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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World Refugee Day

“The needs of these people are overwhelming; their anguish is unbearable”

Thursday, June 20, was World Refugee Day, a day to raise awareness for the increasing number of refugees worldwide. As David pointed out before, it’s a strange day to try and “celebrate.” Unlike what we have grown accustomed to with holidays, there are no presents, no turkey, no days off, no Google doodle. Instead, the observation of World Refugee Day is meant to draw attention to the world’s millions of refugees, a situation that is only getting worse.

The number of refugees is the highest it’s been since 1994. Included in the newly released UNHCR global trends report for 2012 are some startling numbers:

  • 3,000: average number of people, per day, who became refugees
  • 28,800,000: number of people displaced by armed conflict, generalized violence, human rights violations
  • 45,200,000: number of people worldwide considered as forcibly displaced

refugee

On World Refugee Day, the focus on Syria was prominent, as the country’s civil war has contributed significantly to the rise in new refugees. UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres made Syria the central issue in his statement. Coverage of Syria most often revolves around the movements of rebel and government forces, the consequences of the conflict on the world stage.

In contrast, World Refugee Day aims to, if only for the span of twenty-four hours, move away from the debates on political implications. It, instead, recognizes the people displaced from their homes, persecuted, or forced to seek asylum in foreign countries. We, thus, “celebrate” World Refugee Day by remembering the people most affected by these global conflicts.

-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.

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.

What’s the Holdup (on Immigration Reform)?

Last Tuesday, the United States Senate voted “overwhelmingly” to begin a debate on the overhaul of current immigration policy. I love how a word like “overwhelmingly” can be used to describe a vote simply to allow a bill to be debated. So that’s great. Overwhelming bipartisan support to allow a discussion to begin. But where exactly does that leave us in regards to new immigration policy?

Nowhere.

The Senate is just now beginning what will be a month-long debate on the issue—with any eventual success there simply being the first step before sending the bill to the House. But the positive is that there is support to at least debate the bill. The majority of policymakers agree that the current system is broken. The difference, as always, comes down to how to fix it. An outline of the current proposal can be found here.

immigrationreform

On the Republican side, concern is that the bill won’t provide strong enough border security. More left-leaning groups like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) claim that the current border setup already threatens civil and human rights, and that further bolstering it would only exacerbate the issues.

The second significant debate point is the issue over what government benefits are accorded to illegal immigrants. The new bill would allow for a path to citizenship for even illegal immigrants, albeit an arduous one. A large majority of applicants would be facing a process of at least ten years. Under the current provisions, these immigrants would be classed as “registered provisional immigrants” upon payment of a fine and a successful application. This classification would allow them to travel and work in the United States, while still being ineligible for most government benefits. Only then, after ten years in provisional status, could immigrants seek a green card and the right to permanent residency.

Even when things seem black and white, there’s always grey area. Or rather, one side sees it white, one black. But regardless of where the extremes fall and what may eventually arise as a compromise bill, the fact is that the discussion has begun. And where people are talking, we can hope one day for a resolution.

 

-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.

Limbo at Guantánamo Bay

On the heels of President Obama’s public reaffirmation and four years after his original promise to close the detention center at Guantánamo Bay, many are now simply wondering, “When?”

Earlier last month, the New York Times published a prisoner’s harrowing account of his own experiences at Guantánamo. An issue long forgotten by much of the American public, the Guantánamo debate was forcefully reignited as Samir Naji al Hasan Mobeq’s plea to “the eyes of the world” rippled through newspapers and television stations.

Recent inmate hunger strikes and subsequent force feedings, which themselves have been denounced as unethical by the American Medical Association, have once again turned the nation’s attention to Guantánamo. Added upon previous allegations of torture, the hunger strikes have left more and more people with the chilling sense that this, this cannot be justice.

The Guantánamo issue exemplifies the polarizing tension between national security and the rights afforded to suspects. In the wake of September 11, it’s not hard to imagine the reactions that contributed to the detainment of suspected terrorists, not hard to justify holding them without due process. However, now more than a decade after its inception, Guantánamo still holds over 100 prisoners who have neither been charged nor tried.

We often, understandably, let personal emotions seep into the political and the legal spheres. This is not an exclusively American phenomenon (see this, for example). Catchy, I know, but far from productive. Our immediate reactions are governed by our beliefs, our fears, our hopes. But a knee-jerk response too often clouds reason. And in the case of Guantánamo, reason has come roaring to the American public that this place is at odds with the fundamental rights we value as citizens and as fellow human beings.

GuantanamoArt

Amongst the rows of prison cells in Guantánamo, there is a hall of hauntingly beautiful landscapes painted by the inmates. They are a striking reminder of the humanity in us all. From the increasing support for Guantánamo’s speedy closure, I venture to say that we have not yet become so calloused that we are willing to sacrifice human rights for politics, human dignity for security. Nor should we be. These men are entitled to either release or trial. Let the law, and nothing short of the law, pass judgment.

 

-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.