UNDER THE SAME SUN: Peace and Bioethics

In the Indian state of Rajasthan, near the Pakistani border, three orphaned children take in an injured adolescent boy, securing his humanity. “It’s a little film,” said writer-director Mitra Sen about Under the Same Sun, waiting in the Filmmakers Lounge at the 2015 Mill Valley Film Festival. Her modesty is genuine but the characterization of the works significance is inaccurate.  

This ‘little film’ tackles enormous questions, using an equally large intelligence. Despite Sen’s earlier film, Peace Tree (2005), winning some 12 international awards, the director is oblivious to the power of Under the Same Sun. In this film, children are depicted exercising their moral capacity through their daily interactions with one another. 

Sen’s film craft honors the legacy of Mira Nair, with its complex screenplay, and converging political and emotional plot lines. Perhaps, the greatest surprise is Sen’s facility with suspense. It rivals Alfred Hitchcock’s on his best day.  Think of the corn field scene in North by Northwest, or racing through the Marrakesh market in The Man Who Knew Too Much. A ‘tell’ forewarns Sen’s mastery. Seeing her diligence when ordering a sandwich in a deli is to see the artist at work. When she sorts out what she wants, Mitra can teach others how to help create it.

The geography of the film is significant. The region has a cross cultural population, split between Hindu, Christian, Muslim and Sikh people, who interact with one another routinely. The balance between these religions derives from a long complicated past. Mitra Sen’s contemporary handling of the cross cultural issues is masterful. She pushes the viewer to see so many colors in motion at once that the differences between them blend into a white light. Through a single example of emerging conflict, we are forced to consider the universal human rights violations when using children as weapons of war. 

Bioethics pays special attention to the moral protection of innocent third parties. Justice requires an equal distribution of burdens and benefits. Children are disproportionately burdened and reap the least benefit in conflict zones. A middle school teacher, Mitra Sen’s primary aim is promoting childrens’ understanding of the mechanisms of peace.  

Under the Same Sun was not an easy film for which to find resources, as if any ever are. Beyond financial issues was the reality of the nation of principal production. Sen arrived from her Canadian home to commence casting and production within hours of the 2008 Mumbai terrorist bombings. Neither India nor Mitra Sen are unfamiliar with difficult chaotic circumstances. Yet, it is remarkable that amid unprecedented horror, Mitra traveled from across the country to the border between Pakistan and India and began to make her Peace Genre movie. 

One bioethical definition of peace is that it is a ‘good’.  Such ‘goods,’ in this context, cannot be held by the individual but only by humanity as a whole. However, we recognize peace when we catch glimpses. Otherwise, it eludes clarity.  In the same way that individuals may derail peace, a collective can keep it on track. Under the Same Sun turns the violence of war inside out, in search of the elusive peace. 

Under the Same Sun, directed by Mitra Sen ( 2015) Canada, Sandalwood Productions, 93 min.

Under the same Sun Trailer https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vOHl7CKz4vs Accessed October 17, 2015


Williams, S. LA MISSION : Prototype for the Peace Genre http://www.bioethicsscreenreflections.com/2010/05/la-mission-prototype-for-peace-genre.html?spref=tw Accessed October 17, 2015

Director Mitra Sen (Under the Same Sun), 
September Williams,MD (Bioethicsscreenreflections.com


A LIGHT BENEATH THEIR FEET Bridges Between Mental Health, Home Health Workers and Bioethics

A Light Beneath Their Feet is a coming of age story for both a daughter and a mother. Valerie Weiss’s directorial skill is remarkable. She uses a spotlight halo soft focus to keep the viewer tied to the amazing performances of Tayrn Manning (Gloria, the mother)  and Madison Davenport (Beth, the daughter). It is fortunate for the viewer that the director is able to keep up with the sophistication of the script and actors she has chosen to direct. Writer Moira McMahon Leeper has brilliantly clarified an inverted mother and daughter  relationship, occurring against the backdrop of mental illness. This film makes stressed family, clinicians, home care workers, and those with labile mental illness, feel less alone.

This film premiered at the 38th Mill Valley Film Festival, October 10, 2015. This is an intimate film about the continuum between mental illness and mental health. The bridge between these two entities is always in sway for everyone, the issue is extent.  Director Valerie Weiss came to her full film career after completing her doctorate in biophysics at Harvard. As such, she well understands the concept of elementary forced resonance, and that understanding has transferred to the subtleties of  her movie. It’s the subtleties that make this film great for  expanding bioethics consciousness. 

Every science student learns about the Tacoma Washington Narrows Bridge collapse in 1940. It is a bedrock tale in physics. Aeroelastic flutter, caused by high wind, unable to pass through the construction’s unbending side walls, caused the bridge to “catch the breeze.”  The arc of the bridges sway increased in magnitude,  eventually over taxing the elastic capacity of the materials used to build the structure. The initial signs of the rigid architecture’s collapse were barely perceptible. In A Light Beneath Their Feet Beth is able to recognize tiny shifts in the mental health of her mother, Gloria. Beth knows the bridge between her mother’s decompensated bipolar disease, and her functional capacity to be delicate, vulnerable to a cascade, gaining resonance, yielding ever widening arcs of suffering.

A Light Beneath Their Feet represents  the 38th MVFF programming as both Active Cinema and the theme Mind the Gap.  Mind the Gap  is about disparity between talent of women, and availability of sustainable work for them in the film industry. The film brings honor to both these categories of the MVFF interest.

Through this film, we experience life with one of the 40 million (1:5)  people in the United States, with decompensated mental health. The mechanism of the film's narrative outlines that though  this is the story of a mother and a daughter, there are two caregivers. Family and professional caregiver’s narratives should star women. They are the people who usually do that work. Women do this work for less than a man would, poor acknowledgement, income and generally unacceptable working conditions. A Light Beneath Their Feet may be a work of fiction, but there is a whole lot of truth in it. 

Family caregivers and home health workers, like Beth, struggle to cobble together a life for themselves as well as that for their loved ones who may be ill. The movement for home health care workers to  unionize, and  be recognized, is well underway.  Beth is younger than most of the children caring for their mothers in the USA.  At college age, Beth is  forced to consider her educational options in the context of her mothers needs. The more accepted situation sees a middle aged child caring for an elderly parent. However, it is mental illness which usually prompts that inverted relationship as well. 

Dementia occurs disproportionately in the elderly, those with cardiovascular disease, traumatic brain injury and liver disease. Common fellow travelers of dementia are: depression, anxiety and psychosis. In the hands of an activated society, managing the abundant  dementia  diagnoses could be a back door to improving the home support for others with mental illness.

Those of any age or cause for decompensated mental health, share legal concerns regarding competency and bioethical assessment of capacity. Competency is an assumed legal construct  until proven absent. Capacity is innate. It allows individuals to establish and maintain a functional system of reasoning, protecting their own personhood. It is loss of capacity which results in judges declaring people ‘incompetent’ to manage their affairs. Incompetency is legally decided between matters of person and those of estate or finance. Fiscal conservators manage financial matters, writing checks, paying bills.  A guardian of person is assigned in circumstances where a person not voluntarily taking medications, or relinquishing weapons, may pose danger. All conservators are appointed by the court and serve as agents of that court. Being a danger to oneself or others is the sine qua non of incompetency. 

The chronic pain community teaches us that most intractable suffering, from pain, is either initiated or worsened by adverse emotion.  In the current century science has realized, when the mind is unsettled by anger, sadness or fear, the brain becomes a petri dish for neuro-psychologic and physiologic decompensation. This was beautifully shown in the drug store where Beth was lucent enough to recognize the psychosis another customer was similar to her own mania, which frightened her. It frightened her so much that she could not rationally respond by getting and taking her psychotropic medicines. The concept of emotional stress resulting in imbalanced health has recently been distilled, for children, in the animated film Inside Out. 

Gloria’s relationship with her psychiatrist has them both walking a clinical tight rope throughout the film. Her ability to maintain guardianship, not only of herself but her daughter is dependent on a consistent internal system of reasoning. True to reality, Gloria’s mental compensation is maintained through the love she shares with her daughter, but also by the essential use of appropriate psychotropic medications. Often with humor, A Light Beneath Their Feet captures the sense of wonder, and fear, for those sharing a life straddling the border of sanity. 

Photo Director Valerie Weiss PhD,  Actor Jena Malone, writer September Williams, MD
After Give Us A Break!  Mind The Gap panel Mill Valley Film Festival 2015

Photo: Director Valerie Weiss PhD,  with Stacey L. Smith, PhD Director Media, Diversity and Social Change Initiative, USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism lunch after Mind The Gap panel Give Us A Break!


A Light Between Their Feet (2015) directed by Valerie Weiss, USA PhD productions (90 min)

Inside Out (2015)directed by Pete Docter,Ronnie del Carmen USA Walt Disney Studios (94 Min) 


National Alliance on Mental Illness https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-By-the-Numbers


INTERWOVEN: Listening, Hearing and Bioethics

Director, Writer, Cinematographer and some Cast of INTERWOVEN

The film Interwoven had its world premiere at the 38th Mill Valley Film Festival,  October  9, 2015. It recalls the best of ensemble film traditions. There is a touch of John Cassavetes improvisational script development, a whisper of Pasolini’s version of Giovanni Boccaccio’s Decameron, and the texture of films like Grand Canyon and Traffic. This film is a part of the Peace Film genre (c.f. La Mission)

Unique to Interwoven, each character is initially stereotypical. Then, just as the viewer raises their palms to yawn, the inner-lives of the characters explode, or implode, on the screen in a web of inter-related complexity. Does the homeless sage deserve what he’s not got? Is a suicide prevention worker past giving a damn?  Can a violinist’s shrill racket be a prelude to virtuosity? This is not a preachy movie, though it does not shy away from message.  Everything doesn’t work out for this band of some sixteen Interwoven people, but everything does indeed work.

Directed by VW Scheich, and co-written with Uyen K (who is incidentally the director’s entertainment attorney-wife). Interwoven is an ambitious first feature for this team. Scheich breaks many novice rules.  A new director should use a small cast, few locations, and focus on dialog over geography. — These were not Scheich’s choices. Scheich confounds matters more by moving boldly across culture, race and class, over wide swaths of Los Angeles, creating a kaleidoscope of hope.  

The ensemble of Interwoven includes award winning star Mo’Nique (Precious). However, the majority of the players are solid ‘work a day actors.’ In casting, the writer-director team operated as though documentarians, searching for the story, not beginning with a theme but instead a process. When the casting call went out, some two hundred actors responded. “That was just the first day, ” Scheich says. Actors were asked to share poignant stories about their lives during their auditions. Some of the actors describe being confused at having neither lines to read nor monologs to recite.

Interwoven highlights the power of listening in both its production style and themes. In this way the film gains its bioethical influence. Listening is an acquired skill, requisite for ‘hearing’, but not sufficient.  Hearing it is key to bioethics. Informed consent is a process which requires listening and hearing, not just signing a piece of paper.  

The elements of informed consent require that a person is able to reflect back information delivered during disclosure of expectations if particular course of action is taken, it’s risks, benefits, and alternatives. Informed consent also demands that permissions are given for the course without coercion. The rules of informed consent  are are associated with  articles 6 and 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which relate to personhood.  Matters of  family, spirituality, past struggles and personal cultural icons influence an individual’s capacity to give informed consent. Policy and procedures related to informed consent in medicine and human research are further operationalized in the Helsinki Declaration of the World Medical Association and its revisions. 

Without heavy handedness, the stories of Interwoven relate to death and loss. The film evolves, perching solidly, on what the late bioethicist Paul Ramsey described as “the edges of life.”  The team creating Interwoven has an intelligence which allowed them to find the truth they were meant to interpret from the narratives heard. Many of the characters were cast with actors from whom the original stories derived. Interwoven adds value to those watching from a clinical medical ethics vantage. How do you give bad news? Where does drinking alcohol cross the line into alcoholism? What is anticipatory versus prolonged grief, and how do we deal with it best?


Interwoven (2015) directed by VW Scheich (USA) 87 mins

Interwoven Trailer https://vimeo.com/109253941



THE ASSASSIN AND BIOETHICS: Death and Destruction vs. Peonies and Silk

The Assassin was one of  the three opening night films at the 2015 Mill Valley Film Festival. Taiwanese filmmaker Hou Hsiao Hsien is no stranger to the Cannes festival awards. This film won him the Cannes 2015 Best Director. Attraction to the screen narratives of ‘assassins’ raises clear bioethical concern during pervasive aggression at home and abroad. The Assassin differs from others in its genre. It does not titillate with the brutality of cold blooded murder. Instead, The Assassin may demonstrate a filmic antidote for the desensitization of screen violence.

The original assassins are thought, by some, to have been mercenaries, in Persia, from the sect of Shia Islam, in the period between the 9th and 10th century. This sect worked against the Sunni Islam who controlled that empire. Assassins were tools of barons who held no independent army.

Though set in the Chinese context, and created by a man, The Assassin has a profoundly feminist sensibility. The assassin of this film’s interest is a woman born in a ninth century imperial court. It is a profoundly feminist approach to story telling. Her mother rejects imperial control and escapes, knowing the action will likely cost her life and that of her daughter. Before her death, the fleeing mother arranges her daughter’s care by an aunt and uncle. The imperial powers eventually wish to conquer the geographical region where the child has been fostered, again risking her death. For the child’s protection her surrogate parents place her in the care of a ‘nun.’ The Nun’s machinations train the child as an assassin. We meet the girl in young adulthood, were she is driven by her filial longings to break away from her heinous training.

The ‘Assassin Genre’ usually depicts an innocent, extracted from their family’s stability and values, being co-opted by an evil power. The plethora of large and small screen versions of this theme includes screen works ranging from The Borne Identity to more recent television shows like Complications and Blindspot. Malleability of unformed systematic reasoning, when faced with moral conflict, is often essential to training in the Assassin Genre, as in life. —Think child soldiers, street gang members, late adolescents in the military,  and fascists masquerading as religious extremist.

Bioethics is an applied ethics concerned with science and technology affecting the biosphere and it is inclusive of medical ethics. The underpinning principles of bioethics  are beneficence, autonomy and justice. Ethical sense generally comes from two separate mechanisms. The first is through principles, drilled into a person as in religion, academia and professions. The second approach to enhancing morality is ‘casuistry.’   Casuistry imparts moral understanding through cases or stories. However, it is not just the Aristotelian narrative plot curve that generates the organized portrayal of ethical dilemmas. Particularly in the case of film, the way in which stories are told influences meaning.

Greek drama analysis might argue that depicting an assassin's journey allows viewers to work through feelings of loss of connectedness. But screen science is a technology, incidentally facilitating art, and can be held to the standard bioethical scrutiny as are other technologies. Does the technology do good?  Does it interfere with the viewers autonomy or enlightened self interest? Are the burdens and benefits of this technology equitably distributed between the most and least vulnerable persons?

Clinically, film can be used to  intentionally manipulate emotion and physiology. Think Clock Work Orange. Other examples include use of film to desensitize persons with, say, arachnophobia. The retina can’t tell the difference between a real spider unless the mind clarifies the matter.  Our movie memory is stored  in the same places as our real experiences. ‘Suspension of disbelief’ is required to watch a film.

If the arachnophobe believes a film spider is real, then the clinical matter is training them to sublimate the emotional and physiologic response during repeated exposures. Eventually, the sublimation becomes automatic. If a viewer suspends believes the screen violence is real, there should be a mechanism to train them to abhor that violence.

Among the tenants of bioethics, and especially clinical medical ethics, is that those who know a field best have increased ethical obligation within that field. Film master Hou Hsiao Hsien’s gives a new twist to reversing the desensitization to violence.That’s a good thing since drilling principles into young minds doesn’t seem to be working.  He uses the juxtaposition of heinous acts with extraordinary beauty. He directs  viewers’ minds to be afraid of violence, initially because it waste time better used for more intimacy with the pleasing aesthetic of this filmmakers’ world. We beg, “Let her walk through that field just one more time!”

Though presaged by the elegance portrayed in many martial arts films, Hou Hsiao Hsien's film Assassin has left the ‘kick’ genre in the dust. The Assassin is not about killing, but demonstrates escape from horrid depictions by pushing prayers for peonies and silk.

Reference for Assassin

The Assassin (2015) directed by Hou Hsiao Hsien (China, Hong Kong, Tiawan) Well Go (2015) 105 mins

The Assassin Trailer https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YSoXoOAY1zU


2015 Mill Valley Film Festival

Bioethics and the Mill Valley Film Festival

Bioethics Screen Reflections Supports the California Film Institute 38th Mill Valley Film Festival (www.cafilm.org) From October 8, 2015 to October 18, 2015 we will screen/review the following films:

The Assassin 
A Light Beneath Their Feet
Son of Saul (Saul Fia)
Here Is Harold (Her er Harold)
Love Between the Covers
Beasts of No Nation
Creative Control
A Perfect Day
Paper Tigers
In Defense of Food

A special focus will follow bioethical issues reflected in the 38th Mill Valley Film Festival category of “Mind the Gap”  which considers the relatively small number of women able to earn a living in the film industry, despite the large percentage of talent and skill women represent in the field.  

Follow along with us over the month of October. Mill Valley Film Festival programmers have proven to be among the most savvy in the field. Their online film notes can guide direct viewing for the year even, if you are not able to attend. But, do try to join us. Often the world, continental and USA premieres  offered become the most highly awarded films of their release years. 

We will keep you posted 

@Bioethicsscreen  and @MVFilmfest


Part I: NORMA RAE x EUROPA '51: Bioethics & Workers Unions

Norma Rae is a 1979 film, based on the life of the late, legendary, textile workers’ union organizer, Crystal Lee Sutton. In the title role, Sally Field honors the formidable works of the film’s director Martin Ritt, and the screenwriting spouses Harriet Frank and Irving Ravetch. The re-viewing of  Norma Rae, in a bioethical context, is prompted by the worker health confounding plethora of  anti-union legislation plaguing several of the poorest states of the USA. An eighteen year old, entering the work force this year, has probably never seen the film Norma Rae. That is a travesty. 

The character Norma Rae was a textiles factory worker in North Carolina. It was the 1970s,  when the textiles industry in the USA employed nearly 40% of the  nation’s workforce, and was largely not unionized. The same industry is now less than 2% of the work force but is experiencing a resurgence in the past few years, as work is returning from the instability of other nations. 

Norma, was poor, white, widowed and a mother of three. The factory town in North Carolina where she lived was rife with poverty, racism, sexism and classism.  She worked in the town company factory, as her parents had before her, and still did. The heft of this story and performances, taking this woman from unconscious to universal conscience remains impressive. Norma Rae stands on the shoulders of  Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which ascribes: 

Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, just and favorable work conditions,  protection against unemployment (and among other things), the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of their own interests. Like much of the UDHR, Article 23, sprang from unprecedented violations of humanity wrought by the expansion of technology associated with the atrocities of both WWI and WWII. This is how Norma Rae meets bioethics. 

The science of public health shows, from 2012-2013, alarming trends of disparity in states where the bargaining capacity of unions, and union organizing, has been diminished by recent legislation. In those states, workers wages are lower; there are lower amounts of health insurance coverage needed for individuals age and life stage; non-union workers pay a larger share of their health insurance premiums; poverty rates are higher in both adults and children; infant mortality is higher and; workplace fatalities are a startling 54% higher. 

Norma Rae’s transcendence to consciousness, prompting her union organizing, visually parallels the ascension of the main character in Roberto Rossellini’s Europa ’51, Irene Knox.  Irene (Ingrid Bergman) is the wife of a wealthy American industrialist residing in post WWII  Rome. After her child dies, she searches for and attains a sensibility close to that of St. Francis of Asissi. Oddly, St. Francis is considered the earliest documented source of Bioethics. Imagery of St. Francis is iconic for  empathy in Europa ’51 — flocks of children and families like birds, frequently surround Irene, as she shifts her world perspective to embrace them.


Norma Rae (35 mm) directed by Martin Ritt, USA 20th Century Fox. 1979 (110 min)

Europa ’51 (35 mm) directed by Roberto Rossellini, Italy, I.F.E. Releasing Corporation 1952 (113 mins)


Crystal Sutton Collection http://www.crystalleesutton.com/about.html Accessed September 9, 2015

Death on the Job: The Toll of Neglect.http://www.aflcio.org/content/download/126621/3464561/DOTJ2014.pdf  Accessed September 14, 2015

Ricardo AndrĂ©s Roa-Castellanos, Bioethical common factors amidst Krause masonry and Saint Francis of Assisi systems of thought appeal to respectful dialogue, nature and understanding: the Jahr’s dialogue beyond the age of "enlightment" and the metadisciplinary "dark" ages. http://hrcak.srce.hr/74189 Accessed September 14, 2015.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/ accessed August 31, 2015.

Part II: NORMA RAE x EUROPA '51: Bioethics, Dual Loyalties & Crystal Lee Sutton

In Norma Rae, and Europa 51 the leading women are seen in factories which are loud, mechanical, inhuman. Focus on the grinding gears seems to imitate the work of their minds. Workers visually blend with the machines. Both the lead characters interact with the roughness of the lives around them. The camera captures faces and expressions of  the destitute and poor of spirit. Director Ritt’s homage to Rossellini’s neorealism is complete. There is sickness and death; stroke, deafness, infection, suicide, murder, broken limbs. Only the women leads and their compadres, male non-lover partners, find these occurrences anathema.  

Irene Knox is an outsider looking in on a world to which she is compelled to extend compassion. Norma Rae is born from the roughest circumstances, which she struggles to change. It is through the wonders of human consciousness that Norma Rae, jumps from pure survival to a desire for enlightenment. The leap is portrayed with the delicacy of a metaphysical love affair and a Dylan Thomas poem. Remarkably, these two women with beginnings so different end up in the same place. 

Bioethical conflict arises in circumstances where there are competing goods. When good and bad are clear, that is not a conflict. The system of health care as portrayed in both films illustrate this tension. In the textile factory the doctor  is paid by the factory owners, implicitly required to maintain the status quo despite repeated instances of occupational disease and health stresses. Arguably, the doctor tries to maintain  individual factory workers incomes, for as long as those individuals can stand to work.  

In the run of the day, there is a duality of obligation to both employer and patient in the tasks of public health. When you ask a  tired, starving man if he  would rather eat or sleep, you see the  bioethical conflict occupational health, workman’s compensation, social security, and corporation doctors deal with, or ignore, daily.

Europa 51’s doctors obscure facts repeatedly. The cause of death of Irene’s son is withheld from her. When a prostitute is ill, and despised by neighbors in a slum, Irene summons a doctor. Without explanation  the doctor declares “there is nothing to be done.” Then, he abandons Irene to the task of doing that ‘nothing.’

Irene’s desire to make change for individuals around her abounds.  She stands in, as a worker on a factory shift, for a woman with several children and a date. Irene is told her behavior is dangerous to her own well being, proven by her being locked into an asylum. Norma Rae was also locked away, but in jail.  Both women did plenty of good before the jailers threw away the keys. These films make us ask,”For whom do these doctors work?”  

Medicine failed not only  the character Irene Knox but, the real Norma Rae, Crystal Lee Sutton.  Crystal matriculated at  Alamance Community College in 1988.  She finished her working career as a certified nursing assistant.  Being among the medical profession did not save her.  Crystal died  on September 11, 2009, from a usually slow growing tumor of connective tissue surrounding the brain, a meningioma. The mass escaped appropriate followup because of insurance company protocols. She died in hospice at 68 years old. When asked by a reporter, how she would like to be remembered she said, 
“It is not necessary I be remembered as anything… but I would like to be remembered as a woman who deeply cared for the working poor and the poor people of the USA and the world … (So) that my family and children, and children like mine, will have a fair share and equality."


Norma Rae (35 mm) directed by Martin Ritt, USA 20th Century Fox. 1979 (110 min)

Europa ’51 (35 mm) directed by Roberto Rossellini, Italy, I.F.E. Releasing Corporation 1952 (113 mins)


Crystal Sutton Collection http://www.crystalleesutton.com/about.html Accessed September 9, 2015

London, L. Dual loyalties and the ethical and human rights obligations of occupational health professionals. Am J Ind Med. 2005 Apr;47(4):322-32. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15776476  Accessed September 18, 2015.

A SEPARATE WIND: Bioethics Forced Migration, Violence and Grief

A Separate Wind/ Viento Aparte opened the 7th annual Cine+Mas San Francisco Latino Film Festival. Director Alejandro Gerber Bicecci’s film though billed as a coming of age story, is also a miraculous buddy movie. The buddies? ... a brother and sister, fifteen and twelve. Together they traverse 7 of Mexico’s 31 states, by truck, car, bus and foot. Other than receiving the kindness of strangers, sometimes paying for it, the children are on their own. In this process they stare down anticipatory grief for a sick family member, and immediate grief for their country.

In writer-director Bicecci's  hands, states are not just geography but also “states of being.” This film is “the other side” of many stories. The children are relatively affluent and sheltered, having grown up in Mexico City. Their mother’s Indio-like spirit is counterbalanced by their father's chilly  pragmatic style. Weaving between these parental opposites the waifs manage to wade through life’s muck, approximating a straight line to their destination. 

This is a story as much about truth and reconciliation as it is about violence and terror. Bicecci frames most shots from the viewpoint of one or the other of the children, or of their memories. Once you learn this distinctive film language you feel comfort in the directors hands. Settings and characters feature Indio, Spanish, African and ancient Mesoamerican influences in a thoroughly modern context, of language and music.The vast diversity of Mexican identities depicted defies the notion of one linear history of its people. 

For all its beauty, A Separate Wind is not a fairytale. But it does  recognize that even in hideously violent circumstances gentleness can  still be found. Much of this film turns on the threat of violence insidiously invading the young travelers, though it never does. If the children were caught in that depravity, then the story would be about those incidences. Bicecci says, "Then the story would no longer be about siblings emerging understanding of their own relationship, to one another, and their country.

The situational violence, the director tells his audience, parallels what he witnessed scouting the film's locations, leading  him to make rewrites. With those rewrites violence itself becomes a character.  However, the perpetrators of the violence are never shown on screen so denied that power. Instead the film craft directs the siblings, and the viewers to identify with the victims, the most vulnerable-- a journalist witness, peasants with a brutal masters, a prostitute whose lively hood depends on her John.

A Separate Wind explains why its protagonists and thousands of other children walk across continents seeking not paradise, but at least a less brutal world.

A Separate Wind/Viento Aparte will be screened again 9/26/2015
tickets for this film and others at  http://www.sflatinofilmfestival.com/tickets/
Runs annually and this year 9/18/2015 -10/3/2015

 A Separate Wind/ Viento Aparte directed by Alejandro Gerber Bicecci (2014)
Mexico, Spanish/ English subtitles

Why are so many children trying to cross the US border http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-28203923


A MIGHTY HEART: Bioethics and Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

The power of the first viewing of A Mighty Heart is a plot which rips Daniel Perlman from his pregnant wife and soon to be born son. This is set amid the chaos of Pakistan, a country simultaneously ancient and at 55 years post colonial rule, younger than wines in a good cellar. The second viewing, through excellent film craft, shows A Mighty Heart tells a very different and peaceful story. It is the story of a multiracial, multicultural, feminist, who loses her husband, yet her spirit refuses to capitulate to the tactics of terror. 

A Mighty Heart is directed by Michael Winterbottom. The screenplay is written by John Orloff. The film is an adaptation of the memoir written by  journalist Mariane Pearl who is played by Angelina Jolie.  Mariane is the widow of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, who in 2002, was assassinated in Pakistan. Dan Futterman portrays Daniel Pearl.

Since 1992, over 1000 journalists have been documented to be  killed in the line of their duty, The conviction for these crimes around the world is around ten percent. Those responsible for the killings have enjoyed relative impunity for their actions. It is journalist James Foley, murdered in August 2015 in Syria, along with others, which prompts this second look at A  Mighty Heart. Jim, like Pearl was beheaded by fascists. The word fascist is chosen intentionally, avoiding the various euphemisms often applied to such murderers. 

The visuals of A Mighty Heart, beat a rhythm of an environment wrought with the oppression of masses of people, crammed into tight spaces. Medical researchers working with rats know that if you put too many in a cage, they will turn on one another.  As Marianne Pearl points out, she lost her journalist expatriate husband, but ten Pakistanis were also killed by extremist that same year. The visuals of poverty, the streets of Islamabad and Karachi, juxtaposed with privilege, the homes and servants of journalists, expatriates and wealthier Pakistani citizens, delicately illustrate fascist fundamentalism coming to have such a foothold. It’s an old story. Destitute people cling to ideologies which replace the void left by  their dignity. 

Why is this a bioethical issue? Maslow's hierarchy of needs is a theory in psychology proposed by Abraham Maslow in his 1943 paper "A Theory of Human Motivation.” The hierarchy says that  the essentials of physiology, safety, and love and belonging are prerequisite to esteem and self actualization. Health and welfare of individuals through the beneficent use of health sciences may be requisite in exercising ones enlightened self interest. However beneficence and autonomy are not sufficient to provide equal distribution of burdens and benefits, that is, justice in extraordinary circumstances of injustice. Building requires blueprints. In 1948, five years after Maslow’s ‘A theory of Human Motivation,’ the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)  was ratified by the newly minted United Nations.The UDHR operationalized Maslow’s hierarchy in service of building more just societies. Freedom of the press,and more, is addressed in Article 19 of the UDHR:
“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

In combination with a campaign to stop impunity for those murdering journalists there are calls for the international courts to consider the murder of journalist as crimes against humanity, A Mighty Heart  is worth second look as it struggles to speak truth to article 19 of the declaration of human rights.

A Mighty Heart (35mm) directed by Michael Winterbottom USA Paramount Vantage.
2007(108 min) 

Pearl, Mariane (2003). A Mighty Heart. with Sarah Crichton. New York City: Charles Scribner's Sons. ISBN 978-0-7432-4442-8.

For More Information see: 
The International Federation of Journalists http://www.ifj.org/campaigns/end-impunity/ accessed August 31, 2015

United Nations Press Freedom Day 2015 http://webtv.un.org/search/world-press-freedom-day-side-event/4224398140001?term=world+press+freedom+day  accessed August 31, 2015 accessed

National Writers Union Co-Sponsors Press Freedom Day at the United Nations https://nwu.org/nwu-co-sponsors-world-press-freedom-event-at-the-united-nations/

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/ accessed August 31, 2015.


BLACK AND WHITE VS BLACK OR WHITE: Bioethics and Mixed Race Families

BLACK AND WHITE, screened at the 2014 Toronto Film Festival and later at the Mill Valley Film Festival, in October 2014.  The same title was also used to discuss the film in various film trade publications. However, the film’s title changed by the time of its USA distribution date, January 30, 2015. The word ‘and was replaced with the word ‘or’. That is, the film title became BLACK or WHITE.   Use of the word ‘and’ better reflects the courage of writer-director Mike Bender in broaching contemporary issues around race and class. The film only superficially reflects two entities fighting one another. Much more prominent in the story is a struggle for Black and White to save each other. Bender dares to suggest, we might all be in this mess together, sinking or swimming.  Ignoring antebellum period themes,  it’s a new take. 

Rowena (Octavia Spencer) is the black grandmother of mixed race eight year old girl, Eloise (Jillian Estell).  Rowena is compelled to fight for custody against the child’s white, recently widowed, alcoholic, up scale lawyer grandfather, Elliott (Kevin Costner.) Rowena, and Elliot’s now dead wife, had a longtime truce regarding their grand-daughter’s best interest. The Black and White grandmothers together decided that the girl should live with the affluence Elliot’s family income could afford. The girl's residence was conditional on a grandmother being in the Brentwood house. Rowena, aware of Elliot’s flaws in parenthood, including alcoholism worsening under the pressure of grief, considers the previous custody arrangement void. 

Rowena is no slouch. She is a more typical black woman than the average film portrayal of a woman of her race, middle-working class and age.  Industrious, she operates several small diversified businesses out of her home in the intact black community of South Central Los Angeles, a community rarely reflected on screen. Through her toil,  a decent though not opulent lifestyle has been afforded to her large extended family, most of whom live nearby and are doing well. Among her children, a lawyer son is forced into the custody battle. However, there is one  exception to Rowena’s pride, another son, a reprobate dope-fiend. Any American family, of any race,  with enough living children is bound to have one of the type. Rowena’s fallen son is the father of Eloise. The child’s mother, attracted to the degenerate, died in childbirth. 

Obvious bioethical concerns in BLACK AND WHITE include concerns for the best surrogate for a child whose parents are no longer able  to parent; the age of autonomous decision making for children and historical injustices inherent in racism and classicism. The role of grief, acute and prolonged, in the context of substance abuse stands out. In the end it is the lagging of social construction,  far behind the science of the human genome, that keeps viewers watching. 

Stephen Riley wrote an analysis of stresses, those identifying as Mixed Race, felt in filling out Box 9 on the 2010 United States census. He describes people agonizing about accurately portraying their racial identity. Riley states “For those who desire to portray their ‘accurate racial’ identity, I have news for you —  ‘racial accuracy’ is an oxymoron.  ‘Race’ as a biological, or anthropological construct is an utter fallacy.”  

Support for leaving behind personal struggles with ‘identity’ is in the census instructions for Box 9, “Race is key to implementing many federal laws and is needed to monitor compliance with the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Acts and are also used to assess fairness of employment practices, to monitor racial disparities in characteristics such as health and education and to plan and obtain funds for public services.” Riley proposes Mixed Race people should check the box which best defines, “How others identify you.”
BLACK AND WHITE offers brilliant honest images, dialog and acting in this sometimes humorous, other times painful,  self-reflective story. Mike Binder’s approach is not as facile as people might find comfortable. The film BLACK AND WHITE suggest that race is a diversionary tool preventing people from getting to the real work of survival in this millennium. 

Black and White/Black or White (35mm) directed by Mike Binder. USA. Relativity Media. 2015 121 min)

Riley, S.  2010 Census- Some thoughts. mixed race studies: http://www.mixedracestudies.org/wordpress/?page_id=6079 accessed January 31, 2015.

Writer Director Mike Binder and September Williams
at Mill Valley Film Festival, October 8, 2014