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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.

by Cynthia Fuchs

13 Jan 2012


Sing Your Song‘s focus on political activism—its relationship to celebrity, whether a star owns it or not—mirrors that of its subject. As Harry Belafonte recalls here, his inclination to activism was ignited early, as a boy whose mother worked as a domestic, and who sent him and his brother to live with relatives in Jamaica: “Almost all the songs that I later came to sing,” he says, “were songs that I heard among the people, the peasants, my family, at the time.” The film shows photos of Jamaican workers, children and the shoreline, as he credits his mother for making him believe “There was nothing in life that I could not aspire to.” Belafonte took Paul Robeson as a model, and the notorious official efforts to suppress Robeson’s “song”—the blacklisting, the FBI and CIA surveillance, and the revocation of his US passport in 1950—hover over Belafonte’s story, along with Robeson’s advice to him: “Get them to sing your song, and they’ll want to know who you are.” Belafonte used his popularity—his appeal to “white teenyboppers” along with other fans all over the world—to show the intersections of art and politics.

See PopMattersreview.

by Cynthia Fuchs

12 Jan 2012


“The block is quiet,” remembers Ameena Matthews, “And I’m looking down the street, and here come the sisters of the guy that got his tooth knocked out. They came to defend the brother’s honor with a butcher knife.” She means to make a difference in this all too common scenario. A Violence Interrupter, Matthews works with the group CeaseFire, whose efforts are at the center of the magnificent documentary, The Interrupters. Following the experiences of several Interrupters, the film reveals how the group is taking a different approach to gang violence, how it works to intervene in usual cycles. “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.” If the task is daunting, CeaseFire members remain courageous, determined, and brilliantly flexible when necessary. 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.

Nominated for an Independent Spirit Award, winner of the 2011 Chicago Film Critics Association Award for Best Documentary, and also two 2012 Cinema Eye Awards, for Outstanding Achievement in Direction and Outstanding Achievement in Nonfiction Feature Filmmaking, the film is screening on 12 January at Stranger Than Fiction as a Pre-Winter Season Special Event, followed by a Q&A with producer/director Steve James. It will also be airing on Frontline on 14 February as part of OBS’ broadcast schedule for Black History Month.

See PopMattersreview.

by Cynthia Fuchs

14 Dec 2011


“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. For the rest of Tony Hardmon and Rachel Libert’s Semper Fi: Always Faithful, Ensminger pursues answers, joining with two other victims. Their efforts are made more difficult by military and government efforts to deny responsibility. Screening on 14 December as part of Stranger Than Fiction’s Pre-Winter Season Special series, the documentary follows their alternately frustrating and heartening journey and also advocates for their cause. Given the passion that Ensminger and others bring to the story, Semper Fi mostly needs to observe, though occasional images or empty swings in a back yard or Jerry traipsing through the woods with his hunting rifle (“I come up here to get away from the daily stress”) help to underline its poignancy and also, their perseverance.

See PopMattersreview.

//Mixed media
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Country Fried Rock: Drivin' N' Cryin' to Be Inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame

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""If Drivin' N' Cryin' sounded as good in the '80s as we do now, we could have been as big as Cinderella." -- Kevn Kinney

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