Friday, August 07, 2015

Documentarians: Our Last Refuge for the Truth

When I first started Reel Inspiration, it was my policy to only promote narrative films. But there is a crisis in our country resulting from the corporate takeover of the fourth estate, emasculating the power of journalism to act as watchdogs on those with power and influence. We seemed to have forgotten that it was once illegal to have media monopolies. There were reasons for those laws. But corporate-bought politicians changed that law right under our noses! The media convinced the American people to support unlimited campaign contributions from corporations. Passing the ironically named “Citizens United,” gave big business complete leeway to buy our politicians. Mega banks and big corporations now have unprecedented power to write legislation that profits them - at great cost for the rest of us. Big business bribed our congressmen and representatives to abolish laws that protected our environment or enforced quality controls on our food. They actually made it illegal to question how our food is prepared. That’s just crazy. In fact, it’s unconstitutional.

They sold the American people the idea of less government, so they could cut regulations on banks and Wall Street. This gave CEOs carte blanche to make risky (and even illegal) decisions with our investments – causing the recession. Fox news convinced us that our debt was caused by social services. They launched a full-blown smear campaign against hard working single mothers, calling them “Welfare Queens.” While corporations sent our jobs overseas, they distracted us by creating fear of "illegal immigrants" taking our jobs. Now we are spending billions sending undocumented immigrants to for-profit prisons. These are just a few ways that the corporate-owned media is manipulating us. The end result is, we can’t trust the news to deliver unbiased facts. That is why the work that documentarians like Frances Causey are doing is so important.

Frances Causey is a public interest journalist and documentary filmmaker who began her career in journalism with CNN where she was a Senior National Assignment Editor and Field Producer for fourteen years. At CNN, Frances was a senior member of a team honored with News and Documentary Emmys for their coverage of the Oklahoma City and Olympic Park Bombings. Frances has produced several feature length documentaries including her latest documentary feature, HEIST: WHO STOLE THE AMERICAN DREAM which was a 2012 New York Times Critic’s Pick and is currently airing in over 30 countries. HEIST won the prestigious Silver Chris Award for Social Issue Documentary at North America's oldest film festival, The Columbus International Film and Video Festival. In 2012, Frances was honored with the Women's International Film and Television Jury Award for her work on HEIST.

Frances’s latest documentary feature, THE LONG SHADOW, which is scheduled to be released in the summer of 2016, connects the dots between the United States’ history of slavery with the current deterioration of race relations. Frances’s new short film, OURS IS THE LAND, is about the desecration of Tohono O’odham sacred burial sites by the proposed massive Rosemont copper mine. 

I was honored to get a chance to converse with Frances about her documentaries and how her career as a journalist led to her telling these powerful stories.

Frances, you have such an impressive career as a journalist. Can you discuss why you decided to stop working at CNN and become a documentarian?

I left corporate journalism because it was just that - too corporate. That is - more concerned with profits than bringing truth to power which I believe is what the 4th estate or journalism is for. Covering news is expensive and it’s much easier to plop two opposing polemics in chairs and have them go at it. How is the public served by that?

At CNN, I began to question my involvement when we began covering the O.J. Simpson trial wall to wall. We literally closed down other bureaus so they could send folks to L.A. Many important stories went untold in that time period so we could ply our audiences with every salacious detail available, way beyond what was newsworthy.

I believe our democracy is suffering immense damage because of a lack of commitment by corporate owners of media to telling the truth. Today's news shows are more about selling products than holding leadership of this country accountable. Ironically, most of the truth telling is happening in documentaries, an art which has seen a resurgence thanks to the fall of journalism.

Could you share a little about why you chose each of these three subjects?

I wanted to make HEIST because I could so readily see how, as a worker myself, the economy was being rigged against us (i.e. no wage increases, gradual erosion of benefits, etc.) The "race to the bottom" economy was the pink elephant in the room that no one - particularly the corporate mainstream news media - was paying attention to. It was a great "whodunnit" story. Journalists are not very good at telling economic stories. But this was not just an economic story but a criminal one.

OURS IS THE LAND--- I got involved early on. Ours is the fight against the disastrous Rosemont mining proposal and again, no one in the news was covering what was actually going to happen if the mine was built, including the desecration of Tohono O'odham burial sites and archaeological treasures such as a rare Hohokam ball court. While the mine says they will build around the court, it’s a moot point because the court will be roped off with virtually no access available to it. We created essentially a news bureau so we could distribute good, fact-based, well-researched info on the mine which is at:

THE LONG SHADOW is the name of my new documentary feature that connects our history of slavery to the current problems with race relations and the continued oppression of the African-American community in the U.S. The film is a hybrid - part historical/current issue/character driven memoir film about the less than patriotic, startling facts behind the founding of United States relating to slavery and its subsequent consequences, and the painful legacy of these hard truths, which I believe haunts the United States to this day. Much of the circumstances behind our founding has been hidden and instead, as school children, we were taught the Moonlight and Magnolias version. But in reality, our nation’s long history of racial, nearly genocidal oppression of African-Americans in the United States has deep roots in our beginnings.

Movie blessings!
Jana Segal

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