- Michael Shields
This episode of Across The Margin: The Podcast features an interview with Louis L. Reed who organized a national grassroots network of reform activists after serving fourteen years in federal prison, and Brandon Kramer, a Washington, DC-based filmmaker and co-founder of Meridian Hill Pictures. Brandon directed City of Trees. and the Webby Award-winning independent documentary series The Messy Truth. Brandon won Best Director at the 2016 Chesapeake Film Festival and Indie Capital Awards, received the Audience Choice Award at the 2015 American Conservation Film Festival and was a 2015 DC Commission on the Arts & Humanities Individual Arts Fellow. He has directed over 30 short documentaries commissioned by public agencies and nonprofits including AARP and US Institute of Peace. Before starting Meridian Hill Pictures, Brandon served as a teaching artist for the John F. Kennedy Center’s national media education program. Brandon’s latest documentary, The First Step, finds activist and famed CNN correspondent Van Jones, in a divided American, controversially working across party lines on landmark criminal justice reform and a more humane response to America’s addiction crisis. Attempting to be a bridge builder in a time of extreme polarization takes him deep into the inner workings of a divisive administration, internal debates within both parties, and the lives of frontline activists fighting for their communities. Facing fierce opposition from both political parties in a climate where bipartisanship has become a dirty word, Jones and his team enlist the support of justice-impacted individuals, faith leaders, grassroots activists and cultural figures — including Kim Kardashian — to pass legislation that would fix some broken aspects of the justice system and bring thousands of incarcerated people home early. The bill’s champions immediately find themselves navigating a high-stakes game of political chess in Washington, D.C. Their quest brings them face-to-face with progressive champions like Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, U.S. Senators Kamala Harris and Bernie Sanders, as well as conservative figures like U.S. Senator Rand Paul, Kellyanne Conway, Jared Kushner — and ultimately, Donald Trump himself. While trying to pass a bipartisan bill through a deeply polarized Congress, Jones is condemned by the right for his progressive beliefs — and by the left for working with conservatives. The film reveals an intimate portrait of an activist’s isolation and internal struggles, what it takes to make change in a divided nation, and everyday people in both political parties drawn into a historic fight for freedom and justice.
The First Step is screening this weekend (2.17.23) at The Justice Film Festival. The Justice Film Festival is the premier showcase for films that shine a light on social justice and affirm the dignity of all people. Learn more about the Justice Film Festival here, including showtimes and schedule of all events.
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