As a documentary filmmaker, after 9/11, when the war with Iraq had started, I felt that the voices of women for peace in the international community were not being heard. In 2001, a friend showed me an email from Ronnie Gilbert, of the Weavers and Pete Seeger, where she said … “For the second time in my life -- at least -- a group that I belong to is being investigated by the FBI. The first was the Weavers.” She was referring to Women in Black, an anti-war group that she stood with in California. I said to myself, this is the film that I want to do.
I contacted Gila Svirsky (one of the original members) in Jerusalem, and in 2002 I made my first trip to Israel and filmed the vigil in Paris Square, this particular vigil has existed since 1988. I met some of the original women, started researching the group, gathering archival material, and since 2002 I have been filming as many vigils that I can from around the world.
We Are Still Standing: The Stories of Women in Black is a documentary that profiles one of the most determined and far-reaching feminist movements for peace. Traveling to Jerusalem, New York, Palestine, Excelsior (Minnesota), Seattle, Belgrade, Spain, Italy and Colombia; the film opens a window into a reality not often depicted in the media – numbers of women (and men) working against the tide of nationalism, militarism and violence.
The film is in post-production and I am hoping to finally finish this important documentary. In November 2010 there is an annual conference of Women in Black in Columbia and I would love to show the film there and give them the opportunity to take it back to their home countries to inform the international community about this grassroots movement, which I believe is the largest peace movement in the world. The funds that I receive from the Kickstarter campaign will pay for the final edit, music rights, DVD creation and duplication.
Women in Black started in Israel in 1988, the response of a small group of Jewish women to the violence that was being wrongly inflicted on the Palestinian people. They wore black and held signs that read ‘End the Occupation.’ Stoically, they withstood beatings and verbal abuse, including being called “whores of Arafat,” “traitors” and worse. However, this did not deter the movement of women who spontaneously came to the streets and stood in public places in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv-and other cities in Israel. Since then, Women in Black groups has spread to include chapters in nearly 50 countries, and they have held conferences and encounters in Jerusalem, Beijing, Serbia, Brussels, Florence and Spain. In 2001, Women in Black was awarded the Millennium Peace Prize for Women by the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM). Women in Black in Israel/Palestine and former Yugoslavia were also nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and the Right Livelihood Award.
We are Still Standing- Stories of Women in Black builds its narrative around the stories of women who are representative of Women in Black activities around the world. The film will use these personal stories as jumping-off points to tell the larger story of Women in Black and its history, and give viewers a very direct experience of the flavor and atmosphere of the movement and its activities. The narrative of We are Still Standing is punctuated by many scenes of actual vigils -- from large, dramatic gatherings of hundreds of women, to a lone vigil by a Woman in Black outside a courthouse in Minnesota. These comprise a moving visual refrain in the narrative, and help convey the heart of the Women in Black phenomenon.
As it opens windows onto the outward activities of the Women in Black movement, We Are Still Standing also chronicles the remarkable personal transformations that women experience as a result of participating in the movement-- striking an effective balance between profiling the movement as a global phenomenon, and bringing the viewer inside the lives of some of its members-- from housewives unaccustomed to protest, domestic violence survivors, refugees, lesbians, feminists and Zionists, grandmothers to hippies-all stand together speaking a new feminist voice. These are a few of the women that I have filmed:
Gila Svirsky, since 1988, Gila has been standing on the Jerusalem vigil – every week for one hour – holding a sign that says “End the Occupation”. It was 22 years in 2010. She says, “I hope we don’t make it to 23”.
From Israel we travel to the former Yugoslavia and film the feminist and activist, Stasa Zajovic who, inspired by the Israeli women, founded Women in Black Belgrade in 1991. In Stasa’s words, “We love the streets, remain in the streets… we come out, think of new forms of political communication, new forms of ethics and aesthetics of feminism and antimilitarism... We want to go deeper into the causes of war and deal with more than its consequences.”
Jadranka is another member of Women in Black Belgrade. She recounts her horrifying experience of fleeing the city during the siege of Sarajevo, and like so many women, finding herself separated from her husband. In Belgrade, she discovered that the relatives she stayed with were Milosevic supporters. Outraged and traumatized by a world suddenly shot through with violence, Jadranka, who had been an ordinary housewife, joined the Women in Black movement. She is now an active organizer of the ongoing efforts to heal Sarajevo, and calls her commitment to political activism and feminism her “second life.”
From Belgrade the film travels to Italy, where the cameras capture the indefatigable Luisa Morgantini. Luisa is a former Vice-President of the European Parliament, but despite her demanding schedule she was so moved by the work of Women in Black that she founded a chapter in Rome in 1991. Now, there are hundreds of Women in Black members in an astonishing 18 cities across Italy.
We are Still Standing also works to contrast the images of violence in the media. Regardless of the many thousands of women participating in this worldwide movement, the activities of Women in Black are not considered particularly newsworthy. Just like the silent vigils that it depicts, We Are Still Standing uses the powerful medium of documentary film to convey the message that peace is more powerful than violence and that even in simple ways, people everywhere can participate in bringing it about.
- (90 days)