...Spouses and Partners of Prison Inmates May Soon Find Their Way Out of ‘Middle of Nowhere’
Since many families will head to multiplex after Thanksgiving dinner, it seemed only right that during this usual time of reflection, we look back at the films and filmmakers who have made a difference this year onscreen and off and explain why we're thankful...
In Ava DuVernay's Sundance Film Fest-winning drama Middle of Nowhere, a woman (Emayatzy Corinealdi) chooses to stick by the side of her husband (Omari Hardwick) while he's serving an eight-year jail stretch. However, she has no choice in the way in which she communicates with him, constantly being told while visiting the prison to keep at a distance as if she were convicted of a crime herself or receiving a call at home that costs a small fortune to line the pockets of phone companies. In the latter case, Middle of Nowhere has transcended its story onscreen to rewrite it in reality for the public at large. The film, supported by TakePart's parent company Participant Media, has a social action campaign that is raising awareness of the exploitative business practice of charging up to $18 per 15 minutes for prison phone calls to families. The Wright Petition for fair prison phone rates has helped spur the Federal Communications Commission to look into new regulations that will bring down costs.
Sign a petition to end predatory prison phone rates here.
Photo: Middle of Nowhere
...The Invisible War Is Soldiering On
Moments after The Invisible War—about the widespread problem of rape in the U.S. military—premiered at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, the film's producer, Amy Ziering, was greeted by the usual kudos one receives after a debut in Park City. However, something incredible happened. Those well wishes for the documentary turned into donations for one of the film’s subjects, Kori Cioca, whose struggle to afford treatment for the injuries suffered after being brutally attacked while serving her country is a focal point of the film. “You can be so cynical in life, and then you do something where everybody is moved to help a stranger,” Ziering tells TakePart of the anonymous donors who ponied up the cash where the Veterans Health Administration wouldn’t. “It’s really quite moving.” The film has gone on from theaters to enjoy a new life on DVD, and the filmmakers are continuing to fight The Invisible War, recently establishing the Artemis Invisible War Recovery Program and Fund to help survivors of military sexual trauma.
Photo: Courtesy of Cinedigm/Docurama Films
...The World Sees Iran in Cinema, Even From Filmmakers Who Have Been Banned From Making Films
For global movie aficionados, the win of A Separation at this year’s Oscars was a long time coming, a recognition of not only one of the finest movies of this new century, but an acknowledgement of the tremendous work that has been coming out of Iran for decades. This body of work is all the more impressive considering the constant threat of government censorship that lingers over the film industry. While director Asghar Farhadi tiptoed around extreme restrictions to make an Academy Award winner that was still a pointed critique of his country’s legal system, his fellow compatriot and filmmaker Jafar Panahi, who has been sequestered to house arrest since 2011 because of his support for the Green Movement, achieved something equally important with the international release of This Is Not a Film. With its title a nod to Panahi’s 20-year ban on making films—to go along with a six-year sentence that he continues to appeal—the 78-minute document of Panahi awaiting the results of a previous appeal had to be smuggled out of the country on a USB drive in a cake, which is fitting since it is a celebration of the filmmaker’s freedom of mind if not his physical being. Better yet, Iranian compatriot Abbas Kiarostami recently reported Panahi has made a follow-up.
Photo: This Is Not a Film
...The ‘Hunger Games’ Has Inspired People to End Hunger
Fan organizations have been known to show not only love for whatever movie they’ve gravitated around, but also for using that shared love to accomplish a greater good. The Harry Potter Alliance, for instance, is an active presence even now that the book and film series have concluded. The alliance took the lessons of the boy wizard to heart and strive to enact similar social change, such as the “Not in Harry’s Name” campaign which advocated for fair trade. When The Hunger Games debuted in theaters this past spring, many fans of the Suzanne Collins books were compelled to help with food drives at their local theaters all around the country, employing the obvious hook of the title to bring attention to one of America’s growing problems. Audiences may have learned that Katniss Everdeen is one of a kind, but as they demonstrated by donating canned goods on their way out of the theater, heroes can be found anywhere, especially when they aren’t acting alone.
Photo: Courtesy of Lionsgate
...Several of the Stars of ‘How to Survive a Plague’ Are Alive to See the Premiere of the Film They Appear In
2012 has been filled with great moments of uplift, from seeing The Avengers assemble to The Dark Knight rising at the movies. However, it was in another film that came out this summer in which real heroism provided one of the most joyous climaxes. David France’s documentary How to Survive a Plague shows how the relentless and indefatigable efforts of the activist groups ACT UP and TAG during the AIDS crisis of the 1980s and early 1990s pushed forward drug research that made the HIV virus less of a death sentence than it had been. The movie functions almost exclusively through archival footage taken at the time. Although those familiar with the groups will already know of the great losses that were suffered within the organizations’ ranks as well as those who survived. How to Survive a Plague brilliantly saves a reveal showing that many of the activists who were quite literally fighting for their lives are still alive in the present day, an emotional gut punch that as France told TakePart earlier this year, he hopes will lead to an eventual knockout for AIDS—if our current generation can show a similar resolve in organizing the “political will and money together to make it happen.”
Photo: Courtesy of IFC Films
...Lana Wachowski Is Openly and Proudly Transgender, and It’s Not a Big Deal
While it’s disappointing that Cloud Atlas, one of the most ambitious mainstream films in quite some time, was met with a shrug by audiences to judge by its box office, it’s undoubtedly a step forward that one of its three directors’ newly revealed transgender status was shrugged off too. Lana Wachowski, who was known as Larry Wachowski when she directed one of the most successful films of all time in The Matrix, had been press shy in the years before the release of Atlas, an adaptation of David Mitchell’s sprawling novel that explores the wonderful possibilities the world has to offer once we unburden ourselves of what we believe to be limitations of identity, technology, and even time. Wachowski, who arguably has become the highest profile transgender person to date, spoke out about her transformation in a recent speech to the Human Rights Campaign.
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