The Opposite of Chaos
by Marcina Zaccaria
Michael Fox is a freelance journalist, translator, radio reporter, and documentary filmmaker. In 2007, he founded Estreito Meios Productions as a means of telling stories that reveal desperation, indignation, and hope through difficult times. After making Beyond Elections, Fox and his team developed Crossing the American Crisis: From Collapse to Action, a feature-length documentary that takes us across the country amidst the economic collapse of 2008.
Crossing the American Crisis: From Collapse to Action sheds light on grassroots solutions found throughout the United States during the 2008 financial crisis. “We drove all around the country, out to California, and all the way back to the South, and we asked people what they thought,” said Fox.
Interviews from the film span two years and cover nearly 40 states, drawing from farmers, truck drivers, homeless people, workers, and immigrants. By revealing dreams in light of a disastrous economic breakdown, his documentaries are to create a debate or a discussion, and with relatives who were coal miners in Appalachia, Fox enjoyed sharing their stories of solidarity. Fox has lectured at Marymount Manhattan College, University of Maryland, International Action Center, The Brecht Forum, Black Sheep Books, and Hampshire College, among other places.
When Fox is traveling, he operates with a spare crew – mostly it is only he and Silvia Leindecker. “It’s been pretty much Silvia and I. On the first film, we had a little bit more help in terms of audio editing…it’s pretty much Silvia and I, and that includes shooting it and editing it and interviewing it and post production. It’s really spare, but in time of economic difficulties, it’s what you have to do.”
Fox and Leindecker get to travel quite frequently. Estreito Meois started in 2007 is an independent production company founded in 2007 and in South America. “Sylvia is from Brazil, I’m from the US, but we lived for the last six years in Latin America, so we were largely in Venezuela and also in Brazil. The connections are really amazing…what’s so exciting about Latin America is that people are creating alternatives and questioning the models that exist and really go deeper.”
When working on Crossing the American Crisis: From Collapse to Action, he found that, “It was a lot of hope in 2008, it didn’t matter if you weren’t there. Those perspectives really diverged. But the tea party movement, cut all government spending, prevent individual rights. In 2010, it was the year after Obama was in power. It was a change, it was the way that it was before, and the answers from the other organizations were in their own hands.”
In 2008, we were in the States with our first democracy in the States that was called Beyond Elections which was about participatory democracy in Latin America, especially participatory budgeting in Brazil which is exciting it’s just starting here.” He looks at how local experiences of participatory democracy, how people are engaging in local government.
“We have a lot to learn from so many other people, and at the same time, abroad, people have so much to learn from the US and that was part of what we were trying to tell. Outside of the United States, so few people actually understand what is happening within this country. We made this documentary for the United States public, but we also made it abroad for the communities all around the world that they think still that the streets are paved with gold in NY.”
With the freedom to translate his US and Latin American readers, Fox is an Associate Editor at NACLA, a 45 year old bi-monthly magazine and it came out of the new left student movement of the time, and it started to ask questions, like why does the United States work with the Dominican Republic. What did we invade Guatemala in 1954, and it was an outlet really focused academically, really focused scholarly about diplomatic relations abroad. We focused a lot on social movements on leftist policies. It focused on the solidarity movement from the 1980s. There is a website with photo essays, blogs, video, and radio essays.
One of Fox and Leindecker, their favorite places to work is Venezuela. He is the author of a book called Venezuela Speaks!: Voices From the Grassroots. “We usually think of human rights of political and civil, and when we talk about human rights, we talk about Ghana or we talk about Venezuela, or anywhere that is not the United States. We have a human rights crisis, in terms of jobs, in terms of housing or in terms of healthcare … the first draft of the documentary, it was there, but it wasn’t highlighted. After reviewing it and reviewing and looking at it, we thought, this is really, really deep. Obviously, there are a lot of organizations including many of the people that we interviewed whether it was in Poverty Initiative or United Workers or Media Mobilizing Project, Vermont Workers Center that all talk about the human rights framework, and they are all pushing to build a movement lead by the poor to end poverty, and right, that makes sense, it’s empowering.”
As a filmmaker, he looks at alternatives that might be forming as an option to collapsing into chaos. Of course, like so many filmmakers participating in the festival, he finds so much unsettling about chaos. In Crossing the American Crisis: From Collapse to Action, we find that the solutions are in the hands of the people. “To come together, to know that you’re not always right, and how long in this country has that not happened. We have these barriers, these walls that block us from each other,” Fox said.
Crossing the American Crisis: From Collapse to Action will be shown on Saturday, November 12th at 12 noon. To reserve seats, please send a message to firstname.lastname@example.org.