“In 1997, I was fixing a plate of food in the kitchen,” says Master Sgt. Jerry Ensminger, “Getting ready for the evening news.” What he heard on the TV changed everything: a scientific report linked birth defects and childhood cancers to water contamination at Camp Lejeune, where he and his family had lived. “I dropped my plate, right there. I mean, it was like God was saying to me, ‘Here is a glimmer of hope, that you will find your answer.’” Ensminger’s question concerned the death of his nine-year-old daughter, Janey, some 14 years earlier. She’d had leukemia, and throughout her illness and after her passing, he wondered why.
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“It was important to us to have a very clear understanding of what the audience’s experience would be,” Grover Babcock tells Filmmaker Magazine. “We wanted to play with the energy that the audience would be investing in the story in terms of where the tension was, what their suppositions were, and where they thought they were headed.” Just so, the documentary he co-directed with Blue Hadeigh, Scenes of a Crime leads viewers through a complex and increasingly distressing investigation, less of an original crime—here, the death of an infant—and more of the many “crimes” that follow, as the child’s father Adrian Thomas is put through a barrage of interrogations that lead detectives to believe in his guilt.
“The Maldives is just 1.5 meters above sea level. It’s not something in the future, it’s something we are facing right now.” As presented by Mohamed Nasheed, then the president of Maldives, that “it” would be the catastrophic effects of climate change. His island will soon be under water. Even beyond his tiny nation’s own fate, the former political prisoner sees this as a global issue, and has made it his mission to make it visible to the rest of the world. Jon Shenk’s The Island President is part of that effort.
“Eminent domain,” you’re reminded at the start of Battle for Brooklyn, is “the right of the government to take private property.” Usually, this measure is taken with an eye toward a “public good,” however that may be defined. In the case presented in Michael Galinsky and Suki Hawley’s terrific documentary, the term appears to be especially vexed, as a private corporation makes a claim for public land. The film follows the controversy and legal ambiguities regarding the Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn, that is, that is, Bruce Ratner’s plan to build an arena for the (currently New Jersey) Nets and develop the surrounding property. While some residents of the neighborhood selected for the project object to the idea, others believe the promises made by Ratner, Brooklyn Borough president Marty Markowitz, Mayor Bloomberg, and Senator Chuck Schumer, namely, promises that the development will bring employment opportunities to Brooklyn and improve material and economic conditions going forward. (Senator Schumer’s misspeaking during a press conference may or may not be telling: “Basketball is great, but you know what enervates me about this? 10,000 jobs!”)
“I had experiences on the stage that I didn’t think were possible and then a strange thing happened. On the stage, I was complete and perfect, lacking no essential characteristic, nothing. The curtain came down and, ‘Who am I? Who am I?’” As Beah Richards remembers acting, she is, of course, acting again. And in her performance here, as elsewhere, she is complete and perfect, powerful, moving, and fierce. “Here” is Beah: A Black Woman Speaks, a film by LisaGay Hamilton, who recorded the actor, poet, and playwright during the last year of her life. Richards died in 2000, of emphysema, having moved from California back to her childhood home in Vicksburg, Mississippi—where she was cremated and “spread over the Confederate graveyard,” according to her wishes, so that she might “take that struggle with her into eternity.”