The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 (Göran Olsson, 2011)
Titicut Follies (1967)
Titicut Follies is a 1967 American documentary film directed by Frederick Wiseman, about the treatment of inmates/patients at Bridgewater State Hospital for the criminally insane, a Massachusetts Correctional Institution in Bridgewater, Massachusetts. The title is taken from a talent show put on by the hospital’s inmates. (The talent show was named after the Wampanoag word for the nearby Taunton River.) In 1967 the film won awards in Germany and Italy. Wiseman made a number of such films examining social institutions (e.g. hospitals, police, schools, etc.) in the United States.
Titicut Follies portrays the existence of occupants of Bridgewater, some of them catatonic, holed up in unlit cells, and only periodically washed. It also depicts inmates/patients required to strip naked publicly, force feeding, and indifference and bullying on the part of many of the institution’s staff.
Titicut Follies was the beginning of the documentary career of Fred Wiseman, a Boston-born lawyer turned filmmaker. He originally took his law classes from Boston University to the institution for educational purposes and had “wanted to do a film there.” He began calling the superintendent of the facility looking for permission to film a year prior to production. Wiseman had previously produced The Cool World, a 1960 film based on Warren Miller’s novel and took that experience to inform his desire to direct. He drafted a proposal that was verbally agreed to by the superintendent, which later came into question when the film began distribution. Following that agreement filming did commence and while on location Wiseman recorded the sound and directed the cameraman with his microphone or hand directions. He hired John Marshall as his cameraman, an established ethnographic filmmaker.
Just before the film was due to be shown at the 1967 New York Film Festival, the government of Massachusetts tried to get an injunction banning its release. The government claimed that the film violated the patients’ privacy and dignity. Although Wiseman received permission from all the people portrayed or the hospital superintendent (their legal guardian), Massachusetts claimed that this permission could not take the place of valid release forms from the inmates. It also claimed that Wiseman breached an “oral contract” giving the state government editorial control over the film. However, a New York state court allowed the film to be shown. In 1968, however, Massachusetts Superior Court judge Harry Kalus ordered the film yanked from distribution and called for all copies to be destroyed, citing the state’s concerns about violations of the patients’ privacy and dignity.
Wiseman appealed to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, which in 1969 allowed it to be shown only to doctors, lawyers, judges, health-care professionals, social workers, and students in these and related fields. Wiseman appealed to the United States Supreme Court, which refused to hear the case.
Wiseman has pointed out that he received permission from all of the people portrayed in the film or else their legal guardian, in this case the superintendent of Bridgewater. He believes that the government of Massachusetts, concerned that the film portrayed a state institution in a bad light, intervened to protect its own reputation. The state intervened after a social worker in Minnesota wrote to Governor John Volpe expressing shock at a scene involving a naked man being taunted by a guard.
The dispute marked the first known instance in the history of the American film industry that a film was banned from general distribution for reasons other than obscenity, immorality or national security. It was also the first time that Massachusetts recognized a right to privacy at the state level. Wiseman stated that, “The obvious point that I was making was that the restriction of the court was a greater infringement of civil liberties than the film was an infringement on the liberties of the inmates.”
Little changed until 1987, when the families of seven inmates who died at the hospital sued the hospital and state. Steven Schwartz represented one of the inmates. Schwartz’s client who was “restrained for 2 ½ months and given six psychiatric drugs at vastly unsafe levels - - choked to death because he could not swallow his food.” Schwartz claims that, “There is a direct connection between the decision not to show that film publicly and my client dying 20 years later, and a whole host of other people dying in between.” In fact, “In the years since Mr. Wiseman made ‘Titicut Follies’, most of the nation’s big mental institutions have been closed or cut back by court orders.” In addition, “the film may have also influenced the closing of the institution featured in the film.”
side note: also see, Willowbrook State Hospital: The Last Great Disgrace
Jung Sung San is one out of nine people who have escape North Korea’s concentration camps and managed to flee to “safety” in Seoul. Here he organizes a controversial theatre play about his experiences as prisoner in a concentration camp called Yodok. He inspires eight other refugees to recreate the past, and together they work to develop a musical about the concentration camps.
The film follows the characters through this difficult process. There are many who would like to stop them, and Jung receives several death threats. The film leads us close to the refugees, we participate in their private lives, and we listen to their dramatic stories. Their lives in Seoul are affected by financial difficulties and hostile South Koreans with a negative view on North Korea after years of propaganda. Yodok Story is their only chance to get their story told.
Yodok Stories won the Planet Doc Review, Youth Jury Award in Poland and the Bergen International Film Festival, Youth Jury’s Documentary Award in 2008. The film has been screened at numerous film festivals world wide, including the Tribeca Film Festival and Sheffield Doc/Fest in 2009.
American Dream (1990) is a cinéma vérité documentary film directed by Barbara Kopple and co-directed by Cathy Caplan, Thomas Haneke, and Lawrence Silk.
The film recounts an unsuccessful strike in the heartland of America against the Hormel Foods corporation.
The film is centered on unionized meatpacking workers at Hormel Foods in Austin, Minnesota between 1985 and 1986. Hormel had cut the hourly wage from $10.69 to $8.25 and cut benefits by 30 percent despite posting a net profit of $30 million. The local union (P-9) opposed the cut, but the national union, the United Food and Commercial Workers, disagrees with their strategy.
The local union is shown hiring a freelance strike consultant, Ray Rogers, who comes in with charts, graphs and promises of a corporate campaign to draw national press attention. Rogers delivers in the short term, but, it is not enough to defeat opposition from Hormel management and the UFCW international union.
Soon, despite the efforts of a seasoned negotiator sent by the parent union, the company has locked out the workers and hired replacement workers, leading to a series of violent conflicts amongst members of the community. The workers’ resolve progressively fades as the battle extends into months and years, and the financial hardships they and their families suffer leads some to doubt the value of their efforts. Kopple, who had previously covered an extended miner’s strike in the acclaimed 1977 documentary Harlan County, USA, focuses on the personalities and emotions behind the strike, creating a highly charged portrait of labor that is sympathetic to the workers’ distress without ignoring the strike’s greater ambiguities.
American Dream features footage of union meetings and press releases, Hormel press releases, news broadcasts, and in-depth interviews with people on both sides of the issue, including Jesse Jackson.
The film premiered at the New York Film Festival on October 6, 1990. In January 1991 it was screened at the Sundance Film Festival. On March 18, 2002, it opened in New York City.
Cane Toads: An Unnatural History, Part 1/5
Mark Lewis’s short film from 1988 about the introduction of cane toads to Australia in the 1930s. His latest film - ‘Cane Toads: The Conquest’ - was released in 2010.
The cane toad was introduced to Queensland in an attempt to control the cane beetle grub which ravaged sugar cane planatations. Since this program was made, the toad has spread much further and has now reached the northern area of Western Australia.
Attempts are still being made to control the spread of the toads, so far without success. It has never shown the slightest interest in preying on the grubs.
side note: this is the most unintentionally hilarious documentary i’ve ever seen. the stuttering guy, and the german guy, camera angles, the super-dramatic music and editing. i loved every second of it.