Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Did Big Sugar step on the Miami International Film Festival? by gimleteye

If you expected that Amy Serrano’s film, “The Sugar Babies: The Plight of the Children of Agricultural Workers in the Sugar Industry of the Dominican Republic” would be exhibited at the upcoming Miami International Film Festival, you would be wrong.

The question: why did the Miami Film Festival, scheduled to air the expose of brutal living and working conditions in the Dominican sugar fields, suddenly reverse itself?

Could it have to do with the ham-handed influence of Big Sugar?

In September 2007, Serrano’s film was accepted for exhibition in the upcoming Miami International Film Festival, scheduled from February 28 through March 9th.

Last week, Serrano received notice from the festival producer retracting the invitation. Serrano says that she had previously disclosed to the Festival that the film had been screened to a FIU audience limited to the social studies program—the ostensible reason for its retraction.

“Sugar Babies” and another film sharply critical of the sugar industry, narrated by actor and philanthropist Paul Newman, have come under withering attack from sugar interests and its public relations machinery.

According to a February 7th AP report, “Leading the effort to counter the movies’ impact are the Fanjul and Vicini families, who own the first and second-largest Dominican sugar companies. The Cuban-American Fanjul family also owns vast sugar operations in Florida where Haitian workers on temporary US visas harvest cane.”

The Fanjuls are fabulously wealthy, by way of state and federal policies governing sugar farming on hundreds of thousands acres around Lake Okeechobee.

In the Dominican Republic, the family built Casa de Campo, a resort that caters to wealthy homeowners and visitors, including politically influential guests and elected officials that has been featured in national glamor magazines, like W-- the magazine of Women's Wear Daily.

“Until now, the disturbing remnants of colonial slavery were carefully hidden in paradise.... “The Sugar Babies” examines the moral price of sugar—present and past—from the perspective of the conditions surrounding the children of sugar cane cutters of Haitian ancestry in the Dominican Republic, and the continuing denial of their basic human rights.”

When in South Florida, Bill Clinton sometimes golfs with Alfie Fanjul, who was on the phone with the former president while Monica Lewinsky was in the Oval Office.

The AP report quotes the producer of the Newman-narrated film, “Their goal is to stop people in the world from seeing the movie, because it reveals conditions that views find deeply troubling.” And so it might be troubling, too, to the former president whose foundation and philanthropic activities are focused on relieving the ills of poverty.

I wonder if Hillary Clinton or any of the other presidential candidates would venture their opinion on “The Sugar Babies” if they had the chance: “While exposing those who profit from human trafficking and exploitation, the feature length documentary film vividly explores the lives of those who live in circumstances that can only be considered modern day slavery.”

If the Miami International Film Festival won’t be honest about its censorship, the Women’s Film Festival is.

According to a source, three days after receiving the retraction from the Festival, Serrano got a call from the Women’s Film Festival canceling the airing of the film there because it “would create controversy and endanger their funding.”

It sure sounds like censorship, doesn’t it? Well, not to worry: in Miami freedom is on the march, too, but just not when it comes to criticizing Big Sugar; a special interest that has had a major influence on national farm policies, environmental programs, and farm worker rights.

The Miami International Film Festival is substantially supported by the Miami-based John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

On its website, the Foundation claims, “We want to ensure that each community’s citizens get the information they need to thrive in a democracy.” The Foundation invests in numerous projects protecting journalists and defending media freedom.

It would seem that the Knight Foundation should reconsider its funding of the Miami International Film Festival, for its withdrawal of “Sugar Babies”. Such a withdrawal of funding would be consistent with the mission of the Foundation.


Anonymous said...

Very few know it but the Sugar Lords of the Dominican/Florida gave Florida's most powerful politician a maga mansion at Casa de Camp. The same pol, second in power to LBJ in those days, also was given a board seat on U.S. Sugar.

star said...

Come on gimleteye say it:
"When in South Florida, Bill Clinton sometimes golfs with Alfie Fanjul, who was on the phone with the former president while Monica Lewinsky was in the Oval Office.......giving Pres Clinton a blo job." That was not sex though...Yeah right. And all on our dime.

Anonymous said...

I believe that is "blow" with a "W"

Star said...

Ja,Ja,Ja thats funny. Its with a little "w" though. Nice subliminal message.

gimleteye said...

Comment today by Amy Serrano:

To Whom it May Concern:

Spending time on the road screening and discussing the issues in the documentary film "The Sugar Babies," I realize that this film portends not only to deeply examine the disturbing modern day relations that continue among sugar, power, and human rights. I realize, it equally strives to bring about sufficient awareness of how the past intersects the present, and how the future might be made right -- at least for the children.

Yet this complex situation is neither Haitian nor Dominican, nor should it be viewed from a prism that is either black or white, good or bad. In fact, it is sadly, all too human, and an all too common story about greed, abuse of power, action, inaction, and living in fear.....

It then becomes rather uplifting to stand in the presence of a motivated audience such as those at the recent screening of film at UNIFEM's Through Women's Eyes Film Festival. Or to engage with students at various colleges and universities where film was recently screened and human rights issues constructively discussed in panels, or question and answer sessions, or smaller groups still.

My deepest appreciation to all who organized, attended and become inspired to act from such events.

Also to the Buffalo Niagara Film Festival who recently chose the film as part of its Official Selection and where Executive Producer, Dr. Claudia Chiesi will be present to take questions following the screening in March.

And while bringing out the spirited best in those that seek to overturn injustice and aim to live and create a sustainable state of freedom, choice, self-determination and pluralism, it equally brings out the worst in those who would seek to obscure this possibility, or who by default, become complicit in the latter by denying the film -- and the people in it -- a voice.

And the denial of this state of existence happens at many levels; either through outright obstruction, or even by living or giving in to fear.

Fear of what? Truth?

On the subject of Fear, it was telling when one of the film's producers, Thor Halvorssen recently shared that a potential sponsor, a Fortune 500 company whose funding might have greatly helped the outreach aspect of the film, backs out because they don't want to tangle with "Big Sugar." And when Melissa Hunter of the Women's International Film Festival http://www.wiffonline.org/ calls one day excited about wanting to include the film in its South Florida Festival and the following day I am called by one of its directors expressing serious concern -- backpeddling, and shuffling the film into a corner so that the festival "appears" to have very little to do with it-- I begin to question their commitment. Subsequently, she unwittingly expresses a "fear" for her rather new festival to have a continued shelflife if presenting "our" film. Our phone conversation ends abruptly, and that becomes the end of that.

While God knows I strive to honor what is right, and despite many untold risks, act in what I feel is the best interest of those in film, at this time, I would seriously question the integrity and leadership of the organizers of the Miami International Film Festival who on January 25th, retracted film from its program for what are dishonest reasons [at best].

This is sad at many levels; though I now live in New Orleans, Miami is my hometown and in the initial stages, the festival had been so very cooperative and excited about the inclusion of our film into its 25th Anniversary program. Then, just like the Women's International Film Festival, a complete turnaround. Because of this sudden shift, I have no faith in their offer of a carefully crafted consolation prize to film not being screened in festival. IN any matter, that offer would be far and away from the glare of the international press that would attend the festival, and whose global voice would make louder still, the issues echoed in our film.

The retraction is no coincidence, and there are behind-the-scenes events that I believe lead up to this, but those I can not prove, nor do I really have to.

I can prove they are dishonest about their reasons for pulling film, and this is a dishonor to those in film who share a cultural lineage with many of the students that make up the student body population of Miami Dade Community College -- the umbrella organization of the Miami International Film Festival. It is also a disservice and inadequate use of public funds utilized towards the continuity of the Festival and the college itself.

If you are in interested in the "facts" I will be pleased to share these with upon your request. Sadly, under its current administration, I can not, I will not, support the programming choices of the Miami International Film Festival.

Amy Serrano,
Director/ Writer/ Cinematographer/ Producer

p.s. NOTE: While writing this statement, I received the following BLOG on the same issue: http://eyeonmiami.blogspot.com/2008/02/did-big-sugar-step-on-miami.html To whomever wrote this, my sincere appreciation for your inquiry, interest and commitment...

Mensa said...

This is just another proof of how terrible greed makes people. Not only are children and other poor people taken advantage of on the Islands but further we are lied to and truths hidden so that both bad people and dumb people can get money. I am ashamed of our film people down here. From big sugar I did not expect anything better.

Anonymous said...

Why don't you ask Joanna Wragg?