“It looks bad again in the world,” says Auschwitz survivor Eva Schloss, who started talking about her wartime experience in 1986. As one of the last living Holocaust survivors, she meets with different audiences about twice a week, explaining, “I need it for my sanity.” 116 Cameras follows Schloss as she embarks on a new and futuristic storytelling platform: being recorded in three dimensions so that, as an interactive hologram, she can continue to bear witness long into the future. Director/producer Davina Pardo previously produced the feature-length Very Semi-Serious (Mountainfilm 2015) about the cartoonists at The New Yorker magazine.
This intimate portrait of civil rights movement icon Bayard Rustin is told from the perspective of Rustin’s partner. Not only was it bold to be openly gay in 1977, when Rustin and Walter Naegle met, but theirs was also an interracial and intergenerational relationship, challenging three societal taboos at once. Through Rustin, Bayard and Me explicitly ties gay rights to the civil rights movement, observing that Rustin faced discrimination within the movement because of his homosexuality. Director Matt Wolf helps restore Rustin to his rightful place in history as one of the architects of nonviolent civil resistance in the U.S. Rustin did not live to see gay marriage become a reality, but it is the quiet dignity of Rustin’s and Naegle’s same-sex union that occupies the film’s emotional center and speaks most compellingly to the ideal of equal rights.
Osama and Ayman are skaters, goof-offs, brothers, Americans. They’re also practicing Muslims. In this 2016 Mountainfilm Commitment Grant winner, they skate, laugh, pray and reflect on what it means to be Muslim American in an era of fear and under the specter of such presidential edicts as travel bans and forced identification.
When the spoken words of a former African American slave underscore an elliptical modern dance piece, the effect is powerful and disconcerting. Like apparitions, unsettling questions arise: Where are the divides between past, present and future? In how many ways, and for how many generations, are our sins revisited upon us?
At an annual conference of older transsexual men at a seaside resort in Washington state, a speaker welcomes first-time attendees, telling them that at this conclave, “You don’t have to pretend to be anybody else other than who you are inside.” The men who feel like women, as they put it, express deep relief in the solidarity that comes from being in the company of others like themselves, some for the first time in their lives. At the same time, they speak poignantly about the lifelong pain of being different. The title of Jessica Dimmock’s short film gently posits that while cross-dressing may be no more or less of a social construct than conventional standards of gender-encoded styles of dress, hairstyle and behavior, nonconformity comes at an enormous cost.
One of the joys of attending Mountainfilm is the opportunity to be transported to foreign lands and cultures that most of us are unlikely to ever know in person. In the case of El Hara, the journey is not just geographical and cultural but temporal, too. The film takes us back in time to the Jewish ghetto in Tunis, the Hara, where the writer and intellectual Albert Memmi, now a nonagenarian, lived as a child. It is a world that Memmi describes as a “tissue of lies and hatred,” in which he and his ghetto community were alienated from both the French colonizers and the colonized majority Muslim Tunisians. Like a fortress, the doors and walls, the alleys, the sounds and smells of the Hara embraced and protected its residents. And, like a prison, it kept them locked up in their unalterable differentness.
Zain’s Summer depicts the sunny side of the refugee experience. Zain and his siblings and mother fled Pakistan 11 months before the period the film covers, a six-week summer language program to prepare young, new immigrants for the start of school. The possibility of a new life in America, relatively free from fear of violence and persecution, represents the very best of America in director Joshua Seftel’s telling. Zain’s openness to what the U.S. offers is old-fashioned and inspiring.
Community through skateboarding? It’s not your mother’s path to political organization and activism, which is probably not a bad thing. And why shouldn’t skateboards, ripped jeans, nose rings and free-form youth culture have a serious voice in today’s political discourse? After all, where have private jets, pinstripes, cufflinks and the status quo delivered us?