“Both of us are very proud to be Americans and when you see someone is poisoning what you love, and what you believe in, I think if you allow yourself, you become someone who wants to fight against it.” As David McKay describes his thinking, you might think you know where Better This World is headed. McKay and Brad Crowley, two friends from Midland, Texas, tell a story that seems familiar: as young activists, they were arrested at the Republican National Convention in 2008. As the film unfolds, they’re fighting their legal cases. At the time, which is to say, after 9/11, says FBI Assistant Special Agent Tim Gossfeld, domestic terrorism was a specific target: “That is what we need to focus all our resources on,” he asserts, “to the best of our ability.”
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“When do you sleep? You know, who needs it?” Jon Gruden’s first words to Bryant Gumbel on this week’s Real Sports. advised that getting up at 3:15am every morning to look at game film and prepare for work, Gruden agrees. “Yeah, it’s probably not wise at times, probably not normal,” he says, looking serious for a moment before he smiles. “But it’s my rhythm, it’s the beat that I go to.”
“I’ve always thought as I was growing up, the worst thing a man can do is nothing,” says James Armstrong. At 85 years old, this self-identified foot soldier of the Civil Rights Movement hasn’t spent much time doing nothing. Looking back in 2009, as Barack Obama is about to be inaugurated, Armstrong proudly directs your look at the photos and newspaper clippings that fill up every inch of space on the walls of his barbershop. “I got a lot of pictures of everybody that was doing something,” he says. And so you see, as the camera in Gail Dolgin and Robin Fryday’s documentary The Barber of Birmingham pans to show pioneers ranging from Jackie Robinson to Martin Luther King, Jr. to Barack Obama. Premiering on the terrific series POV’s Short Cuts on 9 August, the film tells a story of inexorable progress and work to be done, of the slow, hard fight to secure the right to vote.
“The world is in turmoil,” observes 20-year-old Enas al-Khaldi, a Qu’ran student in Damascus. “There’s terrorism and a sheikh is talking about how thick a woman’s socks should be!” Enas and her classmates describe their education as crucial to their futures, as well as Syria’s. “Before, a woman was a prisoner in her own home,” another girl says. “There is a saying that a woman only goes two places, to her husband’s house, and then to her grave. This was a really dangerous thing.”
The girls’ understanding of history and enthusiasm for their future are at the center of The Light in Her Eyes. Filmed before the protests against Bashar al-Assad’s regime began in March 2011, Julia Meltzer and Laura Nix’s documentary—airing as part of PBS’ POV series on TV and online—offers a glimpse at the thin line some Muslim women must walk. It also shows how Enas came by her commitment, namely, her mother, Houda Al-Habash. A preacher who runs a school for girls, Houda remembers, “When I was growing up, in my religious school, there were only four or five girls who had memorized the Book of God. Now there are thousands.” This despite a continuing effort by conservative clerics to suppress women’s education, efforts made visible here in a series of video pronouncements: “If a woman does as the prophet says, then she should stay home as much as possible,” or again, “Reading, for women, it is not required for them at all.”
“I think the really important part of this trip,” says Heather Tehrani, “is for Alex’s dad to have completion of our wedding.” Just so, the couple—both born in the US—plan to travel from New York City, where they live, to Iran, where they mean to have a second, Muslim, wedding ceremony. The trip will be complicated, as travel between the US and Iran has been for decades, and their parents—in particular their fathers—are not inclined to support it. The complications are documented in Arusi Persian Wedding, a film by Alex’s sister Marjan Tehrani available on Global Voices and online Global Voices beginning on 22 July. While the wedding provides compelling visuals and some minor melodrama (concerning Heather’s decision to convert, on paper, to Islam from her vague Christianity, as well as her dress, as the one she brings along from the States must be replaced, according to her new relatives and family friends), the film is most interesting as it integrates its personal stories within a broad historical context.
See PopMatters‘s review.