About: A sculpture project helps a mother reckon with the loss of her son in a terrorist attack.
Alexander Lowenstein was a passenger on Pan Am 103 on December 21, 1988, part of a group of Syracuse University students returning from a semester abroad in London. The plane was destroyed by a terrorist bomb that ultimately claimed 270 victims and came to be known as the Lockerbie bombing. As a way to process her grief, Alexander’s mother, Suse, turned to her artwork, beginning a sculpture of a woman confronted with the death of her child. Reaching out to other families from the Lockerbie bombing, Suse found 75 other mothers who wished to participate. The result, completed over the course of 15 years, is the sculpture garden dubbed Dark Elegy. When focused on Suse and the healing properties of the artistic process, the film is strongest; attempts to bring in other stories, including an overextended sequence with Syracuse University’s Remembrance Scholar program, prove less successful.
About: An up-close look at three media-hungry, white nationalist alt-right influencers.
Following the ascendancy of Trump on a platform of divisiveness, fear mongering, and pandering to the extreme right, filmmaker Daniel Lambroso spent several years gaining impressive access to and the trust of three figures at the center of the alt-right movement: white supremacist leader Richard Spencer, Canadian anti-immigration and anti-feminist blogger Lauren Southern, and conspiracy theorist Mike Cernovich. There’s a cynicism that pervades all three distasteful subjects, but none more so than Cernovich, who seems like he’s willing to do or say anything to make money. Southern and Spencer don’t come off much better, equally disingenuous about the real world impact of their words and even contradictory about their beliefs. For some viewers, the very existence of a documentary giving more screentime and attention to these amoral media whores may be deeply problematic, but Lambroso makes it worthwhile, providing just enough rope for them to hang themselves. Still, it’s decidedly a film to hatewatch once and not look back again after it’s wrapped up.
Select Festivals: AFI Docs, CAAMFest, Houston Asian American Pacific Islander, Hawaii, Hot Springs Doc
About: A profile of several Asian Americans who get involved politically in the 2018 midterm elections.
Filmmaker Yi Chen, herself a first time voter, sets out to understand what experiences shaped the political beliefs of other Asian Americans in the lead up to the 2018 midterm elections. She focuses primarily on North Carolina, where she profiles Sue Googe, a proud gun-toting Chinese immigrant who unsuccessfully runs as a Republican for congress with the message that her background lets her know that socialism doesn’t work and must be stopped. Also in NC are Kasier Kuo, a progressive Democrat who tries to make sense of Chinese support Trump; and Jennifer Ho, a professor and progressive Democrat who leads class discussions focusing on race in America and the perception of Asians. In Ohio, Lance Chen becomes a key organizer for the Republican Party, keeping a database of Chinese Americans and doing grassroots outreach to get their support for Republican candidates. While the filmmaker has identified an intriguing topic that rarely receives much mainstream consideration, her film suffers from its short running time. Its hourlong format but with a trimmed down cast, or a more fleshed out longer cut, would strengthen the project substantially, allowing its individual subjects to make more of an impact. Still, the film provides welcome insight and helps to break down false notions of any kind of monolithic Asian American identity or political consensus.
About: A woman sterilized without her consent while in prison teams with a dedicated attorney to stop the process.
When Kelli Dillon was serving time in a Californian prison for defending herself and her children from an abusive partner, she was misdiagnosed with cervical cancer. Without her consent, the treatment included the removal of her uterus. Soon, she found that this was neither an unfortunate error nor a unique case, but instead a common experience for other female inmates, particularly for other women of color. Working with attorney and activist Cynthia Chandler, Kelli fights to expose and prevent the illegal practice. Delving into America’s disturbing history of eugenics and the continued inhumane treatment of prisoners, Erika Cohn’s film profiles the hurdles still faced by those seeking to prevent racial and reproductive injustice.
Select Festivals: DOC NYC, IDFA, Palm Springs, Docs Against Gravity
About: A portrait of legendary foreign correspondent Robert Fisk.
The film screened as part of DOC NYC, for which our program notes read: Award-winning filmmaker Yung Chang (UP THE YANGTZE) profiles the legendary Middle East journalist Robert Fisk, known for his books PITY THE NATION and THE GREAT WAR FOR CIVILIZATION. Now in his 70s, Fisk remains vital and intrepid. The film follows him on contemporary reporting missions from Syria to Bosnia, while also looking back on the incomparable career that brought him face to face with Osama Bin Laden and virtually every other historic figure in the region.