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.
Anthony Bourdain (star of Parts Unknown), is his edgy, humorous self in Wasted! The Story of Food Waste. The film, which screened in its world premiere at Tribeca Film Festival, Bourdain produced with Zero Point Zero Productions’ partners Lydia Tenaglia, Christopher Collins, Joe Caterini and co-director Nari Kye (Anna Chai also directed). However, Bourdain whose narration threads through the key issues about food waste globally and in the U.S. is more acerbic and ripping than ever I imagined he could be. But he, Dan Barber (Stone Barnes, Blue Hill), Mario Batali, Eric Ripert (Le Bernardin), Danny Bowien (Mission Chinese), Massimo Bottura (Osteria Francescana), Tristan Stewart (Toast Ale) and others who are in the forefront of trying to figure out how to rescue food and use it to create delicious meals, must tell it like it is. The situation is bleak.
Food waste is perhaps the most dire problem we face as Americans that we can do something about right now. Consider a few of these facts that directors bring out through interviews and celebrity chef comments in the initial segments of their amazing documentary.
Roughly one third of the food produced in the world for “people consumption” (approximately 1.3 billion tonnes yearly), gets lost or wasted. Food losses and waste amounts to around US$ 680 billion in industrialized countries and US$310 billion in developing countries. Ninety percent of the food produced ends up in landfills. According to Anthony Bourdain, all along the processing of food for consumption, there is waste at every junction from the farm, and the harvest, to the distribution, to the grocery story or green market, to the preparation, to the dinner table, to the leftovers.
And where does this food predominately end up? In landfills. In garbage dumps. If we could only redistribute the unused food to those who need it. Even if just one-fourth of the food currently lost or wasted globally could be rescued, there would be enough to feed 870 million hungry people in the world. But globally, people are not just hungry. It is a tragedy that globally, thousands of individuals face chronic starvation and die from disease and malnutrition. In the U.S. one in six individuals is food insecure, (in Europe it is 1 in 20). These are not just lazy, “good-for-nothings” as politocos would have us believe so we can dismiss them and de-fund programs which they label entitlements. The families are working in low paying jobs (an employment situation which has never been recovered since the second Great Depression), and many of them are white. In the film, Mario Batali looks dead into the camera (in the US we are the worst perpetrator), and he brings the problem right into our homes. He says, “This waste is criminal!”
Anna Chai and Nari Kye’s efforts are subtly brilliant because of how they have structured their film and carried us along a journey of discovery to recognize the staggering numbers and the criminality of food waste that resonates profoundly for our own lives. First they identify the unimaginable and make it visible. They outline the causes (taking us to farms, showing the process of food distribution, etc.), then bring us to the end of the line-the food devastation in landfills.
This is where the concept of food waste goes exponentially unconscionable and Batali is not kidding when he points out the egregiousness of waste as not only “stealing” food from the hungry, but also wantonly, negligently stealing all of the resources our planet offers for us to make it to the next generation. We won’t get there if the situation continues into the next decades if we continue to be as brazenly stupid as we have been culturally.
Filmmakers and experts reveal how food in landfills exacerbates global warming-climate change. As the food decomposes methane gasses are released. Methane, heavier than CO2 is a worse pollutant of clean air. It erodes oxygen supplies, acidifies the oceans, chokes off marine life, harms ecosystems that sustain plants, animals and us. You didn’t note any discussion about the higher degree temperatures increasing glacial melt did you? We won’t acknowledge that is happening for fear of offending those government leaders who think global warming is a matter of belief.
You thought you had handled the problem of plastic by shopping with your cloth bags? Well, what about the food you are throwing away? Filmmakers point out that one head of lettuce in a landfill takes twenty-five years to break down. You have to throw away some lettuce because your guests won’t eat wilted leaves? Throw it in your composting bin or bring it to your green market for them to compost. If you multiply your leaves and that head of lettuce you threw in the garbage last week with thousands upon thousands of heads that got wilted and that grocery stores daily en masse throw away because housewives like their lettuce crisp and fresh-looking (even though it has no taste and the wilted leaves at the green market have much more nutrition and taste because they were picket in the morning), then you begin to see the extent of the problem of why food waste is so endemic.
Filmmakers show that unsustainable farming practices expend and do not replenish resources (air, water, rich soil). Think of the water wasted to irrigate veggies that end up in your waste-can and end up in a landfill. The amount of money that can be saved with careful planning and husbanding water, crop yields, etc., not only can be realized by farmers and businesses and grocery stores and distribution centers, but it also filters but can also filter down to families if thoughtful planning is accomplished and if consumers don’t mind selecting some bruised fruit at a lower price (often more delicious), than the perfect apples and oranges with no taste.
Food and resource waste directly correlating to global warming and climate change, whether deaf, dumb and blind politicians acknowledge this or not, insidiously correlates to shifting population migrations as refugees challenged by drought, famine and war in a subtle and complicated connection with dwindling resources (food, clean water) seek areas to live that are not under such duress. When Bourdain implies that everything about food is tied to everything else, the message not only “hits home,” filmmakers have brought you to a place where you need to see interventions and programs and innovations that are eliminating and reducing our criminality of food waste.
The interviews and visits with celebrity chefs are legendary. They follow Tristam Stewart to England as he shows how he recovers 900,000 tons of bread wasted a year by making artisinal beer). They travel to Modena, Italy and then Milan to see Massimo Battura who created Food For the Soul and the divine concept of the artistry of the Refettorios. With beauty and elegance he has found a way to touch the hearts of the “invisible needy” that rivals dining at The Four Seasons and uplifts their souls. At the outset they visit Dan Barber who takes us through his guided veggie discoveries and tastes as he educates us to the egregiousness of food waste with produce (fruits and vegetables, roots and tubers have the highest wastage rates of any food). And they shadow Danny Bowien’s travels to Japan where chefs surprise him with delicious dishes that use unbelievable cuts from the animal that he never tried including the uterus and vows to take home to his restaurant.
These entertaining, enlightening and uplifting segments of the film, which are woven into the dialogue about food waste, dissolve the “doom and gloom” of the underlying problems by showing there is much we can do. Indeed, entrepreneurs and innovators, spurred by funds from the Rockefeller Foundation (which is supplying grants through YieldWise) are working to ameliorate the situation and move the paradigm to Zero Food Waste in the next decades, regardless of the lack of political will that recently has been demonstrated. The uplifting examples of how other countries and individuals are curtailing food waste are inspiring. They encourage us to toward activism on a personal and local level: at the very least composting, wiser food shopping and more.
This is a must-see film for its clarity, for its inspiration, for its no-holds-barred revelations, for its love and good will, for its energy. Its unforgettable incisiveness magnifies the importance of our individual and national global food waste imprint. Its generosity and positive outlook spur us to become leaders in our own lives and communities so that we can have a global impact. The situation is bleak, but it is not without hope. We can positively shape our future and the future of the generations that come after us. It is only a matter of starting today.
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Check this page for more information on global food waste.
Playwright and screenwriter of Junebug, the award winning Angus MacLachlan, has done it again! He has penned a funny, poignant, commonsensical and incredibly human film which will resonate with a wide swath of individuals if it is discoverable to them. And Goodbye to All That, also directed by MacLachlan should be imminently discoverable. After all, the age group that this clever, saavy movie should appeal to ranges from thirty-somethings to sixty-somethings, and includes men and women. If you enjoy Indie films that cut through the hype, shmoozy glitter, and intentional, self-conscious realism, Goodbye to All That is for you, especially if you like to laugh.
Though the film has a regional feel, its subject touches upon issues that city-folks can relate to, namely separation, divorce and reentering the hot dating scene using Social Media after years of a settled, somnambulant marriage. MacLachlan is a canny director. He knows how best to achieve humor with his comedic timing and knowledge of how to vary silence, a look and a glance, with pacing and rhythm. The result has brought about an award winning performance by the likeable, human and very funny Paul Schneider who plays the everyman protagonist, Otto Wall. Paul Schneider who won a Best Actor in a Narrative Feature award at Tribeca Film Festival is incomparably Otto.
With clear precision, from the outset, MacLachlan intimates that Otto’s and Annie’s (a fine performance by Melanie Lynskey), relationship is terminally ill. The humor is that Otto is the only one who is back at the alter thinking everything is going really well. The arc of the film is Otto’s dawning realization that he has to grow up and confront who he is and what he wants in a relationship with a woman and especially in his relationship with his daughter after he separates from his wife. As he juggles his priorities, he begins to understand where he has come from. But will he be able to resume an existence without the woman who was so comfortable in his life’s landscape that he forgot she was there?
This is a tall order for Otto, as it might be for many men who have grown into a dullard’s reality of walking through time with someone they don’t know, understand or are interested in, even if it is their wife. However, Otto is fortunate to receive help. It comes in the form of a number of beautiful, autonomous, independent-minded and intelligent women. It’s an interesting arrangement; he is interested in them sexually and they are interested in him sexually. This is the age of Social Media and women are approachable at the click of a button on Facebook and the same applies for men as both genders surf online dating sites and profiles to see if there might be compatibility.
For Otto this is a kind of mecca. What was once a deadening existence just moving through the ethers now becomes a life that is thrilling and alive. After the first “date” he is invigorated and “rarein to go.” The painful jolt of being dumped (no spoiler alert…I will not ruin it for you as to the specifics), has revived him from near brain death. And that electric current is spurring him on to recognize that culturally “things have changed” after being out of the social loop for 15 married years. And it’s a change for the better.
Otto works through gauging his priorities and begins to develop into a responsible, caring male. Some of this evolves because of the unique responses and reciprocation of feelings from the women he engages with- Mildred (Ashley Hinshaw), Stephanie (Heather Graham), and Debbie Spangler (Anna Camp). Their meet-ups and dates are hilarious, surprising and real. Otto also is guided by his daughter (11-year-old Edie), whom he attempts to please and who is not afraid to “get real” and censure him when/if he goes too far with his women friends. Massaged by all of this female wisdom and the added preciousness of reestablishing a connection with an old girlfriend (Heather Lawless), he knew and cared for in high school (the classmates find each other via Facebook and hold a reunion), Otto finally gets to make a conscious decision about what he wants and who he is. He has landed on solid ground. He recognizes that he enjoys his life for he is no longer sailing away on the wings of oblivion in an existence that will be over before it really begins.
Goodbye to All That, an apt title, is meaningful without appearing to be “profound.” Yet it is real, touching, powerful and extremely funny. How MacLachlan achieves all this in a concentrated work whose scenes are precisely edited so they are just enough, and the dialogue sufficient without any extraneous bits to reveal the characters’ wants and needs is an extraordinary achievement for a first time director. It would be a shame if the film didn’t get the recognition it deserves for the writing and directing and the women’s acting ensemble in support of Schneider’s performance. All sync seamlessly.
This review first appeared on Blogcritics.