International Filmfest 2019 Visits DC Classrooms

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Teaching for Change partnered with Filmfest DC: The Washington, DC International Film Festival for an eighth year to spread the word about the international film festival and to bring filmmakers for several films into D.C. classrooms in April and May.

Students gained a lot from viewing the documentaries, preparing questions, and discussing the film with the visitors. (Read about prior year visits.) This year filmmakers visited EL Haynes PCS, Bruce Monroe @ Parkview ES (DCPS), Columbia Heights EC (DCPS), School Without Walls (DCPS), Mundo Verde Bilingual PCS, and Francis L. Cardozo EC (DCPS).

The Birth of Afrobeat at Bruce Monroe @ Parkview ES


As Kindergarten students filed into Lucia Schaefer’s music classroom at Bruce Monroe Elementary School, you could feel their vibrant energy and excitement. On Monday, April 29, the students had a special guest visitor, Opiyo Okeyo, a video producer, editor, and filmmaker who directed the film Birth of Afrobeat. This short film highlights drum legend Tony Allen and his contributions to afrobeat.

As part of D.C. Area Educators for Social Justice’s partnership with Filmfest DC, students watched the film, developed questions, and then had the opportunity to meet and be in conversation with the filmmaker in person. As soon as the students recognized Okeyo by his signature red glasses, they ran up to him to show their appreciation.  

Schaefer welcomed the students to the classroom, where they could select from a collection of greetings such as a high five, a fist bump, a handshake, and more. Each student made their way to the center carpet through a song, which honored and acknowledged each student’s name and presence. The students sat attentively as Okeyo formally introduced himself.

The class had a list of questions prepared including “Why do you make movies?” Okeyo replied with a huge grin,

I make movies because I love movies. When I was your age, when I was in kindergarten, I felt that movies made me feel good. Because I felt good when I watched movies, I said ‘why don’t I make movies to make other people feel good?’

The students also had questions about Okeyo’s experiences in school, specifically kindergarten, “What were you interested in when you were in kindergarten? What were your favorite subjects in school?” He replied,

In kindergarten I was interested in soccer and Ninja Turtles. My favorite subjects were reading, math, and….can you guess the last one?

The students thought deeply as they guessed a range of school subjects. Drama? Art? Singing?

Okeyo laughed as he shared, “You all were so close. It’s music!”

The whole class erupted into giggles as they remembered the theme of the film and the time that they were spending together in their music class. They also had a list of other questions including: How do you make movies? How do you feel now that your movie is done? How many movies have you made? Okeyo brilliantly answered of all the students’ questions, while relating a lot of his answers back to the students’ interests and lived experiences.

Throughout the guest visit, Schaefer also asked students to weigh in on their thoughts about making movies. For example, she asked students to turn and talk while answering the question, “What would you make your movie about?” Students were already prepared with their best and most innovative ideas as they detailed their potential films. Some wanted to create films based on people in their lives they care deeply about, while others wanted to create films about their hobbies and interests, like skateboarding and soccer.

The opportunity to engage in dialogue with Okeyo seemed to spark ideas in many of the students’ minds about their futures, their interests, and their passions. It was apparent how much the students looked up to Okeyo by their joyful interactions and reflective questions about filmmaking, music, and Okeyo’s journey.

Dear Walmart at School Without Walls

Filmmaker Michael Blain visits School without Walls (DCPS).  See more photos .

Filmmaker Michael Blain visits School without Walls (DCPS). See more photos.

“We felt like there were deeper, powerful stories that needed to be heard.” Michael Blain, co-director and producer of the documentary film Dear Walmart visited Kerry Sylvia’s AP Government and Politics class at School Without Walls on Tuesday, April 30th as part of D.C. Area Educators for Social Justice’s partnership with Filmfest DC. Dear Walmart tells the story of workers across the United States who have joined a national movement to fight back against workplace hazards and poverty wages at the company.

The high school senior students had watched the film the week prior to the visit, and were prepared with two questions each to ask the director. Some of the students asked about the planning process and about the biggest obstacles it took to create the film, while others asked about the legalities of the workplace for the workers who speak out in the film, and whether or not there was resistance from the large corporation in using their name.

Blain shared some insight about the production team’s initial plans for the film and how finding the story was challenging because they were incredibly ambitious in their goals for a low budget film. Students were also curious about why the team chose Walmart.

Blain explained,

Walmart is the biggest private employer on the planet. In the United States it’s the largest employer of women, African Americans, and the Latinx population. This has an impact on manufacturers around the world, especially with rising inequality.

Students also wanted to know what are some of the solutions and how they could help make changes in their community. “What can we, as students, do?”

Blain replied, “The title Dear Walmart implies having a dialogue.“

He then encouraged students to talk to those who work at Walmart and really listen to their stories. He said that community support makes it difficult for Walmart to not meet workers’ needs. Blain also mentioned creating postcards that people can fill out around certain issues or topics and distribute those to raise awareness. A dialogue about some of these issues and challenges makes more people aware of the injustices and builds a momentum of community support.

John Mendez - The Bridge at Columbia Heights Education Campus

Filmmaker Michael Kuba visits Columbia Heights Education Campus (DCPS).  See more photos .

Filmmaker Michael Kuba visits Columbia Heights Education Campus (DCPS). See more photos.

Michael Kuba, director of the short film John Mendez - The Bridge visited Alex Rosenberg’s D.C. History class on April 30 at Columbia Heights Education Campus (DCPS). Prior to the visit students watched the film, which follows Montgomery County, Maryland homeless advocate John Mendez and highlights what drives him to do this work.

Students asked questions about why the filmmaker chose this subject, what kinds of documentaries he likes, and more. Kuba explained that he did not set out to make a documentary about the topic of homelessness, but rather to explore Mendez’s life and motivation to do this work. Rosenberg encouraged students to think about the people in their own lives who they would like to know more about. “You could make a documentary about someone here at school with your iphone.”

Later in the year, students will be interviewing native Washingtonians, so they discussed how the director comes up with questions to ask his subjects based on what he finds interesting and wants to know more about.

Finally, the class talked about other documentaries they had seen and how information from these films stayed with them in a way that they may not have retained from reading in a book.

“Space to Explore” at Mundo Verde Bilingual PCS

Film director Katherine DuBois visits Mundo Verde Bilingual PCS.  See more photos.

Film director Katherine DuBois visits Mundo Verde Bilingual PCS. See more photos.

On May 1, film director Katherine DuBois visited Mundo Verde Bilingual PCS to discuss her film Space to Explore with approximately 50 fifth grade students at a visit coordinated by teacher Jillian Tullish. The film follows aerospace engineer Natalie Panek, who has worked toward and dreamed of one day visiting Mars. Today, she is working on a team to design the next Mars rover. Students had watched the film prior to the visit, and came prepared with dozens of questions for the director.

They explored how she chose the subject of her film, many aspects of filmmaking, including pre and post-production, and more. DuBois told students about how she started working as an actor and moved into directing so that she can have more decision-making power over the work she does.

When asked about what was the biggest thing she learned from making the film, DuBois replied that it is important to have a dream, like Natalie Panek’s dream to travel in space. Even if you are never able to reach that dream, it helps make you who you are. “When you’re a kid, people always ask what you want to ‘be’ when you grow up. I’ve learned that you don’t have to ‘be’ just one thing.”

¡Las Sandinistas! At Cardozo EC

Filmmaker Jenny Murray visits Cardozo Education Campus (DCPS).  See more photos .

Filmmaker Jenny Murray visits Cardozo Education Campus (DCPS). See more photos.

On May 2, film director Jenny Murray visited Cardozo Education Campus to dialogue with approximately 60 students about her film, ¡Las Sandinistas!. The film tells the story of the women who shattered barriers to lead combat and social reform during the FSLN revolution in Nicaragua in the 1970–80, many of whom continue today against their current government's suppression of democracy and women's rights. Social studies teacher Kevin Fox coordinated the visit, and his class was joined by George Telzrow and Elizabeth Barkley’s students from Cardozo’s International Academy.

As students watched the film earlier in the week, they wrote notes about what they “see, think, wonder,” and came prepared to share their thoughts about the film and questions for Murray.

One student remarked that she noticed the women were expected to continue doing household work like cooking and child rearing, even as they trained as guerrillas and led battalions. Murray explained that she saw similarities to her own working class Irish-American community growing up. Her own family’s experiences deeply influenced her throughout the filmmaking process. Another student remarked that the struggle for more gender equality, including in education, reminded her of the challenges in her own home country of Bangladesh.

Students had many questions about the most difficult parts of making the film, and how she found the will to overcome challenges. Murray talked about the many obstacles she faced, including securing funds to make the film, gaining the trust of the women profiled in the film, being a first-time filmmaker, learning to edit film, and more. Murray explained that meditation helped her to keep calm and focused, and to keep feelings of self-doubt in check.

Murray encouraged students to humbly ask for what they need. “Getting what you want is more important than your insecurity. You’ll be surprised what people will give you if you ask with sincerity and kindness.”

The Pick Up at E.L. Haynes PCS

Giovanna Chesler visits EL Haynes PCS.  See more photos .

Giovanna Chesler visits EL Haynes PCS. See more photos.

Filmmaker Giovanna Chesler, Associate Professor and Director of the Film and Video Studies Program at George Mason University, visited Alan Newman and Marissa Viscal’s Introduction to Film Studies class at EL Haynes PCS on April 26.

"How many of you feel that watching films make you feel normal?" Chesler asked the class. Hands raised across the room. The local filmmaker and director of  the short fiction drama about a teen, The Pick Up, shared that films are what "make me feel in my skin."

“What is your next film?", "How long are your films normally?", "Is filmmaking profitable?", the students popcorn-style asked Chesler questions. Students asked questions about pre-production work, diegetic sound, special effects, and casting.

“You as a director produce a vision”, Chesler explained.

"What is your most viewed film?" a student asked, prompting a discussion on the purpose and importance of trailers. The students viewed the trailer for the documentary film Chesler produced, Out in the Night, directed by Blair Doroshwalther.

Chesler shared with the group that she captured 240 hours of footage for the film. A student turned to his peer and exclaimed, “I told you editing is strenuous!”

The visit filled the room with inspiration and left everyone energized. Chesler embraced the educators, sharing gratitude for creating space for future artists, writers, and creatives.

Feature Length Films at Filmfest DC 2019

The Corporate Coup d’Etat |Fred Peabody

US, 2018, 90 minutes

Back in 1995, philosopher John Ralston Saul argued that corporations are slowly taking over democracy. Today, Saul amends that statement, deleting the word “slowly.” The coup has happened: U.S. democracy has sold out its ideals to corporations and lobbyists whose goal it is to undermine the will of the people. This film is a trenchant look at how and why, and what next. It takes us into “sacrifice zones” like Camden, NJ and Youngstown, OH to really listen to the people that corporatized infrastructure and NAFTA forgot. And it blends their insights with those of philosophers, writers, and journalists, from the passionate investigator Chris Hedges to the poetic historian Cornell West, to lay out a compelling case history dating to the early postwar years and continuing (not ending) with Donald Trump in the White House. From the makers of All Governments Lie: Truth, Deception and the Spirit of I.F. Stone.

Dear Walmart | Kiley Kraskouskas and Michael Blain

USA, 2019, 62 minutes

Some workers love retail; it has its satisfactions. All they want is for retail to love them back, in the form of a living wage, affordable healthcare, a safe workplace, and underlying it all, respect. OURWalmart (OUR, Organization United for Respect) was begun in 2011 by a few brave workers at the world’s largest private employer, many of whose two million-strong “family” live near the poverty line. Alone at first, and ultimately with the help of established union veterans, they used word of mouth to gain hundreds of members and bring them together in training sessions that double as morale boosters, all done in secret. The film shows how the very act of speaking out and standing up has profound and transformational effects upon our characters, their co-workers and their families. Dear Walmart (not entirely ironically titled) is an ultimately upbeat story of their first victory, a $9/hour minimum wage for some 500,000 people. But this win was followed by the retaliatory closure of five Walmart stores, a huge loss of jobs. Expect a sequel.

¡Las Sandinistas! | Jenny Murray

USA, 2018, 96 minutes, Spanish with English subtitles

Las Sandinistas! tells of the women who led the FSLN revolution in Nicaragua in the 1970–80s. They were students, farmers, poets, lawyers, and mothers. They trained as guerrillas, led battalions, and many died. We get to know the living, active, still-fascinating protagonists of this history. If the FSLN’s goal was to eradicate poverty and end the endless Somoza dictatorship, for the Sandinistas, it was also to fully incorporate women into society. And briefly, that happened as equality and literacy began to flourish between the Sandinista victory and the male-led, American-fed Contra war. You won’t see any official monuments to the female fighters of the revolution now. But if the arc of their narrative was left hanging in midair in the battle for nation, in today’s Nicaragua the good and bad news is that many are still risking it all for the democracy of women’s rights.

Rafiki / Friend | Wanuri Kuhiu

Kenya, 2018, 83 minutes, Swahili and English with English subtitles

In a lively tumbledown Nairobi housing estate where everyone knows everyone and there are no secrets, two girls share one. Kena (Samantha Mugatsia), soccer-playing, studious, poor, and Ziki (Sheila Muniyiva), bold and flighty, colorful, and rich, have fallen in love. That their fathers are rivals in a bitter campaign for local office becomes the least of their problems when word of their romance gets out and neighbors and even family turn vicious. “Good Kenyan girls” don’t do this. But they do. Wanuri Kuhiu has filmed Rafiki on location with a precise imagistic poetry that plays against the vividness of the life portrayed: the camera often stops to ponder what is happening here. Based on a short story by Monica Arac de Nyeko, invited to Cannes (and festivals worldwide) but initially banned in Kenya, this fiercely beautiful film introduces two courageous young actors, and a director with a keen eye.

The Sweet Requiem / Kyoyang Ngarmo | Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam

India, 2018, 91 minutes, Tibetan and Hindi with English subtitles

Inspired by a true story. In a Tibetan refugee enclave in Delhi, young people’s concerns are those of any Indians their age—find a good job, look cool, go dancing at night—plus, shelter and hide new refugees from the Chinese authorities, and deal with living apart from family in Lhasa, who gave you up to your future. Dolkar (Tenzin Dolker) arrived 18 years ago; she barely remembers the journey that got her here. But something haunts her. With the arrival in Delhi of Gompo (Jampa Kalsang Tamang), details of that long-ago, ill-fated trek over the Himalayas begin to come back to Dolkar. The mountain pass, frozen, dangerous… Dolkar carried on her father’s back, until her father was no more… Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam, an Indian-Tibetan couple whose films include the memorable The Reincarnation of Khensur Rinpoche and Dreaming Lhasa, have here created a narrative of karmic balance between the claustrophobic present and the treacherously open past. Learn more.

Short Films at Filmfest DC 2019

Lunafest: Shorts by, for, and about Women

77 minutes

Lunafest has been showcasing the work of talented women directors from all over the world since 2000. This years films include Flip the Record by Marie Jamora, The Final Show by Dana Nachman, My Immigrant Story by Yuriko Gamo Romer, War Paint by Katrelle Kindred, Drummer Girl by Sophie Hexter, Are We Good Parents? by Bola Ogun, Today, Tomorrow, Yesterday by Jackie Files, and UR Dead to Me by Yonoko Li. Lunafest films will be shown at E Street Cinema on April 27 and 28. Visit the Lunafest website to learn more about the films.

Aurelius Battaglia | Michael T. Miller

USA, 2018, 3 minutes, documentary

Bears joyful witness to D.C. native Aurelius Battaglia’s prolific career as an animator for Walt Disney and illustrator for Little Golden Books, and the effort to restore his amazing mural in the Mount Pleasant Library.

The Birth of Afrobeat |Opiyo Okeyo

USA, 2018, 7 minutes, documentary

Drum legend Tony Allen recounts his contributions to the birth of Africa's most exported music genre—Afrobeat.

Boys in the Boat | Nivedita Das, Ted Hornick, JJ Luceno

USA, 2018, 17 minutes, documentary

A crew of young rowers with intellectual disabilities thrive on the companionship and routine that come with being part of a team. While some train hard to compete at a prestigious regatta, others face seemingly insurmountable obstacles as they navigate toward adulthood.

John Mendez - The Bridge | Michael Kuba

USA, 2018, 15 minutes, documentary

Homelessness is everywhere. John Mendez is on the frontlines of the fight against homelessness in Montgomery County, MD, just outside of Washington, D.C. Often times battling extreme cold in the middle of the night, John works tirelessly to help find affordable housing for each individual living on the streets. This short documentary is a portrait of John, highlighting what drives him to care and fight for society’s most forgotten population.

Paranormal Girlfriend | Jeanne Hospod

USA, 2018, 3 minutes, animation

Mysterious forces of attraction inspire quantum level romance.

The Pick Up | Giovanna Chesler

USA, 2018, 10 minutes, narrative

A teen resentful of her divorcing parents and craving independence doesn’t like surprises. When Mom picks her up from swim practice and their trip gets derailed by a flat tire and a mysterious jogger, sullen teen Melanie’s unexpected trip home from swim practice takes her on a bumpy ride, facing adulthood.

Space to Explore | Katherine DuBois

USA, 2018, 14 minutes, documentary

Natalie Panek has spent her life focused on her biggest dream - to be the first to set foot on another planet. Natalie is an aerospace engineer, a pilot, an influencer, an avid explorer, and has made it to the top 100 of astronaut candidates. On an outdoor adventure to the Mars-like terrain of Moab, Utah she searches with her friend to reconcile life's stumbles, redirections and challenges in the pursuit of space travel. Their jobs are to design the next Mars rover, but cutting a path in a Razer 4x4 might be the closest they get to a crewed mission to Mars. In the face of sky high arches and pinnacles, breathtaking views, and a canopy of stars, it's easy to believe the sky has no limits.


We Are Now | Kevin Akakpo, Carlos Escobar, Kim Gonzalez-Ramirez, Verite Igiraneza, Merry Hailegeorgies, Yohannes Gezahegn, Gabe Hoekman, Juliet Marschall

USA, 2018, 8 minutes, documentary

Youth-led activism is sweeping the country. Eight local high school students explore the history and contemporary student movements to organize, protest, and stand up for their rights. Produced as part of Gandhi Brigade's Summer DOCS Program.

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