Film: Eyes of the Beholder

January 15, 2012

Tonight is the Golden Globes Awards, which has inspired a buzz about last year's "best" films. As with any art form, a movie's interpretation depends on the eyes of the beholder. In fact, my favorite film was not even nominated for an award.

I love film, especially documentaries that educate. I have been a board member of the Global Peace Film Festival (GPFF) for years and the secretary for three.  Many award-winning films have been screened at the festival, including Alex Gibneys Academy Award winning film, Taxi to the Dark Side, Jeremy Gilley's The Day After Peace,  Roy Germano's The Other Side of Immigration and many more.

The GPFF partners with our county's Service Learning Program to bring films to schools and students to theaters to screens films. Last year as a precursor to a service learning project focused on working with our area's homeless, I took over 100 students to see a screening of Civil Indigent, a film about the criminalization of homelessness in Gainesville, Florida. Students not only got to view the film that they said was "life changing"and "eye opening", but they also had the opportunity to have a conversation with the subject of the film, homeless advocate Pat Fitzpatrick.

Through the GPFF numerous producers and filmmakers have visited the high school where I teach to screen films, educate on important subject matters and answer questions. Over 800 students met London producer Claire Lewis and viewed the award winning film, End of the Line, a documentary about the devastating impact of overfishing in the world's oceans.  The filmmaker, author and subject of Hiding in the Spotlight, a film on the Holocaust through the eyes of a survivor, inspired thousands of students when they presented the film and panel discussion.

Other filmmakers who shared their films were students from the local colleges and universities who made powerful documentaries on local topics. Shaun and Jamie Cricks from Rollins College presented Out of the Muck, a documentary and workshop on the plight of the area's farmworkers and the dangerous effect of pesticides on their health. University of Central Florida student, Aleksey Siman presented Food for Granted, a documentary about wasting food and the excess amounts of food prepared in restaurants, buffets and convention centers in Central Florida. These and other well executed films have the ability to inspire, educate and push societal reform.

Two of my children are in college to pursue careers in the film industry. My son, John is an extremely talented artist and will graduate with degrees in graphic arts and animation/simulation from the University of Central Florida.  Nani has been immersed in the world of film and influenced by the Global Peace Film Festival from the time she was a young child. Through the GPFF she had opportunities to meet Nobel Laureates, filmmakers, actors, environmentalists, and producers, including some who stayed as guests in our home during the festival. She established a special friendship with the GPFF's founder/director and dear family friend, Nina Streich. It is not surprising that Nani is also studying film and pursuing a career in the film industry.

Nani and I go to the movies often, watch DVDs (over and over to the distress of other family members) and discuss the content, acting and artistic aspects of films. While tonight in millions of households across the nation, film will be the topic of discussion as many tune in to the Golden Globes Awards, in our household film is a topic of discussion regularly.

That said, I must say I was taken aback by Marianas Variety Editor Zaldy Dandan's assessment of  The Economics of Happiness, an award-winning film that was screened in Saipan's American Memorial Park recently.

He headlined his editorial with..."leftie movie screening in a federal park" and proceeded to tear at the film's content and the fact that it was screened at a federal park. Huh? As I said,  film, like most art forms, is viewed through the eyes of the beholder and interpretations may be all over the board, but such an attack on this film seems misplaced.

The Economics of Happiness is a film that promotes the benefits of "human scaled ecological economies." From the website:
The Economics of Happiness describes a world moving simultaneously in two opposing directions. On the one hand, an unholy alliance of governments and big business continues to promote globalization and the consolidation of corporate power. At the same time, people all over the world are resisting those policies, demanding a re-regulation of trade and finance—and, far from the old institutions of power, they’re starting to forge a very different future. Communities are coming together to re-build more human scale, ecological economies based on a new paradigm – an economics of localization.

The film shows how globalization breeds cultural self-rejection, competition and divisiveness; how it structurally promotes the growth of slums and urban sprawl; how it is decimating democracy. We learn about the obscene waste that results from trade for the sake of trade: apples sent from the UK to South Africa to be washed and waxed, then shipped back to British supermarkets; tuna caught off the coast of America, flown to Japan to be processed, then flown back to the US. We hear about the suicides of Indian farmers; about the demise of land-based cultures in every corner of the world.
Perhaps if "leftie" describes supporters of democracy, social justice and preservation of the environment, then the label fits. But Zaldy objected to the film being "shown in a federal park" and criticized the film's message.  He pointed out that the film was screened at the Venezuelan Embassy, which to me suggests  world-wide appeal, but to him appears to be something derogatory.

Zaldy stated, "Hugo Chavez of course, liked the film." I could find no online reference to verify that statement and I do not get the connection anyway. Should people not like a film that Hugo Chavez likes? If the Venezuelan leader likes Harry Potter films, should we question our taste if we too like the films?

Zaldy said, "So how come a leftie movie was screened at a park facility paid for by federal taxpayers? Not all of them, I’m quite sure, would be amused by the film’s “message.” Perhaps the organizers of First Friday Films should stick to movies without an explicit political slant. Or, if they can’t, then they should also present the other side of the argument."

What is the "message" that he objects to? I do not get the meaning of the rant. Is there a film that shows the "other side of the argument" – perhaps one that promotes corporate greed, poverty, and the destruction of the environment?

The view that films with "political slants" should not be shown in federal parks is extremely odd since freedom of speech is one of the country's founding and major principles. It is exactly the type of film that one would expect to be shown in a federal park. The Economics of Happiness is a film that exposes and investigates problems, promotes world vision, encourages discussion and offers some solutions to problems. I can understand that a person might object to certain movies being screened in a federal park, say a graphically disturbing horror or porn film, but the Economics of Happiness?! Seriously?

Did you miss the film? Watch it for free online:
One-time free showing:

January 23 9:00pm EST
January 24 2:00am UTC/GMT
January 24 1:00pm Sydney

Log-in here: to view the film at the times listed.
Trailer of

The Economics of Happiness - Official Trailer from The Economics of Happiness on Vimeo.

The Harvest
Last night Boboy and I went to a private screening of The Harvestwhich was hosted by YAYA, the Youth and Young Adult Network of the Farm Worker Ministry. I was invited to the screening by a young man I met at a Food Not Bombs feeding of the homeless in downtown Orlando.

As part of the service learning program, my students study issues of migrant farmers and conduct service learning projects with the dual goals of increasing awareness of the migrant workers' plight and serving the migrant community. The film is not just a perfect fit for my curriculum, but is a must see film for every American.  (That is why I posted the banner on the left sidebar.) The Harvest was directed and produced by U Roberto Romano.

Too many of us never think about where our food comes from. Too few of us stop to consider the human cost of food. We do not understand that those who put food on our tables often do not earn enough money to put food on their own tables.

This eye-opening film should tug at our consciences. It should prompt those among us who possess a sense of social justice and compassion to consider the great contributions and plight of our country's migrant farm workers and to push for reform in the agriculture industry. A good start would be to support the Children's Act for Responsible Employment (CARE Act), which addresses the child labor in the agriculture industry.

The Harvest follows three young children of migrant farmers as their families struggle to survive by following the harvests across our country. Through the film we learn that there are over 400,000 children who pick crops in America; most migrant children do not have access to a proper education with more than half dropping out of school; child farm workers face health dangers and fatalities in the fields; and these children live lives of extreme poverty in a nation of plenty.

The Harvest picks up on some of the same themes discussed in The Economics of Happiness.  I recommend both films. The Economics of Happiness can be purchased here and The Harvest here. All proceeds from The Harvest are returned to the children documented through partner NGOs. To donate to Shine Global Now! Click here.

Trailer of The Harvest:

The Harvest/La Cosecha - Theatrical Trailer from Shine Global on Vimeo.

Enjoy the Golden Globes!


Anonymous said...

Sometimes I don't know where Zaldy is coming from.