February 28, 2012 > Documentary series provides food for thought
Documentary series provides food for thought
By M. J. Laird
A chance encounter, a ride up in the elevator at the Newark City Hall en route to a town hall meeting sponsored by Congressman Pete Stark, was just enough time for Jane Bark and Paul Rea to meet, identify some common interests, and realize they could create a venue for discussion and citizen interaction about the life of these times.
Six years ago, the two Tri-City residents launched Tri-City Documentary Film Series, a monthly presentation of a timely film, often coupled with an expert discussant to lend insight to the topic. The monthly program calls for an open discussion following the film where attendees can explore their responses to the film and the topic. Admission is free.
The documentary series launched with the film, "An Inconvenient Truth," prior to its winning an Academy Award and making global warming the most discussed issue. Thirty-five area residents showed up to see the film. That same year, Bark and Rea selected "The Electric Car" which has helped to attract a regular following of the series which usually draws 50 to 60 attendees. That film drew the largest audience with 90 people.
How do they select the films they show? They read film reviews, watch the film festivals, and talk to a range of sources. They read widely about national and world events to choose timely films within their budget, which is zero except for donations. In recent months, films shown have explored 9/11, organic farming, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, hydraulic fracking for natural gas, the financial crisis and genetically-engineered food. Until recently, films were shown at the Fremont Public Library where dates often had to be jockeyed around other events. With a new home base at Niles Discovery Church, the series is settling into a dependable date: the second Saturday of each month and thus, the change in name to include Second Saturday.
While the films shown can be controversial, the citizen discourse has always been polite and neither the library nor Niles Discovery Church has attempted any censorship.
Rather than simply show a film, Bark and Rea wanted to offer an experience that attendees couldn't have at home in front of a plasma television. But they needed a discussion leader with expertise in the subject area. The idea of tapping Bay Area expertise and beyond is often easier said than accomplished. Frequently, Bark and Rea find themselves making countless phone calls trying to convince someone to give up a beautiful Saturday afternoon to come lead a discussion without even an honorarium to cover gas.
During its six-year history, the documentary film series has attracted discussion leaders that have included Mickey Huff, director of Project Censored; Dr. Larry Shoup, author of "Imperial Brain Trust"; Sharat Lin, Director of the San Jose Peace and Justice Center; and Barbara Lubin, Director of the Middle East Children's Alliance. Most recent films have tackled every issue from the shortage of water expected in this century with the film, "Flow," to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with "Occupation Has No Future" to "Gasland," focusing on the impact of drilling on the environment.
For Bark, the series began in response to a national election that ended badly in her view; she had a desire to make her voice heard and become involved. The series has exceeded her expectation, changing her enormously, she reports. Having grown up in Scotland and traveled the world, Bark says the series has educated her to the point where now when she watches the evening news she can determine when facts are omitted and truth colored.
"I look at things differently - the wars, the financial crisis, places where people in this country are lied to. I'm uncomfortable with it, and yet I am living with it.
While hoping the film series would promote a sense of community, Rea, a retired professor from St. Mary's College, has been impressed by citizen engagement emerging from the discussions. "The high for me," says Rea, "is seeing people who do not ordinarily articulate their perceptions participate in discussions, speaking their views on global warming or chemical fracking to liberate natural gas, people coming out of their comfort zones."
One regular attendee tagged the film series as "always substantive, never stuffy," according to Rea, a comment he values. While Rea appreciates positive comments, he values even more small gestures that let him know the series has taken root, moments when attendees spontaneously step in to put away chairs so they are back to church-ready with hymnals placed on each chair. Others, too, have begun to step up to help; Barry Shatzman now publicizes the offerings on the website, www.TriCityPerspectives.org. Bark's husband, Tom Matson, lends a generous hand, helping wherever needed, as does Tom Ford. As long as people continue to show interest, Bark and Rea plan to keep the films coming to spark discussion, their contribution to a more educated, enlightened community.
Tri-City Documentary Film Series
Second Saturday of each month
Niles Discovery Church
255 H Street at Third, Fremont