I’ll Be There: Film Festival Shows Legacy of the Lincolns

November 19, 2017
By
The Film Festival Team

The Film Festival Team

ALBA’s Human Rights Film Festival shines a light on human rights abuses—and on those who try to stop them—wherever they may happen. The geography covered by this year’s Impugning Impunity is vast.

Just a few minutes into The Good Fight, the 1984 documentary that has introduced tens of thousands of Americans to the history of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, the inimitable Bill Bailey describes the one thing that drove him and so many of the Lincolns to go to Spain:

You were now concerned with what happened in Timbuktu. If some poor working stiff was on strike in Timbuktu, or Addis Ababa, and he’s out there carrying a placard, and some cop comes down and starts bustin’ his skull, you were concerned about that because that was your brother out in Adis Ababa, or Timbuktu, or Cape Town, or Australia, or any place else. They were your human beings, your class brothers.

Sounding every bit like a Tom Joads but with a thick New Joysey accent, Bailey delivers his own “I’ll be there” speech, very much like the famous soliloquy that Henry Fonda’s character intones in the 1940 movie adaptation of Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath. But Bailey, with much more directness than Steinbeck’s character, points to, as the driving force of his wanting-to-be-everywhere, international working class solidarity. And sure enough, once Spain’s Democratic Worker’s Republic was attacked by fascists in July 1936, Bailey and almost 3,000 other Americans would eventually say: “I’ll be there.” And there they went.

But now they’re gone.

ALBA’s mission is to keep alive the legacy of the Lincolns at a time when they are no longer among us. A key part of that legacy was international solidarity and, though the ever class-conscious volunteers probably would not have used the expression very much themselves, the defense of human rights. That is why, in different ways, ALBA’s core activities focus precisely on those aspects. Our educational outreach programs strive to help teachers and students access and interpret the materials they need to reconstruct, in all of its complexity and richness, the world of solidarity out of which the Lincolns emerged. Our ALBA Puffin Human Rights Prize recognizes and promotes the work of brave individuals and organizations who take on their own good fights against injustice. And our Human Rights Film Festival, more than any of our activities, shines a light on human rights abuses—and on those who try to stop them— wherever they may happen. The geography covered by this year’s Impugning Impunity festival is vast; it seems as if the documentary filmmakers and the festival programmers have truly taken to heart Tom Joads’s timeless call for ubiquity and solidarity.

A fellow ain’t got a soul of his own, just a little piece of a big soul, the one big soul that belongs to everybody… I’ll be everywhere. Wherever you can look. Wherever there’s a fight, so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there; wherever there’s a cop, beating up a guy, I’ll be there. I’ll be in the way guys yell when they’re mad…

The films featured this year took us from Syria to Standing Rock; from Harvard Yard to a Jordanian refugee camp; from Guatemala to the streets of New York; from Israel to Benin; and in a wide range of styles, from experimental to denunciatory, the films educated us and positioned us to feel solidarity with those who suffer and fight injustice wherever it occurs.

We were there.

How did people like Bill Bailey acquire the global perspective of international solidarity that he displayed in The Good Fight and throughout his life? Bailey himself was a seaman and, as such, a world traveler. But most people in the 1930s—especially working-class people—would have acquired their “worldliness” through the media. Newspapers, magazines, radio, and, more as the ‘30s wore on, documentary film, whether in the form of short newsreels screened in movie theaters, or in the form of freestanding non-fiction films that explored current issues. The making of documentary films was a key component of the Republican propaganda effort during the Spanish Civil War, as the government struggled to win the hearts and minds of the world over to the cause of antifascism. And we know of several recorded cases where volunteers’ decisions to go to Spain were directly influenced by moving pictures they had seen.


The documentary filmmakers have truly taken to heart Tom Joads’s timeless call for ubiquity and solidarity.


Today, digital technology, which enables high-quality and independent video production at relatively low cost, combined with the emergence of a generation of fearless and talented young filmmakers who are determined to document and fight injustice, has engendered a golden age of human rights documentary filmmaking. These films generate knowledge and solidarity; the first necessary but insufficient steps to action. For all of these reasons, it is altogether fitting that ALBA include, in the heart of our programmatic mission, this human rights film festival. The films showcased in Impugning Impunity respond directly to the pleas of Tom Joads and Bill Bailey. In their own ways, they appeal to, and at the same time help construct, that borderless global conscience for which the Lincolns longed and fought and died.

Impugning Impunity, 2018? I’ll be there.

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Impugning Impunity at a Glance

Filmmakers Rebecca Rojer and Sara Leonard

Filmmakers Rebecca Rojer and Sara Leonard

The program

Eighteen films from 11 different countries, including 12 New York premieres, screened over three days at the historic Downtown Community Television Center (DCTV), with an opening reception, six Q+As/Meet the Filmmakers, Sunday brunch, and a closing awards ceremony. Approximately 500 people attended the five programs that made up the festival, including many new faces to ALBA.

Selection, curation and staff

Marina Garde, director and producer

Ruth Somalo, associate director and programmer

Isabel Cadenas Cañón, programmer

Michael McCanne, outreach coordinator

Andres Fernández Carrasco, artistic coordinator

Max Resnik, projectionist

Sponsors

NY Council on the Arts (NYSCA); NACLA; King Juan Carlos I of Spain Center of NYU; Puffin Foundation; Pragda

Jury

Montserrat Armengou, award winning Catalonian investigative filmmaker; Emmy-winning director Laurens Grant; and Richard Peña, former director of the Film Society of Lincoln Center and of the New York Film Festival.

Prizes

The Harry Randall Award for best film was created in memory of Harry W. Randall, Jr. (1915-2012) who served in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade as Chief Photographer of the Photographic Unit of the 15th International Brigade during the Spanish Civil War.

Still from “Objector”

Still from “Objector”

Harry Randall Award for Short film: Molly Stuart for Objector (opera prima).

Stuart: “It was an honor to screen my film within this beautifully curated selection of documentaries. The hosts were well organized, gracious, and made the experience a delight for filmmakers and audiences alike. I look forward to seeing what’s to come!”

Still from “On a Knife Edge”

Still from “On a Knife Edge”

Harry Randall Award for Feature film: On a Knife Edge by Jerey Williams.

Producer Eli Cane (the grandson of a Lincoln vet): “One of the central themes of ‘On a Knife Edge’ is looking to one’s past for guidance and insight into one’s present, and I believe this is one of the things that makes ALBA so crucial—especially at this exact moment. As boundaries within our societies are once again being drawn along the same battle lines of xenophobia, racism, and economic repression, the lives of the men and women of the Brigade become more valuable to us than ever.”

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