Homelands’ Sandy Tolan, Haitian-Dominican journalist Euclides Cordero Nuel, and Reveal‘s Michael Montgomery have won the Morton Frank Award from the Overseas Press Club of America for their investigative reporting on the treatment of sugar workers on plantations in the Dominican Republic.
The award recognizes the “best international business news reporting in TV, video, radio, audio or podcast.” It was Tolan’s second OPC award.
The judges wrote: “This comprehensive investigation by Sandy Tolan and Euclides Cordero Nuel took listeners deep into the sugar cane harvesting camps manned by Haitian immigrants in the Dominican Republic. The reporting, which has prompted scrutiny from Congress and the Department of Labor, documented workers enduring $4 a day wages, staggering debt, substandard housing and woeful medical care while enhancing Central Romana Corp.’s profitability.”
In the latest episode of the Peace Talks Radio public radio show and podcast, Homelands’ executive director and senior producer Jonathan Miller looks at cities of asylum (also known as cities of refuge), communities that put out the welcome mat for writers, artists, journalists, and human rights defenders whose work puts them at risk in their home countries.
Molina is a political cartoonist who fled Nicaragua during a violent crackdown on dissent and came to Ithaca with his family with help from ICOA. He spent two years as a visiting scholar at Ithaca College. Today he is an Artist Protection Fund Fellow in residence at Cornell University’s Latin American and Caribbean Studies Program.
Reese and his wife, Diane Samuels, heard Indian author Salman Rushdie describe the nascent cities of asylum movement in 1997, soon after he had come out of hiding after the 1989 fatwa issued against him by Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran after the publication of the novel The Satanic Verses. They decided to renovate a run-down house they had purchased near their home in Pittsburgh and make it available to an exiled writer. Since then, City of Asylum Pittsburgh has grown into a major cultural institution, with six houses for at-risk writers, an event space and bookstore, and year-round programming that celebrates the freedom to create.
Based in Stavanger, Norway, ICORN is a network of more than 70 cities worldwide where threatened writers, artists, and journalists can live and work in safety. Elisabeth Dyvik has been involved in artist protection work for more than 25 years.
Ithaca, Pittsburgh, and Detroit are the only U.S. members of the ICORN network. Programs in Las Vegas, Virginia, and Arkansas also provide two-year residencies for writers and artists fleeing persecution.
In addition to his work with Homelands and Ithaca City of Asylum, Miller is founder and co-director of Story House Ithaca, a community arts organization devoted to bringing people together around stories of all kinds.
“The Territory,” a documentary about a Brazilian land conflict with global ramifications, won the Audience Award for World Documentary Cinema at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival. Festival judges also gave the film a special jury award for documentary craft.
Homelands Productions served as fiscal sponsor for the project, helping the filmmakers raise funds through grants and donations at a time when they were relying on volunteer labor and credit card debt. National Geographic announced that it had acquired worldwide rights to the film shortly after its premiere at the festival.
“The Territory” is the first feature documentary directed by Alex Pritz, who co-founded the production company Documist with producer Will N. Miller. Pritz and Miller worked closely with members of the Uru-eu-wau-wau Indigenous group in Rondônia state in Brazil, letting them and their allies tell their story. Crucial portions of the film are shot by Tangae Uru-eu-wau-wau, who gets cinematography credits.
An international team of producers, editors, composers, and sound designers came on board to help finish the film.
National Geographic announced this week that it had purchased the worldwide rights to the documentary “The Territory,” calling it “an urgent story of courage and resilience, beautifully told.” The film was directed by Alex Pritz of the production company Documist and co-produced by the Indigenous Uru-eu-wau-wau people of northern Brazil.
“We are honored to bring the story of the Uru-eu-wau-wau people to the world and help further the conversation and raise awareness around the endangered Amazon rainforest and its indigenous people,” said Carolyn Bernstein, National Geographic’s executive vice president of Global Scripted Content and Documentary Films.
National Geographic, which is controlled by The Walt Disney Company, is expected to distribute the film in theaters before releasing it on its streaming platforms. Activists Bitate Uru-eu-wau-wau and Neidinha Suruí, both featured in the film, will join an impact campaign in Brazil, the U.S., and other countries.
Homelands Productions served as the project’s fiscal sponsor during development and production, allowing it to receive foundation grants and individual donations.
“The Territory” documents a conflict between the 180-person Uru-eu-wau-wau and impoverished farmers who invade their land with the encouragement of right-wing President Jair Bolsinaro. The film spends most of its time with the Uru-eu-wau-wau and their allies, but it also embeds with the land invaders, giving them a chance to describe their motivations and defend their actions.
In interviews, Pritz has said that the filmmakers wanted to show how industrialists and large landowners take advantage of landless peasants who clear and occupy Indigenous territory. He also calls attention to the parallels between the the Amazon today and the 19th century American West, where settlers were rewarded for seizing land from native populations and genocide was de facto government policy.
When COVID threatened the filming as the land conflict was reaching its peak, the filmmakers provided the Uru-eu-wau-wau with cameras and training. Footage shot by young Indigenous land defenders anchors the final portion of the film and becomes a plot point in itself, demonstrating the power of well-shot video to sway public opinion.
The film has received rapturous reviews since its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on January 22. Variety called it “an urgent environmental docu-thriller… [r]iveting and despairing in equal measure.”
IndieWire described it as “Gorgeously [and] ingeniously conceived,” a film that paints “an intimate first-hand portrait of joy, pain, and community, before bursting with rip-roaring intensity as it captures a high-stakes struggle for survival unfolding in the moment.”
The Canadian film magazine POV called it “Fearless filmmaking…. a thrilling feat that sees art and activism collide,” and suggested that it “be studied as an example of engaged collaborative filmmaking.”
In an article in Deadline featuring an interview with Pritz about the filmmaking process, writer Matthew Carey says the film “explores not only what is at stake for the indigenous group but for humanity in general.”
“This story is about the climate and about the planet and these really huge forces,” Pritz tells Carey, “[b]ut it’s also about the individual characters.” He says the team tried “to build a visual language where we can move between satellite imagery of the continent where you see, over 30 years, how many trees have been lost and what this really looks like and then go all the way down to like one caterpillar and really just focus on that.”
The Central Romana Corporation destroyed a workers’ encampment in the Dominican Republic in November, two months after damning reports on conditions for Haitian cane cutters were published by Homelands’ Sandy Tolan. Residents say the destruction of houses and their forced removal were unannounced, according to an update by Tolan that appeared in Mother Jones in December.
The settlement, known to residents as Batey Hoyo de Puerco, or Pig Hole, was home to an estimated 230 Haitian workers and their families. Representatives of the company admit to having “eliminated” the encampment and relocating workers to newer housing. Some residents say they were not given time to recover their belongings before the demolition began.
In an hour-long program for the public radio program and podcast Reveal and a feature story in Mother Jones, Tolan described worker camps without plumbing, electricity, or other basic services. Both pieces were co-reported by Haitian-Dominican journalist Euclides Cordero Nuel.
The reports, coupled with an investigation of Central Romana by a team of reporters from The Washington Post, prompted the chairman of the U.S. House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Trade to call for a “swift and thorough investigation” into the labor practices of large sugar producers in the Dominican Republic in a statement and press conference on October 25.
The Territory, a documentary feature film that provides an up-close look at the fight for the Brazilian Amazon, has been accepted in competition at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival in the World Cinema Documentary category, festival organizers have announced. The film will premiere online on January 22. Homelands has served as the project’s nonprofit fiscal sponsor.
The Territory documents a conflict between the indigenous Uru-eu-wau-wau people and a group of land invaders. It was co-produced by a team of international filmmakers and the Uru-eu-wau-wau community. Competition for a slot at Sundance is always extremely high, and 2022 was reportedly the most selective year in the festival’s history.
The Uru-eu-wau-wau have seen their population dwindle and their culture threatened since coming into contact with non-Native Brazilians. Though promised dominion over their own rainforest territory, they have faced illegal incursions from environmentally destructive logging and mining, and, most recently, land-grabbing invasions spurred on by right-wing politicians like President Jair Bolsonaro. With deforestation escalating as a result, the stakes have become global.
With unprecedented access, The Territory drops the audience into the center of this conflict. Young indigenous leaders like Bitate and Ari, along with their mentor, environmental activist Neidinha, risk their very lives to defend the rainforest. On the other side, Sergio leads an association of indigent farmers eager to establish a settlement, while others like Martin, impatient and entitled, strike out on their own, clearcutting the forest to establish a homestead. With the government unwilling to stop this brazen encroachment, the Uru-eu-wau-wau set up their own media team, using technology to expose the truth and fight back.
Sundance 2022 will be online only, so you can join in from anywhere in the U.S. from January 20-30. Ticket packages go on sale December 17 at festival.sundance.org.
In a reported essay in The Atlantic, Ruxandra Guidi explores the often-ignored relationship between ad-fueled notions of masculinity and American attitudes toward environmental responsibility.
Concern about the climate is associated with femininity, she observes, while the “sounds, smells, and sights” of gas-guzzling pickups and monster trucks “evoke the peculiarly American ideal of rural life: self-sufficiency sustained by unbridled male power.”
She wonders if super-charged electric trucks might be a good way to break down resistance. “If climate consciousness can’t be manly, can it coexist with manliness?” she asks.
The Chairman of the U.S. House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Trade has called for a “swift and thorough investigation” into the labor practices of large sugar producers in the Dominican Republic in response to reporting by Homelands’ Sandy Tolan and others.
In an October 25 press release, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) wrote that “Disturbing news reports have recently detailed appalling conditions under which sugarcane workers of Haitian-Dominican descent continue to live and labor to produce sugar in the Dominican Republic for U.S. consumption.”
Tolan worked with Haitian-Dominican journalist Euclides Cordero Nuel on “The High Human Cost of America’s Sugar Habit,” an in-depth report about conditions in the Dominican sugar industry, with a particular focus on Central Romana Corporation. The two also collaborated on “The Bitter Work Behind Sugar,” an hour-long episode of Reveal, the podcast and radio show produced by the Center for Investigative Reporting.
The Post piece, which also focused on Central Romana, drew heavily on documents uncovered in the release of the Panama Papers, and details tax evasion strategies by the company’s owners and executives.
Tolan had returned to the Dominican Republic 30 years after filing a report for NPR with coproducer Alan Weisman about the near-slavery conditions on Dominican plantations, particularly for Haitian-born and Haitian-Dominican workers. The U.S. government has called for improvements in the past, and according to Tolan, conditions have improved somewhat. But housing, pay, contract terms, and other issues remain deeply problematical.