MOUNTAINS THAT TAKE WING – ANGELA DAVIS & YURI KOCHIYAMA features conversations that span thirteen years between two formidable women whose lives and political work remain at the epicenter of the most important civil rights struggles in the US. Through the intimacy and depth of conversations, we learn about Davis, an internationally renowned scholar-activist and 89-year-old Kochiyama, a revered grassroots community activist and 2005 Nobel Peace Prize nominee’s shared experiences as political prisoners and their profound passion for justice. On subjects ranging from the vital but largely erased role of women in social movements of the 20th century, community empowerment, to the prison industrial complex, war and the cultural arts, Davis’ and Kochiyama’s comments offer critical lessons for understanding our nation’s most important social movements and tremendous hope for its youth and the future. This documentary was completed through a prestigious, Art & Technology post-production residency award at Wexner Center for the Arts (2009-2010).
A Professor Emeritus at the University of California, Santa Cruz, Angela Y. Davis is an internationally acclaimed scholar, professor, author and activist. Her parents were teachers and activists, and as a child growing up in Birmingham, Alabama, she witnessed and experienced the brutality of the Jim Crow regime of intolerance, violence and hatred. In 1969, she was fired from her Assistant Professor position in UCLA’s Philosophy Department because of her political activism and membership in the Communist Party, but was rehired after public protest. A year later, her involvement in the campaign to free the Soledad Brothers lead to a warrant for her arrest and placement on the FBI’s Most Wanted List. Once captured, international campaigns to “Free Angela Davis” lead to her eventual release and acquittal on all charges. Davis remains a staunch advocate for prison abolition and has developed powerful critiques of the criminal justice system. Her books include If They Come in the Morning, Angela Davis: An Autobiography, Women, Race and Class, Women Culture and Politics, Blues Legacies and Black Feminism, Are Prisons Obsolete? Abolition Democracy, and Beyond the Frame: Women of Color and Visual Representation.
Born on in 1921, Yuri Kochiyama is a dedicated 89 year-old grassroots organizer, activist and an archivist of the Civil Rights Era. Nominated for a 2005 Nobel Peace Prize, she is best known for her political involvement with Malcolm X, the Puerto Rican Independence Movement, the Asian American Movement and campaigns to release U.S. political prisoners. After her experience in World War II’s Japanese-American “internment camps,” Kochiyama was primed for activism. In 1960, when she and her husband moved with their large family into public housing in New York’s Harlem, she worked on neighborhood educational struggles and rapidly became a respected community activist and organizer. She met Malcolm X in a courthouse after she’d been arrested in a labor protest. She joined his organization of Afro-American Unity and supported a Pan Asian perspective by collaborating with the Hibakusha (Japanese Atom Bomb survivors) and having a strong Anti-Vietnam War stance. Despite her frail health, Kochiyama remains undaunted in her efforts to free U.S. political prisoners; her personal correspondence has sustained hundreds of men and women-many of whom she has helped gain freedom. Kochiyama devotes her life to progressive causes and is an inspiration to young people and activists around the globe.
The subject of several documentaries and books, Kochiyama moved to Oakland in 1999. She and Davis live several miles apart and cross paths regularly at conferences and political events. Her book, Passing It On-A Memoir, was published in 2004. The reviews include one by Angela Davis: “In this book, [Kochiyama] passes on a legacy of humility and resolve, vitality and resistance, and, perhaps most important of all, hope for the future.”
Yuri Kochiyama and Angela Y. Davis embody personal and political experiences, theories, struggles and art; and together, they constitute a commitment and diversity of lives of women doing liberatory cultural work. They are writers, friends, spiritual leaders, aunts, mothers, lovers, educators, warriors, icons, and role models who inspire and challenge the larger and often hostile society, their own generations, and many generations to come. And together, they constitute a culture of protest.
With a combined history of nearly a century of community activism, Angela Y. Davis and Yuri Kochiyama sat down in 1996 to discuss their lives and their passion for justice. Although their paths had crossed many times, this was the first occasion Yuri and Angela had an in depth conversation with one another. Their conversations are full of vitality, humility, resolve and hope. What they have to say about the ethical and social implications of war and the vast prison industrial complex on education, civil liberties and the arts proved to be chillingly perceptive when they picked up their conversation twelve years later in 2008. MOUNTAINS THAT TAKE WING-ANGELA DAVIS & YURI KOCHIYAMA is a compilation of the conversations between these two formidable women on life, struggles and liberation. Davis’ and Kochiyama’s passion, vast historical knowledge, cogent observations and analysis are stunning and offer important lessons in empowerment and community building for current and future generations.
The teaching, fervent and diverse styles of leadership of generations of women inspired the conversational format of MOUNTAINS THAT TAKE WING. The film honors the breadth and depth of knowledge achieved through the recursive nature of conversation-where complex, challenging subjects and often painful memories and histories are brought to light, and then later, a more nuanced and multifaceted understanding is gleaned from the time and additional context provided. The conversational format was also inspired by Co-Director C. A. Griffith’s experiences while filming EYES ON THE PRIZE, where she noticed that some of the most natural, relaxed and fascinating exchanges often happened when shooting stopped to change sound reels or film magazines. Griffith and her Co-Director, H. L. T. Quan wondered what gems might be revealed if they had an opportunity to capture what Davis and Kochiyma had to say to each other. MOUNTAINS THAT TAKE WING offers audiences the gift of these remarkable women’s conversations about life, individual and community strategies to resist oppression, and their steadfast resolve that not only is another world possible, but it is vital.
C. A. Griffith and H. L. T. Quan struggled for over a decade to complete this film. Thanks in large part to invitations to screen early cuts of the film and receive extensive audience feedback at the University of California Irvine and Riverside, and the in-kind, post-production award from the Wexner Center for the Arts, they were able to complete the documentary in late summer, 2009. MOUNTAINS THAT TAKE WING was filmed in HD, MiniDV and Hi8 video. Originally planned as a series of conversations between Davis and three generations of women doing cultural work-June Jordan, Elizabeth Martinez, Julie Dash, Jude Narita, Abbey Lincoln, The Poetess and others-the project was simply too unwieldy and was refocused on political culture, Davis and Kochiyama.