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March 6, 2012 > Documentary series explores our life and times

Documentary series explores our life and times

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 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.

This Saturday, March 10, at 1:30 p.m., the documentary series will feature a film on human trafficking: "Dreams Die Hard: Survivors of Slavery in America Tell Their Story."

"Most of us don't realize that there are still slaves in America today. More than 40 percent of human trafficking in California occurs in the Bay Area, yet few of us are aware of the problem," says Bark. "In fact, 18,000 captives are brought to this country every year as victims of human trafficking. Predictably, many of these are young women from the poorest countries. This film introduces some of these victims plus the activists who are taking risks to set these slaves free."

Guest speaker Sister Elaine Sanchez of the Sisters of the Holy Family will lead the discussion. Sanchez works with victims, and will also be joined by an agent from the FBI.

The documentary series launched with the film "An Inconvenient Truth" prior to its winning an Academy Award and making global warming the top 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 that 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 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 the films shown have looked at 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; thus the change in name to Tri-City Documentaries Second Saturday Series.

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. Bark and Rea frequently 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, 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 Second Saturday Series
Dreams Die Hard: Survivors of Slavery in America Tell Their Story
Saturday, March 10
1:30 p.m.
Niles Discovery Church
255 H Street at 3rd, Fremont
(510) 797-0895
Wheelchair accessible

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