Movie Review: You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train (2004) #AtoZChallenge


This is my entry for “Y” in the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Throughout April I will be watching and reviewing a documentary movie from A to Z. Previous “Y” documentaries I’ve reviewed include Yellowstone: The World’s First National Park.

Title: You Can’t Be Neutral ona Moving Train
Release Date: June 18, 2004
Director: Deb Ellis and Denis Mueller
Production Company: First Run Features
Summary/Review:

This biographical documentary covers the basic moments in the life of historian and activist Howard Zinn:

  • grew up in working class Brooklyn
  • first job at Brooklyn Navy Yard where he’s exposed to labor activists and socialists
  • enlists during WWII to fight facism
  • disturbed by being part of a napalm bomb attack on a German holdout in France that had no strategic importance, only a demonstration of the USA’s new weaponry
  • after the war becomes a professor at Spelman College
  • supports students active in Civil Rights protests and becomes and advisor for SNCC
  • after fired by Spelman, joins the faculty at Boston University
  • becomes a leader in the movement against the Vietnam War
  • publishes A People’s History of the United States to offer perspectives from oppressed people on the nation’s history
  • also focuses on his personal life including his long marriage with Roslyn Shechte

The film follows the typical format of interviews with Zinn and others like Alice Walker and Daniel Berrigan, mixed with archival photographs and video.  It’s a good introduction to Zin if you don’t have time to read his books.

What Can One Learn From Watching This Documentary:

Even this is a movie about Howard Zinn, he has a way of redirecting the discussion to the front line activists in whatever cause it’s being discussed.  It’s a good lesson in using one’s talents and privileges to elevate others.

If You Like This You Might Also Want To …:

Read the autobiography this is based on, You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train.  And read some Zinn classics like A People’s History of the United States and A People’s History of American Empire.

Source: Hoopla

Rating: ***


2019 Blogging A to Z Challenge – Documentary Films

A: Amy
B: Being Elmo
C: Central Park Five
D: Dear Mr. Watterson
E: The Endless Summer
F: F for Fake
G: Grey Gardens
H: High School
I: Ida B. Wells: A Passion for Justice
J: Jiro Dreams of Sushi
K: Kon-Tiki
L: The Last Waltz
M: Man With a Movie Camera
N: Nanook of the North
O: Obit.
P: Pelotero
Q: Quest: A Portrait of an American Family
R: Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan
S: Soundtrack for a Revolution
T: Titicut Follies
U: Unforgivable Blackness
V: Virunga
W: Waking Sleeping Beauty
X: Xavier

If you want to read more, check out my previous Blogging A to Z Challenges:

And dig deep into Panorama of the Mountains, by checking out my:

And, if you like Doctor Who, I have a whole ‘nother blog where I review Doctor Who stories across media: Epic Mandates.

Movie Review: Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry (2012) #atozchallenge


This is my entry for “A” in the Blogging A to Z Challenge. Throughout April I will be watching and reviewing a documentary movie from A to Z. Some other “A” documentaries I’ve reviewed are Africa: The SerengetiAmerican Experience: Blackout,  and American Experience: Into the Amazon.

Title: Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry
Release Date: April 16, 2012
Director: Alison Klayman
Production Company: United Expression Media
Summary/Review:

The documentary spends some time with the Chinese artists Ai Weiwei in the years between 2009 and 2011.  While Ai is shown supervising the creation of his sculpture by his assistants and attending the openings of installations in various parts of the world, the crux of this film is his activism.  Events covered include his organizing a team to collect the names and birthdates of school children who died in the collapse of substandard buildings in 2008’s Sichuan Earthquake which eventually total over 5000 names he displays on a wall.  He also is depicted being beaten severely by the police in Chengdu when he went there to testify at a fellow activist’s trial.  The Chinese government shuts down his blog and then demolishes his studios in Shanghai.  But Ai persistently attempts to work through the channels of bureaucracy to find justice, where many others would give up as intended by the system.  His family and fellow artists are interviewed and flashbacks through photographs reflect on his time in the New York City art scene in the 1980s.  Near the conclusion of the film, Ai is arrested and held for 81 days with the final scenes depicting him upon his release.  It’s a powerful film statement and surprising for the material captured on film that the Chinese government wouldn’t want people to see.

What Can One Learn From Watching This Documentary: This film shows a good example of the role the artist can play as an activist. Ai Weiwei challenges the government’s lack of transparency through provocation and creates art to memorialize the  children lost in the collapsed schools who would otherwise be anonymous.
If You Like This You Might Also Want To …: See some of my photos from Megacities Asia exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts, which includes some works by Ai Weiwei.

Source: I watched this movie on Netflix streaming, and it is also available to Hulu subscribers.

Rating: ****

Book Review: Do It Anyway by Courtney E. Martin


Author: Courtney E. Martin
Title: Do it anyway : the next generation of activists
Publication Info: Boston : Beacon Press, c2010.
ISBN:

Summary/Review:

Martin (who I didn’t discover until after reading the book is an editor for one of my favorite blogs Feministing.com) interviews and tells the stories of 8 people under the age of 35 who are contributing to their communities as activists.  Martin takes the approach that this generation has been told from generation that they need to “save the world” but are often criticized for being aloof and narcissistic.  Through these essays Martin shows that while they can’t “save the world” there are in fact many young people who are far from self-centered.

These include:

  • Rachel Corrie, a peace activist killed by a bulldozer as she attempted to prevent the Israelis  from destroying a Palestinian home.  Martin goes beyond the sensationalist headlines to tell the story of Corrie’s hopes for transformation through peace.
  • Raul Diaz, a  social worker who helps young men reenter society after prison sentence as part of his work with Homeboy Industries.  Diaz lives a life shattered by gang violence and persists despite the deaths of many friends and mentees.
  • Maricela Guzman is an activist for veterans and against the military culture that contributed to her being raped by an officer and failing to get the support she needed after the attack.  A highlight of this chapter is when Martin brings together Diaz and Guzman together to share common experiences of trauma and violence.
  • Emily Abt who found her voice as an activist through making documentary and dramatic films through Pureland Pictures.
  • Nia Martin-Robinson, an environmental justice advocate, who carries on her family’s activist tradition by fighting pollution’s inordinate damage on communities of poor and people of color (as well as giving a minority voice often shunned by the green movement).
  • Tyrone Boucher, who chose to establish a philanthropy to give away his trust fund and fight for social justice outside the confines of the capitalist system.
  • Rosario Dawson, an actress who dedicates much of her time away from the set to various charities and social causes.
  • Dena Simmons, a teacher who grew up in the Bronx and remains as an inspirational teacher to her middle school students.

These are all inspiring stories of people doing good in their communities tied together by their common respect for humanity, perseverance, and big dreams with strategic visions.  This is a good book to read if you want to read something positive about people in our world today.

Recommended books: Respect: An Exploration by Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot and From the pews in the back : young women and Catholicism by Kate Dugan.
Rating:

Book Review: Jane Goodall: The Woman Who Redefined Man by Dale Peterson


In my childhood, I enjoyed National Geographic specials about a slight English woman who would sit in the Tanzanian forest by the Gombe River and observe chimpanzees.  In college I read one of her books, Through a Window: My Thirty Years With the Chimpanzees of Gombe and became even more deeply enamored with the woman and her works.  When Jane Goodall received an honorary degree from the College of William & Mary on Charter Day in 1993, my roommate Hal joked that they would need security to keep me from swooping in from the rafters and abducting her.  Thus it was natural for me to read the comprehensive biography Jane Goodall: The Woman Who Redefined Man (2006) by Dale Peterson.

Peterson relies on a wealth of source material including interviews with Goodall, her family, colleagues and researchers; a huge volume of Goodall’s correspondence; and Goodall’s voluminous notes and published writings.  From early childhood, Jane Goodall seemed to be fated to her future work by observing farm animals, starting science clubs with her friends, and studying the behavior of her many family pets.  At times, the detail of Goodall’s childhood seems a bit too much.  I swear there’s an entire chapter that just lists the names of young men who fancied the teenage Jane.

The strength of this biography is the portion of Jane’s life from the late-1950’s to the mid-1970’s.  Starting with her affiliation with Louis Leakey anthropological & archaeological works in Africa, Jane set off on a new bold path with her quiet observation of the chimpanzees of Gombe, recognizing the chimps as individuals, and building up a detailed record of behavior over time. Her methods were considered unscientific by some, yet at the same time she recieved pressure from her sponsors at National Geographic to make her writing less scientific (National Geographic doesn’t come off well in this book due to a often tempestuous relationship with Goodall and the Gombe Stream reserve.)  Goodall’s family life is fascinating as well, including her mother Vanne and sister Judy who both accompanied Jane to Gombe at times, her two husbands – photographer Hugo and Tanzanian politician Derek, and son Grub who grew up at the research station.  Most of the biography is related in a strict chronological manner although there are some artistic details such as a chapter where the regime changes among Gombe’s alpha male chimpanzees are intertwined with the changes of administration from National Geographic support to a more independent Jane Goodall Institute.

For the excess of detail in the early part of the book, the last portion of the book from the mid-1970’s to the present feels rushed.  The death of Goodall’s second husband seems to be just a few paragraphs tacked onto a chapter about Idi Amin’s invasion of Tanzania and inexplicably long passages about the family dogs.  Thirty years of Goodall’s life – during a period when she became a traveling activist for both wild and captive chimpanzees – seems to be nothing more than a list of awards, appearances, and accomplishments.  I like this book because I love Jane Goodall for her remarkable accomplishments as a scientist, teacher and educator, but Peterson’s writing can be plodding and uneven at times.  I’ve added Goodall’s own book Reason For Hope; A Spiritual Journey to my reading list for 2009 to learn even more.

In the meantime, check out The Jane Goodall Institute website for lots of neat resources.

Jane Goodall : the woman who redefined man by Dale Peterson.
Publisher: Boston : Houghton Mifflin Co., 2006.