Doc Review #1: “The Human Experience”

The Human Experience poster

Runtime: 90 minutes

Currently on Netflix: No

Currently on Indieflix: No

IMDb page: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1252298/

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ctyX5ItSQEI

 

For the first ever BSB documentary review I thought I’d write about one that is very special and dear to us: The Human Experience, a film about looking past any problems we as humans face because we are all going through this thing called “life” together.

 

Brothers Jeff and Cliff had an abusive past with an alcoholic father, and though they remember happy points throughout their childhood they seem to have missed out on the basic support system that a family is meant to provide. They live at the St. Francis House in Brooklyn, a men’s shelter meant to provide a structured haven of support, with their friends Matthew and Michael. They decide to film this documentary to answer the question, “where are we as humans going and why;” knowing that the only way to answer this question is to go out and actually visit people from various walks of life, they choose three lifestyles to follow: the homeless of New York City, a group of surfers who do international volunteer work, and the lepers of a colony in Ghana.

 

The two brothers have different feelings about spending several nights as a homeless person– several nights, I might add, that happened to be during a record-breaking cold stretch. Cliff is freezing, uncomfortable, and bored, whereas Jeff takes a more optimistic approach, looking at the cold as a sacrifice he’s willing to make to gain knowledge about this group of people. They interview several of New York’s homeless, who show them how to make shelter out of cardboard boxes and where the best places to sleep are.

 

Their second adventure takes them to Peru with a group called Surf for the Cause, a small group of surfers who seek out killer waves in poverty-stricken communities around the world. Jeff and Cliff worked at a clinic for children who are abandoned or who can not afford necessary medical treatments and, of course, quickly discovered which child was their favorite (reminiscent of our time in the day care centers in Mt. Vernon, even though they told us every year that we were not allowed to have “favorites”). Their big mission on this trip is to take the children to a larger hospital, and after a small car accident on the highway they manage to get them there safely. When thinking about the children facing unimaginable hardships, as well as his own abusive past, Jeff says, “it was the first time in a long time where I could feel peace in my heart.”

 

Jeff works with a child in Lima, Peru
Jeff works with a child in Lima, Peru

 

Finally, the brothers accompany Michael and Matthew to a leper colony in Ghana, arguably the ultimate image of a community of dispair and pain. The lepers, ostracized by their family and friends because of their culture’s belief that they are cursed, teach the boys that “even in the deepest suffering there is significance, there is a meaningful process of positive possibilities.” They then travel on to a community of people with AIDS where Michael, whose mother died of the disease when he was just nine years old, faces the fact that he never got to talk to her about it and overcomes this burden by realizing that though the people in this community are poor and a few short years from death, they are still happy because they have faith, friends and family.

 

The reason I love this documentary so much is because everyone can relate to it. Everyone has some sort of problem they are facing or trial that lies ahead; for me, that trial is moving 2300 miles from home to begin four grueling years in medical school while also joining the Air Force. My trial comes with a set of unique problems– doubting that I can make it through school, having to leave my family and girlfriend, wondering if I will fall victim to the depression and other stress-induced health problems associated with medical school– but even with these problems looming in the distance and getting closer by the second this film reminds me that I am not the only person in the world with problems. More importantly, however, it reminds me that everyone has their own path to take in life, and that these obstacles shouldn’t be seen as problems but rather as small bumps in the path that will make me stronger.

 

In examining my own problems I realize that I have it pretty well off compared to a lot of people in the world, and that if I have these relatively easy problems to deal with maybe I should help others who are facing problems far worse than mine (joining the military and becoming a doctor, though difficult, do not nearly compare to having leprosy and being shunned by my family and friends). After all, we’re all just floating on a big blue and green rock together— why not help one another out?

 

Prior to our own journey to live as immigrant farm workers, we watched several documentaries to determine the style that our own would take on. The Human Experience stuck with us for a long time, and we based the structure of our film off of it: one segment of our journey followed by a segment of interviews with experts (in the case of The Human Experience, these experts included an actor, scientist, artist, activist, traveler, advocate, crusader, cleric, priest, rabbi, and “philosopher king.”).

 

This documentary has won several national and international awards, and even though it was never a Sundance-sweeping blockbuster it is a film that I think everyone should watch at some point in their life, especially during a period of transition.

 

Cinematography: 7/10 Loved most of the camera shots, however the extreme close ups during interviews get old pretty quickly. I would have rather seen a mix of close and medium distance angles in these instances. But the shots of the landscape and travel were outstanding.

Soundtrack: 9/10 Excellent, moving music that fit well with the footage being shown.

Editing: 8/10 Ever since editing our film I have become more aware and nit-picky about editing mistakes, so there were a few parts that irked me; for example, in the middle of a conversation with several homeless in a soup kitchen the footage fades and a random quote appears on the screen, then the conversation resumes. However, the color and sound editing were very good, the overall footage sequence flowed pretty well, and I thought that having the interviews with the “experts” in black and white was a creative way to differentiate them from their journey.

Impact: 9/10 Like I said earlier, this is a great film to watch during a transition period in life because it encourages the viewer to step back and look at the big picture and realize that their problems are solvable.

Overall: 8.25/10. This is one of my favorites because the message is bigger than your job, race, creed, lifestyle or gender. No matter what life you lead, you can learn something from this movie.

 

Remember, we love discussion about movies! If you have an opinion about this film, or know of a documentary we should review, email us at bsberries@gmail.com or hit us up on Twitter or Facebook.

 

-Scott Hines

Scott Hines is a Director for Blood, Sweat and Berries.

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A Homeless Bill of Rights: Necessary or Not?

Last year, Rhode Island lawmakers introduced a Homeless Bill of Rights, the first of its kind. Although homeless individuals receive some protection under federal law, such as the right to emergency medical care, there are currently no state laws which prohibit discrimination against the homeless.

With Connecticut legislature following suit, the idea behind the bill appears to have taken hold. However, opponents of the bill claim that the rights mentioned are already upheld in other parts of the law. Is it really necessary to reestablish similar rights specifically pertaining to the homeless?

Contrary to common belief, homelessness is not usually a permanent condition. Many people experience homelessness for a certain period of time as a result of the increase in unemployment or decline in public assistance. However, these people often report discrimination and harassment on the direct basis of their homelessness.

Living in Baltimore, I often heard disparaging remarks about “bums on the street” and their “laziness” that keeps them from jobs. One homeless man was, quite un-affectionately, deemed “crazy Mike” by students. This is not an uncommon phenomenon. Homeless people are often reduced to stereotypes defined by their homelessness.

In reality, once homeless, it is increasingly difficult to secure a job and other basic needs. Imagine applying for positions without the benefit of a computer or attending an interview without the appropriate attire.

Regardless of whether or not it can be effectively enforced, the Homeless Bill of Rights does well to draw attention to the prejudice that often accompanies being homeless. The bill reminds us that these people are still part of our community and should accordingly be afforded equal treatment under protection of the law.

-Serena

Serena Yin graduated with a degree in English from Johns Hopkins University in 2013. She is joining the Washington Reading Corps to promote literacy in local schools. A New England native, she loves ballet, beaches, and hamburgers. When she’s not on the hunt for the nearest Starbucks, she’s working on realizing her lifelong dream of meeting J.K. Rowling.

Takeaways from the Live Below the Line Challenge

It’s a funny thing, taking part in a challenge like Live Below the Line. My sister Jeca, who took part as well, wondered at the beginning about whose awareness we were raising. She pointed out that the people taking part would all be people who were already aware. And in many cases, had also experienced some sort of deprivation. For her, whilst traveling in Kenya and Tanzania, for my girlfriend Steph, as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Gambia for two years, and for me during various points of my travels through India. She didn’t mean it in a negative way, more in a “How do we really get the point across?” kinda way.

And in answer to that, all I can say is that it was eye-opening for me. I vacillated throughout the week on the difficulty of the challenge and the perspective I was supposed to be gaining. Certain days the difficulty wasn’t in the amount of food, or even the quality of what we were consuming. It was just the longing for supplemental things. A piece of fruit. A salad. Some juice. Heck, maybe even candy when we went to the cinema. Other days though there was a noticeable adverse reaction. Trying to maintain our normal lifestyle, like on Wednesday being on my feet for five hours at work, cycling around town, swimming at the gym, hot yoga in the evening… On that day I, and Steph, both felt the effects.

I read about other participants in the Challenge and there were a lot of similar comments. People crashing early in the evenings and going to bed, reducing or eliminating their workout routines, generally slowing down through the week.

And therein was the biggest take-away for me. Surviving on $1.50 a day, if you adapt your lifestyle to suit, is do-able. Perhaps not easy, but do-able. However, maintaining a normal active lifestyle is increasingly difficult. And for those who actually reside below the extreme poverty line, there’s no choice in the matter. For those at that level, there isn’t the option to take it easy one day. To reduce the routine. Because the routine is survival, and the attempt to maintain even their small amount of income.

So in the end, I did gain a little more awareness. And the hope is that those we talked to, and those who followed Jeca, Steph, and I as we took on the Challenge, will have lived vicariously through us. Maybe it will have given them pause for a moment, to think about the issue, and who knows? Maybe next year a few of them will take up the Challenge.

We’re not looking to change the world today. Just trying to make certain we’re on the right path.

-David

David Wilson graduated from the University of Texas in 2006. Since then he has gone wherever the wind blows him, living in Europe, China, and the States, and traveling extensively throughout the rest of the world. When he’s not on the move, you can find him obsessing over latte art, playing piano, or trying to bleach his hair in the sunshine. Follow him on Twitter.

Spotlight: Health Leads

By now, most of us have come to expect visits to the doctor to follow the same standard set of steps: you check in, sit in the waiting room, flip through People Magazine (or maybe The Economist if even sick-you is a smartypants), see the doctor for a diagnosis, take your medication prescriptions to a pharmacy, and voila, you’re on your way to getting better!

Growing up in a suburb of Connecticut, my experiences with the doctor’s office were pretty formulaic. The concept seemed simple: I was sick. I needed the doctor to give me medication, and then I would be well again. And for me, this really was, more or less, always the case. However, for millions of people in the United States, getting healthy and staying healthy is not so straightforward.

We tend to think of health as pure biology: cells, tissues, organs. Then, improving health must be a scientific endeavor. But this is a myopic view that doesn’t consider other root causes of illness. For many urban, low-income populations, bodily symptoms may only be at the surface of deeper issues. Patients who consistently have poor health often struggle with food, unsafe housing conditions, and limited or no access to a primary care physician.

Health Leads, formerly known as Project Health, seeks to address these issues by taking a more holistic approach to healthcare. In hospitals that have incorporated Health Leads, doctors may prescribe more than just your average penicillin. Healthcare providers also screen patients for basic needs, such as food or shelter, and fill a prescription, just as they would for medication. Health Leads volunteers then take over to help connect these patients to resources that can address both immediate needs and implement long-term solutions.

HealthLeads

Already established in cities like New York, Baltimore, and Chicago, Health Leads and its impact may extend beyond the clinic. The organization has generated national attention, including a shout-out from Michelle Obama to founder Rebecca Onie, as it advocates a novel approach to healthcare delivery. Health Leads seeks to combat the challenges low-income patients face outside the walls of the doctor’s office. As Onie puts it in her recent TEDMED talk: “If we know what it takes to have a healthcare system rather than a sick-care system, why don’t we just do it?”

 

-Serena

Serena Yin graduated with a degree in English from Johns Hopkins University in 2013. She is joining the Washington Reading Corps to promote literacy in local schools. A New England native, she loves ballet, beaches, and hamburgers. When she’s not on the hunt for the nearest Starbucks, she’s working on realizing her lifelong dream of meeting J.K. Rowling.

Living Below the Line: Challenge Accepted

Editor’s note: David recently participated in the Live Below the Line Challenge. Read on about his week below (and be grateful keeping your pantry unblocked).

Day 0

“This one’s 86 cents.”

“This one’s 88, but it’s slightly bigger.”

“Done.”

This is how Steph and I made our way around Winco today. In the bulk section, there’s “Bet I can get closer to exactly a pound without weighing it,” and “You’re on,” and debating the merits of bananas over other fruit, and whether a loaf of bread was a good idea.

Then we went home and tried to eat all the perishables in the fridge. How are we going to survive a week without salads and fruits? Or granola and yogurt? Tortillas or even bacon? Funny the things we think of as “essentials.” Well not this week. Essentials are rice and lentils and oatmeal. Salad’s gonna be a hard one though. There might be some foraging happening later this week…

David's Grocery List

Day 1

Ran into this dilemma today, not unanticipated, but still tough: I work in a café. Steph and I had already discussed whether or not I could partake in the free meals we’re offered at work. We decided no. But then all day I was surrounded by food, and especially this gorgeous coffee cake sitting on the counter in front of me all shift. I resisted. But… I must confess, what I couldn’t resist was the coffee. I mean, I’m a barista. How could I pull espresso shots all day and not partake? I don’t have that kind of will power. Plus I’m a blogger. And if you’ve never seen me writing whilst not hopped up on caffeine, it’s not a pretty picture.

So coffee, or the lack thereof, is no longer a part of the challenge.

Day 2

“Don’t rinse that!” I called hurriedly to Steph as she started to wash a pot used for pasta sauce. She had the same thought at the same moment, and so we poured beans into the pot to cook them for tomorrow. Can’t waste anything! Even leftover tomato paste. Maybe I’m getting overly concerned about still having food to eat on Friday. It’s hard enough being a grazer, as we both are, and coming home only to see the blocked door to the pantry. No admittance. Not for the rest of this week. Drink some more water. It’ll fill you up.

It might not be helping that we’re keeping our usual routine going. Which meant ultimate Frisbee yesterday evening, and an hour long swim this afternoon, and probably hot yoga tomorrow. I might waste away to nothing…

It’s only Day 2. Get over it David. You’ll be fine.

Day 3

Steph went foraging today. Dandelions and other greens, and they definitely made a nice addition to a baked potato for lunch and pasta for dinner. Oh, and eggs and toast for breakfast. I had forgotten we had eggs we could use. Was a welcome discovery. Not enough though. We went to hot yoga tonight, after swimming for thirty minutes at the gym, and almost the moment I got in that heated room I felt lightheaded. It cleared up after a bit, but talking to Steph afterwards, apparently both of us had been seeing spots and feeling dizzy at the beginning of class.

So we spent the drive home discussing food. Saturday is going to be an epic day. I think breakfast and brunch are both happening, and we’ll go from there.

Day 4

“Lead us not into temptation…” I broke under the strain. I was feeling right next door to rubbish mid-morning at work, and the realization hit me that it was probably because half a bowl of oatmeal was just not gonna do the trick. So I caved. Accepted a free breakfast burrito. I’m not sure what penance I can do to make amends, but I’ll have to figure something out. Although it was “free,” so there’s maybe some wiggle room for me…

It’s funny the impact that a lack of certain things can have on you. Calorically we could probably be ok, and maybe if there were no other options it would suffice. But there are other options! Glorious options! My kingdom for a giant bowl of fruit. Or gummi bears. Either way.

Day 5

I was better today. Maybe the guilt/calories of the breakfast burrito yesterday served to carry me over the finish line. Oatmeal, again, to start the day, a baked potato, and beans and rice to round out the day. And an egg or two. Steph has impressed me a few times this week by creating meals that almost let me forget we’re eating the same thing day after day. A necessary trick during a week like this.

Day 6

We celebrated today. The end of the Challenge. Blew twice last week’s budget… on a single meal. Breakfast of Eggs Benedict and a Belgian Waffle. That was perhaps the most eye-opening moment of the week, as I handed my card over to pay for it. The realization that we had eaten for five days (barring a slight blip on my part) on a budget of $15. And here we were paying the equivalent of ten days’ budget.

But that’s the West for you. Disposable income gives us a taste for luxury. Live without it for a time and you gain a sense of perspective.

Further reflections to follow. But right now dinner is calling. Not sure yet exactly what it’s gonna be, but I know it won’t contain rice, lentils, or black beans. Beyond that…

-David

David Wilson graduated from the University of Texas in 2006. Since then he has gone wherever the wind blows him, living in Europe, China, and the States, and traveling extensively throughout the rest of the world. When he’s not on the move, you can find him obsessing over latte art, playing piano, or trying to bleach his hair in the sunshine. Follow him on Twitter.