An Interview by Norma Schuh with Tobe Jensen of Democrats Abroad Vallarta

Norma Schuh/Tobe Jensen - Democrats Abroad Mexico
December 3, 2012


Last season, my husband Larry and I eagerly awaited every Tuesday in anticipation of seeing the wonderful slate of films offered by Democrats Abroad for the viewing pleasure of our appreciative ex-pat community.

Combined with some great refreshments, Paradise Community Center's wonderfully conducive venue and the welcomed company of other film-buffs, the movies were always stimulating.

On those few occasions when our schedules did not allow us to attend, I duly noted the movie's title for the future, confident in the fact that if it was a Democrats Abroad "pick," it was sure to be a winner.

I believe that a good film, like good theatre, is a valuable form of art which invites personal reflection about what we may otherwise take in stride, or even be ignorant of or immune to. Given the richness of the past several seasons of fine movies, I hoped to learn more about plans for this season, by talking with Tobe Jensen, who heads the film selection committee.

Norma: I understand that Democrats Abroad is gearing up for its third annual Film series. Coming off of a successful US election, what is your purpose in having another film series this year?

Tobe: Yes, we just had a wonderful victory for Democrats but that doesn't mean we cease to work for further change. Democrats Abroad is an international organization of ex-pat Americans working all the time to influence the political process and everyone's access to voting from abroad in every election.

So, we have an ongoing need to raise money for sponsoring resolutions, holding educational forums and speakers, hosting American dignitaries when they visit, and insuring an accessible process to vote in elections in the US. The film series is one of the ways we try to raise money but also enhance the dialogue about cultural and societal issues here in Vallarta about what's going on outside this community.

Norma: How do you decide what films to select?

Tobe: Originally, we considered selecting only those films that took positions regarding political issues only. However, we decided that a broader, more inclusive approach would serve the community better, raise important issues, and reach a broader audience. So, we look for films that are intellectually, morally or politically challenging in general. We want to inspire dialogue - not give answers - in our interest to promote an open society. So, that's the broad overview.

Then we look for films that are typically not available here. They're art house or festival films or films for smaller audiences. We're also very interested in international films that broaden one's perspective of a global community. In addition, we select one or two Mexican or Central American-related films to address issues like immigration or cross-cultural comparisons.

Norma: How did you select the films for this year?

Tobe: Well, given those parameters I just mentioned, we have a committee of interested folks. This year, the selectors were David Kamp and Judy Snow, Colin Hamilton, and me and others, who offered suggestions along the way. Throughout every year, our group looks for films it thinks might work for the next year.

We welcome suggestions from our audiences; we scour movie reviews and film festival winners; we preview many films. We want at least two people in our committee to see a film before it makes it to our list. However, that's not always possible.

We may even buy films that, after viewing, are not as good as we thought they'd be and they're eliminated because of another sorting process. We want films that are a mix of documentary and drama, foreign and American, serious and heart-warming, epic and intimate.

This year's selection has more international films than usual. Eleven of the 20 films are produced outside the United States. A number of the films this year are just wonderful feel-good films without being predictable or sentimental. A couple of films in this category are The Intouchables, a French film, based on a true story, which takes an improbable relationship between an ex-felon accidental caregiver and a quadriplegic and makes that relationship soar.

Another, The Cats of Mirikitani, is an American documentary of a Japanese-American artist, who survived the internment camps and Hiroshima and homelessness by creating art. It is a heartening tale of forgiveness and redemption. Other films are very serious. For instance, In Darkness, a Polish drama based on the true story of a family of Jews who survived in the sewers of a Nazi-occupied city for 14 months is the most realistic and powerful of any film I have seen on the Holocaust to date. Another is Surviving Progress, a documentary examination of over-consumption that is destroying the planet.

Norma: Tell us about the first shows coming up in December.

Tobe: They are quite different from each other but that is our intention in mixing types of films throughut the series. The first, The Koch Brothers Exposed on December 4, is overtly political. It was produced by activist film-maker Robert Greenwald about two multi-billionaires who have donated many undisclosed millions to dramatically influence the political process and politicians in the US. These two men’s donations represent the larger issue of how the 1 percent exert excess influence on the American political process after the Citizens United decision.

The next film, A Better Life on December 11, is an American film about an undocumented Mexican and his son who live in LA. Star Demian Diehir was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor last year.

On December 18, we’re showing The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, a British film about older ex-pats living in India, with veteran actors such as Judi Dench, Maggie Smith and Tom Wilkinson acting up a storm.

Norma: How do people get tickets?

Tobe: Tickets are available at Paradise Community Center for a donation of 60 pesos per film before the night of the film. People can buy forward as many as they want for that amount. The day of show, we are asking for 70 pesos at the door.

By the way, the Paradise Community Center is a great place for film night. There are going to be additional food vendors there this year who sell a variety of cuisine. Alcoholic and soft drinks as well as popcorn are also there to purchase.

The Center gets all proceeds from food and drink and half of our net surplus to support their charitable work in the community. So people who come can see a good, and even a great, film will also be contributing to the good they do in Puerto Vallarta.

Note: Norma Schuh is an actor, writer and creator/facilitator of Celebration Circles—retreats and discovery/discussion groups for women. She is also one of the team members of the new performing arts collaboration, No Name Productions, which launched its premier show, Oleanna, Pulitzer Prize winner David Mamet's most controversial drama of power and on November 23, which will run through December 9, 2012 at Boutique Theatre.

Read related story.

  Learn about Democrats Abroad Mexico

  Learn about Paradise Church

  Learn about Boutique Theatre Performing Arts Centre

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