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SXSW 2019 Film – Social Impact Spotlight


We’ve seen evidence that documentary film can make a difference, not only in exposing injustice to the world but in spotlighting people who are striving to achieve justice, address inequalities, and solve social problems. In some cases, evidence delivered by filmmakers has resulted in legal proceedings against those who have wronged others, keeping the story going long after the film’s completion.

Film festivals have always been avenues for those films to be seen by audiences, and this year’s SXSW’s programming has a number of films that reflect the world we’re living in today, highlighting numerous social issues and the amazing people seeking solutions.


We Are The Radical Monarchs
Director: Linda Goldstein Knowlton

As youth development groups have historically gone in the U.S., Camp Fire has been co-ed since 1975 with a policy of being a multiracial, multicultural, and nonsectarian organization, and the brand behind addictive mint chip cookies, Girl Scounts, moto is “regardless of race, class, or religion, every girl has a home.”

In the 21st century where people of color and women’s rights are finally part of our everyday narrative, two queer mothers had something else in mind for their tween daughter’s youth development.

These Oakland leaders, Anayvette Martinez and Marilyn Hollinquest, started Radical Monarchs as a group for young girls of color to embrace their own identity and learn first-hand the power of social justice. “I wanted my daughter and the rest of the Monarchs to grow up in a world that sees them and affirms them and gives them the space to be able to show up as their full selves to celebrate who they are as young girls of color,” said Martinez in a piece by CNN’s Great Big Story and Global Citizen.

The documentary, We Are The Radical Monarchs, directed by Linda Goldstein Knowlton, takes us along the girls’ badge-earning journey over the course of three years, from the Trans March in San Francisco and Black Lives Matter rallies, understanding how they can help preserve the environment and stand up for those less fortunate, to learning about their city’s history of social justice. Radical Monarch’s mission is to create the next generation of social activists and see their work as “anchored in the belief that adolescent girls of color need dedicated spaces and that the foundation for this innovative work must also be rooted in fierce inter-dependent sisterhood, self-love, and hope.”

Now THAT is how you walk the walk when it comes to making the world a better place. For realz.

SXSW Film Link

Related SXSW Sessions:

Mothers of the Resistance: Women Leading the Movement

Heroines of the Social Enterprise Movement

Community First, A Home for the Homeless
Director: Layton Blaylock

The number of homeless citizens has been on the rise for years in cities across the country. As a result, we as people of this country can no longer deny that this is a humanitarian crisis that requires immediate action. After leading the U.S. in relieving homelessness, the numbers spiked in Salt Lake City again after funding dried up. And in Los Angeles, voters passed two measures to fund shelter and health services for the homeless.

The film Community First, A Home for the Homeless unveils a new movement taking place in Austin designed to provide the chronically homeless with a real neighborhood community, a way to heal, and finally have a place to call home. We’ll learn how the 27-acre master-plan community of Tee-Pees, micro homes, and vintage RVs came together and how individual lives were transformed.

“I was expecting a funky housing project,” said one community resident. “What I found was a sense of community like I never imagined.”

SXSW Film Link

Related SXSW Sessions:

Outsmarting Homelessness: 21st Century Solutions

Fighting Homelessness with Ethical Technology

Housing as Medicine: Can We Afford the Rx?


Ernie & Joe
Director: Jenifer McShane

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) 2017 study, 14 percent of state and federal prisoners and 26 percent of jail inmates reported experiences that met the threshold for serious psychological distress (SPD). And these numbers are only increasing as incarceration continues to rise in America.

The bottom line: more people need mental health services, not jail or prison.

Director Jenifer McShane’s new documentary, Ernie & Joe, follows two San Antonio police officers who are taking on this issue “one 911 call at a time.” By diverting people towards the mental health care they need versus arrests, the two officers are providing evidence-based data to law enforcement agencies in any city or state that there is another way.

“I believe strongly that my own contribution can be in raising awareness of tough societal issues through relatable characters and their stories,” said McShane. “While making my last film, Mothers of Bedford, it became evident to me that there were many people with untreated mental illness sitting behind bars. We have seen many films illustrating the multitude of sins in police departments across the country. Ernie & Joe introduces us to officers trying and succeeding in doing it right.”

SXSW Film Link

Related SXSW Sessions:

The Faces of America’s Invisible Population

What We (Should) Expect of the Police

Killing Ourselves Faster: The Mental Health Abyss

The River and The Wall
Director: Ben Masters

“When we started filming The River and The Wall two years ago when the ‘build that wall’ rhetoric just began,” said Ben Masters, director of The River and The Wall in a DEADLINE interview. “We had no idea that the issue would blow up into a government shutdown and one of the most controversial topics in the world.”

The timing of the The River and The Wall couldn’t be more perfect, as we have come off the end of the longest government shutdown in U.S. history. One that held the country hostage for weeks when we already have a wall on 700 miles of the border. And while this ego-driven standoff cost the country $11 billion, along with trade tensions and slowing economic growth, we’re coming up on yet another deadline to fund the government in February.

The director and crew ventured all along the 1,200 mile border between the U.S. and Mexico to investigate and conduct a feasibility study on how this proposed and unnecessary wall would even be built in the rough terrain. This journey and fact-finding mission was to, “document how a physical 30-foot wall built on the U.S. side of the river would impact wildlife, water access, private property rights, immigration, public lands, border culture.”

As much as Trump hates facts, especially those that completely contridict his lying, ranting rhetoric, he would most likely dismiss this film’s findings in the way he did his own administration’s dire warning climate change report (#globalwaming). In additional to SXSW-goers, the rest of the country will be able to see this impactful documentary when it’s released in theatres this spring by Gravitas Ventures. Hopefully, it will help to put the last nail in the coffin of one of Trump’s racist campaign promises that’s void of both feasibility and reality.

SXSW Film Link

Related SXSW Sessions:

The Women Impacted By US Border and Immigration Laws

The US Is Racist AF. What Can I Do?


Building the American Dream
Director: Chelsea Hernandez

In U.S. cities across the country, its citizens can see cranes and new building sites at almost every turn. For years gentrification has had negative impacts on residents and local businesses who’ve been driven out by rising rents. There’s yet another dark side to city developer’s operations: the exploitation of immigrant workers. This is nothing new in the America, but the area of development and building has been mostly ignored, until now.

The new documentary, Building the American Dream, by director Chelsea Hernandez, exposes the injustices, from low wages to unsafe working conditions, revealing “shocking truths about the hardworking immigrants who build the American Dream, from which they are excluded.”

Texas is deemed “the deadliest state to work in construction” (are you listening Republican Governor Abbott?). As a result, a Mexican family grieves for their son while campaigning for life-and-death safety laws.  A Salvadorian electrician couple fight for backpay in order to support their family and get what they are owed. A son strives to prevent other immigrant families from the loss of a loved one.

City mayors have a lot on their plate these days, with the move to 5G connectivity, addressing transportation issues and growth, and as mentioned above, homelessness and affordable housing. When lives and wages are lost because a given city or state government isn’t keeping a watchful eye on safety ordinances and workers rights, it’s preserving the same slave labor tradition in America. There will be plenty of government officials attending SXSW this year. Let’s hope some of them make the time to see this film, and get woke on the real promise of the American Dream for all.

SXSW Film Link

Related SXSW Sessions:

Latinos Lead: Where Do We Go From Here?

Featured Session: Alexandria Ocasio Cortez with Briahna Gray

Check out the full SXSW Film Festival line-up here.


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