Resilience Above and Beyond
Photo Credit: Whina
It’s a rare privilege to learn of the extraordinary resilience of people, people like you and me, from Senegal and Morocco and Chile and Argentina and Syria and Ukraine and Tibet as they struggle with love and loss of love and life and loss of life and loss of land and loss of freedom, and yet find courage and loyalty and integrity and love of truth and love of each other and a renewed love of life.
And to learn of all of that through film, courageous filmmakers and actors working through COVID to bring the stories of humanity to the screen, stories needed by humanity to remember who we are and what we are here on this planet for.
“Triumph over adversity on behalf of a noble cause” has always been my favorite film genre, and I viewed 32 films in that genre over 11 days of the 2022 Mill Valley Film Festival. MVFF is a world-class festival, and this year, thanks to the Mind the Gap initiative to bring more films directed, produced, and written by women about important narratives for the world’s women, this year more than 50% of this year’s films fell into that category. Films, based on true stories, like:
She Said – the Pulitzer Prize winning investigative reporting by Megan Twohey and Jody Cantor of the New York Times that broke the story of Harvey Weinstein’s sexual harassment and abuse of young women in the film industry, cracking the door open for the #MeToo movement and leading to Weinstein’s prison sentence of 23 years.
Call Jane – an underground network of women in Chicago in the late 1960’s providing safe (though illegal) abortions to 12,000 women before Roe v. Wade made abortion legal.
The Swimmers – two young sisters training for the Olympics, fleeing Syria as conditions deteriorated and remaining in Damascus became too dangerous, fleeing via Turkey in an overcrowded raft, literally swimming the last distances to Lesbos; their travels through Greece, Hungary, Germany with fellow refugees, continuing to train for the Olympics while in a refugee settlement in Berlin, the younger sister winning a gold medal in the 2016 Olympics, then being able to bring the rest of the family from Syria to Germany.
Finding Her Beat – women taiko drummers, from Japan and the U.S., performing together in a concert in St. Paul, MN just weeks before the COVID shutdown.
Women Talking – Mennonite women, learning from each other the extent of sexual abuse and violence perpetrated on them by the men of their isolated community, collectively deciding to leave that community, venturing into a world completely unknown and foreign to them
Whina – 80 year old Whina Cooper led thousands of Maori on a march to New Zealand’s Parliament in 1975 to re-claim land stolen from the native Maori by the colonizing British through the Waitangi Treaty of 1840. Land is being restored, reparations are being paid, Cooper was honored by the Queen as Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1981 and is known throughout New Zealand as the “Mother of the Nation.”
Powerful documentaries that bring truth to light, even when disruptive to the current world order:
The Quiet Epidemic: 2 million patients and their doctors struggling with incurable chronic Lyme disease in a scientific/public health world that denies the existence of that diagnosis.
The Grab: the Center for Investigative Reporting following one discovery after another – the Chinese government purchased ¼ of America’s pigs; land developers purchase land in Arizona where there is no state-wide regulation of water resources, and can drill deep enough to drain the aquifers, local farmers have no more access to water; Chinese, Saudi Arabian and American developers grabbing land in Africa where indigenous residents have no papers to prove they own their ancestral lands. CIR predicts there will be a world-wide food/water scarcity crisis by 2040.
Path of the Panther: a National Geographic photographer documenting the return of the Florida panther into swamps/forests where they had not been seen in 50 years; local conservationists and ranchers blocking the development of toll roads through that undeveloped territory.
Another gift of the festival was watching films made by foreign independent filmmakers from their own point of view, from within their culture, not by filmmakers observing the culture from the outside.
Tukdam – the Tibetan meditation practice, when an experienced monk knows he is dying, sitting in meditation, continuing to sit in meditation as the clinical signs of life in the body fall away – brain waves, heartbeat, breath – continuing to sit in a deep, subtle state of consciousness known as the clear light, for days, even weeks, until the practitioner is ready to choose their next birth; then the physical body collapses.
The Blue Caftan – an artisan tailor spends weeks, months, hand-crafting beautiful caftans, the blue caftan crafted through a story of love of a dying wife, of a talented assistant, the three rejoicing in life, love, and impeccable skill and integrity.
Xale – following a Senegalese family through one fleeing Senegal for Paris, others staying in Senegal and recovering from betrayal and violence into new love and freedom.
Some of the festival’s films are/will be available in theaters. Even so, many people are still reluctant to return to in-house theaters while we’re not completely free of the pandemic. I saw the film Close, which won the 2022 Grand Prix at Cannes, meaning some very experienced folks considered it the best film of the year; there were 30 of us in the theater to watch it. Some are/will be available on major streaming platforms. Some will complete the 2022 film festival circuit and may never be available again for public viewing.
Filmmakers work with such passion, for years and years, often on extremely low budgets, to bring their wisdom and wonder about humanity to the screen. I hope you will find your way to some of these offerings; they come from the heart and stir the soul.