A Question of Humanity to Screen at San Antonio Film Festival

SAFILM_Festival_Laurel_2015 “A Question of Humanity” has been selected to screen at the San Antonio Film Festival at 3pm on Wednesday, July 29 – 2015 at the Tobin Center.  Tickets to this screening are $10.  Click the link below to buy your tickets.


At 21 years old, SAFILM-San Antonio Film Festival knows exactly who it is:

The SAFILM-San Antonio Film Festival celebrated its 20th anniversary this summer. It started with free community screenings at the Pearl Stable and Josephine Theatre—documentaries with local flavor, like The Kings of BBQ: Barbecue Kuwait (about five of the world’s greatest pitmasters traveling to Kuwait to feed over 5,000 U.S. soldiers—after all, San Antonio is Military City, USA), and Bottled Up: The Battle Over Dublin Dr Pepper (about a drink Texans pride themselves on: Dublin Dr Pepper, or Dr Pepper made with real cane sugar).

A week-long celebration of independent films followed, with star-studded red carpets at City Base Cinema, the city’s only movie theater built, from the ground up, for digital and 4K. The festival worked hard to capture the creative spark of the entirety of the Alamo City, with after-parties in the heart of Southtown and downtown San Antonio. One such party was held at Brick at the Blue Star Arts Complex, a huge warehouse with black-and-white film clips projected onto white drapes around the space. Drinking (free!) ALAMO beer, brewed and bottled in Texas, I watched a live performance by Patricia Vonne, a singer, actress, native San Antonian, and sister of local star Robert Rodriguez.

The festival featured films from every level—from a high-school short film showcase, to college-level and industry pro films. A special feature of SAFILM is the emphasis on education and mentoring: Free workshops are a huge part of the programming every year, and many of the panelists stick around for the entire week. I had the opportunity to speak with many of them, including musician Damien Rodriguez, who explained his scoring process to me in great depth.

SAFILM provides this non-intimidating atmosphere, collapsing barriers for an artist-friendly environment—even volunteers shared what they learned about the ins-and-outs of running a film festival, and got to work with the visiting luminaries. Of these, veteran actor and best-selling author Peter Coyote and former professional MLB player Jose Canseco, subject of documentary Jose Canseco: The Truth Hurts, were mainstays on the red carpet, in Q&A sessions, screenings, and panels.


Desiree San Martín

Video producer uses camera as tool in fight against nodding syndrome in Uganda

Heather Angel Chandler

Video producer uses camera as tool in fight against nodding syndrome in Uganda


It all started with a drink. Heather Angel Chandler was out with friends at Bar 1919 a few years ago when she started talking with Dr. Suzanne Gazda, who was sitting at a table nearby. The friendly chitchat quickly progressed to Gazda sharing about one of her greatest passions: helping children in Uganda who suffer from nodding syndrome. The disease impacts the brain and nervous system, causing seizures, nodding of the head, cognitive impairment and eventually death. Chandler had never heard of the condition, but knew immediately she wanted to help. “How in the world am I sitting here drinking a cocktail while there are children suffering like this?” she says she remembered thinking.

Reporter Mode

After a 10-year career in broadcast journalism, most recently with San Antonio’s KABB, Chandler started her own production business. Tired of covering daily car crashes, she set out to produce content that told larger stories of nonprofit work, the medical industry, government projects and more. To share the story of nodding syndrome, Chandler wanted to create a full-length documentary. Gazda, who helped launch the Hope for Humans nonprofit that works to provide care to children with the condition, arranged for Chandler and a colleague to spend two weeks with her contacts in Uganda. Chandler wanted to go as soon as possible. “There’s this urgency,” she says. “These kids are dying so there’s no time.”

Hope Amid Tragedy

For two weeks in late 2013, Chandler immersed herself in Ugandan culture, filming as much as possible. She observed children living with the disease and interviewed families who told stories of tying their kids to trees to ensure they didn’t wander off and drown—a common occurrence among youth with nodding syndrome. To combat that and other issues, Hope for Humans has care centers that offer supervision and medical care. There’s no cure for the condition and doctors don’t know what causes it, but with attention and anti-seizure medication, the disease’s progression can be slowed. Chandler’s documentary, which was completed in 2014 and has been screened at film festivals this year, follows the plight of one of the care center operators as she works to help affected children. Chandler hopes her film will help in some way, too. “We’re all human beings,” Chandler says. “How can we turn away and not look at another human being who’s suffering?” 

Fact File

Age: 38

Top Honors: Won Best Documentary at LA Women’s International Film Festival

See the film: Request a screening of the film and support the cause at hopeforhumans.org

Local Filmmaker’s Uganda Work Takes LA Prize


Heather Angel Chandler was at Bar 1919 for a girl’s night out in early 2103 when she first heard about Nodding Syndrome from her friend and neurologist Dr. Suzanne Gazda, and from that moment on she became obsessed with the disease and those suffering from its bizarre effects.Dr. Gazda told Chandler about the care center she had started in Uganda called “Hope for Humans,” which caters to children with Nodding Syndrome, a disease that stunts the mental and physical growth of children. Chandler was stunned by what she heard, so she set out to apply her own talents and skills to making a contribution by making a feature-length documentary.

The  resulting film, titled “A Question of Humanity,” won Best Documentary in the Los Angeles Women’s International Film Festival last month and was recently nominated for the same award in Toronto’s Female Eye Film Festival.

Heather Chandler poses with her camera in Uganda. Courtesy photo.

Children with the disease suffer “head nodding” seizures, hence the name, which cause them to lose control of their bodies – making them prone to injury. Nodding Syndrome is known to affect children in the southern region of Tanzania, South Sudan, and northern Uganda.

“These kids basically become zombies. They wander off and drown in rivers. The people in Uganda cook with an open fire and a lot of them fall in fires and die. A lot of the kids are being raped. The families are so poor that they’ll trade a bag of sugar for people to take advantage of their mentally disabled kid,” Chandler said.

“(Dr. Gazda) is telling me this as we are drinking cocktails, and I’m embarrassed that I’m sitting there drinking a cocktail while this sort of thing is happening.”

So Chandler decided to take matters into her own hands and fly to Uganda herself to film those suffering from Nodding Syndrome. Chandler was the founder of Innovative Multimedia Group, a video production company, so she had the equipment and skills to produce award-winning material.

While at Bar 1919, Gazda told Chandler about displacement camps Ugandans were forced into by the government in an effort to protect them from a rebel group called the Lord’s Resistance Army. The group, led by Joseph Kony, aimed to overthrow the government and rule Uganda based on the Ten Commandments. According to War Child, Kony quickly lost support and in frustration began killing innocent civilians.

“They made these camps to keep people safe, but really these camps were terrible. More than 1,000 people were dying a week. There was no food nor water and they weren’t allowed to leave these camps,” Chandler said.

Chandler and her film partner stand with a family in Odek village. Courtesy photo.

Symptoms of Nodding Syndrome began surfacing in some of the children who were living in the camps. She said the disease only affects people in a small pocket of the world – the same area where the displacement camps were located.

“So the thought is there’s some kind of connection,” she said. “There’s a lot more to the story.”

Dr. Gazda echoed Chandler’s words, saying she thinks the disease is environmentally induced by some kind of toxin or chemical exposure.

“It also could have been directly related to the type of food they were given. We know that they were starving in the camps for a couple of decades, and the food that did arrive was not in good condition – it was spoiled and it had mold. It was something we wouldn’t feed our dogs,” Dr. Gazda said. “So I think that between all of those issues, yes, it is environmentally induced, whether or not it was intentional, I don’t think we can say.”

Chandler arrived in Uganda with a friend and fellow filmmaker and then hit the ground running. Since she was funding the trip herself, she had to continue working her regular job while filming the documentary in Uganda, meaning she worked from about 4 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.

Chandler at the Los Angeles Women's International Film Festival. Courtesy photo.

Chandler stayed with a woman named Collines – one of the less than 1% of women in Uganda who obtain a college degree and the director of operations for “Hope for Humans,” the clinic Dr. Gazda founded.

Dr. Gazda first came across Collines while attending a speech she was giving with Invisible Children in San Antonio.

“We were very much impressed with her ability to carry a message. An authentic message – passionate and real. She’s absolutely phenomenal,” Dr. Gazda said.

Collines stayed by Chandler’s side throughout the duration of her visit, all the while leading her to remote villages to speak with families about Nodding Syndrome.

She said Colline’s job in Uganda is not easy. “Hope for Humans” addresses a politically charged topic, and Collines is forced to walk a political tightrope in what she says and how she acts. Dr. Gazda said the clinic began as a hospice center, but once she noticed improvement in the children’s health, she began treating Nodding Syndrome.

“We believe their treatment protocol is actually quite simple. We control their seizures, we correct their malnutrition, and we give them something no one can live without, especially children, and that’s love and lots of hope – and that’s hope for their future,” Dr. Gazda said.

*Featured/top image: Heather takes a group photo with the Hope for Humans staff. Courtesy photo.


Recapping the Toronto Female Eye Film Festival


Female Eye Directors' roundtable

The 13th Annual Female Eye Film Festival, which ran from June 16th to June 21st, 2015 in Toronto Canada, wrapped up the six-day event on Sunday night with the CLOSING AWARDS CEREMONY and RECEPTION at The Royal Cinema. The evening’s event included the announcement of festival film Award Winners (listed below) and a tribute to the 2015 Honourary Guests. Screenings boasted full houses, artists took part in panel discussions and workshops including three Best In the Biz Tributes, as well as Industry moderated panels with public funders, and other decision makers in television, digital media, and distribution along with pitch sessions for writers with screenplays. The 2015 festival is proud to have presented eighty-six (86) feature and short films from across Canada, the United States, and other countries including Armenia, France, Italy, Germany, United Kingdom, New Zealand, Iran, India, Australia, Taiwan, Uganda, and the Philippines, as well as sixteen (16) screenplays from North America and Mexico, with eleven Script Readings read by ACTRA Members. Leslie Ann Coles, Founder/ Executive & Artistic Director of The Female Eye: “It is a great honour and a privilege to be among so many talented, determined, and creative women filmmakers. The FeFF will stand as long as women directors require an exclusive showcase in which to screen their work. As long as the issue of gender inequity prevails in our industry, so shall the Female Eye Film Festival.” Coles also announced the dates of the 2016 festival have also been announced: June 14th – June 19th, 2016. Submissions are already being taken, with an early deadline of July 31st, 2015.

Toronto Female Eye Film Festival

Below is a summary of BEST IN THE BIZ acceptance speeches, as well as official competition film AWARD WINNERS. Léa Pool, RECIPIENT OF THE HONOURARY DIRECTOR AWARD 2015. Member of the Order of Canada; Award-winning, internationally distributed filmmaker. “I first began making films in the eighties as a young woman. All I wanted was to express my own vision, my own language, and my own emotions. I remember being apprehensive presenting my films at women’s film festivals, with fear of being labeled as a “feminist filmmaker,” or as a “gay filmmaker. I was afraid to be marginalized. I’m still concerned by the ongoing inequalities of our industry where few women’s voices are heard. Fortunately and as usual, women are standing strong. So, I believe it’s important to get involved, to teach, to support and inspire women filmmakers to persist fighting for equality. I believe it is our duty.” Léa Pool’s Tribute was facilitated by Carol Whiteman, President and CEO, Creative Women Workshops Association and Producer, The Women’s In The Director’s Chair (WIDC) program. Award sponsored by WIDC OutReach Initiative. Sandra de Castro Buffington, RECIPIENT OF THE HONOURARY MAVERICK 2015. Founding Director of the Global Media Center for Social Impact at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health. “I am thrilled to be recognized by the Female Eye Film Festival. My work inspires storylines in television and film to transform our world and to change the narrative on what it means to be fully human. Storytellers have the power to illuminate what is working and to reimagine a society of opportunity, interconnectedness and outrageous love. May this award honour all creative women and awaken us to our highest potential. Director and founder Leslie Ann Coles levels the playing field in the entertainment industry by creating a platform for women’s voices to be recognized and to celebrate the rich diversity of our storytellers. These are the stories the world needs to hear.” Sandra de Castro Buffington’s Tribute facilitated by LA Coles, FeFF Founder/ Executive & Artistic Director. Kay Armatage, RECIPIENT OF THE OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT AWARD 2015. Scholar, teacher, filmmaker, programmer and advocate for social change. “I was tremendously pleased the FeFF chose to honour me with this wonderful event.

The presentation was thorough and brilliant, with an array of terrific slides representing many aspects of my work over the years. I was especially happy to see so many of my old friends and colleagues there, because we worked together on nearly all my projects – academic, film production, festival organizing and curating, and feminist advocacy. The narrative of my projects was in fact a history of a community of women.” Kay Armatage Tribute facilitated by Melinda Barlow, Professor of Film at the University of Colorado. 2015 AWARD WINNING FILMS & SCREENPLAYS BEST FILM AWARDS Best Animation 2015, Love in the Time of March Madness, directed by Melissa Johnson (USA) Best Experimental 2015, Swallowed Whole, directed by Heidi Kumao (USA) Best Short Film 2015, Lunchbox Loser, directed by Virginia Abramovich (Canada) Best Debut Filmmaker 2015, Reign, directed by Corey Misquita (Canada) Best Debut Feature 2015, The Park Bench, directed by Ann LeSchander (USA) Best Canadian Feature 2015, Sitting on the Edge of Marlene, directed by Ana Valine (Canada) Best Foreign Feature 2015, Sunday, directed by Michelle Joy Lloyd (New Zealand) Best Documentary 2015, A Question of Humanity, directed by Heather Angel Chandler (USA) Best of Show 2015, K’na the Dreamweaver, directed by Ida Anita del Mundo (The Philippines) BEST SCREENPLAYS AWARDS, presented by Script Development Officers Monica Lee Bellais (USA) and Kimberly Skryme (USA) and Script Coordinator, Lindsey Connell. Kimberly Skyrme: “The Female Eye Film Festival is an astonishing expression of the talent that thoughtful and intelligent women bring to the film industry. I am thrilled to be included among them as a producer for a second time and look forward to participating with FeFF again next year.” Monica Lee Bellais: “This year was a special treat to have A GOOD EGG screen, and to be a facilitator for the screenwriting workshops where we met incredibly talented Canadian actors who can bring gifted screenwriters’ visions to life!”

Best Screenplay, Red Velvet Coat, written by Precious Chong (Canada) Best Reserve, Minnie Finster, written by Jen Frankel (Canada) Best Low Budget, Tree Hugger, written by Crystal Wood (USA) Best Fresh Voice, A Widow, written by Zdenka Turecek (USA) Crowd Pleaser, Minnie Finster, written by Jen Frankel (Canada) Best Live Pitch: Chimera, written by Stacey Dodge (Canada), made possible with the support of Don Carmody Productions, and Cinespace Inc. Jim Mirkopoulos, VP of Cinespace Toronto, “Cinespace is proud to have been a major sponsor of the FEFF for the second year now. Sitting in the live pitch contest was especially a treat, as it underscored our company’s core belief: there is no shortage of great stories and amazing talent in Canada, and we definitely need to see more from the female perspective. With fewer overall opportunities to support Canadian content, and with Telefilm needing to re-focus their efforts to effectively reach this talent, supporting the FEFF is wonderful way to achieve this goal, and I urge more companies to jump aboard and make it even bigger and better next year.”

OTHER FESTIVAL HIGHLIGHTS The OPENING RECEPTION featured a SOLO PHOTO EXHIBITION by Anna Lupien featuring 57 Quebec Women Filmmakers (Montreal, Canada). ANNUAL FEFF TORONTO PHOTOGRAPHY EXHIBIT, “FIRE”, 14 local filmmakers: Amy Wilson , Claudette Abrams, Eddie Steiner, Elaine Brodie, Elyse Pomeranz , Imogen Whist, Inger Whist, Jenn Wilson, Kasha Sequoia Slavner , Katherine Keates, Lynn Leonard, Shannon Griffiths, and Tineke Jorritsma. OPENING GALA FEATURE Reign written and directed by debut filmmaker, Corey Misquita, produced with students and graduates of Humber College’s Film and Television Production (FMTV) program, and featuring well-known Canadian actors Samantha Weinstein (ACTRA award winner), Jordan Todosey (Degrassi) and Julian Richings (X-Men: The Last Stand). Debut feature Writer/ Director Corey Misquita took home the award for BEST DEBUT FILMMAKER. CLOSING FEATURE, The Anniversary, written and directed by Valerie Buhagiar. The Female Eye has celebrated Canadian director Valerie Buhagiar’s short films over the years and was delighted to premiere her debut feature film, a comedy with Colin Mochrie (Whose Line Is It Anyway) and theater actress Deborah Hay.

5TH EDITION DIRECTORS ROUND TABLE, facilitated by Leslie Ann Coles, FeFF Founder/ Executive & Artistic Director, and Carol Whiteman, President and CEO, Creative Women Workshops Association and Producer at Women In The Director’s Chair (WIDC) program, involved many filmmakers, screenwriters and producers who discussed “Issues & Tips.” Discussions on leadership styles, confidence and assertiveness, shared resources with our sister filmmakers and ideas for T-Shirts and Bumper Stickers evolved out of listening what women directors have to do to garner the respect and recognition when they walk onto a set to face their predominantly male crews. The Female Eye Film Festival would like to acknowledge its sponsors: Canada Council for the Arts (5th Edition Young Filmmaker Workshop), Ontario Media Development Corp. (OMDC), Telefilm Canada, Cinespace Film Studios, Don Carmody Productions, Vistek, Profusion Expo 2015, Artscape Youngplace, The Backroom Agency, IATSE 873, Etta Productions, Women In the Director’s Chair (WIDC), Creative Women Workshops Associations, William F. White, WIFT, Alliance of Women Director’s (AWD), ACTRA Toronto, The Royal Cinema, Cinemas, InkTip, Kodak, The Garo Group, Steam Whistle, and Co-op cabs. Thank you to Rebeka Antanina Budrys, Willie Anicic, FeFF Award Sculpture & Designer. A special thanks to the Female Eye Film Programmers, Script Development Officers, Program Hosts and the Awards Jury. We applaud the talented actors who took part in the Script Reading Series. Many thanks to all our Industry Guests and to all our fabulous volunteers, Volunteer Captains, and especially to our Volunteer Coordinator, Ruti Prikhoji, Script Coordinator, Lindsey Connell, and assistance, Melanie Berthelo, and Sandra Barletta, and to our Board of Directors and the Advisory Committee for their continued support. Background about Female Eye Film Festival “Always Honest, Not Always Pretty” Founded in 2001 by independent filmmaker, Leslie-Ann Coles, the FeFF provides an exclusive showcase for women directors of independent cinema. Based in Toronto, in its inaugural year, the FeFF presented 42 films. By its tenth anniversary (2012), the festival had doubled the number of films presented, having become a competitive event with a popular Best Film and Best Screenplay Awards, Industry Initiatives Program, Best In The Biz Tributes Pitch Sessions, along with a FeFF Photo Exhibit , and the Young Filmmaker

Development Workshop. The Female Eye produces programs that fall outside of the annual six day festival including the “December 6th” program commemorating the massacre of fourteen women at Montreal’s École Polytechnique, with a program of films speaking to issues of violence against women. Inspired by an invitation to present a slate of films at UN Headquarters on International Women’s Day (2004), the FeFF has presented select films in other cities including Female Eye Sudbury, KIN International Women’s Film Festival (Yerevan, Armenia), The Flying Broom International Women’s Film Festival (Ankara, Turkey), and in 2016 is slated to present in Bellingham WA. # # # LOOKING AHEAD: 14TH ANNUAL FEMALE EYE FILM FESTIVAL, June 14th – June 19th, 2016. Early Deadline: July 31st, 2015 For more information about the festival please visit www.FemaleEyeFilmFestival.com. Founder/ Executive & Artistic Director, Contact: Leslie Ann Coles la@femaleeyefilmfestival.com www.femaleeyefilmfestival.com (905) 264 7731 @FemaleEye | #FeFF2015 Business Affairs and Administration: Rebeka Antanina Budrys, rebekah.femaleeye@gmail.com, (416) 220-7797 For press info, audio clips, interview requests, photos, screening links: Kelly Hargraves. publicity.FeFF@gmail.com or kellyhargraves@gmail.com “The lack of gender equity in filmmaking [and in other arts] is perhaps a self-sustaining cycle. Movies shape the way that people see the world and by extension, the way that people see women.” – Odessa Kelebay https://www.facebook.com/FemaleEye?fref=ts Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/FemaleEye?f

FeFF Closing Press Release