Read on the NEW HAVEN INDEPENDENT

This is the first of a series of reviews of movies showing at the New Haven Documentary Film Festival, or NHDocs, which runs May 30 through June 9 at the Whitney Humanities Center at Yale, the main branch of the New Haven Free Public Library, Cafe Nine, and the State House. 

Connecticut’s own capital city of Hartford is the setting for The Sweetest Land, directed by Jeffrey Teitler, a film compiled from several years of footage that follows people directly affected by the violence found on the city’s streets and the repercussions that ultimately ripple through not only the families of the youths involved, but the community that strives to protect and heal them.

The Sweetest Land highlights in detail the stories of everyone from the Hartford law enforcement officers who respond to and deal with the violence as it happens to the emergency medical teams who receive and treat the victims, but it is the stories of the young victims themselves and their families that are the hardest, and most necessary, to watch. We also the politics involved in attempting to enact and follow through with successful preventative programs, and frustration with the lack of success and change. Meanwhile, blood continues to be shed, and lives continue to be irrevocably altered.

The film offers hope in the form of the people who continue to work toward making their city safer, but it is also a sobering glimpse into the now, and a necessary call to action for all of us to no longer turn away from what is happening right in front of us.

And…Seen, written, directed, and produced by Liz Ortiz, is an intimate look at the life of Jamie Petrone, an actress, singer and wheelchair dancer who works to challenge the systems in place that assume how a disability affects one’s opportunities in the performing arts. The film follows Petrone through auditions, performances, and various other aspects of the entertainment world, including her role as founder of ThisAbility, a performing arts conservatory and professional theatre company in which she also performs. Through interviews the film also connects with Petrone’s friends and family to give an even deeper insight into her past, present, and future, both personally and professionally. The interviews with Petrone herself, as well as other performers with disabilities, put the spotlight on how expectations can be defied and how perceptions can be changed by those who offer another perspective.

Petrone also attends doctor appointments and physical therapy, highlighting the inherent frustrations in the healthcare system and celebrating her accomplishments thus far and her determination to walk again. Through her tears, her laughter, and her faith, Petrone’s story inspires us to see not only her, but others like her who put themselves at center stage in an effort to connect all of us, each with a talent and a story to offer.

The Sweetest Land shows at 7 p.m. on Thursday May 30th at the auditorium of Whitney Humanities Center, 53 Wall St. And … Seen shows at 6:45 p.m. on Friday May 31st in the auditorium of the Whitney Humanities Center.

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