Monthly Archives: May 2017

The House on Coco Road w/Damani Baker & Belvie Rooks

This film is so many things. It’s a family history of sorts, hence the title, THE HOUSE ON COCO ROAD, but it’s also a chronicle of the historic revolution in the tiny island of Grenada by the New Jewel Movement (Joint Endeavor for Welfare, Education and Liberation), co-founded by Maurice Bishop and Bernard Coard, and the destabilization under the Ronald Reagan regime, leading to the invasion and overthrow of the government there. As if that weren’t enough, it also chronicles the rise – and government repression of – revolutionary Black Activism in the United States, featuring Angela Davis and her sister, Fania Davis, as well as the director’s mother, Fannie Haughton. I don’t know how they got this all into a mere 79 minutes, without making it feel rushed or overfull, but the result is a beautiful, important film rich in both historical facts and emotional, social and cultural realities.

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Damani Baker is a native of the San Francisco Bay Area, who is one of Filmmaker Magazine’s “25 new faces in independent film”. His career spans documentaries, music videos, museum installations and advertisements. Some of Damani Baker’s documentaries include The House on Coco Road, which revisits the events and circumstances of the 1983 U.S. invasion of Grenada, and Return, an award-winning film that explores the genius of traditional African medicine. He directed music videos for Maiysha’s single “Wanna Be”, which was nominated for a 2009 Grammy,  and Morley’s “Women of Hope”, inspired by pro-democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi. His first feature documentary, Still Bill, was on the life and music of Bill Withers.  His current projects include over 10 films for museums in Nigeria and Chattanooga, Tennessee. These films include interviews with President Bill Clinton, Dr. Kofi Annan and President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.  In addition, he is a professor at Sarah Lawrence College’s Film and New Media Department, the director of the Quest forGlobal Healing Film Series in Bali, Indonesia and media collaborator with the International Budget Partnership, tracking government transparency through budgets around the world.

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Belvie Rooks is a producer of The House on Coco Road. She is Co-Founder of Growing a Global Heart. She is a writer, educator and producer whose work weaves the worlds of spirituality, feminism, ecology and social justice. She is a former board member of Bioneers, The Urban Habitat Program, and the Positive Futures Network/Yes Magazine, and is currently Chair of the Board of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, as well as a board member of the Institute for Noetic Sciences, and the Jessie Smith Noyes Foundation. She is a Core Faculty member of Holy Names University’s Culture and Spirituality Program.
Her published works have appeared in a number of books, publications and anthologies including: The Same River Twice: Honoring the Difficult by Alice Walker (Scribner); My Soul is a Witness: African American Women’s Spirituality (Beacon Press); she was Co-Editor of Paris Connections: African American Artists in Paris, which was an American Book Award winner.

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Fannie Haughton is Damani Baker’s mother, whose family moved from share cropping in Louisiana to Los Angeles in the 1950s. After having been told she “wasn’t college material”, she did very well at Cal State LA & transferred to UCLA, where she met Angela Davis, becoming her Teaching Assistant, as well as life long friend and supporter. After experiencing the repression of Black Activists and the deteriorating situation in urban America in the Ronald Reagan presidency, she moved her young family to Grenada in 1982.

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Angela Davis was a young political activist and philosophy professor at UCLA, when she refused to disavow her membership in the Communist Party & was fired under the Ronald Reagan governorship. She was prosecuted for conspiracy involving the 1970 armed take-over of a Marin County, CA courthouse, in which 4 people were killed, but she was acquitted.

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Fania Davis is Angela Davis’s sister and good friend of Fannie Haughton. They considered fleeing to Cuba to avoid the repression associated when Angela went under ground after being accused of conspiracy in the George Jackson/Marin County courtroom take over.

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As Governor of CA, Ronald Reagan ordered the firing of Angela Davis from UCLA, as well as other repressive measures, including the closing of most of the state’s mental institutions, without providing for the displaced inmates.

As president, in Ronald Reagan’s imagination, the 10,000 airstrip being built on the tiny island of Grenada (12 mi x 21 mi, population 100,000) with international assistance to increase tourism, and with private firms from the U.S., Britain doing much of the work, could only be explained as Soviet/Cuban militarization. He ordered destabilization of the new government and then, an invasion by the US military.

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9 year old Damani Baker’s experience was quite the opposite. Grenada was a place safe for children, where the Prime Minister, Maurice Bishop, was like an uncle, women had positions of power and health care was a right. He & his family hid under their bed during the 3 days of US bombardment of what had been their paradise.

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TRIBAL JUSTICE: Anne Makepeace & Yurok Tribal Judge Abby Abinanti

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Two judges… two tribes… one goal: restoring justice.

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The Honorable Abby Abinanti
Abby Abinanti, Chief Judge of the Yurok Tribe on the North Coast of California, is the first Native American woman to pass the California bar exam. She established the first tribal-run clean slate program in the country to help members expunge criminal records, and focuses on keeping young people out of jail, in school and with their people. She has also served as Appellate Judge for the Colorado River Indian Tribe; Judge for the Hopi Tribal Court and Shoeshone-Bonnock Tribal Court; Chief Magistrate on the Court of Indian Offenses for the Hoopa Valley Tribal Court; and Tribal Courts Evaluator for the Indian Justice Center and the American Indian Justice Center.

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The Honorable Claudette White
Judge White has served as Chief Judge for the Quechan Tribal Court since 2005. She also rides circuit, serving in tribal courts throughout Southern Arizona and California, including the Fort McDowell Indian Community, Ak-Chin Indian Community, Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community and Tonto Apache Tribal Courts. She is President of the Arizona Indian Judges Association, and is a member of the Arizona Tribal, State and Federal Court Forum and the newly formed California Tribal Court/State Court Forum. She works closely with families, state court judges, probation officers and social workers to ensure the best outcomes for families and children.

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Anne Makepeace has been a writer, producer, and director of award-winning independent films for more three decades. Her new film, Tribal Justice,  premiered at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival just this past February 2017. Her previous documentary, We Still Live Here: Âs Nutayuneân, about the return of the Wampanoag language, had its broadcast premiere on the PBS series Independent Lens in 2011. The film has won many awards, including the Full Frame Inspiration Award and the Moving Mountains Award at Telluride MountainFilm for the film most likely to effect important social change. The $3000 MountainFilm prize went directly to the Wampanoag Language Reclamation Project, enabling them to launch their first-ever language immersion camp for children. We Still Live Here was funded by ITVS, the Sundance Documentary Fund, the LEF Foundation, and the National Science Foundation, among others. Makepeace was able to complete the film with fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. Other recent films by Anne Makepeace include: I. M. PEI: Building China Modern ,(PBS broadcast on American Masters in 2010), and her Emmy nominated feature documentary Rain in a Dry Land (lead show on PBS P.O.V. 2007), which chronicled the journey and resettlement of two Somali Bantu refugee families from Africa through their first two years in America. She won a National Prime Time Emmy for her American Masters/PBS documentary Robert Capa in Love and War, which premiered at Sundance in 2003. Coming to Light, her documentary about Edward S. Curtis, also premiered at Sundance, was short-listed for an Academy Award in 2000, broadcast on American Masters in 2001, and won many prizes, including the O’Connor Award for Best Film from the American Historical Association, an Award of Excellence from the American Anthropological Association, a Gold Hugo from Chicago, Best Documentary at Telluride, and many others. Her first documentary, Baby It’s You, premiered at Sundance, was broadcast as the lead show on P.O.V. in 1998, and screened at the Whitney Biennial 2000.

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Yurok Tribal Judge Abby Abinanti with Humboldt County Judge Christopher Wilson

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Quechan Tribal Judge Claudette White & Imperial County Judge Juan Ulloa

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Judge Abby Abinanti presiding in the Yurok Tribal Court.

“The tribal courts both incorporate traditional values and hold up an example to the nation about the possibilities of alternative dispute resolution. [They] have much to offer to the tribal communities, and much to teach the other court systems operating in the United States.
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The Honorable Sandra Day O’Connor, former Supreme Court Justice

Finding Kukan/Big Sonia

As we have done each May for the last 10+ years, Forthright Radio is going to the movies, specifically reviewing documentaries from the upcoming Mendocino Film Festival. Today our show is in 2 parts. In the first, we interview Robin Lung, producer/director of FINDING KUKAN, a sort of detective story to find a long forgotten, lost film, and the almost forgotten woman who produced it, Li Ling-Ai.

In the second segment, we speak with Leah Warshawski and Todd Soliday about their film, BIG SONIA. It’s about the amazing Sonia Warshawski, who survived 3 concentration camps, 2 beatings from SS guards, each of which almost killed her, and then, on the very day Bergen Belsen was liberated by the British, a bullet to the chest, which also almost killed her. Today, she is not only alive in her nineties, but she is a thriving, beloved member of her Kansas City community. And if you think this is just another depressing story of cruelty and brutality, you don’t know Sonia. We hope you’ll stay tuned to hear about her.

Among the things that unite these two films are: they are both about women with indomitable spirits, who are determined to get the truth out about unimaginable cruelty and atrocities. They are both about events that happened in WWII, one in Europe the other in Asia. They are both about women with unique fashion sense, of great longevity and spunk.

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FINDING KUKAN:
It’s about an Academy Award-winning color documentary about World War II China, that has been lost for decades. An uncredited female producer from the early days of Hollywood. The mystery behind their disappearance from history.
In the 1930s, China risked collapse under the onslaught of Japan’s military juggernaut. Chinese-American firebrand Li Ling-Ai decided to jolt Americans into action with a new medium: 16mm Kodachrome color film. She hired photojournalist, Rey Scott, to travel to China and document the war-torn country, including the massive bombing of the wartime capital. Their landmark film,  Kukan: The Battle Cry of China,  was screened for President Roosevelt at the White House, and received one of the first Academy Awards for a feature documentary in 1942. So, how come we have  never heard of Li Ling-Ai? And why have all copies of Kukan disappeared? Our guest, Filmmaker Robin Lung, turns detective to uncover this forgotten story.

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Robin Lung is a 4th generation Chinese American, who was raised in Hawai‘i.  For over 15 years, she has been bringing untold minority stories to film. A graduate of Stanford University and Hunter College in NYC, Robin Lung made her directorial debut with Washington Place: Hawai‘i’s First Home, a 30-minute documentary for PBS Hawai‘i about Hawai‘i’s historic governor’s mansion and the home of Queen Lili‘uokalani. She was the associate producer for the national PBS documentary, Patsy Mink: Ahead of the Majority (aired October 2008), Hawai‘i unit producer for acclaimed film Vivan Las Antipodas!, unit producer for NOVA’s Killer Typhoon, and producer/director for numerous short documentaries for the Historic Hawai‘i Foundation.

BIG SONIA:

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In the second segment we move to the other theater of WWII, the Nazis’ march across Europe, specifically the invasion of Poland in Sept. 1939,  and what we have come to know as The Holocaust.

Here’s some of the description of the film on the Mendocino Film Festival website:
A “diva” known for wearing leopard print and high heels, Holocaust survivor Sonia Warshawski, serves as a bridge between cultures and generations, while continuing to run her late husband’s tailor shop in Kansas City. She miraculously survived concentration camps, death camps, and being shot in the chest on Liberation Day, but now she faces new challenges: the mall, where she works at her shop is about to close its doors, and the risk of forced retirement looms on the horizon. And unbelievably, the voices of Holocaust deniers seem to be getting louder & stronger. What will she do?

Leah Warshawski
Producer | Co-Director
Leah Warshawski produces documentary-style features, television, commercials, and branded entertainment in remote parts of the world. Her first feature, FINDING HILLYWOOD (2013) won 6 awards, and screened at more than 65 festivals. Leah’s career in film began in Hawaii, working in the marine department for LOST and HAWAII. She is currently working on the feature doc PERSONHOOD (2017-18), and advises filmmakers on outreach, marketing and hybrid distribution plans. In addition, Leah co-founded rwandafilm.org.

Todd Soliday
Co-Director | DP | Post Supervisor | Editor | Motion Graphics
Todd Soliday is a jack-of-all-trades with 25 years experience in production and post production. He specializes in documentary storytelling and adventure films such as PLATINUM (2007). He was post-production supervisor for FINDING HILLYWOOD. Recent feature documentary projects include OUT OF LUCK (2015) and THE BREACH (2014). He and Leah are married.