MonIFF to award ‘Grit’

  • The Monadnock International Film Festival Jonathan Daniels Award is being awarded to the documentary film “Grit” this April.  Courtesy Photo

  • At this year’s Monadnock International Film Festival, co-directors Cynthia Wade and Sasha  Friedlander are to be presented the prestigious Jonathan Daniels Award for their documentary film “Grit.” Courtesy Photo

  • A protester in the  documentary film “Grit.” Courtesy Photo

  • Teen activist Dian featured in the documentary film “Grit.” Courtesy Photo

Published: 2/13/2019 10:46:09 AM

Sixteen-year-old Dian wishes it were just a bad dream — the day a sea of hot, thick mud destroyed her village. She can still see it. And smell it. She was only six years old. First a strange rumbling, a vibration, and an eerie breeze that carried a sour and pungent heat. People screaming, fleeing.

Dian’s mother scooped her up and only stopped running once she’d delivered her daughter to safety, far from the steaming sludge that buried their world. It was as if an angry giant had upended a bottomless cauldron of bubbling molasses.

Sixteen villages wiped out, 60,000 people displaced, 16 people killed. Today the mud is 60 feet thick and covers what was once a thriving region of Indonesia. Gone are the houses, markets, factories, schools and mosques.

At this year’s Monadnock International Film Festival, co-directors Cynthia Wade and Sasha Friedlander will be presented the prestigious Jonathan Daniels Award for their documentary “Grit,” about this dirty environmental disaster.

Sponsored by the Jonathan Daniels Center for Social Responsibility, the Jonathan Daniels Award is the highlight of the annual festival. It is given to a filmmaker(s) whose film combines artistic excellence with an awareness around a social justice issue, reflecting Jonathan Daniels courage and spirit.

A former Keene resident and seminarian activist,

Jonathan Daniels is recognized as a local hero and international martyr who sacrificed his life during the Civil Rights movement, saving the life of fellow marcher Ruby Sales, a sixteen-year-old African American girl.

“Grit” explores what’s been called “one of the world’s worst manmade environmental disasters.” Most scientists believe that a PT Lapindo Brantas oil and natural gas company’s drill, boring miles beneath the surface of the earth struck an underground volcano, causing a violent eruption of mud.

A decade after their homes were buried, survivors still frequent the disaster site which has become a popular tourist destination. Dian’s mother rides a scooter to the Lapindo mudflow and guides curious Indonesians across the wasteland. Tourists snap selfies, and make videos of the gurgling muck that continues to vomit over Dian’s former home.

Every day, more mud erupts from deep within the earth, enough to fill four Olympic size swimming pools every 24 hours. That’s 2,641,012 gallons, weighing about 30 million pounds, every single day. The tourists keep coming. Fashion photographers arrive with models in glamorous gowns. Vendors sell selfie sticks, DVDs and meatballs.

And protestors converge on the mud flow, some painting themselves head to toe in the gray mud that symbolizes corporate greed, corruption, and negligence. In the midst of this, Dian emerges as a strong voice for her community, demanding justice for her family and for her neighbors.

Because the owner of Lapindo was a powerful political figure, and owned three of the largest news media outlets in Indonesia, stories of the disaster were squashed. Most Indonesians as well as the rest of the world had never heard of the Lapindo mud volcano. “Grit” is changing that, one screening at a time.

Cynthia Wade, an Academy Award winning filmmaker and resident of Great Barrington, Massachusetts, was in Indonesia shooting a short video for a nonprofit, when someone suggested she explore the mudflow. She’d never heard of it, but chose to delay her return home and spent three days filming the mudflow and interviewing people. It definitely interested her, but she didn’t speak the language and was in the middle of other projects, so maybe this wasn’t her story to tell. That was 2012.

At a film festival a year later, Wade sat in a dark theatre watching “Where Heaven Meets Hell,” by Sasha Friedlander. This award-winning documentary exposed the plight of Indonesian sulfur miners, working in harrowing conditions on an active volcano. Wade believed that now she could and should tell the story, but only if filmmaker Sasha Friedlander joined her in the project.

Since the age of seven, Friedlander had spent every summer in Indonesia with her family. She spoke the language, and said, “I fell in love with the people, and the culture, and the place.” Friedlander even wrote about the Lapindo disaster while working as a newspaper journalist in Bali, but she had never visited the site. She left Bali in 2010 to attend grad school in New York, and heard nothing of the mudflow again until a filmmaker from Massachusetts emailed her in 2013 suggesting they tell the story together. Five years later, the filmmakers debuted “Grit” at Doc NYC where MONIFF Executive Director Dianna Costello saw the film and approached Wade about sharing the film with her selection committee.

“Grit” will screen on Saturday, April 27 at the Colonial Theatre in Keene. An interview with the filmmakers will follow the awards ceremony. A VIP or Film Pass admits patrons to all three days of films at a deep discount. Individual film tickets are $10-$14 per film.

Visit for film festival passes and ticket information.

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