Author Archives: showmejusticefilmfestival

Guest Blogger – Joseph Brown

Over the last three years I have amassed approximately 300 hours of video footage while following eco-activist Rod Coronado on his campaign to end wolf hunting in the United States. I’ve used some of that footage to create a few short documentaries– including, “Operation Wolf Patrol: Wisconsin Wildlife Issues,” which will be screening at the Show Me Justice Film Festival in April of 2017, and I am also working on a larger film about Rod Coronado’s life. That film is tentatively titled, “A Strong Heart: The Rod Coronado Story.”

Joe Brown Filmming Rod Coronado

Rod Coronado has a long history in environmental activism. Some have called him a hero; some have called him an “eco-terrorist.” Either way, I have learned a lot about wildlife policy in the United States while traveling with Rod. Indeed, I have learned that the hunting lobby is extremely strong, and that in some states– particularly those states that are somewhat “out of the way,” like Wisconsin, and perhaps Michigan, there is much hatred for wildlife that we might call predators.

Joe Brown Back to Bear Bait

I’ll spare readers the details of the YouTube videos I have watched that showcase the wholesale torture of predators at the hands of hunters in places like northern Wisconsin (but believe me, there are many such videos on YouTube). What I will say, or ask, is this: when will humans, as a species, consider the “civil” rights of other species?

Perhaps the question isn’t so much about civil rights as it is about the right to exist.

It’s easy to get depressed about the state human kind’s own inability to recognize the civil rights of other humans, but what about the final frontier? What about the rights of other species?

WP Crew Moquah July 4th 452A6955

It is said that 150 – 200 non-human species go extinct every day. Some of this is due to development; some of this is due to global warming, and other environmental factors.

What is more concerning is that– despite this, we still hunt and kill animals we do not eat. In fact, we kill close to 4,500 black bears annually in Wisconsin. And– in addition, hunters regularly poach wolves while claiming that they mistakenly thought them to be, “big coyotes.”

Are we, as a species, still so depraved that we must kill, torture, and traffic other species? Are we so ignorant that we’re still afraid of the, “big bad wolf”?

I’m pulling no punches here, but this is a blog post, not a newspaper article, and my main goal isn’t necessarily the promotion of my film.

I respect the, “Show Me Justice Film Festival,” for taking on issues of social justice, and especially issues of environmental justice. It’s time we start thinking about the non-human world when we talk about justice.

Currently, I am living in the state of Wisconsin and the words of a famous Wisconsin conservationist– Aldo Leopold, seem to frequently be on my mind:

“One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds. Much of the damage inflicted on land is quite invisible to laymen. An ecologist must either harden his shell and make believe that the consequences of science are none of his business, or he must be the doctor who sees the marks of death in a community that believes itself well and does not want to be told otherwise.”

It’s time we open our eyes to the plight of other species. It’s time we realize that we– and the natural world around us, are not well.

It’s time we begin to realize the environment needs to be considered when we think about issues of justice.

—  Joe Brown is a documentary filmmaker and professor based at Marquette University in Milwaukee, WI. Find out more about Joe’s current work at:

Guest Blogger – Martha Gorzycki

Voices From Kaw Thoo Lei, 2015  (10:45 min)
An Experimental Animated Documentary
Martha Gorzycki, Producer, Director, Animator

The Karen people of Burma believe no one hears their pleas for help as their country remains ravaged by a war that has lasted more than six decades. This film uses over 10,000 photos to animate a landscape of memory over which Voices from Kaw Thoo Lei may be heard.


The Karen name for their homeland is Kaw Lar, meaning Green Land. Due to six decades of civil wars, their land is now often referred to as, Kaw Thoo Lei, or Land Burned Black. The terrorism and genocide inflicted by the Burmese military government is still a reality today. Enduring these atrocities in Burma for so long, many Karen people I interviewed believe the world has turned its back and no one is listening to them, which is why I decided to make this film.

Their population has been reduced from 7 million to about 3.5 million, with over 130,000 Karen refugees in Thailand. Throughout the past decade, most news about Burma (Myanmar) has focused on Nobel Laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi or more recently on the persecution of the Muslim group, the Rohingya. There are over 100 languages spoken in Burma with the Karen being the largest ethnic minority nation, yet over the decades, little information on the Karen’s struggle has been newsworthy.


Animation expands visual representation for documentary; the fantastical possibilities function differently from newsreel. In this film, slow changing abstract images focus the experience on listening and engaging the imagination. This documentary records the raw memories and emotions of Karen interviewees. The story unfolds as one collective voice, like Karen culture which prioritizes family and community over individualism.

Using stop-motion techniques, over 10,000 photos animate a landscape of memory. Textural surfaces allude to physical reality and contrast with skies beyond jungle, the hopefulness of reaching a safer place. This film explores stop-motion animation as subtle cinema-art, with the hope of bringing greater awareness to the Karen’s multi-generational struggle for peace and freedom.

Guest Blogger – Noel Harris

Noel Harris is  the creative director and screenwriter behind the short narrative film Touch.

When I was asked to write this blog, I thought of the very essence of what my film is about.  We, every single day of our life, strive toward a goal.  Everything we do, from putting on our socks, to the stretching of the dollar, to being a shoulder to lean on, all of our actions are a means toward the goal of attaining and realizing our true essence.  I promise to state what I feel this essence is, but first some background on writing Touch.

TOUCH web V2 update

I grew up one of the youngest in a large family. Through my parents’ example we stood by each other and managed to make ends meet. When we were kids one of the things my parents and older sisters and brothers always did for the smaller Harris kids was scratch our back, literally – especially when tired, grumpy, sick, and especially during those times when we were worried about something.  The soft back scratch always seemed to make the worries go away.  Getting a tender back scratch, to this day, remains one of the most connective humanistic moments in my life.  It is a tradition that continues to this day in the Harris family.  When my niece Robyn was 5-6 years old and visiting the Harris homestead, she would, without a word, go get the nail clippers, hand them to me and lay on my lap.  Robyn loved the gentle back scratch of just clipped fingernails.  As I softly scratched her back she would always fall asleep.  My sister would jokingly get frustrated when she wanted to leave and little Robyn was out solid.

One day, I was tasked with scouting a run-down location for a television show.  I found a place.  It was the home of a single mother and her three children, all under the age of six. They were living in abject poverty.  It was obvious this mother truly did love her children and vice versa.  Though it was my job, I could not bring myself to take reference pictures.  I said the windows did not match what was written in the script.  I left, drove up the road out of sight and pulled over.  For the longest time I just sat in my car, shocked.

When we began shooting at a nearby location, every morning the mother would come out, wearing her work uniform, and head to the bus stop, with her three children in tow.  She and I would say hello and from afar I always observed the care and tenderness she showed her children.   I thought to myself, these kids did not know the difference and to them their living conditions are normal.  Over the ensuing days, other family members such as aunts and uncles would visit and the kids were genuinely happy to see them.

I began thinking about ways I could bring a viewer into the world of a single parent family living in abject poverty, yet, doing the things a “normal” family would do.  Would we view the family who live in poverty the same way? How often do we think that people living in poverty as not showing love and affection to their children?  After witnessing this family, I wanted to, in story, bring the viewer into a world where a family, despite being under the colossal weight of poverty can indeed show that our essence prevails. The end result was Touch.

In the end, I want the viewer to be moved.  Nothing moves me more than seeing a child in need or in danger.  I feel most people are the same. I want the audience to worry and in the end be rewarded for their investment of worry.  If it sparks some greater debate on why kids, in reality, do indeed have to live like this, bonus.

And oh, that essence I promised to describe, it is the thing that makes you and I each day put on our socks, stretch the dollar, and offer a shoulder to lean on – Love.

— Noel Harris



Guest Blogger – Filmmaker Ilana Trachtman

The Pursuit: 50 Years in the Fight for LGBT Rights

by filmmaker Ilana Trachtman

I was honored and humbled when WHYY asked me to create a film about the 50th anniversary of the gay rights movement. I have been making films for over twenty years, but before that moment I did not know that my home, Philadelphia, was the sight of one of the first protests for what was then called “homosexual rights.”

In fact, there was a lot that I didn’t know about the history of the LGBT movement. Delving into this rich history in order to develop the film, I was doubly shocked: on the one hand, awed by the courage of the elder activists; and on the other, horrified by the pernicious close-mindedness and rejection that once faced LGBT people in every aspect of life.

My interest as a filmmaker is in telling the stories of real people. To make the history come alive, I chose to interview the elder activists who had lived it, who could narrate their personal experiences. To make the history relevant, I chose to tell the present-day struggles of people who are LGBT. Juxtaposing the recollections of the elders with stories of the present, we are able to observe how far we’ve come, and how far we have left to go.

I remain humbled by this history, but in completing the film I add gratitude: to the heroes who boldly spoke out when it wasn’t safe; to today’s heroes who entrusted me with their stories; to an incredible production team including Associate Producer Naomi Levine and Editor Kimberley Hassett; and to WHYY and the Pew Foundation for giving me the opportunity to make The Pursuit: 50 Years in the Fight for LGBT Rights.

Ilana Trachtman
Producer| Director| Writer
Ruby Pictures, Inc.

Guest Bloggers – Interview with Erika Street Hopman

The short narrative film, “The Orange Story” deals with America in the 1940s and the start of the Japanese internment camps.  Director Erika Street Hopman gives us an inside look into the film and it’s various aspects.

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As a filmmaker, I’m very interested in the intersection of documentary and narrative fiction filmmaking, so this story was right up my alley. When I received the first draft of the script from our producer, Eugene Park, I was very moved by the story. It was a short, but it had so much richness and so many layers to explore with the actors.

The film portrays an important but shameful moment in American history – one that is too often skipped or glossed over in school history classes. By telling this story through narrative film, I hoped we could help more people learn about Japanese American incarceration during WWII, and also help them connect it to contemporary issues and events.

The Orange Story specifically examines the culture of xenophobia and fear that led up to the incarceration. These are topics that transcend this moment in history, and continue to be relevant and important now. We started working on this film long before Trump took office, but with recent debates over immigration and the Muslim ban, it’s become more important than ever to examine what led up to Japanese American incarceration during WWII.

I love documentaries, and I think that they’re a fabulous way to tell certain stories. But when you’re looking at historical events, it’s easy for a documentary portrayal to feel distant and removed. I think it also requires a certain presupposed interest in a topic for someone to sit down and watch a documentary.

By telling this story with actors and a script, we can make the history feel more immediate and alive. We can also help people become more emotionally invested in our characters. As they watch The Orange Story, I hope people will connect with this history on a human level – not just look at it as a series of dates and facts and events. In the process, I believe people will begin to think more critically about Japanese American incarceration during WWII, and recognize the parallels to the racism and xenophobia present in their own lives.

Photo 9 final_shot2_6

I hope this film inspires people to remember that small gestures matter. Each of us encounters moments in our own lives when we must decide whether to stand up against racism or perpetuate it. Those individual moments may be small, but they have a much larger context and significance.

So few Americans understand or even know about the Japanese American WWIII incarceration – there are a lot of students who are not learning about it at all. It’s not taught as widely or as in-depth as I think it should be. I think there are many reasons for that. One is that it’s such a shameful moment in our history, and a moment that in the scheme of things, is still relatively recent. As Americans, we pride ourselves on being the land of the free, and leaders regarding human and civil rights. When we talk about our country’s role in WWII, we tend to see ourselves as the heroes who helped fight Hitler and free Jews from concentrations camps. Yet at the same time, we were unjustly incarcerating our own citizens. Acknowledging and discussing that juxtaposition can lead to a lot of complicated questions about our national identity, what freedom really means to us, and how we treat minorities and immigrants in the United States. It forces a level of introspection that can be quite uncomfortable.

I see many parallels between this history and current events – particularly the treatment of Muslim-Americans, attitudes towards refugees, and our nation’s response to terrorism.  I think we have to stay vigilant to make sure that history does not repeat itself. We all have a responsibility to do and be better, and to help our country act according to the American ideals we espouse.

The film paints a grim picture of the consequences of fear and racism, but it also sends a positive message that there is hope for future generations. I will say that so far, the reception to the film has reinforced that optimism. After screenings, youth in particular have seemed to connect with Koji’s story and asked very thoughtful questions. I hope the story sticks with them and they share it with their peers.

Guest Blogger – Robin Canfield

Guest Blogger – Robin Canfield is a filmmaker who works closely with Actuality Media to help students create documentaries that help to change the world.

“The world faces global challenges, which require global solutions. These interconnected global challenges call for far-reaching changes in how we think and act for the dignity of fellow human beings. It is not enough for education to produce individuals who can read, write and count. Education must be transformative and bring shared values to life. It must cultivate an active care for the world and for those with whom we share it. Education must also be relevant in answering the big questions of the day.”

Priority #3 of the UN’s Global Education First Initiative

The United Nations got it exactly right when they called for transformative education as necessary to change the world. This needs to be a central tenet in advancing social justice, and it always has been a part of the educational method at Actuality Media – our motto from the beginning has been “Make Movies. Change the World.” For years we’ve been taking students – like the crew of “Girls Like Us” which is screening this year at the Show Me Justice Film Festival – around the world to teach storytelling via making a short documentary about changemakers.


The global reach of this is easy to see when we’re taking crews out to Tanzania, Nepal or Peru – but that it’s having a global effect can’t be taken for granted. Making sure our subject changemakers have access to the films to use for self-promotion is essential, and beyond that we work to find festivals in the area where we filmed so that local audiences will also hear every important story we have to tell. If a changemaker we are filming with has a great solution to a local problem, we want other locals to know – as well as people across the world who may be able to adapt that solution. Another of our films from 2016 – “Cada Gota Cuenta” with the water filter-making organization EcoFiltro is an easy example, as cheap and effective water filters are needed the world over. Wanting to make the knowledge of how it’s done available is a perfect example of sharing values important to social justice around the globe.

kenya-screeningA gathering in Nairobi to screen three just-completed short documentary films with locals and crews.

Of course, bringing those stories back home is an important step as well – in is not just for the rest of the world to move forward on social justice, and inspiration is needed just as much here at home. For all of the work Actuality Media does abroad, we find it difficult to launch Documentary Outreaches here in the United States, and I would like to applaud all the filmmakers at Show Me Justice who have covered stories at home. We are always looking for ways to push the creation of stories about changemakers here, and 2017 has seen the introduction of our new Changemaker In Your Community Documentary Competition which will see the winner receive a 100% scholarship towards one of our 2017 Documentary Outreaches, and (fingers crossed) will see at least a few films come in that you will see here at Show Me Justice in 2018!

Demonstrating where our values lie at home makes for a more certain base to reach from as we advance social justice around the globe. Making movies that capture these values, that tell stories of people who embody these values, is a key part of the solution to the global challenges of today and we should all be proud to be a part of this change – but not forget there is always more to be done.


photo by Andrea Garcia Márquez6n6a9916-sqBy Robin Canfield

Guest Blogger: Jenni-Juulia Wallinheimo-Heimonen

Jenni-Juulia Wallinheimo-Heimonen is a textile and conceptual artist and director of the short film “Illusionist’s Visions” which will be shown at the 2017 Show Me Justice Film Festival.


Piquant feature

“Take one card, but don’t show it to me,” the magician Ronja Oja said and turned her back. I had trouble focusing on her tricks, because her stand-up performance was so fascinating. After the show, I started to follow Ronja’s blog, which is called “with unseeing eyes”. There was an audio of an interview, in which she tells about her life as a visually impaired person since the age of eight. The tape reveals that she viewed her piquant feature in the same way already as a child as she does now – everything is going just fine.

– What are your hobbies?
– Biking and roller blading.
– How are they going?
– Well. They are going just fine.
– When you ride a bike, do you drive in the front or behind?
– Sometimes in the front and sometimes in the back.
– Which one is easier?
– In the front. If I’m behind, the speed of the person in front may be too slow. (Laughter).

My short film Illusionist’s Visions about Ronja’s life got its inspiration from her blog post, where she wrote about her dream to become a sign language interpreter. When she inquired about the possibility of starting sign language studies, she was told that the Finnish sign language is a visual language, and that learning it requires the sense of sight. Since she had participated in a sign language course in junior high, she disagreed. As a visually impaired athlete with excellent muscular memory, she claims that out of all foreign languages that she has studied, sign language has been the easiest to learn. What annoyed her most, was that the “not accepted” selection was made already before the application process. The professors didn’t even want to hear her ideas about studying with a sign language speaking personal assistant. Nor to discuss about her opportunities to specialize in tactile signing for deaf-blinds or in one-way interpretation in theaters or television. Not to mention the future, where motion sensing cameras and smart clothing might be included in the teaching of sign language.


In 2012, a law entered into force in Finland that was intended to prevent persons who might endanger occupational and patient safety (e.g. substance abuse and psychotic symptoms) to access certain areas of education. Unfortunately it has already been used several times to discriminate against persons with disabilities in student selection. For instance, a graphic design school was sentenced to pay a fine, since it had denied the right to study from a deaf student on the grounds that the classroom didn’t have enough room for the interpreter.  Ronja’s case is of course more complicated and unprecedented – and therefore so intriguing.

The film Illusionist’s Visions is not about the battle to get in to interpreter training, but a story of dreams. Bodily privileged people are often restricting the rights of persons with disabilities with their prejudices and by maintaining stereotypical ideas of what kind of things are possible and which not. Assumptions that a blind person would not do magic tricks nor speak sign language is a subconcious way to build barriers to inclusion. As a spin-off, these negative presuppositions make purposeful and active persons with disabilities look like exceptional heroes. Ronja has not chosen her hobbies in spite of her disability but like most of us, due to her passions and interests.

For me it was fascinating to hear, how a person who doesn’t follow the non-verbal communication of others, finds the beauty of gestures and body-language when she becomes acquainted with sign language. I began to ask, what is it like to live isolated from this visual culture, where it’s more and more important to stage the scene of existence by photos, videos and other visible things. What kind of visual role you create when you can’t get inspiration from others?


Disability as a concept doesn’t mean defective individuals but a way of treating people whose features differ from the imaginary norms. Everyday life of persons with disabilities doesn’t improve by observing problems. It is more important to recognize barriers due to which people’s dreams and top moments of life are threatened. Illusionist’s visions attempts to open our seeing eyes to understand better what is it like to live with a visual impairment. It has also many unfocused and blurred pictures to attract people who see to close their eyes and follow the illusions produced by the sounds and audio description. It offers short flashes of disability culture and it is made completely by persons with disabilities.

– Jenni-Juulia Wallinheimo-Heimonen

Disney’s Moana under fire

Chris Guerra

Disney claims to have put a lot of time and effort into their new movie ‘Moana.’ Disney wanted to nail Polynesian culture and get it right. Disney also wanted to show Polynesian culture to the world but it didn’t work out to plan. There were a lot of South Pacific people that were not happy with the results of their culture being not sync with the Disney movie.


The biggest thing that was not liked was the portrayal of the characters in the movie. The demigod Maui is shown as a big, self-centered deity. A lot of Polynesians feel that Disney is poking fun at the fact that their obesity rates are among the highest in the world. Maui is looked up to and a hero that Polynesians have great respect for in their culture. Teresia Teaiwa, a senior lecturer in Pacific studies at Victoria University of Wellington had plenty to say about this. “Before Disney, I’ve seen a lot of other representations, and Maui is a hero,” she said. “I think it’s clear from the trailers I’ve seen that he’s a buffoon in Disney. It’s a dramatic shift. He was a trickster but not a buffoon.”

The next thing that Teresia had to say was how inaccurate the story was with Maui and the girl with him. Maui is usually shown with a female deity. Teaiwa said, “If Disney really wanted to be culturally correct they would have paired Maui with a female deity, as he is in most legends, and not with a teenager.” Even back around Halloween the Moana costume of Maui were called back and taken off the shelves. It was seen and compared to as “blackface.” In the end Disney needs to tread lightly when they focus on cultural movies, but then again there is always going to be someone who is not happy with the final product. There are always people that tear on films because they are not the way they envisioned it.

Social Justice supported by the women’s basketball team at University of California, Santa Barbara

Chris Guerra

November 6th 2016 the entire University of California, Santa Barbara women’s basketball team took a knee for Social Justice. This was done during the national anthem at UCSB’s exhibition game. Taking a knee to social justice has been sweeping the nation from colleges to even pros. One of the famous athletes that had started this was 49ers Colin Kaepernick. What the demonstration represents is a silent protest to police brutality and the oppression of minorities. The alumni boosters as well as supporters for University of California, Santa Barbara have found this offensive that the women’s basketball team would do that.

Many of the Gauchos women's Basketball team take a knee during the national anthem. Eric Swenson / Daily Nexus

To do damage control the UCSB athletic director John McCutcheon decided to do damage control and released a statement. “We understand that many of you are deeply offended that they have chosen to make this statement during the playing of our national anthem,” McCutcheon said in the statement. “Some of you have been moved to no longer support the team, and we respect your position. Others, however, have supported their act of a peaceful demonstration of their beliefs, and this we respect as well.”McCutcheon does, however, want the students of UCSB to know they have the right to express beliefs and feelings. “It is not for me to attempt to convey why they feel so deeply compelled to do so other than to say it is their way of expressing concern and support for advances in the many areas of social injustice that exist in our world today,” McCutcheon said in the statement.

49ers Quarterback Colin Kaepernick was well aware how fans and media would perceive what him kneeling would mean.  “I am not looking for approval. I have to stand up for people that are oppressed,” Kaepernick said. “If they take football away, my endorsements from me, I know that I stood up for what is right.” It was not directed towards the flag but more towards the discrimination in our country.

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As a handicap Mexican American minority I know as well as anyone what being discriminated against is like. We are given the right as born citizens to state our minds with the freedom of speech. The freedom of speech can sometimes be used in the wrong way or not be fully understood by everyone. There is a time and place for everything and that using the freedom of speech as hatred. The kneeling during national anthems is not considered hate though it is a peaceful demonstration. I can also see how it offends others if it is looked at wrong such as this being about the flag.

There is great sacrifice that the military does for its country. You have to remember too that we are given this right to speak our minds from our brothers in arms. For the longest time though this nation has been separated and minorities have experienced a lot of hate and hostility based on the color of their skin. We are all equal and all have our own choices to make. Honestly we just need to be there for each other and know we are all human beings.

Guest Blogger – Kyndall Mahone

Kyndall Mahone is a Senior at the University of Central Missouri. He is currently finishing up his major in Digital Media Production. His emphasis is in audio but enjoys other aspects of the major. He hopes to graduate and find a career in the Radio Industry. 

Death Penalty: Fair Or Not?

The term ‘Social Justice’ is justice in the terms of the distribution of wealth, opportunities, and privileges within a society.

I believe that the world tries its hardest to spread social justice everywhere. At the same time I believe it is not always as easy as it sounds. There are still many social injustices that occur daily. Some people may have different opinions and views on certain topics and how certain situations should be handled. One of the topics I would like to discuss today is the topic of the Death Penalty. Is it right or wrong? This is a subject that many people are torn over but I believe it is one that is important to be discussed. The death penalty is usually given as Capital Punishment by state for people who commit a very serious crime. If found guilty of the crime, the criminal will be sentenced to death. But is this right? Is it justified?



Some people will say “YES” that this is a justified punishment, while some will say “NO.” Usually this punishment is given for very serious crimes such as terrorism, murder, large scale drug trafficking, or treason. Some will argue that it is necessary for certain situations. Others will argue that no one deserves to lose their life, not even a criminal. Some will argue that it will be the only way to stop the criminal from committing crimes, while others will argue that there are other precautions that can be taken. The loss of a life is a permanent decision that can never be reversed. Once its done…. It’s done.



The death penalty is currently legal in 31 states, and banned in 18. Questions that come to mind when I think of this situation in our Country is leadership. Who gets to make the rules? Can we really justify that it is right for someone to have their life taken. Do they deserve to live whether they are right or wrong? I would like to not take a side but to just open eyes up and shed a bit of light on this topic as I feel it is an important one. I would like more people to engage in this topic and become aware of what is happening in our country.