In an April 25 opinion piece for the Los Angeles Times, Homelands co-founder and senior producer Sandy Tolan condemns “the disastrous, unnecessary decisions of [University of Southern California] administrators to call in police to squelch legitimate protest and the free expression of ideas” when breaking up a student demonstration against the war in Gaza.

Tolan is a professor at the USC Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism and author of two books about Palestine and Israel, The Lemon Tree and Children of the Stone.

“Universities exist to advance knowledge, independent thinking and an open exchange of ideas,” he writes. “But USC is criminalizing protest and speech with the Orwellian charge of trespassing.” 

Read the full piece here.

Pedro Córdoba was a mechanic at the world’s largest multi-metal smelter in La Oroya, Peru, and suffered a serious lung ailment related to his work there.

In 2007, I traveled to Peru to profile a worker at the La Oroya multi-metal smelting complex for Homelands’ WORKING series. La Oroya was known as one of the most polluted places on Earth, and I wanted to spend time with someone who had made the decision to stay despite the well-documented dangers.

I had passed through La Oroya many times when I lived in Peru in the 1990s and always wondered how hard it must be to weigh the promise of a regular paycheck against the risks of living in one of the unhealthiest environments imaginable. It was a choice that working people around the world were forced to make.

Finding a subject turned out to be much harder than I’d imagined. No one I spoke with (including leaders of the largest labor union) wanted to talk about the downsides of working or living there. People were afraid that if the world really understood how dangerous it was, the government would force the smelter to shut down and everyone would be out of a job.

In my reporting, I learned about the high levels of lead in children’s blood and the way in which toxic clouds would settle on the city, making residents of the hillside shantytowns more vulnerable than workers in the plant. But everyone seemed to want me to go away.

Finally I found Pedro Córdoba, a 47-year-old mechanic who was suffering from a debilitating lung disease caused by years of inhaling rock dust. He was angry and wanted to vent. I felt a little uncomfortable profiling a person whose views were so different from those of most of his coworkers. But his story was true and I felt a responsibility to highlight the terrible trade-off so many people need to make between meeting their economic needs and maintaining their health.

On March 22 of this year, 17 years after I visited and 18 years after the complaint was first filed, the Inter-American Court found Peru responsible for failing to protect La Oroya’s residents from toxic pollution for more than a century. This is how Earthjustice reports on the findings:

In the judgment, the Court ordered the State of Peru to adopt comprehensive reparation measures for the damage caused to the population of La Oroya, including identifying, prosecuting and, where appropriate, punishing those responsible for the harassment of the victims; determining the state of contamination of the air, water and soil and preparing an environmental remediation plan; providing free medical care to the victims and guaranteeing specialized care to residents with symptoms and illnesses related to contamination from mining and metallurgical activities; ensuring the effectiveness of the city’s warning system and developing a system for monitoring the quality of air, water, and soil; ensuring that the operations of the La Oroya Metallurgical Complex comply with international environmental standards, preventing and mitigating damage to the environment and human health; providing monetary compensation to victims for material and non-material damages.

I hope Pedro Córdoba was alive to hear the verdict.

— Jonathan Miller

The Territory Producers on stage at the Emmys, January 6, 2023
The Territory’s producers on stage at the Emmys

The documentary film The Territory has won the 2023 Primetime Emmy for Exceptional Merit in Documentary Filmmaking. Homelands Productions served as fiscal sponsor for some of the project’s early work and continues to sponsor the film’s impact campaign.

The Territory tells the story of a land conflict between settlers and the Uru-eu-wau-wau people in the Brazilian Amazon. The filmmakers had extraordinary access to both groups and received critical praise for the extent to which they allowed each side to tell its own story. The filming began shortly before the Covid-19 pandemic reached Brazil; when the virus arrived, the filmmakers provided cameras to the Indigenous group and let them document their efforts to protect their territory. Roughly one-fourth of the film was shot by a member of the group.

Producers Alex Pritz (who also directed), Will N. Miller, Txai Suruí, Darren Aronofsky, Gabriel Uchida, Sigrid Dyekjaer, and Lizzie Gillett received the award at a ceremony in Los Angeles on January 7. They were joined on stage by community leader Bitate Ure-eu-wau-wau and activist Neidinha Bandeira, both of whom featured prominently in the film. Pritz and Miller (son of Homelands’ executive director Jonathan Miller) are co-founders of Documist, a small independent production house. The Territory was their first feature film.

The film has won many awards, including two Sundance awards and a Peabody. It is distributed by National Geographic and available for streaming on Disney+.

Jupau Cultural Center
The impact campaign of The Territory documentary has helped build the Jupaú Media & Cultural Center in the Brazilian Amazon.

Homelands Productions became a legally recognized nonprofit in 1989 and we soon became known in public broadcasting circles for our multi-part radio series from around the world. Between 1991 and 2013, we filed more than 200 stories from more than 60 countries and won 22 national and international awards.

During that period, Homelands functioned as a sort of super-freelancer. As a tax-exempt organization, we could raise funds from foundations and donors in ways that we couldn’t as individuals. Internally, we operated as a cooperative, sharing decision-making among our producer-members. The core Homelands team has always been small, ranging from three to six (today we are five), but we often hired journalists from outside our group, strengthening our product while providing paying work for dozens of colleagues.

For years, the formula worked. Sometimes, when we had a large project going, we could even pay ourselves for our efforts to maintain the organization – filing our taxes, renewing our business license, fixing our website when it broke. Between projects, we would pare back to the essentials as we laid the groundwork for whatever was next.

Each of us “Homies” has always had other things going – as journalists, professors, authors, editors, and so forth. But even when our focus has been elsewhere, Homelands has given us a second family, a deeply valued source of personal and professional support.

This is one reason we’ve chosen to keep our collective alive all these years. But there’s another, arguably more compelling reason: maintaining our nonprofit status gives us a way to support extraordinary work conceived and led by others. Over the years, we have extended our 501(c)(3) umbrella to books, films, podcasts, and other projects. Lately, this has become an even bigger part of what we do.

Projects we sponsor may receive grants and tax-deductible donations without having to establish and maintain a legal tax-exempt organization. They may also take advantage of Homelands’ reputation, mentorship, and advice. Fiscal sponsorship is especially useful for exploratory or start-up projects, where the final product or outlet may be uncertain. At this writing, we are pleased to be serving as fiscal sponsor for five projects:

  • The impact campaign of the Peabody and Emmy Award-winning documentary “The Territory,” which has raised funds for the establishment of a media and cultural center in the homeland of the Indigenous group featured in the film;
  • Rough Transition,” which grows out of Gregory Warner’s long-running NPR podcast “Rough Translation;”
  • Mort Report,” the electronic newsletter of the legendary international correspondent and author Mort Rosenblum;
  • “The Turnaway Project,” which is exploring ways to bring the findings of a groundbreaking 10-year abortion study to a broader audience; and
  • The Border Chronicle,” an independent news bureau on the US-Mexico border led by veteran journalists Melissa del Bosque and Todd Miller.

For Homelands, fiscal sponsorship is an effective way to advance our mission “to illuminate complex issues through compelling broadcasts, articles, books, and educational forums, and to foster freedom of expression and creative risk through the media arts.” If you’d like to propose a project for sponsorship, send us a note at

Homelands producer and board president Ruxandra Guidi is one of ten people receiving grants from the Open Society Foundations for projects that promote racial equality. She will use the award to produce a narrative podcast, Happy Forgetting, that tells untold stories about racial justice victories in the United States.

“As we navigate the many challenges, both new and unfamiliar, to advance racial justice, we are proud to support the remarkable individuals pushing for real and lasting change that is representative of the inclusive multiracial democracy we aspire to become,” said Andrew Maisel, a senior program officer at Open Society-U.S. 

Ruxandra Guidi has been telling stories for more than two decades. Her work has appeared on the BBC World ServiceNPROrionGuernicaHigh Country NewsThe New York TimesThe GuardianVirginia Quarterly Review, and The Atlantic, among others. She covered Central and South America as a freelance foreign correspondent based in Bolivia (2007‐2009) and in Ecuador (2014‐2016).

Guidi is the president of the board of Homelands Productions, a journalism nonprofit cooperative founded in 1989, and is co‐founder of Fonografia Collective. She also serves on the board of El Tímpano, a local reporting lab amplifying the voices of Oakland’s Latino and Mayan immigrants. In 2018, she was awarded the Susan Tifft Fellowship for women in documentary and journalism by the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University. She is currently a narrative editor for various podcasts and is working on her first novel. She’s a native of Caracas, Venezuela, and is currently based in Tucson, Arizona. 

Homelands’ Ruxandra Guidi’s latest essay, “The Spirit of the Rillito,” has been published in the May issue of High Country News magazine, the 50-year old publication covering the American West.

The piece came out of conversations and scholarly discussions held at the Religion and Environment Story Project, a fellowship out of Boston University that trains journalists, editors and public-facing scholars interested in the intersection of the environment and religion.

“Animism, from the Latin word anima, or soul, (is) a concept as difficult to decipher as dreams, death or apparitions, and it has a problematic history,” Guidi writes. “The founder of cultural anthropology, Sir Edward Burnett Tylor, first introduced the word in his 1871 book Primitive Culture, which argued that culture progressed from primitive to modern expressions. Today, Burnett Tylor’s theories, which denigrate Indigenous worldviews as childish and backward, are considered beyond anachronistic.

“But before colonization and the human-centered organized religions that accompanied it, animistic worldviews taught us to listen to the natural world, to move to its beat. For many people, these songs never stopped playing. Others are learning to listen to them anew.”

Photo by Roberto (Bear) Guerra/High Country News.

[Update from July 12, 2023: The Territory has just been nominated for three Primetime Emmys, for direction, cinematography, and exceptional merit in documentary filmmaking.]

The documentary film The Territory, produced by Documist, purchased by National Geographic, and now streaming on Disney+, has added a prestigious Peabody Award to its long list of achievements. Homelands is proud to serve as fiscal sponsor for the film’s impact campaign and other activities.

The following is the write-up from the Peabody committee:

To watch The Territory is to be offered a front-row seat to one of the most pressing ecological issues of the 21st century. At the heart of the Amazon rainforest, the Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau people are fighting the encroaching deforestation that threatens not just their lives and livelihood but that of the entire globe.

Amid a lawlessness encouraged by the Bolsonaro government that emboldened Brazilian farmers and illegal settlers to destroy parts of the protected rainforest, the Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau people have mounted a coordinated response to fight back against these attacks on land they’ve long tasked themselves with protecting. Their efforts are here captured by a documentary intent on amplifying their plight and uplifting the tireless work of activists and indigenous groups that refuse to capitulate to the capitalist violence inherent in seeing land not as something sacred but as something to be exploited for short-term gain.

With striking imagery that captures the precarity of the Amazon and the natural ravages the Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau people are standing up against, The Territory is a timely local filmic intervention into a pressing global concern. Director Alex Pritz, who partway through production entrusted the Uru-Eu-Wau-Wau people with the filmmaking equipment to continue shooting in the midst of the developing COVID-19 pandemic, rightfully understood the value in seeing his subjects as fellow collaborators.

For uplifting the voices and image-making of Indigenous communities intent on safeguarding the environmental role the Amazon forest plays in the Earth’s wellbeing, and for championing a committed vision of climate change activism that’s as urgent as it is necessary, The Territory is a Peabody Award winner.

Chris Brookes. Photo from the Third Coast International Audio Festival.
Chris Brookes (1943–2023). Chris produced several pieces for Homelands and was a great friend and inspiration. Photo from the Third Coast International Audio Festival.

By Alan Weisman

Thirty years ago, Homelands was funded by the Ford Foundation to do a series for National Public Radio called Searching for Solutions. We were to travel the world looking for ways to grow food sustainably, develop green cities, address overpopulation, et cetera. I drew the clean energy assignment, and soon became interested in hydrogen, which burns like natural gas, except its only exhaust is water vapor. It seemed important, but the material I was finding was pretty technical, always tricky with radio.

“Why not ask Chris Brookes to collaborate with you?” suggested my Homelands colleague Cecilia Vaisman. “He even made chaos theory work for radio,” she said in awe.

We were all awed by Chris, a freelance radio producer from Newfoundland. When I first signed on to work with Cecilia and our colleague Sandy Tolan, I was a print reporter who’d never done radio, so they handed me a stack of Chris Brookes tapes, from coverage of war in El Salvador to hurdy-gurdy builders in Amsterdam to, yes, chaos theory. It wasn’t just his unerring ear and fine reporting: his writing, timing, and whimsical delivery were so imaginative, so musical, that you just had to keep listening. I recall one night when we raced to a dinner appointment while playing his latest astonishing piece, about the crash of the Georges Bank cod fishery. When we pulled into the parking ramp, even though we were late, we couldn’t move — we could barely breathe — until it was over.

Chris’s training, I later learned, was in theater: he’d studied at the Yale School of Drama, and founded a company, The Mummers Troupe, that traveled Canada for years, until a gig at the CBC introduced him to radio. I called him at his home studio in St. John’s. “Hydrogen? I know utterly nothing about it.”

“I know some.” Germany, I told him, was in the research forefront, with both Daimler Benz and BMW working on hydrogen-powered cars. “But I don’t know how to turn it into listenable audio.”

“If you can handle the knowledge part, I can do the other.”

We met in the Frankfurt airport, got a rental car, and drove to Stuttgart. Our initial interviews were at the Max Planck Institute and a university in Ulm. Soon our heads were drowning in engineering jargon, and we had hours of useless tape. After three days, Chris was so glazed that when we saw a poster for a production of Goethe’s Faust, he said he needed a theater fix, bad. “It’s in German,” I pointed out.

“So what? I haven’t understood a thing all week.”

I accompanied him. Five long, incomprehensible acts. When Faust was being dragged down to hell in the final scene, it felt like the punishment we deserved for blowing this story. But Chris did something that wouldn’t have occurred to me: he started recording.

During the next week we toured Daimler, BMW, and drove through the Black Forest to see a hydrogen-powered house at an institute in Freiburg. That gave Chris an idea. Freiburg was near the village where Goethe’s inspiration, an alchemist named Dr. Faustus, had died when one of his experiments exploded in a cloud of sulfur fumes. We went and actually located his house, but on that quiet street there wasn’t much to record. Chris insisted on hanging around. When the town clock struck midnight, I announced I was going to bed. “I’m going to wait a little while longer,” said Chris.

To hear what his microphone found when his patience ultimately paid off, go to The Great Hydrogen Car Race. First, you should know this: The Monday after we flew home, I called him to brainstorm a script. “It’s already done,” he told me. Not only that, he was already mixing it. I was simultaneously miffed that my writing apparently wasn’t indispensable, and vastly relieved, because I had scant idea what to do with the dense material we’d gathered. He sent us a tape. We listened. We sent it to NPR, which rejected it unless we were willing to make severe cuts, because it was a half-hour long. “Not a chance,” said Sandy Tolan, our executive producer. He sent it to Marketplace. Their producers agreed it was so amazing that they blew out their entire half-hour format and ran it intact as an Earth Day special.

Chris and I also on collaborated on a story we reported together in south Texas and northeastern Mexico, Laguna Madre, and on Gaviotas, a piece I reported in Colombia for All Things Considered, which he co-wrote and edited and Sandy Tolan produced. Thanks greatly to him, it was rebroadcast both on The Best of NPR and on Living on Earth — and I’m doubly in his debt, because a few days after it first aired, a publisher offered me a book contract.

But you want to hear Chris’s own incomparable work, which you can find at Battery Radio. Rather than recommend individual pieces, because this wouldn’t end, I’ll simply say that Chris Brookes was considered such a national treasure that in 2000 he received the Order of Canada: the Canadian equivalent of knighthood. Pick any story of his and listen. You won’t stop.

On April 10, Chris died in an accidental fall at his home. He is survived by his wife, also a Newfoundland treasure, cellist and traditional fiddler Christina Smith, and mourned by all of us who will never stop hearing him in our hearts and heads, challenging us always to make it better than we thought possible.

Read an obituary of Chris Brookes on the CBC website.

Listen to more Homelands stories by Chris:

A Map of the Sea

Newfoundland Shipwreck Survivor

Mucho Corazon

Oil Worker