50 posts categorized "author-Kathryn Pyle"

Librarians Reach Out to Spanish-Speakers on ‘Tell Me More’

September 28, 2012

(Kathryn Pyle recently marked her fourth anniversary as a PhilanTopic contributor. In her last post, she wrote about "Reportero," a documentary that tells the story of embattled investigative journalists assigned to cover the drug wars in Mexico.)

Tell_me_more"Tell Me More," the National Public Radio news and chat program hosted by Michel Martin, had a segment this week about the Joint Conference of Librarians of Color, which met earlier this month in Kansas City. As I've periodically blogged here on PhilanTopic about a small-town library's efforts to meet the needs of a growing Latino population, the story caught my attention.

In the segment ("Librarians Reach Out to Spanish-Speakers"), guest host Celeste Headlee talked with international librarian consultant Loida Garcia-Febo about the conference and the challenges libraries face in a time of huge cultural change. As I listened to the discussion, I thought about the Adams County Library in south-central Pennsylvania and what it has figured out -- and is still trying to figure out -- in terms of serving the needs of Latino migrant workers in the area. The main takeaway for me: libraries must go beyond their traditional services to really understand who their new constituencies are, what those constituencies need, and what they can do to help meet those needs.

Consider, for instance, the fact that Latinos in the U.S. hail from many different countries, with different literary traditions. In that light, it suddenly becomes obvious that even expanding the traditional library product -- books – to these audiences is not as simple as it might seem.

"But libraries are much more than books," said Garcia-Febo. "We are also celebrating the cultures of our Latinos by presenting cultural programs and programs celebrating their music, their cuisine, and other programs that are more social. And those programs help our Spanish-speakers to understand public school systems in the United States and how to access health care."

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Social Impact Documentaries: 'Reportero'

September 10, 2012

(Kathryn Pyle recently marked her fourth anniversary as a PhilanTopic contributor. In her last post, she returned to the subject of her very first post, the Adams County Library system in a rural part of south-central Pennsylvania, to check on its progress in improving services for the growing Latino population in the area.)

Reportero_posterAs the audience for social issue documentary films grows, the intersection between a film and its impact is of increasing concern to media funders, media organizations, and filmmakers themselves. There is general agreement that documentary films are an important source of information and opinion in our corporate-dominated media landscape and that they often provide the in-depth analysis of complex issues lacking in most mainstream media coverage. But how one measures the impact of individual films or the field as a whole is still very much a work in progress. As in other spheres, grantmakers are interested not just in the quality of the project (the film, in this case) but also in the results it leads to. And nongovernmental organizations, most of which are still learning how to best use the documentary format, are looking for models.

Two sessions at the annual "Funders Conversation" hosted by Media Impact Funders earlier this summer addressed these concerns. Indeed, the recent rebranding of the organization, which had been known since its inception as Grantmakers in Film and Electronic Media (GFEM), is testament to the trend.

"Very few of our members define themselves as film funders," explained MIF executive director Vince Stehle in a conversation at the affinity group's new office in Philadelphia. "Documentary film will continue to be as important, if not more so, than it's ever been. But it's only one feature of the media landscape, along with journalism, public media, community media, social media, and technology. MIF reflects all those communitiess as they work to achieve positive social impact. And we support the growing interest in measuring impact and understanding engagement."

One session, on "Documentary Film Impact and Outreach," focused on partnerships between filmmakers and Facing History and Ourselves, an international organization founded in 1976 that uses film to combat racism, anti-Semitism, and prejudice. In partnership with Skylight Pictures (also a presenter at the session), the organization developed three video models and a study guide (available online) based on the Skylight film The Reckoning: The Battle for the International Criminal Court.

Another session, "Measuring Media and Philanthropy," reported on a new initiative led by the Foundation Center's GrantCraft project and GuideStar to track and map funding for media. The session also described an inquiry into measures of engagement with, and the impact of, grantmaker-funded media projects headed by Jessica Clark of AIRmedia.

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Libraries and Latinos: Return to Adams County

August 14, 2012

(Kathryn Pyle recently marked her fourth anniversary as a PhilanTopic contributor. In her last post, she wrote about the Justice Matters series at Filmfest DC.)

Children_with_booksFour years ago, in my first post for PhilanTopic, I described how the Adams County Library system in a rural part of south central Pennsylvania used a modest donation to try out some new ideas and improve its services for the growing Latino population in the area, mainly families and seasonal workers from Mexico.

Since then, thanks to PhilanTopic's broad and inclusive vision of civic life, I've written about a presidential inauguration, a "City of Trees," the first moon landing, transitional justice, a memorial park in Argentina, and -- most frequently -- social issue documentaries and the organizations that support them. Over that time, I've really enjoyed the opportunity the PND team has given me to refine my vision of the nexus of philanthropy and social justice. But today, because this is my thirtieth (!) post for PhilanTopic, I thought it would be interesting to revisit Adams County to see what, if anything, has changed.

I caught up with library director Rob Lesher on his way to the annual library book sale, which was organized by the Friends of the Library at the main branch in Gettysburg; Lesher told me they hoped to raise at least $25,000. That's a lot of used books and a big shot in the arm for any library in an era of government cuts.

"It's been a challenge financially," says Lesher. "But the big news is that this summer we've seen the highest circulation months in our history. Seventy-five thousand items circulated in July, part of a fifteen-year pattern of growth. And 2011 was a record year, with seven hundred and fifty thousand items circulated; we'll equal that this year. Despite the cutbacks, we've managed to expand our services to Latinos. The key has been experimenting with new programs and partnering with community organizations."

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Justice Matters | Filmfest DC

April 18, 2012

(Kathryn Pyle is a frequent contributor to PhilanTopic. In January, she blogged about the lessons a new generation of activists can learn from the civil rights documentary Freedom Riders.)

Filmfest_dcHow do you tell a new story about the Palestinian conflict, one that touches audiences in a different way, goes beyond the nightly news images, and sparks new ideas and discussion?

For filmmaker Emad Burnat, co-director of 5 Broken Cameras, which is being shown as part of the Justice Matters series at Filmfest DC in Washington this week, the answer was personal. "There have been many films made about Palestine, but the filmmakers didn't live the situation, didn't know the reality. I live there; and I was always filming. My cameras were part of the non-violent resistance that my village, Bil'in, mounted against the Israeli occupation of our lands. I used my camera to protect myself and my friends and the other villagers. And when it came to shaping a story out of the seven hundred hours I'd filmed over seven years, I realized that it had to be my story; the story of my own experience."

That personal connection has struck a chord: 5 Broken Cameras premiered at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA) last fall; showed at the Sundance Film Festival in January, where it won the World Cinema Directing Award for documentaries; and has gone on to screen at numerous festivals and win many more prizes. This summer it will be featured in several Israeli festivals and on Israeli television and will open in the U.S. as well.

Burnat, who had been a farmer, got a camera to film his new baby in 2005 and then turned it on the conflict in his village, sharing his extraordinary footage with international news agencies. He met his co-director, Guy Davidi, an Israeli there to film a documentary, and together, with support from the Global Perspectives Project of the International Television Service (ITVS) and IDFA's Jan Vrijman Fund, they created 5 Broken Cameras.

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A Q&A With Orlando Bagwell, Director, JustFilms Initiative (Part 2)

October 06, 2011

Orlando_bagwell This week, the Ford Foundation officially launches JustFilms, a new initiative designed to expand support for social issue documentary films. Announced last winter at the Sundance Film Festival, JustFilms will provide $50 million over the next five years to fund the creation of social issue docs and help build effective audience engagement programs around them.

In August, frequent PhilanTopic contributor Kathryn Pyle spoke with the initiative's director, Orlando Bagwell, about the new effort and how it relates to Ford's broader agenda, as well as his twenty-five-year career as a documentary filmmaker.

In part two of the interview, below, Pyle talks with Bagwell about key features of the initiative, including its partnerships with the Sundance Institute, ITVS, and the Tribeca Film Institute, as well as the audience engagement strategies it hopes to pursue. To read part one, click here.

Kathryn Pyle: JustFilms will be carrying out its program in a number of interesting ways. One is working with external partners, including the Sundance Institute, Independent Television Service, and the Tribeca Film Institute. Why those three organizations?

Orlando Bagwell: Those three organizations are our signature partners, and about a third of our funds will go to them. The Sundance Institute is a major influence in the documentary field, and not only because of the Sundance Film Festival. We really believe in their workshops, and that's a part of what JustFilms is supporting: the various labs they offer to grantees in script writing, producing, directing, editing, and composing. The workshops really improve the skills of filmmakers and improve the films they bring to the workshop. It's a model we want to replicate in other places.

Another part of that partnership, and a feature of our partnership with ITVS as well, is the ability of these organizations to reach out to filmmakers we wouldn't normally have access to. As a foundation, we're interested in how we can bring more voices to the conversation around issues that are important to us. And I mean the global conversation. We're well aware that most of the filmmakers who are making films about issues that are important to us are from Europe and the United States. But if we're talking about global issues that affect all of us, that conversation has to be broader.

Our strength as a foundation is that we have deep relationships in other parts of the world, and we want to take advantage of those relationships. We want to be in places where we can have those conversations with people and something is triggered and they say, "Well, I can make a story about that." Yes, it's a filmmaker's story, but if it's done well it can engage the public and bring all sorts of people to the issue. Especially this year, the first year of the initiative, we want to design a way to raise up the voices of storytellers in the global South to comment on the rest of the world, not just their own countries or regions. That's going to take time, but we're committed to building that kind of expertise and that kind of storytelling.

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A Q&A With Orlando Bagwell, Director, JustFilms Initiative (Part 1)

October 04, 2011

Orlando_bagwell This week, the Ford Foundation officially launches JustFilms, a new initiative designed to expand support for social issue documentary films. Announced last winter at the Sundance Film Festival, JustFilms will provide $50 million over the next five years to fund the creation of social issue docs and help build effective audience engagement programs around them.

In August, frequent PhilanTopic contributor Kathryn Pyle spoke with the initiative's director, Orlando Bagwell, about the new effort and how it relates to Ford's broader agenda, as well as his twenty-five-year career as a documentary filmmaker, which includes serving as a lead producer for the award-winning Eyes on the Prize series, four Emmy Awards, three George Peabody Awards, and the 1994 New York Film Festival Grand Prize.

Bagwell joined the Ford Foundation in 2004 as a program officer focused primarily on support for public media and subsequently led the foundation's Global Perspectives in a Digital Age, Advancing Public Service Media initiative. He later served as director of the foundation's Freedom of Expression unit before being tapped in 2010 to establish and lead the JustFilms initiative.

Kathryn Pyle: I came across a piece by Pat Aufderheide of the Center for Social Media in which she quoted you as telling a new cohort of Public Media Corps fellows and their mentors that "story is essential in public media," but that in light of today's technology "you can and must go beyond the making of stories, to connect people to each other; to have the kinds of conversations they need to have." I thought that was an apt quote in terms of JustFilms' mission and your own career as a filmmaker involved in projects that got people talking to each other. Can you explain the convergence between stories well told and what we are now calling "audience engagement"?

Orlando Bagwell: My first involvement with public television was with Eyes on the Prize and Blackside, Henry Hampton's production company. As a young filmmaker I'd done small independent films, but nothing on that scale. I was consumed in many ways by the challenge to produce on that level and to take on a history that included so many people with a vested interest in how it was told and represented. Public television was the only space at the time where something like Eyes on the Prize could be incubated, and I think all of us who were producers on the series were kind of overwhelmed by the challenge.

The interesting thing was that we had no idea how people would respond to it -- and it turned out to be an immediate response. When it first came on the air, I was in China shooting a film. I got a call from the States and was told, "Your phone is ringing off the hook!" That really was an indication of how hungry people were for the kind of storytelling we were doing and the way that storytelling spoke to such a large cross-section of America. It wasn't just a story for the African-American community or the news media or civil rights activists. It was a series that engaged everyone, and it quickly became a part of history itself, which is how Henry had planned it. It was meant to be an American moment that people had a stake in.

At the same time, the response also made us realize we had an opportunity to engage in a conversation that we hadn't really anticipated. People immediately began to ask, "How do I use this? What do I do with this? How can it be a part of learning in the classroom?" But they were also asking how we were going to be involved in facilitating the conversation that was taking place around the series. And this was twenty years after the civil rights movement.

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Community Engagement and Social Justice Documentaries

July 08, 2011

(Kathryn Pyle is a regular contributor to PhilanTopic. In her last post, she wrote about Film and the "Dirty War.")

Crime_after_crime Crime After Crime is a new documentary that describes a fault line in our justice system -- and is actively engaged, as a larger project, in trying to change it. The film was one of two to receive the Henry Hampton Award at the Council on Foundations' Film and Video Festival, presented in collaboration with Grantmakers in Film + Electronic Media, at the council's recent annual meeting in Philadelphia.

Deborah Peagler, the subject of Crime After Crime, was brutally abused by her boyfriend over a number of years, beginning when she was 15; fearing for the lives of her children and herself, and with no recourse to legal remedies, Peagler turned to friends and family for protection and was implicated in his subsequent murder. Eventually, she was sentenced to 25 years-to-life in prison. (It's estimated that as many as four thousand women are currently in prison for killing their abusers.)

At the time of Peagler's conviction, in 1983, domestic violence wasn't recognized as a mitigating factor in the prosecution of victims who commit crimes against their abusers. Twenty years later, thanks to the efforts of a coalition of women's organizations, including a group of women inmates, things have changed. According to Marisa F. González, coordinator of the California Habeas Project, which recruits, trains, and assigns pro-bono lawyers to cases: "In 1989, a group of women at the California Institution for Women got together to found Convicted Women Against Abuse, the first prisoner-led support group for battered women in the country. Advocates in the anti-domestic violence movement heard about the group's efforts and began recruiting lawyers to help each woman file an individual clemency petition, giving details and evidence about the abuse she had experienced and its relevance to her criminal conviction."

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Film and the 'Dirty War'

June 23, 2011

(Kathryn Pyle is a regular contributor to PhilanTopic. In her previous post, she wrote about the Film and Video Festival at this year's Council on Foundations conference.)

TheDisappeared How would you like your new Web site to get 40,000 visits within two weeks of launch?

That's been the experience of Memoria Abierta, a Buenos Aires-based nongovernmental organization that is working to preserve the historic memory of the 1976-1983 military dictatorship in Argentina and the so-called "dirty war" it waged against its political opponents. Earlier this month the organization published an online catalogue of films about the dictatorship, and the response has been overwhelming. Most visitors to the site have been from Argentina, but La Dictadura en el Cine ("The Dictatorship in the Movies") is open to any Spanish-speaker who wants to learn not just about what happened in Argentina but also how the terrible events of those years relate to similar situations elsewhere. Indeed, as post-conflict societies increasingly look to international courts for justice and search for local approaches to conflict resolution, knowledge about what happened in Argentina can be a crucial tool.

"We’ve wanted to do this project since we were founded more than a decade ago," Patricia Valdez, the director of Memoria Abierta, a coalition of four human rights groups working on various aspects of the junta's legacy, recently told me. "We knew there were a lot of films made about the history, both fiction and documentaries: we identified four hundred and fifty for the catalogue. And they continue to be made -- we found thirty-two new ones produced just last year! We also knew there was great demand to see these films and that many of them were not available." All the films in the catalogue can be viewed onsite at the organization's offices in Buenos Aires.

With funding from the Dutch embassy (as part of its efforts to encourage human rights programs in Argentina that promote transparency and accountability), the project finally got some traction last year. Two researchers (with assistance from other consultants and advisors) worked for over a year to identify films and track down copies. Films were selected on the basis of two criteria: that they dealt with the dictatorship, however obliquely; and that they had been publicly screened in a festival, a commercial theater, and/or a community center. The vast majority were made in Argentina, including many, like The Official Story, which won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film in 1986, the first Latin American film to ever receive that honor, that are well known internationally.

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Council on Foundation’s Film and Video Festival

April 07, 2011

(Kathryn Pyle is a regular contributor to PhilanTopic. In her previous post, she wrote about memory as an instrument of peace.)

Cof_logo Attendees at this year's Council on Foundations conference (April 10–12) in Philadelphia will have the opportunity to view some excellent documentary films during the conference's Film and Video Festival. Held in cooperation with Grantmakers in Film + Electronic Media (GFEM), the festival is a regular feature at the annual CoF conference and this year will feature a number of special screenings co-sponsored by council affinity groups like the International Human Rights Funders Group and Funders Together to End Homelessness. There will also be a presentation for funders on how to use short videos and other media to educate the public and explore community issues.

As I described in a previous post, documentary films are growing in popularity, both at festivals and via television and the Internet. Indeed, grantmakers and nongovernmental organizations increasingly grasp the potential of documentary films to tell their stories and advance their priorities -- not only in terms of traditional "public relations," but by conveying with deep-felt passion a subject or story that aligns with their own interests.

The Council on Foundations recognized the importance of film and video early on, launching a film and video festival ("in a closet," as Phil Hallen, formerly of the Falk Foundation, puts it) at an annual conference in the late 1960s. Today, the festival, a regular feature of the conference since then, is a juried exhibition of a dozen films with its own on-site screening room; conference participants can also borrow a DVD of any film to watch on their hotel television sets or their laptops.

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Transitional Justice: Memory As an Instrument of Peace

February 28, 2011

(Kathryn Pyle is a regular contributor to PhilanTopic. In her previous post, she wrote about transitional justice in post-conflict situations.)

Unhcr_ transitional_justice In a post last week, I mentioned monuments and memorialization as one of the components of a successful post-conflict resolution process. Coincidentally, an upcoming event on this theme was announced Saturday.

The International Coalition of Sites of Conscience was founded in 1999 by nine groups dedicated to remembering crimes against humanity and the neverending struggle for justice: the District Six Museum (South Africa); the Gulag Museum at Perm-36 (Russia); the Liberation War Museum (Bangladesh); the Lower East Side Tenement Museum (United States); Maison des Esclaves (Senegal); the National Park Service (United States); Memoria Abierta (Argentina); the Terezin Memorial (Czech Republic); and the Workhouse (United Kingdom).

There are now seventeen member sites in the coalition and more than two hundred and sixty individual and institutional members. The mission of each of these sites is public education -- to promote understanding about past crimes against humanity and prevent their recurrence, partly by raising awareness of the contemporary legacy of such crimes. Support for the coalition is provided by the Ford Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for Democracy, the Museums & Communities Collaborations Abroad (MCAA) program, the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), the Oak Foundation, the Open Society Foundations, the Nathan Cummings Foundation, the Compton Foundation, the Henry M. Jackson Foundation, the Lambent Foundation, the Libra Foundation, and the Sigrid Rausing Trust.

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Transitional Justice in Post-Conflict Situations

February 25, 2011

(Kathryn Pyle is a regular contributor to PhilanTopic. In her last post, she wrote about the "art of memory.")

Scales_justice The events of the past several weeks in Tunisia, Egypt, and the broader Middle East-North Africa region have been riveting and, at times, appalling, particularly in Libya. As other commentators have noted, each uprising has been unique, emerging from that country’s history, culture, and demographics. The wildfire nature of the uprisings; the creative use of Facebook, Twitter, cell phones, and the Internet; and the role of youth have all contributed to an extraordinary moment in world history that has been in turn heroic, horrific, inspiring -- and, at the end of the day, familiar.

Take away the new media and other features peculiar to this time and place and the similarities with opposition movements in Latin America in the 1970s and 1980s, with independence movements on the African continent in the 1960s, and with other pro-democracy uprisings around the world over the last hundred years are striking.

As in those earlier conflicts, the big question today is what happens next. Although the story is far from over -- strongmen in Tunisia and Egypt may be gone, but economic issues and the political structure they created remain -- reformers in those countries are turning the page on a new chapter. Nongovernmental organizations that work in the social, economic, and political sphere know that what happens in the post-conflict period is crucial over the long run.

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Latin Side of the Doc (Part Two)

December 11, 2010

(Kathryn Pyle is a regular contributor to PhilanTopic. Click here for the first installment of her two-part post.)

Latin_doc An all-day "webdoc" workshop at Latin Side of the Doc led by Hugues Sweeney, an advisor for digital programming at the National Film Board of Canada, stressed the possibilities of interactive documentaries. "Twenty percent of our shows are now interactive," Sweeney told those in attendance. "For documentaries, the Web can be more than just a dissemination avenue; it represents a merger of the traditional documentary form and a new interactive model." Indeed, the NFB Web site encourages people to "enjoy documentaries, animations, alternative dramas and interactive productions on the Web, on your personalized home page, or on your iPhone."

Various interactive sites were highlighted during the workshop, including the delightful Save the Words site developed by Oxford Dictionaries. With hundreds of words dropping out of regular usage each year, the site is an advocacy project that aims to save words "that once led meaningful lives," while challenging people to rebuild our shrinking vocabularies. (I guarantee that if you’re reading this, you’ll be hooked by the site.)

World Without Oil, described as a serious game designed to change the world, allows game players to create the "documentary" through e-mails, blog posts, Twitter, videos, and other social media channels. "The public is actively involved and implicated in the work through the act of influencing it," said Sweeney.

Hubert Fiasse, a filmmaker from Brussels, was particularly interested in the NFB workshop because Quizas, his small production company, is planning its first venture into a documentary made specifically for the Web. "It's complicated," Fiasse told me, "and very different than a traditional documentary. We're working with an IT person who has experience building Web sites, while we bring the content side."

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Latin Side of the Doc (Part One)

December 09, 2010

(Kathryn Pyle is a regular contributor to PhilanTopic. In her last post, she wrote about the Art of Memory.)

Latin_doc Documentary film producers from Latin America and Europe gathered last week in Buenos Aires, Argentina, for the second annual "Latin Side of the Doc," a four-day meet-up where independent filmmakers "pitch" their projects to European and North American broadcasters, distributors, and funders.  About 175 films -- all in the initial stages of development -- were presented, and I was there.

The documentaries are a window into the great and small issues of the region. Like the story from Bolivia of a member of the indigenous Aymara community who, when young, was forbidden by the government to learn Spanish, and his grandson, the filmmaker, who speaks Spanish but has never learned Aymara. The film promises to be a universal story of family and identity but also a particularly Latin American story of discrimination and assimilation.

"There is enormous talent and great ideas for documentaries in Latin America," said Yves Jeanneau, a French film producer who, with the help of Argentine partner INCAA (National Institute of Cinema and Audiovisual Arts), launched the event last year. Latin Side of the Doc is the latest iteration, along with Asian Side of the Doc (also in its second year), of Sunny Side of the Doc, which Jeanneau created twenty-three years ago in La Rochelle, France.

In recent years, Sunny Side of the Doc has attracted over two thousand participants from more than fifty countries and has begun to feature a panel on foundation support for documentaries. Indeed, some corporate foundations in Europe are supporting documentaries that explore themes, like the environment, that align with the parent corporation's interests, while others are becoming more aware of the power of documentaries to educate the public about specific issue areas.

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The Art of Memory

October 20, 2010

(Kathryn Pyle is a regular contributor to PhilanTopic. In her last post, she wrote about the Muslim Voices of Philadelphia project.)

Earlier this month, in Buenos Aires, closing arguments were made in one of the legal cases brought against the military dictatorship that ruled Argentina between 1976 and 1983, the period of the so-called Dirty War. The case, referred to by the names of the three clandestine military centers ("Atlético-Banco-Olimpo") where 181 victims were detained, is one of hundreds that have been opened since the amnesty laws that protected members of the military from being prosecuted for crimes against humanity were struck down. The trials are open to the public, and the courtrooms have been packed by families of the victims and citizens interested in a resolution to this painful episode in the country's history.

Architecture, sculpture, and painting; music; film and video; poetry, drama, prose -- all have been employed to tell the tragic story of a people's loss and pain after similarly brutal episodes in the past. The arts are fundamental to the process of memorialization.

In Argentina, the process has included myriad plaques and other expressions of remembrance and remembering. At the national level, a group of ten human rights organizations gained the support of legislators in 1998 to establish the Park of Memory on the banks of the river that forms the country's northeastern boundary, the Rio de la Plata, and construct the Monument to the Victims of State Terrorism. In short order, an international competition to commission additional sculpture and a visitors center for the park was launched.

"In a world that finds itself widely aestheticized, art seeks out strategies and loopholes in order to continue constructing meaning," writes Florencia Battiti in an essay in the catalogue produced for the monument's official dedication in 2007. "In a society such as Argentina's, where terror reigned and justice has not yet entirely arrived, art as a social practice adds its efforts to the (always insufficient) task of reconstructing memory and the cultural fabric that was torn apart...."

More than 600 sculpture proposals were received and 17 selected; to date, seven have been installed. They include a life-size sculpture by Claudia Fontes of Pablo Miguez, a 14-year-old boy who was "disappeared." The sculpture is stainless steel, polished to a mirror-like finish, and situated in the river -- the widest in the world at that point -- opposite the park, where it appears to float on the surface.

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Muslim Voices of Philadelphia

September 08, 2010

(Kathryn Pyle is a frequent contributor to PhilanTopic. In her last post, she wrote about civil rights documentaries.)

"Muslim Americans feel so muted today, drowned out by the hysteria in the mainstream media," lamented Moein Khawaja, director of the Philadelphia chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), at a special iftar, or meal breaking the Ramadan fast, last week. "We're only about six million people in the U.S., and for the past nine years we've been on the defensive. We have to be proactive and produce our own media that's more representative of our experiences: media that's more positive; that shows the multitude of Islamic voices."

New_africa_center Just such an opportunity has been created in Philadelphia, thanks in part to a planning grant from the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage and an intern secured through the Samuel S. Fels Fund's annual summer program linking graduate students with community groups. Muslim Voices of Philadelphia, launched at that recent iftar, is a collaborative media project hosted by the Scribe Video Center, a nonprofit organization that works with individuals and groups without know-how or means to tell their stories in video, radio, and new media. The project will produce ten videos over the next two years, with participants from local Muslim organizations shaping the aims and content, learning the necessary skills, and actually making the films.

While the Muslim Voices project may be its newest activity, Scribe boasts a 27-year history of building media capacity among minority communities. The center offers a roster of classes, open to everyone, and also works with selected projects proposed and implemented by community groups. In the latter case, Scribe provides the training, equipment, and advisors needed to shepherd the projects from idea to screening. Hundreds of videos have been created over the years, recording a variety of places and programs and, just as importantly, capturing the memories and spirit embodied in neighborhoods, buildings, and public spaces: from an animation-enhanced hip-hop music-ed short about a bicycle shop in West Philadelphia that teaches local kids how to repair bikes to more traditional documentaries about a cemetery, a community garden, a swim club, and everything in between. The aim is to help organizations produce media for their own archives, educational purposes, and/or for broadcast via public television, community cable channels, and public screenings at traditional venues and outdoor events.

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  • "[L]et me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is...fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance...."


    — Franklin D. Roosevelt, 32nd president of the United States

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