostages and their response to the situation originated the clinical symptoms known as “Stockholm Syndrome.” Specifically, the syndrome occurs when the alleged victims of a criminal predator identify with him, feel sorry for him and actually aid and abet his escape and/or commit criminal acts with him. Whether this is a survival mechanism response to fear is opaque. But the syndrome has been the subject of debate as other hostage crises have gained notoriety, For example in the sensational Patty Hearst case which occurred a year later than the Norrmalmstorg robbery, in 1974, Hearst was kidnapped by the wacked Symbionese Liberation Front who forced her to participate in a bank robbery which was filmed on camera. Hearst’s emotions became compromised to protect herself and mislead her captors. Nevertheless, her identification with criminals is not easily understood.
Budreau’s film gives rise to a number of psychological questions which he raises and attempts to answer. First, why does the attractive Bianca Lind go along with Lars and not resist him? Is it because he is not dangerous or because she is frozen in fear? Lind is the fictional character perhaps most similar to real life Kristin Enmark. Enmark in a conversation with officials said she believed the two hostage takers to be less dangerous than the police who were trigger happy. Likewise, in the film Lind cites the quote which Budreau included about the police being more likely to injure and kill the hostages in a fire fight, because civilian lives are less important than “getting the criminals” or preserving the banks funds.
Why does Lind passively go along with Lars to the point of assisting him? Surely, he is more hot air than serious killer as Hawke superbly portrays him to be. The longer the hostages and he remain together, the more they believe he has their interests at heart, while the bank is more interested in safeguarding their money. Interestingly, the manager and negotiators do not take “Lars” seriously. Only when the hostages help him with a plan and he pretends to injure Bianca is there some movement regarding giving him what he wants.
For her part Rapace’s Lind reveals a character who is more passive female than fiesty rebel. However, when we see her relate to her husband and family, Budreau offers up a tantalizing possibility. In the brief conversation she has with her husband, she appears steady and unemotional. Does she not want to upset him? Couldn’t she emotionally cry and manipulate her husband to more forcefully pressure the bank into settling with the bank robber? Instead, Budreau offers another look into a marriage and home life that may indeed be unsatisfactory and banal. Certainly, this interlude with the exciting and dangerous Lars stimulates another part of her seemingly untouched by her married life with the rather cold husband as portrayed by Thorbjørn Harr.
Budreau’s take on the “Syndrome” in the titular film Stockholm is varied and reveals elements that we may not have considered before because we are unfamiliar with the fascinating events that coined the phrase “stockholm syndrome” based on the symbiotic relationship between predators and their hostages. The film engages primarily due to the pacing, the tight, authentic revamping of the events in a believable way, and the fine performances, especially the high-flying wildness of Hawke and his exchanges and counter-play with Lind.
directed and written by Robert Budreau. Produced by Nicholas Tabarrok, Robert Budreau, Jonathan Bronfman. (Canada, Sweden, USA) – World Premiere. In 1973, an unhinged American outlaw walked into a bank in Sweden demanding millions in cash in exchange for his hostages. The events that followed would capture the attention of the world and ultimately give a name to a new psychological phenomenon: Stockholm syndrome. With Ethan Hawke, Noomi Rapace, Mark Strong, Christopher Heyerdahl, Bea Santos, Thorbjorn Harr.
Tribeca Film Festival held the World Premiere and screening of I Am Evidence, a compelling documentary which follows the story of four survivors of rape as they attempt to gain justice over a period of many years. During the process that they contact and work with law enforcement, they and filmmakers highlight the fate of what at one point amounted to 400,000 untested rape kits filled with evidence that various police departments left forgotten on storage unit shelves because rape is a low priority, high complexity crime. Behind each of the 400,000 + kits is the DNA of a woman who was sexually assaulted and who waits for her perpetrator’s DNA to be cross-matched with known criminals, serial rapists, murderers, through the federal database, CODIS.
Rape victims often hear nothing from the police departments for years leading to miscarriages of justice and an unfettered crime spree. Research has shown many rapists are serial rapists and some serial rapists murder. In one example in the film a serial rapist raped 10 women until he was picked up. The egregious negligence of various police departments across the nation, who allow criminals to run free, is one of the many issues directors Trish Adlesic and Geeta Gandbhir examine and explore during their journey shadowing the four women survivors.
Filmmakers show there is hope as the backlog of rape kits is slowly being addressed. More states are passing laws to enforce the testing of the kits. The film focuses on the backlog issues, the causes and solutions and the heroes in the fight, like Kym Worthy, Detroit prosecutor, whose untiring work to have Detroit’s 11,000 kits + tested is resulting in prosecutions that get rapists off the streets. The shining moments of the film reveal the survivors who are overcomers: they remain unapologetic about the miscarriages of justice that have occurred and have become advocates to change the laws so that every rape kit is tested, matched up in the criminal data base nationwide and followed up. They inspire hope as they encourage other women to come forward and join the fight to end this systemic institutional injustice of backlogged rape kits..
I met with directors Trish Adlesic and Geeta Gandbhir at the HBO offices a few days after the film screened.
I loved the film. Could speak to what the title refers to and what the film is about?
Trish: Well, the title came very organically through the process of understanding the journey for women who have been through this violence of sexual assault. In pursuing subjects for the film, I wanted to find someone who had not had their rape kit tested yet in Detroit because Detroit had a backlog of over 11,000 untested rape kits. I thought that it would be incredible to find someone who was still looking for their kit and still looking for justice. There was an organization called The Sasha Center which is geared toward the needs of African American women because the church is predominately African American. The Sasha Center (it provides sexual assault services for holistic healing and awareness) had someone they were working with who was still looking for her rape kit. She agreed to speak with me. When she walked into the room, she had this phenomenally beautiful pink hair and this beautiful skin. Then I look down and see, “I Am Evidence” on her T-shirt. I immediately got chills. I thought, I’m about to have a profound experience.
Geeta: Yes. And what is interesting is that Ericka is deeply involved in her church. That statement is used in her church and it is sort of a traditional saying, “I Am Evidence,” a statement about being a witness. So she took it and basically we reprised it in the sense of talking about her rape kit. It’s a powerful statement. And she makes statements about this in the film. She says that she is evidence that a rape kit is not just a rape kit. It’s not just DNA, there’s a person behind it. It’s also evidence of being able to overcome the struggle that goes along with the violence she experienced as her personal experience. So this background about Ericka was a big part of the decision for I Am Evidence to be the title.
Trish: Yeah. It’s incredible because it’s a double entendre. The body is a living, breathing crime scene. We are evidence. But the poetry around her is that we are the evidence that we can heal and grow and we can get beyond this, because this kind of violence is so debilitating for people. I found it so inspirational that she had the ability to say those words. I mean anyone can relate to the fact that we are evidence of the lives we live and how we handle trauma and challenges in our lives. I thought that would be something everyone could relate to.
Did she help to evolve the film’s uplifting tone. Could you talk about the extent to which she may have influenced that?
Geeta: I think she did. But there’s an arc, is there not Trish? I think with the subjects that we follow, the women that we follow have an arc and that over a period of time, this was her organic journey. Obviously, her journey was ultimately uplifting. She’s a powerful person.
Trish: Yes, she is very spiritual and that’s the case. She did have challenges. Her kit was found. It was tested and there were really hard days for her to undergo in that process. Ultimately, she came to a place of acceptance characterized by the word that she uses for it in the film: “unapologetic.” In other words we don’t have to apologize for the things that have happened to us. It’s OK to feel that pain and to want to have some satisfaction out of being hurt and you really have justice. And the arc is the unapologetic moment and the moment of acceptance that while I may not get a victory in court, I was heard. That’s what matters most to all of the victims of this kind of violence: the fact that they actually are given the opportunity for justice.
You helped in that arc. You helped to inspire her journey. Could you talk a little bit about that and how long the process was as she really was at the forefront of your expose.
Trish: It was about two and one-half years from the moment I interviewed her. I began to contact the prosecutor to find out if there could be some way in which they could try to locate her kit. She simultaneously had met with Ms. Worthy at a fund raising event for the backlog through an organization called the 490 Group. It’s a group of African American women in Detroit who are raising funds to test the kits. Both efforts converged and her kit was located. I think that certainly her participation in the film brought this opportunity. Eventually, her kit would have been found because they are continuing to test all the kits, but it wouldn’t have happened necessarily in the timeline that it did.
Geeta: I have to say that the film had a profound experience on the women because of Trish. Trish is the producer and co-director, and Trish had a profound impact on the women because she was there from the inception. I came onto the film a little bit later, but Trish was there from the beginning. I think that the idea, the thought that someone is working with you, that someone wants to hear your voice, gives you a sense of empowerment. That’s not to decry the fact that these women in their own right are very powerful. But I think that when someone holds out their hand to support you, it makes a big difference.
In our presence at the World Premiere after the film screening in the Q and A, Ericka sang to a packed audience in the theater, which takes courage. And she announced that she’s running for office.
Trish: Yes. City Council. How about that? (she laughs). She’s smart, she’s very smart.
Geeta: She’s an incredible force, I mean with or without us and the film.
So there was a convergence of events which reveals a kind of synchronicity. This leads me to ask this question. Did this project choose you or did you choose it? How did the film evolve?
Trish: That’s a great question and it’s a question we’re always asked. I want to give the backstory so it’s clear. I had worked on the television show Law and Order: SVU for 14 years with Mariska Hargitay, and we became friends through that work together. I began to produce documentaries because I was potentially going to be affected by the issue of fracking in my community in upstate New York. That led me to do these films that had a profound effect on my life (Gasland and Gasland II). I saw the power of the medium and I thought, well, I’m not getting any younger. How do I want to spend my time? I feel like for me this opportunity has been a dream come true to do this work. It’s honestly gratifying.
Mariska saw that journey for me and I knew that backlog was at the forefront of her focus for her foundation (The Joyful Heart Foundation) and we kept saying let’s do a project together. Let’s do something. And it led to doing this film. You know it’s her first documentary. I was excited to do everything I could to give it its best shot and bring it into the light and to bring in all the best people I knew in the documentary world to help complement the work we were doing. So that’s how the film came about.
I brought Geeta on the project. I knew Geeta from working with her before. I trust her work and knew that Geeta would understand and care greatly as I do, and so she was someone that I really wanted to bring in on the film.
Geeta: It was such an honor for me when Trish and I worked together. Obviously, I really respect her and what she’s done. We were talking about doing this film for a long period of time.
Trish: I was serenading her (Trish laughs).
Geeta: I wasn’t able to. I had other things. Then finally there came the time. So it was Trish who brought me on. Also, I had worked with HBO for a long time; I started with them when the levees broke in New Orleans. That was when I became hooked on Social Justice issues similar to Trish, and I realized that these documentaries gave my life meaning. With this work you feel like you’re making some kind of impact, some kind of a difference.
Then, finally, it felt like the time was right. I think Trish and the project and Sheila Nivens (President of HBO documentaries) had something to do with it. Once they all say, it’s time…
Trish: She’s the Goddess (referring to Sheila Nivens).
Geeta: …you come on board. Honestly, it’s been incredibly rewarding and meaningful.
You knew through Mariska that there was a problem.
Trish: I did. We had done an episode at SVU about an untested rape kit. One of the women who actually is in our film, Helena, had an episode written for her. It’s called Behave. That’s when I first learned about the rape kit backlog. I saw what she he had been through with law enforcement being re-victimized by not being heard.
I think for a lot of the women whom I’ve spoken with, that very re-victimization almost felt worse for them than the assault itself. These were the very people who had been set up to be there for them. Yet, these very people in fact were blaming them and not believing them. Rape survivors felt so violated by that. First, it’s incredible that they have the ability to come forward with such a traumatic experience. It is so hard to tell your story. Then for them to go through the re-victimization with the police?
So I learned about the untested rape kits that way and learned more and more when Detroit broke in 2009. And I saw the heroism of Kym Worthy and thought, this has got to be a documentary. It’s amazing to be in this moment at this
Look for Part II of the interview with Trish Adlesic and Geeta Gandbhir.
For my review of the film CLICK HERE.
For the link to the website I AM EVIDENCE, CLICK HERE.
To see how your state is dealing with the backlog of untested rape kits, CLICK HERE.
I Am Evidence is one of the most important documentary films to come out of Tribeca Film Festival. It is a groundbreaking criminal and social justice documentary about women, rape, and the folkways that allow this crime to fly under the radar. The film centers around rape survivors and the process of rape crime evidence collection, sealed in a rape kit which then is sent off to be tested. Central to I Am Evidence is the egregious miscarriage of justice that happens in a predominance of states in the U.S. Rape kits, loaded with critical evidence, languish sometimes for years in police storage untested, forgotten, trashed. Is this institutional misogyny, the banality of evil or something else?
With meticulous, clearly organized information, the filmmakers answer these questions and examine how and why this unconscionable backlog of known untested kits (once numbered 400,000 nationwide) happened. The number was probably even greater if one considers those thrown away, negligently stored, lost, displaced. Rape victims are loathe to file a police report; most probably the number of rapes is greater. The backlog exacerbates our culture of sexual violence (every 98 seconds an American is sexually assaulted).
Through salient interviews of rape survivors (i.e. Ericka, Helena, Amberly), journalists, investigators, law enforcement, researchers, and other experts (Mariska Hargitay identifies the substantive issues at the outset as she interviews Wayne County prosecutor Kym Worthy), directors Trish Adlesic and Geeta Gandbhir cogently examine why the testing of rape kits needs to be a nationwide law enforcement priority. The filmmakers’ approach is winning; the documentary is a heartfelt and human drama told through the uplifting testimony of rape survivors like Ericka Murria. Murria shares her triumph over psychological and physical trauma as she seeks justice and takes a stand to advocate for others. As Ericka, Helena Amberly and others share the arc of their journeys from chaos and depression into the light, filmmakers outline the breadth of the problem about untested rape kits.
Adlesic and Gandbhir establish that every untested rape kit represents a victim. The kit contains material DNA evidence. Once the evidence is tested in a lab, the results can be placed in a data-base (CODIS) which matches rapes, crimes and murders nationwide with the DNA evidence from perpetrators. If the evidence is never tested, the kits left to molder on a shelf in a storage unit, that crime and the potential match-up with criminals (especially serial rapists/murderers), and other crimes they’ve perpetrated will remain unsolved.
Through the testimony of investigative teams and prosecutors, the filmmakers reveal the endemic nature of the problem. Each ignored kit means that a rape is not going to be investigated, even though a victim has emotionally steeled himself/herself to go through the shame of filing a report that takes 4-6 hours for evidence collection and placement in the kit. The message inadvertently sent to rapists and serial rapists/murderers is that they are permitted to to rape and/or kill again.
The message sent to victims is that their rape doesn’t matter and they don’t matter. Ultimately, the victim, traumatized by the sexual assault and battery, is further abused by the negligence of their un-investigated crime. Humiliation is compounded by the silence of injustice. An additional noxious side effect of untested rape kits is that word gets around that no one called about the rape investigation. Other victims are less likely to file a report. Rapists are emboldened. A significant point the filmmakers underscore from the research on rapists is that many rapists are serial rapists. They continue to rape until they are stopped. And some of those serial rapists also murder. Sadly, there is no way to gauge how many women are raped and how many serial rapists/potential murderers have committed multiple crimes.
When one considers that an untested rape kit that sits for years (the filmmakers reveal this occurred in places like Detroit, Los Angeles, see END THE BACKLOG), might empty even one cold case file, one begins to understand the staggering negligence that is multiplied as untested rape kits mount up in the thousands. (see your state’s numbers on END THE BACKLOG). In a lurid example of the impact of just one untested rape kit (sitting over a decade), filmmakers show how serial rapist Charles Courtney (a truck driver who committed crimes in various states along his driving route), was free to rape again and again. (click here for Helena’s story)
If kits had been tested, law enforcement could have checked the databases, identified Courtney’s multiple rapes and gotten him off the streets, never to rape, threaten her family, and traumatize Amberly, one of his victims who filmmakers interview. From that rape, Amberly suffered PTSD that sent her life spiraling downward into addiction, a devastation which she is turning around. Indeed, one of the investigators who helped get Charles Courtney off the streets stated that if all the kits nationwide were tested, she would bet that his DNA would match up with a few unsolved murders.
I Am Evidence incisively, humanly directed by Trish Adlesic and Geeta Gandbhir, is an extremely valuable work of social justice. The filmmakers make a precise, clear, and thorough examination of how this holocaust of abuse has been allowed to continue fueled by our culture’s mores, folkways and prejudices leveraged by institutional racism, negligent law enforcement, misogyny. The clips that reveal this are devastating. Though the documentary is a painful and frustrating look into the egregious criminal negligence committed by various police departments with an incredible number of backlogged rape kits (over 100,000 nationwide), I Am Evidence is also an unforgettable journey of hope, healing, redemption, and activism.
I cannot praise this film enough for its solid story-telling, its unabashed strength in unspooling the themes that inspire one to advocacy. From the outset, with empathy and poignancy, filmmakers elicit the soulfulness of the survivors who have gone through the hell of rape and reporting, and have attempted to deal with the psychological and emotional trauma of what they experienced only to then confront the truth that they may never receive justice. The documentarians also highlight the heroes-the investigators and prosecutors who have gone through the stressful frustration of dealing with the monumental backlog of untested rape kits.
Along the journey we watch specific examples of effectively functioning teams who are getting things done, pitted against interviews with former law enforcement officials who make dismissive comments about lack of funding and the terrible difficulty of prosecuting rape cases. Rather than admit the tragedy behind each and every untested rape kit, there remains a dilatory lack of accountability to problem solve or acknowledge that rape correlates with murder and other crimes.
What is particularly uplifting is that filmmakers show successes: they follow a team’s painstaking work to tackle the backlog that eventually results in successful prosecutions. They focus on undaunted heroes like Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy (Detroit, Michigan had 11,000+ untested rape kits that had been placed in an abandoned, wrecked building, home to nesting birds and other creatures). When Worthy takes Mariska Hargitay to the site of the abandoned building to view where the kits had been left, we are shocked knowing that each kit is a person. When Worthy discovered this (2009), despite the insurmountable problems including lack of funding, she went into action, got kits tested, and criminals off the streets (some serial rapists had raped 10-15 times).
Survivors, law enforcement icons, The Joyful Heart Foundation, and End The Backlog are in the forefront of overturning the systemic criminal negligence perpetrated by the dilatory law enforcement agencies and their sub rosa misogynistic, racist behavior which deems rape a low priority crime, especially in ethnic communities. Some states are reforming their laws. Others are not. Why not? Is it because some law enforcement and prosecutorial departments don’t want to “waste” time, effort and finances on rape kits while there are other “more important crimes” to investigate? Indeed! By not testing rape kits, they are promoting more felonies instead of stopping them.
I Am Evidence is the filmmakers’ incredible work of hope and progress. Yet, it reveals we are not out of the labyrinth of unawareness and egregious systemic negligence. This must-see film is a clarion call for the public to demand all rape kits be tested as a matter of safety and security. Our criminal justice system must be accountable, especially now as the political winds shift.