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Claus Mueller

Claus Mueller is a Film Festival Ambassador to

He is based in New York where he covers the festival scene.


New York Social Justice Film Festival, 2020


Cinematters: NY Social Justice Film Festival is a new film festival with the objective of having its audience reflect about inequality, injustice, advocacy and social responsibility. More importantly, the festival program includes films, discussions and other events serves to get audiences involved in actions to promote equality and justice.  From January 16-20, 2020 the festival screened ten feature length documentaries, Q&A discussions with film makers for each production, two Shabbat events and three Social Justice meetings of which two were scheduled on Monday January 20, Martin Luther King Day. The festival was held at the Jewish Community Center on New York’s upper west side and co-presented by the Carole Zabar Center for Film and the Joseph Stern Center for Social Responsibility.  More than 2,000 individuals attended the festival including film makers, staff, volunteers, supporters and others.

As observers note, there seems to be a new film festival in New York City each week and question the need for new ones. Many new film festivals survive only two or three annual editions unless they offer a clear focus, a captive audience, and a solid financial basis. Since the new Social Justice Festival meets these criteria, had a full house for the opening and offers fee-based screening links through the Center for Film’s website there is an excellent chance that this new festival is here to stay. Following the spirit of M.L.K. the new festival embraces the objective of attaining collective social change.

But as distinct from other socially minded film festivals encouraging viewers to get involved, the New York Social Justice Film Festival goes further. This new festival is unique because it provides the tools and contacts necessary to become engaged. Participants could get involved through three free sessions covering several hours on two days. Numerous socially and politically relevant activities could be explored with representatives. In the Social Justice Fair community speakers from different areas such as climate change, housing, and immigration rights were present, and contacts could be established. In a morning session on advocacy services, participants attended workshops and learned how to engage in actions on justice and equality and other pressing issues. In the Activism Café the most important current issues were identified and analyzed.

Listed below are some of the programs and services the festival provided:

JCC: Literacy and Math tutoring programs

VODAH JEWISH Service Corps with partner groups:  immigration, housing, and education

Jewish Action Network NYC: advocacy with elected officials, enabling   passage of significant laws

Make the Road Network:  community organization, legal survival services

The Workers Circle: immigration, activism workshops, DACA support

UJA-Federation Jewish Service Corps: sanctuary service, pro bono consulting, senior services


In all features of the Social Justice Film Festival community actions and the struggle for socio-economic justice and rights were central components.

SLAY THE DRAGON, Barak Goodman and Chris Durrance, 2019, USA   

This film is topical and most relevant as an empirical documentation of the attempt to dismantle the electoral basis of the United States democracy through sophisticated high-tech data applications in the gerrymandering process.  After the 2008 election, well-funded Republican corporate initiatives focused on key swing states to control the redistricting process and achieved successful results in the 2018 races. Combined with disenfranchising voters from African and Latin American groups, the conservative swing of the judicial system and the impact of the citizenship question on the next census, the US democratic system is corroding and often seems a charade. In most cases, the legal system cannot provide relief and judges tend to vote along party lines as shown by recent decisions of the US Supreme Court.  But as SLAY THE DRAGON shows, there is some hope. A Michigan citizens’ initiative succeeded in getting on the ballot a measure that would replace the customary party run legislative committees by an independent group to redraw the lines. Evidently if passed, the opponents will contest it in court. What is striking about the lessons taught by SLAY THE DRAGON is the demonstration that there is still space for action by well-organized community groups. Despite an externally well-funded opposition to the initiative a 3 to 2 majority of the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that the initiative’s proposal can be placed on the ballot. If successful, the Republican dominated legislature could no longer gerrymander districts to ensure the election of Republican Congresspeople and stack state senates and assemblies with conservatives. On the downside is a 5 to 4 four vote by the Supreme Court that gerrymandering is not a federal issues and needs to be decided by the states.

In his  2019 documentary AMERICAN MUSLIM Adam Zucker profiles  New York based Muslims and shows the complex variety of the communities they represent ranging from Palestinians adhering to the Christian faith to Bangladeshis and individuals from Yemen who have been most affected by  Trump policies  preventing Muslins from seven countries to enter the United States.  95% of the applications for refugee status by individuals from these countries are now rejected. Under Obama close to 10,000 refugees from Iraq entered the USA two years ago while under Trump only 280 from Iraq were successful early last year. In early 2020, restrictions have been extended to six other Muslim countries. Zucker demonstrates the variety of Muslims in the New York City area and the attempts of Muslin communities in collaboration with individuals from other faith groups, specifically Jewish ones, to fight the legal discrimination Muslims are facing here. The solidarity between these groups is of paramount importance in their struggle against the government. Zucker portrayed what Muslims are doing as individuals and in groups to enhance the sense of community and build action confidence.  The collective efforts and the stress on self-reliance become more important given the rise of official xenophobia and discrimination. It seems that the necessary change must start from the bottom up.

In ALL RISE, a superbly structured and enacted 2019 feature film, Anthony Mandler depicts  the realities of a criminal justice system that negatively typifies members of minority groups as criminals and “monsters” once they have been entrapped by the justice system.  Though the 17 year old Steve comes from a supportive hardworking intact family and is an honors high school senior student studying film making, the police  have him arrested for murder as he happened to be near or  in a bodega where a robbery and murder was  committed by two young men he was vaguely familiar with.  The prosecution labeled him for the benefit of the jury like other defendants in this case, a monster from the very beginning of the trial. Being a black teenager and coming from a violent neighborhood and having been seen by an elderly witness near the bodega when the crime took place were sufficient reasons for Steve’s guilt for the prosecution.  Persistent questioning tied him to the other defendants and Steve’s studies of film making made it credible to call Steve a liar who was making up stories.  With frequent flashbacks Mandler reconstructs Steve’ past and shares what he has been filming. Staying clear of the prison stereotypes we are used to, the film presents a realistic portrait of Steve’s existence in the cell blocks. With firm support from his family and an outstanding lawyer defending him, Steve is able to survive. But we wonder what happens to those who are criminalized by their skin-color and poverty and the preconceptions of those staffing the criminal justice system.

THIRST FOR JUSTICE, 2019, by Leana Hosea depicts her exploration throughout the United States of water systems over which the public has no or is losing control. She identifies the coalition of powerful political and economic interest groups which try to maintain the status quo and enhance it to increase their profit. Relevant authorities carefully repress the truth about the pollution of water systems from nuclear to arsenic pollution, though the facts are well known and documented in scientific research. People have succumbed to diseases prompted by the pollution which had been going on for years. In some cases, politicians stripped public power to act as in the Flint water scandal where the shift to poisonous lead water was initiated by designated city managers. In other cases, the forces of law and order interrupt protest, as in North Dakota.   Massive public demonstrations were staged by indigenous tribes against placing a potentially leaking oil pipeline under a lake that threatened the clean water supply. More significant are the ongoing actions of the federal government which has systemically corroded and emasculated environmental safeguards established by prior administrations. THIRST FOR JUSTICE showcases how a powerful marriage of corporate interests and conservative policy making blocks curative changes and how much more must be done by indigenous and other groups to engage in effective opposition before it is too late.


 Claus Mueller   



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