American Renegade: Confessions of a Radical Humanist
Directed by Scott Garen 2009, Seven Arrows, 80 min.
Abe Osheroff: One Foot in the Grave, the Other Still Dancing
Directed by Nadeem Uddin, 2009, MEF, 46 min.
Abe Osheroff said that being an activist was “the richest way to live,” and the story of his life, as captured by two complementary documentaries, proves it. Osheroff’s ideas and words are featured, too: on the costs and satisfactions of activism, the inherent worth of action that may not achieve a desired aim, and the value of a life in which thought is consistent with action.
Osheroff was born in 1915 in an impoverished Brooklyn neighborhood where early awareness of injustice formed his character. Alarmed by the threat of fascism in Europe, he joined the Abraham Lincoln Brigade at 22 to fight Franco’s fascists in the Spanish Civil War. Over the next 70 years, Osheroff, who described himself as a radical humanist, was involved in some of the most critical struggles for justice of the past century: union organizing, fighting for civil rights during Freedom Summer, resisting U.S. intervention in Nicaragua, and opposing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Osheroff’s gift as a narrator is used to good effect in American Renegade: Confessions of a Radical Humanist, and illustrated by dynamic use of documentary footage. Osheroff was a carpenter by trade whose vigorous activism often involved building something both to serve a need and highlight an injustice: a community center in Mississippi, a playground wrested from developers in Venice Beach, and housing in Nicaragua. His charismatic energy is evident in a film focused on the activist as adventurer and larger-than-life hero.
By contrast, One Foot in the Grave, the Other Still Dancing is concerned with Osheroff the teacher and critical thinker, who, though frail and confined to a wheelchair, inspired young people, turning some to activism. The core of the film is Osheroff’s speech to college students in 2007, at “a period of American history when an empire is falling apart.” His prognosis for their future is one of increasing austerity, demanding more citizen engagement. While “a better world is necessary,” he leaves them with the message that not only are authentic, aware lives the most rewarding, but they empower the action that makes a better world possible.
—Valerie Schloredt is associate editor at YES!
Watch the trailer for Abe Osheroff: One Foot in the Grave, the Other Still Dancing
The Age of Stupid
Essentially a documentary creatively framed by a fictional “what if” scenario, The Age of Stupid features the British actor Pete Postlethwaite as a doleful everyman living in the ravaged world of 2055, reviewing documentary evidence on the global causes and phenomena of climate change. A compelling argument for action before The Age of Stupid becomes, irrevocably, our own. Directed by Fanny Armstrong, founder of 10:10.
The People's Picture Company, 2010, 85 min.
Ecologist Sandra Steingraber presents her research into the connections between environmental toxins and cancer in a lyrical cross-country journey, articulating a concern experienced by increasing numbers of Americans.