Our guest post today is thanks to Michelle Dillon, librarian for Seattle’s groundbreaking and award-winning Books to Prisoners, a non-profit organization that puts thousands of books into the hands of incarcerated individuals each year. Learn more about the importance of this work in promoting literacy and reducing recidivism in this recent article from The Guardian, and learn about how you can support this cause at the Books to Prisoners website. – Editor
Filmmakers have precious few moments to motivate you: to make you laugh, to move you to tears, or to lay bare important issues. The most resonant movies are often those which challenge your perceptions and expand your understanding of society. Seattle’s upcoming Social Justice Film Festival, running October 14-25, brings together 52 films on global issues of worker rights, immigration, Indigenous rights, prisoner justice, Black Lives Matter, government surveillance, and much more. We are showcasing three selections from past years at the festival—each of which is available through the Seattle Public Library. These films shed light on urgent inequities—and might inspire you to take action in your own community.
The Central Park Five (screened in 2013)
In 1989, five Black and Latino teenagers were arrested and charged with brutally assaulting a white jogger in Central Park. The story and subsequent convictions gained national media attention; Donald Trump ran ads in four New York newspapers calling the teenaged defendants “crazed misfits.” However, after years spent in prison, the truth emerged: all had been wrongfully convicted. Under the masterful hand of legendary filmmaker Ken Burns and his daughter, The Central Park Five probes timely issues of media bias and the treatment of juveniles inside the justice system. Available on DVD and streaming.
Documented (screened in 2014)
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, high-profile activist, documentary producer—and undocumented immigrant. Documented tells the story of Jose Antonio Vargas, from his childhood journey to the United States to his current work as an immigration reformer. This deep
ly personal chronicle of a life lived in limbo is not to be missed. As Vargas has written, “I am not the ‘illegal’ you think I am, and immigration is not what you think it is.” Available on DVD.
Return of the River (screened in 2014, winner of Grand Jury Prize)
For those who work for social justice, the world can sometimes feel like a battlefield. Return of the River, a documentary about the history of the Elwha Ecosystem Restoration Project, is a beautifully filmed celebration of one recent victory. By the end of the twentieth century, two dams on Washington’s Elwha River were wreaking ecological havoc and wiping out local salmon populations—a traditional source of food for the Lower Elwha Klallam people. The local community fought back. Through a collaboration between the government, the Lower Elwha Klallam people, and other activists, removal of these dams began in 2011. The river is returning. Available on DVD.
Coming this month
Many more ground-breaking films like these are being screened at the 2016 Social Justice Film Festival. On October 17, follow two tribes in the Pacific Northwest as they fight for the restoration of treaty rights in Promised Land. Come to Milwaukee 52306 on October 18, a documentary about the most incarcerated zip code in the country. Learn about the life of Roma activist Katarina Taikon on October 19. See the screening of Transient, a film about the difficult choices underlying undocumented immigration, on October 24.
Check out the full program of inspiring and life changing films for this year’s Social Justice Film Festival. And for a look at more excellent films from prior years, here’s a list in the library catalog.