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Barbara Wiener 84

Local filmmaker makes her mark with ‘sentencing films’

Posted on 05 November 2018 by Calvin

By JAN WILLMS
(All photos submitted)

Local filmmaker Barbara Wiener (photo right) can add to her resume that she helped to liberate an African country. This accomplishment comes as part of her journey on the path of making sentencing films.

Wiener has been a filmmaker and teacher for the past 30 years. She has worked in public television and currently teaches film at Film North, 550 Vandalia Ave., and at North Hennepin Community College in Brooklyn Park. She also founded TVbyGIRLS, a nonprofit that collaborates with and mentors teen girls using the tools of filmmaking to develop critical thinking, leadership, and social change film work.

She did her first sentencing film in 2014. She has completed two more.

“They’re called sentencing films because they are used in sentencing,” she said. “In general, it’s not a trial. The defendant has already said yes, I am guilty of the crime. All the legal arguments have already been made, and now it’s up to the judge to sort through all the information for both the prosecutor and defense attorney.”

Wiener explained that the films are usually created for the judge to view to get the perspective of the defendant in the case before pronouncing sentencing.

“The first one I did, I knew the lawyer, Robert. His son had been in one of my films. Robert was one of the lawyers defending five Gambian American men,” Wiener said. The middle-aged men had been part of a small coalition of Gambians living in America who planned a bloodless coup of the Gambia government after their countrymen had been living under a brutal dictatorship for 21 years.

“I had never heard of The Gambia (officially the Republic of The Gambia) and did not even know where it was,” Wiener recalled. It is the smallest country in continental mainland Africa, and in 1970 The Gambia became a republic within the English Commonwealth and established as a democracy.

But in 1994 Yahya Jammeh overthrew the government, became the new leader, and banned all opposition political activity. Jammeh turned into a brutal dictator, according to the accounts of The Gambian people and based on his own words, caught on video. Reporters were jailed and tortured, as were his political enemies or anyone who disagreed with him.

Gambians in America had appealed to the US State Department, European Union, the UN, and the African Union; anywhere anyone would listen. It seemed that no one cared, according to Wiener.

The coup by Gambian Americans was not successful. Wiener said she learned they had been betrayed, some killed and the rest ran for their lives back to the United States.

“They violated a US law written in 1874 called the Neutrality Act that makes it illegal for American citizens to take up arms against a county we are at peace with,” Wiener explained. The FBI charged them with a federal crime, and the men were facing up to 30 years in prison.

Wiener met with the lawyers and looked at the charges. The attorneys admitted the men had broken the law, but they were good people. “I don’t think it matters whether they are good people,” Wiener told them. “I think we have to do a film where we get the judge to feel like he is walking in their shoes…they were doing what early Americans did, saying no to oppression.”

In this film, Wiener never interviewed the defendants but instead, with an assistant, went to five different states and talked to Gambian Americans who could describe the imprisonment, the torture, and the fear The Gambian people had lived under for the past 21 years. She was also able to obtain videos of Jammeh describing his acts of violence and even footage of his guards beating up American citizens in Washington, DC, who protested during a visit he made to the United States.

The one-hour film, “The Pain of a People,” was entered in evidence and shown not just to the judge but to the courtroom. After viewing the film, the judge in the case asked for an extra day to make the sentencing decision.

“The longest sentence given was nine months, and some were given parole,” Wiener said. Although the coup had not worked, the bravery of those involved was celebrated, and within a year The Gambia was liberated. Jammeh had been defeated in a fair election, and when he refused to give up his power, the African Union stepped in and escorted him out.

“The Gambia is still struggling,” Wiener said, “but it is a democracy again. It shows the power of courageous heroes. If you can hear a story of people willing to be heroic, then people gain hope, and they can be heroes, too.”

Wiener was again called by her lawyer friend about another case, a man who had a wonderful career, beautiful home in the suburbs and a great family with two sets of twins. But he risked it all to go to the Dark Internet and view child porn, and he was caught in an FBI sting. He was removed from his house immediately, and his children were not allowed to see him.

“He was not a pedophile and did not hurt his children, but he did something terrible because children were hurt somewhere who were in these pictures,” Wiener said. But his children wanted their voices heard. This was the guy who went to all their sports events, supported them and was the guy they adored. They felt no one was listening to them.

“I was called in to work with the kids,” Wiener said. “I interviewed them and captured each one of them and how they felt, got their family interactions. The goal was for them to have a voice, and work that into the sentencing so they would not be completely isolated from their dad.”

He was sentenced to three years. The tragedy was compounded when the mom fell and died from a hemorrhage while doing laundry in the basement six months after he went to prison.

The children were left without either parent.

“I wouldn’t have done a film for the father, because I wouldn’t do something that would support a person watching child pornography, but I felt it was really important to do that film for the children.”

Wiener recently completed another film in which she interviewed a defendant who had admitted his guilt and did not repent. The case is so current Wiener cannot discuss the details.

“This is the only one in which I have interviewed the defendant,” she said. “He told what happened, what his experience was, what he did and why. It is important if you break a law that it has a component to it,” Wiener noted, “that takes a look at a bigger law and morality of choice.”

Wiener said that she gets very drawn into the story when making these sentencing films. “I try and communicate the truth of whatever is the subject,” she said. “I feel strongly about people and their stories, and the flip side is I get very involved.”

Putting out real stories that resonate and are about how people are resilient in what they do is Wiener’s goal. She said she has always had a passion for social justice and hopes to continue creating sentencing films along with all of her other work.

“Unless you really think about the emotional aspects in telling a story, you end up with cat videos,” Wiener commented with a smile. “Those may be fun, but we need people telling real stories with skill.”

Wiener said her father once told her she was too sensitive, but she said she feels very strongly about the kinds of films she does and feels very connected. “I don’t know if that makes me a better filmmaker, but it makes me a happier one,” she said.

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Russ Stark

Russ Stark resigns from City Council to work for Mayor Carter

Posted on 06 February 2018 by Calvin

By JANE MCCLURE
Residents of St. Paul’s Ward Four will have three City Council members in succession in 2018. Ten-year incumbent Russ Stark leaves the City Council in mid-February to serve as Mayor Melvin Carter III’s point person on environmental policy and sustainability.

Stark (photo left provided) said that he’s eager to take the spot in the Carter administration. The issues he’ll be working on are ones he has championed while on the City Council. His council accomplishments include getting the city’s first bike plan passed and helping to guide Green Line light rail construction.

The remaining City Council members will select an interim Ward 4 member in the days ahead. As the Monitor went to press, two people had announced for the interim seat. One is Hamline-Midway resident Samantha Henningson, who has served as Stark’s legislative aide for the past decade. The second is John Van Hecke, a St. Anthony Park resident who was a founding member of the think tank Minnesota 2020. He is a former member of the Snelling-Hamline Community Council.

Ward Four includes all of Merriam Park, Hamline-Midway and St. Anthony Park neighborhoods, and parts of Como, and Macalester-Groveland.

In St. Paul, interim council members typically are appointed with the understanding that they won’t seek the seat on a permanent basis. Both Van Hecke and Henningson have said they would not run in an election if appointed. The special election is expected to be held in August along with the primary for state offices.

The process of choosing an interim replacement moved quickly as the vacancy was posted in late January, and had a Feb. 2 deadline. A new council member could be appointed Feb. 14 and seated by Feb. 21. Stark’s last day on the council is Feb. 16.

The person elected in August could take office immediately and would serve through 2019. 2019 is when all seven council seats are on the ballot. As of Monitor deadline, no one had announced a campaign for the permanent seat.

City Council members in St. Paul are considered to be part-time and are paid $63,000 per year. His new full-time salary in the mayor’s office is $105,000.
Stark admitted that he has mixed emotions about leaving the City Council, but that he is excited to take on a new role.

Stark is now one of Carter’s three top staff members, along with Deputy Mayor Jamie Tincher. Stark’s new title is “chief resilience officer,” and he’ll be working on issues including reducing the city’s carbon footprint and the implementation of organized trash collection.

Carter has also named Toni Newborn as his chief equity officer and Tarek Tomes as point person on innovations in government. All three positions are first of their kind in city history.

Stark said in his final council newsletter that while the chief resilience officer post is a new position in St. Paul, similar positions have been created in more than 100 cities around the world to better position themselves concerning climate change and emergency preparedness. He said the job’s tasks will be shaped by the mayor and the community. “The questions I am already asking include: What more can St. Paul do to lessen our carbon footprint? What will make our City more resilient to coming changes? What future climate-related changes could affect St. Paul, and what should we start doing now to get ahead of these issues?” said Stark.

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Ready & Resilient_heat

Hot time in the city!

Posted on 20 July 2016 by Calvin

By TRUDY DUNHAM
Climate change means we are experiencing more extreme weather. In the summer, we will experience more days that are hotter than average, and more nights that don’t cool down. Those of us without air conditioning, and those of us who usually work and play outdoors, are likely to suffer. We will need to adapt our behavior (limit strenuous activity during the hottest days) and adopt practices to keep cooler and healthy.

Heat can be deadly. You likely know that heat stroke and heat exhaustion are a result of the body overheating (to 105° F). But you may not realize how quickly overheating can damage the brain and other internal organs. Call 911, but cooling within 30 minutes is essential to maximize survival. Many summer sports training and events now provide an ice bath to immediately immerse an athlete in case of an emergency.

Ready & Resilient_heatPhoto right: The Driftless Organics harvest team takes a well-deserved break to rest, hydrate and cool down; they deliver CSA boxes to the Hamline Midway area and local co-ops.

Anyone who spends time outdoors in strenuous activity is at risk. This includes runners, sports teams, youth engaged in outdoor activities, construction workers, farmers, gardeners, and homeless people. Small children and pets depend on your ability to recognize when they are heat stressed.

Older adults are especially vulnerable to extreme heat as they may be less likely to sense and respond to changes in temperature. They may have a chronic medical condition that changes normal body responses to heat. And, some prescription medication reduces the body’s ability to regulate its temperature or inhibit perspiration.

Acclimating, or getting used to heat stress, is a key factor. Most serious health problems and deaths due to heat occur within the first few days of starting strenuous work or exercise in the sun. Your body needs about two weeks to acclimate to extreme heat. Factor this into your schedule. Start with shorter periods of activity and allow lots of breaks to rest and cool off. You can gradually increase the duration and strenuousness of activity each day as your body gets used to the stress.

Staying hydrated is vital. When it is hot, you will be sweating even if you aren’t aware of it. For every 1% loss in body mass, your body temperature will increase by a half degree Fahrenheit. You want to minimize the loss of fluids during exercise to reduce the risk of heat stroke.

We often hear the heat index as a measure of extreme heat, but remember that it is calculated for shady areas. If you work or exercise in the direct sun, consider using the standard used by the military and OSHA: the WetBulb Globe Temperature (WBGT). It measures heat stress in direct sunlight and offers guidelines for the number and length of breaks (http://www.srh.noaa.gov/tsa/?n=wbgt).

So how can we cope?
• If you have one, use your air conditioner. Make sure it works before you need it. Many of the people who have died during extreme heat events had air conditioners but failed to use them due to cost concerns, or because they are broken. Your life and health are worth the cost!
• If you don’t have an air conditioner, find an accessible place that does. Libraries, stores, and movie theaters are good options.
• On the hottest days limit the use of your oven or stove, which will only make your house hotter.
• Wear loose, lightweight clothing.
• Take cool showers or baths, or wrap a wet towel or scarf around your neck to cool down.
• Drink more water than usual: throughout the day and before, during and after exercise. Don’t wait until you are thirsty to drink. Carry a water bottle with you and use it. Limit the intake of alcohol and caffeine.
• Don’t rush. Assume tasks will take longer because you are building in more and longer breaks.
• Schedule more strenuous outdoor tasks for early morning or evening when it is cooler.
• Take your breaks in the shade or inside: this is time for your body to cool down, as well as to rest.
• Don’t forget that pets suffer from heat—bring them inside where it is air-conditioned, provide shade for them, schedule walks in early morning or evening when it is cooler, and provide lots of water.
• Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are characterized by confusion, dizziness, and collapse. You may not realize how hot or ill you are. So on those extreme heat days, have someone check on you! And do the same for others!

More health and safety tips and resources to deal with extreme heat can be found at www.ready.gov/heat and emergency.cdc.gov/disasters/extremeheat/heat_guide.asp.

The Ready & Resilient Hamline Midway project is an initiative of the Hamline Midway Environmental Group (HMEG) to build climate change resilience in our community.

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