Film Discussion Guides at P.O.V. | American Documentary
I co-produced 36 discussion guides and 7 youth outreach toolkits to accompany national PBS broadcasts and locally organized community screening and discussion events of independently-produced social issue documentary films.
9 Star Hotel
(2008) directed by Ido Haar
DISCUSSION GUIDE: This guide supports viewers in discussing labor issues, Palestinian-Israeli relations, public policy, identity, and stereotypes.
FILM SYNOPSIS: Young construction laborers in the Israeli city of Modi'in are caught between Israeli security laws and a Palestinian Authority they see as having failed them.
(2007) directed by Michael Apted
DISCUSSION GUIDE: 49 Up invites audiences to ponder how people change over time. Can the adult already be found in the child of 7? How do people navigate between childhood dreams and adult reality? Which factors most influence life choices? Which experiences and values seem to be universal and which spring from culture and socioeconomic class?
FILM SYNOPSIS: In one of documentary cinema's more remarkable enterprises, 49 Up is the seventh in a series of films that has profiled a group of English children every seven years, beginning in 1964.
Al Otro Lado: To the Other Side
(2006) directed by Natalia Almada
DISCUSSION GUIDE: This guide supports viewers in discussing corridos, identity, issues around crossing the border, immigration, social justice, and the politics of poverty.
FILM SYNOPSIS: The proud Mexican tradition of corrido music provides both heartbeat and backbone to this rich examination of songs, drugs and dreams along the U.S./Mexico border.
(2007) directed by Andrew Walton
DISCUSSION GUIDE: Arctic Son provides viewers with a rich palette of contrasts to explore. The film reveals tensions and intersections between tradition and modernity, elders and youth, rural and urban, ancient and pop culture, addiction and independence. All these are presented against a backdrop of global warming, highlighting that some threats to tradition are beyond our control while others are within our grasp.
FILM SYNOPSIS: A clash of tradition and modernity puts a Native father and son at odds in the remote village of Old Crow, 80 miles above the Arctic Circle.
The Ballad of Esequiel Hernandez
(2008) directed by Kieran Fitzgerald
DISCUSSION GUIDE: This guide supports viewers in discussing lessons from Esequiel’s death, the differences between the military and law enforcement, militarizing the U.S.-Mexican Border, healing, justice, and racial stereotypes.
FILM SYNOPSIS: In 1997, U.S. Marines patrolling the Texas-Mexico border as part of the War on Drugs shot and killed Esequiel Hernández Jr.
(2008) directed by Andrzej Fidyk
DISCUSSION GUIDE: This guide supports viewers in discussing nationalism, totalitarianism, and promoting political and social change.
FILM SYNOPSIS: The story of Alexander Pushkin, whose audacious, comical exploits against totalitarianism find him facing the hostility of the police and the consternation of his family.
The Boys of Baraka
(2006) directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady
DISCUSSION GUIDE: As an outreach tool, The Boys of Baraka can spark discussions about the role of private educational foundations and educational reform. It can also help people confront the reality of American children who are lost to their families and communities because their childhood is erased by poverty, drugs, crime, absent parents, unstable homes, or violence. Finally, the film can inspire. Through their courage to change, the boys and their families provide hope for a better future.
FILM SYNOPSIS: The Boys of Baraka follows four boys from Baltimore to rural Kenya, where a teacher-student ratio of one to five, a strict disciplinary program and a comprehensive curriculum form the core of an extraordinary journey in their transformation to men.
(2008) directed by Renee Tajima-Peña and Evangeline Griego
DISCUSSION GUIDE: Calavera Highway takes viewers on a multilayered journey that explores the multigenerational experience of American-born descendants of immigrants and illustrates the extremely wide range of possible responses to adversity. Its poignant portraits provide an excellent springboard for rich discussions of family relationships, male identity, psychology, culture, history and public policy.
FILM SYNOPSIS: A sweeping story of seven Mexican-American men grappling with the meaning of masculinity, fatherhood and a legacy of rootless beginnings.
The Camden 28
(2007) directed by Anthony Giacchino
DISCUSSION GUIDE: In light of current debates over civil liberties and the use of war as a means to strengthen democracy, the experiences of the Camden 28 provide an excellent springboard for dialogue. Viewers will be confronted with questions about the responsibilities of citizens in a democracy, the limits of protest, government infiltration of dissident groups, friendship, the morality of war and what religious belief demands of adherents.
FILM SYNOPSIS: How far would you go to stop a war? The Camden 28 recalls a 1971 raid on a draft board office by activists protesting the Vietnam War and its effects on urban America.
(2008) directed by Kazuhiro Soda
DISCUSSION GUIDE: This guide supports viewers in discussing democracy, cultural norms, and political party values.
FILM SYNOPSIS: This is democracy — Japanese style: the story of a man plucked from obscurity by the ruling political party to run for a critical city council seat.
The Chances of the World Changing
(2007) directed by Eric Daniel Metzgar and Nell Carden Grey
DISCUSSION GUIDE: The Chances of the World Changing, a feature-length (82-minute) documentary, follows Richard Ogust over two years, chronicling the rewards and frustrations of being passionate about a cause. That Richard, as an activist, struggles to save not only hundreds of animals, but also his own life makes this film a rich outreach tool. Audiences will learn as much about activism itself as about the struggles to save an endangered species.
FILM SYNOPSIS: An extraordinary chronicle of two years in the life of Richard Ogust, whose life turns into strange territory as he shares his Manhattan loft with 1,200 turtles he is trying to save.
(2008) directed by Katy Chevigny
DISCUSSION GUIDE: This guide supports viewers in discussing voting and democracy, the voting process, and voting choices through profiling the voting experiences of ex-felons, Native Americans, Arab Americans, African Americans, and young voters.
FILM SYNOPSIS: Forget the pie charts, color-coded maps and hyperventilating pundits. What's the street-level experience of voters in today's America?
The Fall of Fujimori
(2006) directed by Ellen Perry
DISCUSSION GUIDE: The Fall of Fujimori is an excellent tool for outreach because it raises deep questions about how far governments should be permitted to go in battling terrorists and how a fearful population can be led to accept cruelty under the guise of democracy. The film will be of special interest to people exploring issues such as civil liberties, conflict resolution, corruption, human rights, and resistance movements, among others.
FILM SYNOPSIS: In 1990, an unknown candidate named Alberto Fujimori rode a wave of popular support to become the president of Peru. He fought an all-out war on terror against the guerilla organization Shining Path, and won. Ten years later, accused of kidnapping, murder and corruption, he fled Peru to his native Japan, where he was in exile for four years.
In the Family
(2008) directed by Joanna Rudnick
DISCUSSION GUIDE: This guide supports viewers in discussing the Impact of knowing that you test positive for the gene mutation that can cause cancer, gender issues, and policies and laws around genetic testing.
FILM SYNOPSIS: How much would you sacrifice to survive? When Chicago filmmaker Joanna Rudnick tested positive for the "breast cancer gene" at age 27, she knew the information could save her life, but she didn't know what to do about it.
(2008) directed by James Moll
DISCUSSION GUIDE: This guide supports viewers in understanding the legacy of the Holocaust, the nature of atrocity, and how to respond to atrocities.
FILM SYNOPSIS: Inheritance is the story of Monika Hertwig, the daughter of mass murderer Amon Goeth, and her efforts to come to terms with her "inheritance."
The Judge and the General
(2008) directed by Elizabeth Farnsworth and Patricio Lanfranco
DISCUSSION GUIDE: This guide supports viewers in discussing efforts to seek justice after human rights have been violated and the implications of the U.S. getting involved in another government’s political affairs.
FILM SYNOPSIS: Chile's former dictator, Augusto Pinochet, is brought to justice by one of his own in this cautionary tale about violating human rights in the name of "higher ideals."
Kokoyakyu: High School Baseball
(2006) directed by Kenneth Eng
DISCUSSION GUIDE: This guide supports viewers in discussing lessons gained from the playing baseball and comparing Japanese and American baseball culture.
FILM SYNOPSIS: In Japan, baseball is not a pastime — it's an obsession epitomized by the national high school baseball tournament known simply as "Koshien."
The Last Conquistador
(2008) directed by John J. Valadez and Cristina Ibarra
DISCUSSION GUIDE: This guide supports viewers in discussing the power of art, the role of history, conflict resolution, and the nature of trying to work in the public interest.
FILM SYNOPSIS: Renowned sculptor John Houser has a dream: to build the world's tallest bronze equestrian statue for the city of El Paso, Texas.
(2007) directed by Doug Hawes-Davis and Drury Gunn Carr
DISCUSSION GUIDE: This guide supports viewers in discussing corporate responsibility, public policy, and the impact of asbestosis on individuals and communities.
FILM SYNOPSIS: In the small town of Libby, many hundreds are sick or have already died from exposure to asbestos, a notorious industrial toxin that many Americans consider long banned or under control.
Lomax the Songhunter
(2006) directed by Rogier Kappers
DISCUSSION GUIDE: This guide supports viewers in discussing folk song traditions, musical preservation, and the connections between culture, power, and politics.
FILM SYNOPSIS: Alan Lomax was "the song hunter," devoting his life to recording the world's folk tunes before they would permanently disappear with the rise of the modern music industry.
(2007) directed by Bent-Jorgen Perlmutt, Nelson Walker III, Louis Abelman, and Lynn True
DISCUSSION GUIDE: This guide supports viewers in discussing Impact of sexual violence on individuals and communities and the process of healing from this kind of devastating experience.
FILM SYNOPSIS: Lumo Sinai was raped by marauding soldiers in the Congo, which resulted in a fistula, a medical condition that renders her incontinent and threatens her ability to bear children.
Made in L.A.
(2007) directed by Almudena Carracedo and Robert Bahar
DISCUSSION GUIDE: Made in L.A. offers a rare and poignant glimpse into this “other” California, where immigrants in many industries toil long hours for sub-minimum wages, fighting for an opportunity in a new country. As an engagement tool, it offers viewers a powerful springboard for dialogue about the challenges facing low-wage immigrant workers, the great hardships and benefits of organizing, the impact of individual consumer purchasing choices, and the complex effects of public policy related to immigration and labor.
FILM SYNOPSIS: Follow the remarkable journey of three Latina immigrants working in L.A.'s garment factories and their long battle to bring a major clothing retailer to the negotiating table.
My Country, My Country
(2006) directed by Laura Poitras
DISCUSSION GUIDE: This guide supports viewers in discussing the process of establishing democracy in a country and the conflict in Iraq.
FILM SYNOPSIS: Working alone in Iraq over eight months, filmmaker Laura Poitras takes an unforgettable journey into the heart of war-ravaged Iraq in the months leading up to the January 2005 elections.
No Bigger Than a Minute
(2007) directed by Steve Delano
DISCUSSION GUIDE: This guide supports viewers in discussing stereotypes, identity development, and the importance of family.
FILM SYNOPSIS: Size matters: Filmmaker Steve Delano explores his identity as a dwarf with heart and humor. Brimming with bright colors, bold images, surreal reenactments, and an original score composed from Steven's very own mutated DNA sequence, No Bigger than a Minute finds the dignity of dwarfs in an exposé of the delightful, fulfilling and sometimes shocking realities that define a tip-toe life.
No More Tears Sister
(2006) directed by Helene Klodawsky
DISCUSSION GUIDE: No More Tears Sister provides an excellent springboard for audiences to consider their own beliefs about what constitutes social justice and how best to achieve it. Her life and work encompass a wide range of intersecting issues, including gender equality, economic opportunity, education and cultural preservation — issues that continue to be at the center of struggles for human rights today.
FILM SYNOPSIS: Set during the violent ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka, No More Tears Sister explores the price of truth in times of war. The film recreates the courageous and vibrant life of renowned human rights activist Dr. Rajani Thiranagama.
Prison Town, USA
(2007) directed by Katie Galloway and Po Kutchins
DISCUSSION GUIDE: Prison Town, USA is a study in contrasts — between small-town rural life and the adversarial, violent “street” culture common in U.S. prisons. The intersection of these two worlds provides a rich tool for outreach, providing viewers with an opportunity to examine a wide range of personal and public-policy issues, including the consequences of current approaches to crime prevention, criminal justice, privatization and economic development.
FILM SYNOPSIS: In the 1990s, at the height of the prison-building boom, a prison opened in rural America every 15 days. Prison Town, USA tells the story of Susanville, California, one small town that tries to resuscitate its economy by building a prison — with unanticipated consequences.
Rain in a Dry Land
(2007) directed by Anne Makepeace
DISCUSSION GUIDE: As an outreach tool, Rain in a Dry Land helps viewers see beyond group labels or statistics by showing each subject as a complex individual with his or her own set of needs. Each person’s unique experience provides an outstanding opportunity for Americans to learn about the Bantu and to see ourselves and our culture through new eyes.
FILM SYNOPSIS: Two Somali Bantu families are transported by relief agencies from years of civil war and refugee life to settle in Springfield, Massachusetts and Atlanta, Georgia.
(2007) directed by Marylou Tibaldo-Bongiorno
DISCUSSION GUIDE: Revolution ‘67 is especially powerful as an outreach tool because it features voices from across the spectrum. Activists, scholars, journalists, politicians, National Guardsmen, law-enforcement officers and citizens share their diverse perspectives about how and why a relatively minor skirmish erupted into violent chaos. As they try to make sense of their experiences, these witnesses recall hard-learned lessons about race relations and the struggle for social justice. Viewers will find that many of these lessons still resonate today.
FILM SYNOPSIS: Revolution '67 is an illuminating account of events too often relegated to footnotes in U.S. history — the black urban rebellions of the 1960s.
Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars
(2007) directed by Banker White and Zach Niles
DISCUSSION GUIDE: Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars is a tableau of tragedy transformed by the band’s inspiring determination to sing and be heard. As an outreach tool, the film can help audiences broach issues including the impact of war and human resilience in the face of suffering, the power of music, the meaning of home and the meaning of family.
FILM SYNOPSIS: Traumatized by physical injuries and brutal losses in Sierra Leone's civil war, a group of refugees fight back with the only means they have — music.
Soldiers of Conscience
(2008) directed by Gary Weimberg and Catherine Ryan
DISCUSSION GUIDE: This guide supports viewers in discussing the moral and religious questions raised about killing in war, the military’s process of teaching soldiers how to kill, coping with killing, the concept of conscientious objection, the concept of war being fought on civilians’ behalfs, and the moral responsibilities of civilians.
FILM SYNOPSIS: When is it right to kill? In the midst of war, is it right to refuse? Eight U.S. soldiers, some whom have killed and some who have said no, reveal their inner moral dilemmas.
Standing Silent Nation
(2007) directed by Suree Towfighnia and Courtney Hermann
DISCUSSION GUIDE: As an outreach tool, this compelling portrait of one family’s struggle for economic self-sufficiency will help viewers examine wide-ranging issues, from the logic behind the U.S.’s “war on drugs” to the rocky, historic relationship between the federal government and indigenous nations.
FILM SYNOPSIS: In April 2000, Alex White Plume and his Lakota family planted industrial hemp on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota after other crops had failed. But when federal agents raided the White Plumes' fields, the Lakota Nation was swept into a Byzantine struggle over tribal sovereignty, economic rights and common sense.
(2006) directed by Adele Horne
DISCUSSION GUIDE: As it focuses on how technology and messages introduced by the missionaries play a role in larger socioeconomic transformations, The Tailenders asks viewers to think deeply about the impact of evangelism on indigenous communities facing crises caused by global economic forces. As an outreach tool, this documentary will provide an inviting springboard for discussions about the pursuit of social justice and the often complex — and sometimes ambiguous — definitions of acceptance, resistance, benefit, harm and salvation.
FILM SYNOPSIS: Global Recordings Network (GRN), founded in Los Angeles in 1939, has produced audio versions of Bible stories in over 5,500 languages. GRN aims to record in every language on earth. They distribute the recordings, along with ultra-low-tech hand-wind players, in isolated regions and among displaced migrant workers. GRN calls their target audience "the tailenders" because they are the last to be reached by worldwide evangelism.
Tintin and I
(2006) directed by Anders Østergaard
DISCUSSION GUIDE: Decades after publication, the comic strip The Adventures of Tintin, about an intrepid boy reporter, continues to fascinate people all over the world. So does the strip’s enigmatic Belgian creator, Hergé. Tintin and I takes viewers on a fascinating journey into the psyche of this work-obsessed cartoonist. The social and political content of Hergé’s work affords viewers of Tintin and I an opportunity to explore the impact of political ideology, ethics, religion and race, as well as consider the intersection of art and politics.
FILM SYNOPSIS: Why does the comic strip The Adventures of Tintin, about an intrepid boy reporter, continue to fascinate us decades after its publication? "Tintin and I" highlights the potent social and political underpinnings that give Tintin's world such depth, and delves into the mind of Hergé Tintin's work-obsessed Belgian creator, to reveal the creation and development of Tintin.
Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North
(2008) directed by Katrina Browne
DISCUSSION GUIDE: This guide supports viewers in discussing the history of slavery in the United States, confronting hard truths and emotions around the legacy of slavery, the importance of having difficult conversations, privilege, “repair” and reconciliation, and how some people still hold economic power and social privileges over others in the contemporary life.
FILM SYNOPSIS: First-time filmmaker Katrina Browne makes a troubling discovery — her New England ancestors were the largest slave-trading family in U.S. history.
Twelve Disciples of Nelson Mandela
(2006) directed by Thomas Allen Harris
DISCUSSION GUIDE: Filmmaker Thomas Allen Harris’ stepfather was one of a small group of young men who went into exile in order to attract worldwide attention to the brutality that was South African apartheid. Harris reaches behind the headlines to tell the stories of the everyday people whose work was so vital to the success of more familiar leaders like Nelson Mandela. We see their triumphs along with the prices they paid. In the process, Twelve Disciples of Nelson Mandela provides an opportunity for viewers to consider more deeply what it means to value freedom and build a democracy.
FILM SYNOPSIS: As part of the first wave of black South African exiles, Harris's stepfather, B. Pule Leinaeng, and his 11 comrades left their home in Bloemfontein in 1960.
Up the Yangtze
(2008) directed by Yung Chang
DISCUSSION GUIDE: This guide supports viewers in discussing the “New China,” the importance of social class in Chinese society, and understanding lessons some of the film’s protagonists learned from working on a cruise ship traveling the Yangtze River.
FILM SYNOPSIS: Nearing completion, China's massive Three Gorges Dam is altering the landscape and the lives of people living along the fabled Yangtze River. Countless ancient villages and historic locales will be submerged, and 2 million people will lose their homes and livelihoods.
Youth Views was dedicated to collaborating with young people that want to explore the use of documentaries as community building tools. These Youth Outreach Toolkit focuse on involving young people in the creation of screening events where critical dialogue and civic response can succeed under youth leadership and initiative.
The goals of these toolkits were to...
Support youth by...
encouraging the development of critical thinking, media literacy, community organizing, peer support, personal expression, leadership, coalition building, and solution seeking through the organizing and execution of screening events in their communities.
presenting a vehicle for “breaking the ice” on the film’s topics by providing a safe context for dialogue with families and community members.
providing documentary films as tools for education and outreach to young activists interested in using documentaries as catalysts for action in their communities.
Support youth service providers by...
assisting communities and institutions in mapping and highlighting the assets and resources available for all youth.
fostering coalition building among groups concerned about young people.
These guides were co-produced with young people from the following organizations:
American Indian Community House
Amnesty International USA
Asian & Pacific Islander Coalition on HIV/AIDS
Chinatown Youth Initiatives
Chinese American Planning Council: Project Reach
City of New York Parks & Recreation: REC Youth Video Program
Desis Rising Up and Moving
Downtown Community Television Center
Educational Video Center
Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network
Manhattan Neighborhood Network: Youth Channel
Paper Tiger Television
Tibetan Sunday School
Two Eagle River School
These young people also organized screenings of the films they selected for toolkits. Below is an explanation of the process:
Explains the process of planning a screening event by detailing what do before, during, and after a screening. Also includes a media contact form and tips for facilitators.
Farmingville Youth Outreach Toolkit (2005)
directed by Carlos Sandoval and Catherine Tambini in 2004
TOOLKIT: This toolkit supports viewers in discussing immigrant communities’ experiences and how to take action against injustice. Includes frequently asked questions about immigration and day laborers. Can support learning about day labor issues, hate crimes, and community organizing,
FILM SYNOPSIS: The shocking hate-based attempted murders of two Mexican day laborers catapult a small Long Island town into national headlines, unmasking a new front line in the border wars: suburbia.
Georgie Girl Youth Outreach Toolkit (2005)
directed by Annie Goldson and Peter Wells in 2003
TOOLKIT: This toolkit supports viewers in discussing political engagement and transgender people’s experiences. Background information on the New Zealand political system, Maori culture, and the LGBTQ Movement in the United States is provided. Includes resources for young people working in the sex industry.
FILM SYNOPSIS: Born George Beyer, one-time prostitute-turned-politician, Georgina Beyer was elected to New Zealand's Parliament in 1999, becoming the world's first trans person to hold a national office. The film presents a remarkable account of Beyer's precedent-setting accomplishment, revealing her intelligence, charisma and humor.
In the Light of Reverence Youth Outreach Toolkit (2004) directed by Christopher McLeod and Malinda Maynor in 2001
TOOLKIT: This toolkit supports viewers in discussing Indigenous communities’ history in America, human rights, spirituality, and religious freedom. Includes introductory remarks addressing the audience’s awareness of the topic and contextualizing what will be discussed. Can support learning about Native American current events, community resources, strategies for cultural survival, and media literacy.
FILM SYNOPSIS: In the Light of Reverence is a beautifully rendered account of the struggles of the Lakota in the Black Hills, the Hopi in Arizona and the Wintu in California to protect their sacred sites.
Kelly Loves Tony Youth Outreach Toolkit (2002)
directed by Spencer Nakasako in 1998
TOOLKIT: This toolkit supports viewers in discussing how to overcome barriers to accessing education, develop conflict resolution skills, understand reproductive health choices and minors’ rights to medical care, promote cultural competency and cultural sensitivity, and examine gender roles and expectations. Includes background information on Iu Mien History. Can support learning about youth advocacy services, parenting skills, adolescent healthcare providers, and immigrant community issues.
FILM SYNOPSIS: She's a straight-A student; he's trying to leave gang life behind. A camcorder becomes both witness and confidante for these markedly singular yet utterly typical teens as they self-document the trials of growing up too fast and too soon in urban America.
Of Civil Wrongs and Rights: The Fred Korematsu Story Youth Outreach Toolkit (2004) directed by Eric Paul Fournier in 2001
TOOLKIT: This toolkit supports viewers in discussing what it means to be an American, community choices, civil rights and civil liberties, the role of media during times of war, and connecting the Korematsu v. United States Supreme Court case to contemporary issues. *Includes an op-ed written by Fred Korematsu on September 16, 2004, titled “Do we really need to relearn the lessons of Japanese American internment?” Can support learning about Asian American history, connections between history and the present, what it means to be a responsible citizen, and how to get involved in defending civil rights.
FILM SYNOPSIS: Of Civil Wrongs and Rights is the untold history of the 40-year legal fight to vindicate Fred Korematsu — who resisted the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II — one that finally turned a civil injustice into a civil rights victory.
Palante Siempre Palante: The Young Lords Movement Youth Outreach Toolkit (2003)
directed by Iris Morales in 1996
TOOLKIT: This toolkit supports viewers in discussing the importance of learning one’s history, the impact of immigration experiences, youth activism, sexism in revolutionary movements. Includes background information on the Young Lords. Can support learning about Puerto Rican history, activism, and civil rights.
FILM SYNOPSIS: They were leaders of the Young Lords Party, the militant Puerto Rican civil rights organization based in New York. Today, many are notable mainstream journalists, including Juan Gonzalez, Felipe Luciano and Pablo Guzman. Iris Morales makes history come alive as veterans of the movement recall their fight for equality, jobs, health care, and education.
Scout’s Honor Youth Outreach Toolkit (2003) directed by Tom Shepard in 2001
TOOLKIT: This toolkit supports viewers in discussing youth activism, the impact of homophobia, and conflict resolution skills. Includes an overview of the LGBTQ movement and background information on the Boy Scouts of America’s policy on gay members.
FILM SYNOPSIS: "To be physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight" - this is the Boy Scout pledge. Since 1910, millions of boys have joined. But today, if you are openly gay, you can't. A 12-year-old Boy Scout named Steven Cozza launches a campaign to overturn the Boy Scouts' anti-gay policy.