Loading Doc: From ZERO to FIRST
January 6, 2016 by Todd Lillethun
Chicago-based filmmaker Ky Dickens is in production on her next feature, ZERO WEEKS, a film she hopes will impact the discussion about paid family leave in the United States. After her daughter Harlow was born in June 2014, Dickens reckoned with the issue herself when she and her partner could not take enough time off from work to care for their baby. As she began to explore the issue, she found that many people facing unexpected circumstances became vulnerable to financial crisis, often within a short 8 – 10 week window of time, which put them at risk for sudden unemployment, homelessness, and destitution. Dickens has been capturing the stories of individuals across the country who have struggled through such hardships, as well as interviews with CFO’s at Price Waterhouse-Coopers, Google, and other major companies who say that their paid family leave policies have helped them retain talented employees while reducing costs caused by attrition. The film also features Ellen Bravo, an activist and author based in Milwaukee who has been advocating for paid family leave since the 1970’s. Collaborating with Conspiracy and her own company Yellow Wing Productions, Dickens is working with her longtime producing partner Amy McIntyre, producer Alexis Jaworski, and cinematographer Michael Ognisanti from Dictionary Films. Production is scheduled to continue for four months, with a completion date anticipated for August 2016.
First Secret City
St. Louis-based filmmakers C.D. Stelzer and Alison Carrick premiered their documentary THE FIRST SECRET CITY at the St. Louis Film Festival in November, and are hoping the film rings alarm bells about a nuclear waste dump that may be poisoning their community. Working as an investigative journalist, Stelzer had been writing about the issue for years; he began shooting the documentary in 2010, and brought Carrick onboard in 2011. Part of their story revolves around Larry Burgan, a steelworker who developed mysterious and debilitating health issues in 2000, including chronic fatigue, hair loss, and bizarre chemical burns on his arm. Eventually Burgan discovered that his plant in Venice, Illinois had been the first of four uranium-processing sites for the Manhattan Project back in 1942. Over the years the property changed hands, and waste from the site had been dumped in multiple locations around the St. Louis area. One of these locations, the West Lake Landfill in Bridgeton, Missouri, became a superfund site under the EPA, and has had an underground fire burning since 2010, which no one knows how to stop. Activists, scientists, pediatricians, and local residents who appear in the film make frightening connections between the toxic landfills and strange health symptoms experienced by many in the area, much like Burgan’s, and the filmmakers hope further screenings will raise awareness and prompt legislative action in the state to confront the crisis.
Laila at the Bridge
Minnesota-based producer Mark Steele is moving into post-production on the film LAILA AT THE BRIDGE as part of an international co-production with directors Gulistan Mirzaei and Elissa Sylvia Mirzaei, a husband-wife team based in Kabul, Afghanistan, and editor Ricardo Acosta, based in Toronto, Canada. Laila is an Afghan woman who runs a free treatment center for heroin addicts in Kabul that she finds languishing on the streets or hiding under a local bridge. Since filming began in 2012, the number of addicts in Afghanistan has grown from one million to three million; a staggering 11% of the population is now addicted. The filmmakers recently achieved their fundraising goal for post-production on CineCrowd, a non-profit crowdfunding platform based in the Netherlands, and are scheduled to finish in the spring of 2016.
Todd Lillethun is a freelance producer and editor at Flicker Effects and student advisor at Northwestern University's MFA program for Documentary Media.