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by Cynthia Fuchs

14 Feb 2012


Steve James and Alex Kotlowitz’s documentary opens with this self-description: “One year in the life of a city grappling with violence.” During that year, the film follows three Interrupters, former offenders, as they work in Chicago for an organization called CeaseFire. Premiering on Frontline on 14 February, The Interrupters details their backstories and their current efforts, while also considering the premise of CeaseFire, that violence can be treated like a disease, that its transmission can be interrupted. “People believe in punishment,” says epidemiologist and CeaseFire co-founder Gary Slutkin, because when “you punish a young person, he stops. But he actually learns to mimic the punishment.” Young offenders, he says, are caught in a cycle: “They see violence as their disease, what they expect to die of, is this.” The Interrupters intervene, talking and spending time with offenders, helping them to see alternatives to revenge and anger. If the task is daunting, CeaseFire members are courageous. In spite of missteps and steps back, in spite of the many times that the interrupters attend funerals and console grieving parents, they try again and again. If they can stop one act of violence, they might stop another.

See PopMattersreview.

by Cynthia Fuchs

9 Feb 2012


“What was it like coming back to America after fighting in Vietnam?” asks an off-screen narrator. A 22-year-old black man nods and begins to talk, his weary expression suggesting this is a question he’s prepared to answer, but one he dreads. “It’s almost the same as when I left, ” he begins. “I say this because when a man goes to fight for his country and then comes back over here and almost have to fight for his life in certain parts of the country, get ridiculed and discriminated, you know, and be less than a man. I don’t think it’s right, you know.” It’s 1967. 

This early scene sets the stage for Göran Olsson’s terrific documentary, Black Power Mixtape 1967-195, which premieres on Independent Lens on 9 February. Specfically, it lays out the film’s premise, that the Black Power Movement, building and then suppressed from 1967 to 1975, emerged out of needs to resist injury and endure trauma, and also, to make visible what was going on in America, what remained unknown to people who didn’t have to know. The film features interviews with civil rights figures like SNCC’s Stokely Carmichael and Angela Davis, as well as today’s activists (Talib Kweli, ?uestlove), tracing how the Panthers resisted oppression (see especially, the FBI’s COINTELPRO) and also built a lasting sense community. Looking back, it looks forward, observing from the outside (the Swedish reporters’ footage that makes up the bulk of the film), it reveals what goes on inside.

See PopMattersreview.

Watch Looking Back at the Black Power Movement on PBS. See more from Independent Lens.

by Cynthia Fuchs

7 Feb 2012


Stanley Nelson’s exceptional documentary tells the story of the Freedom Rides, from their initiation in May 1961, by James Farmer and the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), to the Interstate Commerce Commission’s (ICC) ruling that September, that passengers on interstate buses could sit wherever they wanted, “the first unambiguous victory in the long history of the civil rights movement.” Freedom Riders—airing on PBS on 7 February—offers some incredible images from the period to show how this victory was the result of months of struggle, including assaults on the freedom riders by angry citizens as well as police officers. Boarding commercial buses (Trailways and Greyhound) in Washington, DC and intending to ride through the Deep South, the riders set out deliberately to violate Southern segregation laws. Each CORE member signed a formal agreement, stating, “I understand that I shall be participating in a nonviolent protest… against racial discrimination, that arrest or personal injury to me might result.” They had little expectation of the violence that would be inflicted on them.

See PopMattersreview.

Watch Freedom Riders Theatrical Trailer on PBS. See more from Freedom Riders.

by Cynthia Fuchs

26 Jan 2012


“President Reagan has fought long and hard to prevent Congress from imposing new economic sanctions on South Africa. Recently, even leaders of his own party begged him to stop. He didn’t. Today, he lost.” Footage of Dan Rather’s report on CBS in October 1986 serves as a kind of exclamation point when it appears in Have You Heard From Johannesburg. Before and following this clip, the film shows member of the Black Congressional Caucus then and now, recalling their fight to support the ANC against the racist South African government. When at last the Senate and the House voted to override the president’s veto, the movement was approaching its goal, the end of apartheid, the release of Nelson Mandela from prison (still three and a half years away, in 1990), and the official recognition by Western nations—the US, Britain, France, and others—that apartheid was, in fact, a threat to world peace.

This moment was an overlong time coming, of course, but still, when it does come in “Free at Last,” the fifth and final PBS installment of Connie Field’s documentary on 26 January, you’d be hard-pressed not to feel at least a bit of relief. As the film reveals, the strategies to get to this moment shift over the years, as the ANC is joined by other organizations, based in in South Africa and elsewhere. The ANC continued to represent through Oliver Tambo in exile (who says in an archival interview that even as bomb attacks were escalating in South Africa, “We continue, of course, to calculate on what this means for civilians” as well as Mandela (who became the movement’s most recognizable “name and face”). When an interviewer asks him, “Does your wife worry about you?”, Tambo patently responds. “Of course she does. I expect I really do expect that I will be killed by the regime or its representatives.”

by Cynthia Fuchs

20 Jan 2012


When St. Louis’ Pruitt-Igoe Project was completed in 1956, it seemed an answer to many prayers, affordable and respectable housing designed (by Minoru Yamasaki, also the architect of the World Trade Center Towers) to lift its residents out of poverty and serve the surrounding communities as well. When it was torn down just two decades later, Pruitt-Igoe had become an example of how poor, uneducated, and “rural” communities inevitably go wrong, and don’t deserve help—especially from the government. This sort of story resonates today, of course, revived in the current Republican presidential campaigns. The Pruitt-Igoe Myth shows how the story evolved and why it lingers, still reductive, destructive, and tragic.

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