In this age of isolation, when so many of us are increasingly fixated on screens and shiny new objects rather than on connection and on compassion, it is no surprise that we are plagued by an epidemic of addiction. If addiction is an adaptation to a poverty of the spirit, then we will remain malnourished and bonded to our addiction until we can deeply connect to self, to source, and to community. In the midst of an international crisis of overdose deaths and suicide, questions about how we authentically connect with ourselves and each other in the face of this isolation are increasingly urgent.
Cura is a feature length documentary in progress that tells the story of Yolanda and Donny, a mother and son who break cycles of addiction and violence in the face of impossible odds. At a time when lawmakers leave no choice for impoverished Americans but to crowdfund their own surgeries, Yolanda and Donny's story of taking their mental healthcare into their own hands is more critical than ever. Their story illuminates both the spiritual and communal aspects of healing from trauma, as well as the stark socioeconomic realities that often prevent it for many marginalized people.
The film is a passion project of director Ethan Goldwater that — over the past two and a half years — has amassed a team of dedicated and influential individuals from the worlds of healing, public policy, and film. The story begins in the shadow of the structural injustice and violence at the heart of American inequality. Yolanda and her sons all grew up in southern California’s Inland Empire, amidst fear of family violence, the spectre of raids by law enforcement, and constant financial instability. Growing up with parents who used and sold heroin throughout her childhood, Yolanda herself developed a regular meth habit at age 16. Years later, her sons began using meth at younger ages than she did.
Over a decade ago, Yolanda moved to the California Bay Area to get away from her toxic environment. When her sons joined her there, they had both already been in and out of juvenile detention and prison, struggling to navigate a world that criminalizes trauma and many of the mechanisms people use to cope with it.
We began filming Cura soon after Yolanda's younger son Johnny died from a preventable meth overdose in an Oakland jail in 2015. In Cura, she strives to save her surviving son Donny, who also struggles with addiction, depression, and PTSD.
However, our film is about more than oppression and struggle - it is a story of healing and reclamation. Cura follows Yolanda and Donny as they utilize ancient, innovative, and visionary medicine to heal the trauma and break out of cycles of addiction and violence that have plagued their family and community for generations.
A message from director and producer Ethan Goldwater:
“Yolanda and I met in a sacred meditation community about 5 years ago and became fast friends. I was blown away many times over by Yolanda’s uncanny story and her unfathomable strength. Soon after she lost her son Johnny in March 2015, I asked her if she was interested in sharing her story. Yolanda agreed, and since then, we have worked to integrate with Yolanda’s healing process, using the storytelling process as a medium for her to process her grief and healing. As Yolanda and Donny's story unfolded, others in the community - Ismail, Alessandra, Jan, Max, Tara, Allen, Yaara, Chris and Derek - have joined to help tell their story with integrity and power.
Yolanda courageously opened up her life to our cameras, allowing us to capture her and Donny's challenges combating addiction, violence, and poverty. We’ve been there through the small everyday moments, filmed in ceremony and in jail. We’ve held the camera through the course of Yolanda’s legal case against Alameda County and the CHP. Their story - filled with triumph and tragedy - demonstrates how even in the midst of intergenerational trauma, healing can always be accessed through community, commitment, and ceremony."
By helping Yolanda and Donny tell their own story, we hope to show how community-based, integrative medicine can intervene at opportune moments, even within otherwise intractable patterns of crisis.
Together, we are now ready to share this story with the world.
Cura's story is both heartbreaking and transcendent; it is both a stark look at the unjust and brutal reality for many people of color in America, and also a testament to the human spirit in the face of that reality. At its core, Cura shows that transformative and tangible healing is possible for every person who seeks it. We hope that Yolanda's story can inspire others to heal themselves, too.
We need your help now to make this film a reality.
After more than two years of filming, we have over 150 hours of footage to cut, and are now prepared to work with editors that will take this film to its final stages. The funds from this Kickstarter will go to shoot final scenes with Yolanda and Donny, mix sound, and edit our footage into a final cut.
Cura has been 100% independently filmed and produced so far, but now we need your generous donation to help us take it to the next level.
Help us expand the public conversation around healing and social justice by sharing Yolanda, Johnny, and Donny’s story. Our world needs Cura's powerful message of love, healing, and triumph.
Cura’s crew is a dream team of seasoned film producers, expert social justice and drug policy influencers, visionary cinematographers, award winning editors, and much more. Cura is poised to make waves artistically, as well as socio-politically, throughout the worlds of drug policy, social justice, and public health.
Ethan Goldwater (Director, Producer, Cinematographer) is a filmmaker who was raised in a big family by social workers who showed him what it means to get involved in the lives of others. His work as a filmmaker builds on his prior careers as a journalist in San Francisco, and as public school teacher in NYC. He has created work for organizations such as BRAC, IMEU, UNICEF, Dell Innovation Foundation, Drug Policy Alliance, and New Schools Venture Fund, and taught workshops in Bangladesh, Palestine, Uganda, and Ghana aimed at empowering people to use filmmaking as a tool for telling their stories. His short film the Last Waterman of Wittman was selected as a Vimeo staff pick in 2011 and played at the Chesapeake film festival and Camden film festival. He produced The Long Road Home, a TV-special documentary about double amputee tractor puller Larry Koester. In 2014, he founded Hover Pictures, a production company dedicated to making explorative documentary and narrative work and supporting directors to bring new films to life. His recent short film Lady Bountiful premiered at SF Indie Fest and will be broadcast on KQED’s series Truly, CA.
Ismail Ali (Co-Producer) is a multiracial Muslim-American advocate with a depth of lived experience and personal interest at the intersection of social marginalization and drug policy. Ismail presently works as Policy & Advocacy Counsel at the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), where he helps develop and advocate for just, equitable, and creative alternatives to the failed War on Drugs. Ismail also serves as Vice-Chair of the Students for Sensible Drug Policy Board of Directors. Ismail earned his J.D. at the University of California, Berkeley School of Law in 2016 after focusing his studies on metaphysics, ethics, and Islamic law as a philosophy student at California State University, Fresno. While in law school, among leading and participating in extracurricular activities which focused primarily on human rights, civil liberties, and racial justice, he also worked for the ACLU of Northern California’s Criminal Justice and Drug Policy Project. Ismail believes that plant medicine and psychedelic consciousness has a crucial role to play in challenging oppression in all of its forms.
Tara Marchant (Co-Producer) is the Director of the Oakland Emerald Cities Collaborative, working across a host of stakeholder organizations (public, labor, community and industry and workforce development) to bring a collective effort to retrofit our urban core. In doing so, create jobs, build our democracy, reduce energy use, and direct investments to our local communities. Even in her early career pathway, having graduated from Yale University in Theater and French, she saw herself as an artist in the complex narrative called life. Her calling was to create stories and visions, dramas and comedies where the audience, through these works, could aspire to reach higher. She joined her union, performed in TV and Theater. And when she worked, was paid well because of the value her union represented in her craft. However, Tara found that success through performance was limited –she was a woman and a person of color. It taught her that hard work and diligence doesn’t guarantee success: that systems are difficult to manage, and navigate. And old paradigms and old hierarchies were not reflecting the changes needed to include new voices, new cultures and new innovations. It is with the spirit of introducing new voices in important conversations in the Bay Area and throughout California, and connecting to established institutions working to change the dominant social paradigms, that Tara advises Cura.
Steve Holmgren (Consulting Producer) is a producer and curator in the arts, working primarily in independent cinema, and has worked with Matthew Porterfield (Putty Hill); I Used to Be Darker), Marie Losier (The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye), Cory McAbee (Crazy & Thief), as well as on the omnibus project Far from Afghanistan (featuring John Gianvito, Soon-Mi Yoo, Minda Martin, Jon Jost, Afghan Voices, and Travis Wilkerson). Holmgren is the head of the advisory committee for the nonprofit documentary arts organization UnionDocs, for which he served as programmer from 2009-14. In that capacity, he organized hundreds of screenings, panels, and workshops. He has worked at several film festivals – including the Robert Flaherty Film Seminar, Tribeca, and Sound Unseen – in a variety of capacities and has also worked in film sales with Cactus Three and in distribution with Gartenberg Media Enterprises. Holmgren has additionally been a visiting professor at Pratt Institute as well as participating at forums including IFP New York, Sundance, Berlin, Rotterdam, and Visible Evidence.
Max Basch (Cinematographer) came from a background in photography which reflects in his framing as a documentarian. He recently has shot and directed a number of music video projects for the likes of Zoe Kravitz and Benjamin Clementine and has had the honor of working with other artists such as Prince, and Beyoncé. Currently, he's in the process of finishing a feature length documentary on the life of painter, Kenny Scharf.
Alessandra Lacorazza (Editor) is a queer Colombian-American filmmaker and editor based in Brooklyn NY. Her work deals with both personal and cultural memory, and incorporates themes of resilience, migration, community and alienation. She creates work where identities intersect and form dualities. Recently, she directed a music video for artist Julia Weldon, featured in NYLON, OUT, and GO Magazine, which pays homage to queer bodies, queer spaces, and the latinx lives lost in the Pulse nightclub shooting. As an editor, Alessandra has focused her work on the latinx community in the US and in Latin America. Her work was chosen as part of the 2016 IFP labs and has been shown at film festivals and featured in numerous online publications. Alessandra is part of the 2017 – 2018 MeerKat Media Collective Residency Program.
Yaara Sumeruk (Editor) is a writer, director and editor based in Brooklyn, New York. Her film Ringo premiered at The Locarno International Film Festival. Aside from narrative films, her work spans music videos, commercials, short documentaries and editing trailers. Yaara has cut trailers for director Spike Lee, The Sundance Institute, The Malala Fund and many documentary features. She was the Creative Director for a series of films screened at The U.N’s General Assembly. For two years, Yaara held the position of Director of Video Production at Bond/360, an independent documentary distribution firm. She lectures on film at Princeton University. Her new short narrative films American Daddy and Kim's Kitchen will be out soon.
Risks and challenges
Compared to the risks taken by the subjects of this film in taking charge of their own healing path, the risks we take as filmmakers are minor. Our challenges are minimal, compared to the challenges of people who courageously face structural obstacles to survival every day of their lives.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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