California: Paradise Burning
The collapse of California’s Central Valley, as the region’s worst drought in recorded history enters its fourth year, is shot in artful black and white in this short film. California: Paradise Burning can’t help but evoke the Depression-era work of Walker Evans, especially given this film’s focus on the individual farmers and farmworkers who are most immediately affected by the disaster and soon to be out of work and out of business. Photographers Matt Black and Ed Kashi alternate still images with interview footage, producing a shattering portrait of an agricultural paradise, albeit an irrigated one, rapidly turning into a desert. The causes, the solutions and the broader implications are all left to the viewer’s imagination.
In Mexico — where luchador wrestling is a wildly popular spectator sport — donning capes, masks and lace-up boots in the ring isn’t solely the vocation of men. Meet Luna Mágica, a hard-working single mother and professional wrestler in Mexico City, whose lucha takes place both in and outside of the ropes. Not only does Luna struggle to retain her status amid a growing crop of young female wrestlers, she also fights for custody of the son who was taken by her estranged ex-husband.
2015 Presentation: John Vaillant
Canadian writer John Vaillant has penned bestselling nonfiction books, fascinating long-form magazine pieces and, most recently, a well-received novel. His first nonfiction book, The Golden Spruce, recounts a logger-turned-activist’s baffling act of protest in British Columbia, and his second, The Tiger, unfurls a tense true story of a man-eating tiger in Russia’s far east.
In Person: John Vaillant
His first novel, The Jaguar’s Children, was released in January. With this book, Vaillant turns his attention south, to the U.S.-Mexico borderlands, where he unspools a page-turning survival story told through the eyes of Hector, a man trapped inside a tanker truck during an illegal border crossing. Along with shining a spotlight on one of America’s most controversial issues, Vaillant’s book elucidates the dangers of illegal crossings and brings into focus the human lives of those who dare to try it. NPR calls The Jaguar’s Children “an extraordinary feat of literary ventriloquism.”
Vaillant is also a traveler whose work in journalism and other fields has taken taken him to five continents and five oceans. He has homesteaded in Alaska, fished in the Bering Sea, sailed to Hawaii, taught learning-disabled children, skied across the Beartooth Mountains, pursued vampires in Transylvania, swam with beluga whales in Hudson’s Bay, played slide guitar and sung for money, crossed the Rockies on horseback, hopped trains, gotten drunk at a Romanian shepherds’ convention and led workshops with people who range from convicts to corporate executives on issues of race, gender and globalization.
55 Hours in Mexico
Fly to Veracruz, rent a car, climb the third-highest peak in North America, ski down and return to work Monday — all over the course of a weekend. How hard could it be? 55 Hours in Mexico explores the limits of the weekend warrior and dives deep into type 2 fun with four friends who take off to Mexico for an outlandish adventure on the continent’s highest volcano, Orizaba.