deadCenter Film Festival delivers action-inspiring documentaries 

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Dolores Huerta is a legend among activists. For six decades and counting, Huerta has played a prominent role in America’s farm labor and civil rights struggles. She and Cesar Chavez co-founded the group that became United Farm Workers of America. In the 1960s, she mounted a successful boycott of California grapes that yielded a contract between the growers and the farm workers union.

The well-known rally cry “Sí se puede” (Yes, one can) came first from the lips of Huerta, followed by Chavez, who is memorialized as a greater labor leader.

Huerta’s life is the focus of a new documentary that seeks to tell the story of “the most vocal activist you’ve never heard of,” as described by CBS News’ Michelle Miller.

Dolores screens noon Saturday and 5:30 p.m. Sunday at deadCenter Film Festival, which runs Wednesday through Sunday at select downtown Oklahoma City venues. The film is one of three activist-focused documentaries featured during the event.

Dolores, directed by Peter Bratt and executive directed by Carlos Santana, uses rare footage, speeches, union meetings and decades-old news interviews to depict Huerta’s powerful career and her efforts to improve the lives of workers, immigrants and disfranchised groups of people. Interviews with laborers, politicians, academics, family members and iconic advocates such as Angela Davis and Gloria Steinem, the film illustrates Huerta’s work in the broader context of the civil rights era, feminist movement and American Indian movement.

Perhaps more important is the voice of Huerta.

“We’ve all learned that we are not afraid to struggle,” Huerta says in the film. “We are not afraid to sacrifice because you can’t make change if you are not willing to give something up. You’ve got to give up some comfort. You’ve got to give up some time. Then, you can see the changes come.”

Struggles in North Dakota

The largest gathering of indigenous nations in modern American history began when the construction of the 1,172-mile Dakota Access Pipeline, a $3.8 billion project, edged toward the Missouri River, the main source of drinking water for the Standing Rock Sioux.

The demonstrations, which began in March 2016 at the main Standing Rock protest camp near the Dakota Access Pipeline, planted the seeds of a movement. Standing Rock Sioux tribal leaders sued the federal government to halt the pipeline construction, saying the tribe wasn’t properly consulted before its approval. The tribe and its supporters argued the pipeline would adversely impact drinking water and disturb sacred sites. Standing Rock’s fight galvanized the nation as the social media hashtag #NoDAPL connected a host of issues including Native American sovereignty, energy policy, land rights and the environment.

In I Stand: The Guardians of the Water, Oklahoma filmmaker Kyle Kauwika Harris captures this most significant time. Through crowdfunding, Harris — a member of the Choctaw Nation — traveled to Cannon Ball, North Dakota, and the front line of the protests. There, he captured the intense standoff between the tribe and law enforcement, weaving interviews with tribal elders, youths and activists into the documentary.

“I want my future people to know that we fought for you,” says a Native youth in the film, “that we fought for all of you and we love you.”

The documentary was featured at the Red Nation Film Festival On the Road Tour in Washington, D.C., showing days after the Native Nations Rise March. The film screens 3 p.m. Friday and 2 p.m. Sunday during deadCenter.

Fighting for health equality

“When medicine has no answers for you, where do you turn?”

It’s a question filmmaker and journalist Jennifer Brea asks in her new documentary Unrest. The film chronicles Brea’s life after she was diagnosed with myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), or chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), and her quest to understand the complex illness characterized by prolonged fatigue triggered by little activity. There is no cure for the autoimmune disorder, nor have doctors determined its cause.

As illustrated throughout the film, the condition is debilitating. Brea, who directs the film, struggles at times to even lift her head. Bedbound, she conducts interviews over the Internet with ME patients and their families, researchers and physicians. The film points out that about 1 million people in the United States are impacted by the disease; however, ME research receives almost no federal funds.

Brea builds an online community of ME patients. At first, the community is a way to share, encourage and support each other, but eventually, it turns into a call for activism.

“The only way anything is going to change is if people can see us,” Brea said to the group over Skype.

The comment spurs the 2016 multicity #MillionsMissing protests in which protesters placed pairs of shoes on the ground to symbolize those affected by ME/CFS unable to live their lives. #MillionsMissing protests call on federal lawmakers to fund ME/CFS research, clinical trials and medical/public education campaigns. More importantly, the protests shed light on a disease often described as invisible because about a quarter of patients are bedbound.

Unrest screens 11:30 a.m. Saturday and 4:30 p.m. Sunday.

Learn more about deadCenter Film Festival in this week’s Gazette.

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