When “Shorts by the Sea” closed its film run at the Santa Monica Laemmle last week, indie film supporters paid $14 to see the slate of little screen gems, including AND THE BRAVE SHALL RISE, a 19-minute documentary. This short was the closer, the last film to be shown each day from Sept. 13, through the 19th.
You didn’t expect it to raise the hair on your neck, but it is in Awards contention (qualifying theatrical run) this year for a reason. Directed by AFI alum Adam Schlachter, AND THE BRAVE SHALL RISE tells you that everything you thought you were feeling about politics right now is 100 percent true.
Those feelings? That this is a time when ordinary people will take a stand; that we, as a nation, can not see one more mass shooting, and just do a hashtag, prayer, or even merely donate money anymore. In truth, the very survival of the fabric of our lifestyle, thus the country we live in, depends on what we do as individuals right now.
What does all this mean?
Let Adam Schlachter tell you his story, about how he took the Majory Stoneman Douglas shooting survivors, those teenagers, and launched into a world of individual responsibility taken by one mother, her husband, even her baby son.
As a side note, Marjory Stoneman Douglas, the benefactor for whom that high school is named, was a champion of saving the Florida Everglades as well as a journalist, author, and remarkable woman. When they told Stoneman Douglas that the everglades were a “swamp” that would be drained (note the political irony), she fought back with saving this irreplaceable natural wildlife aquatic sanctuary. And Marjory Stoneman Douglas, with her colorful hats and enigmatic smile, also loved children, hence the high school named in her honor. So how can we process the massacre, when such good intentions built those now-hallowed walls?
This is what cinema experiences are designed to do: put the emotion out there for people who need to connect (grieve) and share.
If this all sounds cryptic, the storyline is that AND THE BRAVE SHALL RISE follows the political odyssey of Cindy Polo, whose passion for public service was ignited by the fate of those, and so many other children and adults lost to violence in America.
But there is so much going on in this remarkable 19 minutes, and luckily, you’ll be taken behind the scenes right now by the film’s director, and hopefully, this call-to-action won’t leave you without a clear path to your own motivation to make change yourself.
Here’s Filmmaker Adam Schlachter talking about his new short documentary AND THE BRAVE SHALL RISE. Fittingly, he answers 17 questions for the 17 children who lost their lives that day in high school in Florida, and represent all the brave departed…
Quendrith Johnson: Can people really make lasting change, or do you think there’s some global corporate unseen hand in the mix at the highest levels?
Adam Schlachter: The money people will always do everything in their power to keep that money and keep that power. That has existed since the days one caveman had a bigger cave than their neighbor. People have to choose to be active if they expect anything to change for the better, whether by marching, protesting, voting, posting, or in the case of Cindy Polo, running for office. And this is not a one-time deal when it comes to activism. It has to be a concerted effort to always be involved. Because most politicians will do just enough for re-election. That last truth, in my opinion, is unacceptable because it has caused the systematic “selling out” of the people they are supposed to serve.
Quendrith Johnson: Of the 17 children who were killed in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting, how many of their parents did you interview?
Adam Schlachter: I was not interviewing the parents or families of the victims for three main reasons: At the time of my production, immediately after the massacre, they were inundated with requests from the mainstream media outlets, many of which I felt were milking an opportunity to sell advertising space from covering such a horrific tragedy. It felt karmically wrong to me.
Secondly, I only asked my subjects one question: “Why are you here?” (I did not want subjects to feel manipulated with specific questions.) The families’ answers would have been rather obvious, at least to me…. To lose a loved one, especially for the parents to have to bury their murdered children, how could anybody with a soul ask what would have been an insensitive question?
Finally, I was in awe of the mobilization of so many passionate social activists. I wanted to cover that and get to know the people who felt compelled to speak their minds to their elected officials. Regular Americans who did not have to lose a loved one to practice their right to voice their valid concern. It could have been their children. Nobody should wait for a tragedy to speak up.
Quendrith Johnson: How did you find Cindy Polo, and how did you come to the unique position of filming her campaign at the 11th hour to the final vote tally?
Adam Schlachter: It was by the grace of God and my belief that there are no coincidences in life that the original organizers of the first rally depicted in the film sat me next to Cindy. I could have been in any of several dozen buses from South Florida. I engaged in a conversation with her and some of the other stay-at-home moms before I started filming. I immediately knew there was something special about her. 11th hour? No, I was there when she was just a concerned mom who decided to get on a bus. Running for office came a month later when I called to do a follow-up, still trying to discover what my film was going to be about. She was extremely open and forthright in allowing me to film such intimate moments with her family in her first-ever campaign for public office.
Quendrith Johnson: CJ, Cindy’s toddler son, is her “reason” for taking on the political fight; were you ever able to find stress points in the Polo family, relatives that did not agree with her choice to run?
Adam Schlachter: Cindy’s family was extremely supportive every step of the way. If there was ever any conflict, I captured it in the film when Cindy candidly wonders to herself if her two year old would understand why his mommy was not going to be around as much anymore. “The time that I spend away from CJ…. Will he understand that it is for the greater good? That it is not just about the three of us, but about all the other families out there?” That one got me good, and that might have been the first time that I felt compelled to hug Cindy after filming. Actually, I feel the little moments in the film between Cindy and CJ are the most compelling.
Quendrith Johnson: Ramon Polo, Cindy’s husband, has a great quote in the film where he asks “am I just a driver to you?” and is that a common sentiment among men whose wives have been mobilized by these school shootings, or do you feel women are in a unique position to fight the fight against violence against children?
Adam Schlachter: Chris, not Ramon —
Quendrith Johnson: Sorry, yes, Chris.
Adam Schlachter: Cindy’s husband, Chris is a freaking rock star. A humble, supportive man who was there every step of the way. Funny, too, which is most likely why he said what he said. I think he really just wanted a burger and a beer after such a kamikaze ride that is running for office with very little money behind you. It was an interesting dynamic because Cindy is so outspoken and vocal and Chris is more reserved. But they balance each other out perfectly. And they absolutely adore each other.
Quendrith Johnson: Did you have a chance to interview her extended family about their political stance – meaning where there some Republicans who came along for the issue?
Adam Schlachter: Every single Republican that I interviewed, except for one running for office and one that is a good friend, did not want to be interviewed on camera. When they saw my business card and noticed that I had a California number, they mostly assumed I had an anterior motive, liberal propaganda, or political agenda. I genuinely wanted an open discussion. I have footage of my friend and I having a meal together and discussing the gun issue. I may someday turn that into a film about how we need to communicate to each other to truly understand how to solve these issues. The political candidate running for office did not address the gun reform issue questions, stating only that she was a firm believer in the 2nd Amendment.
Quendrith Johnson: Since the USA is based on a Revolutionary War in 1776 that was dependent upon firearms held in secret by the “Minutemen,” mercenaries who were mobilized against the then-big government of the UK, do you imagine that guns could ever be written out of our country’s history?
Adam Schlachter: Nope. Americans love their guns. But the Brady Law saved countless of lives in the years it was in place. Nobody seems to be talking about it. I say bring back the Brady Law.
Quendrith Johnson: What is your personal stance on the NRA and the Second Amendment?
Adam Schlachter: The NRA serves one purpose: To sell guns. As many guns as possible. Period. This became obvious to me when they started arming teachers in Florida as a solution to curb mass school shootings. Take a look at those elected officials who are sponsored by the NRA and how they voted on the bills allowing the arming of teachers. Just the facts, man. For the record, I believe in the 2nd Amendment, but should citizens have the ability to own military weapons? The same weapons that are the cause of these preventable tragedies and massacres? When the Brady Law lapsed during Bush II, all these incidents started occurring. I’m sorry, but it is a mess.
Quendrith Johnson: When we met at the Shorts by the Sea after-party for your film and a slate of others in Awards week screening competition, one woman said “you can’t take away my guns” and it made people laugh; how can there be a compromise?
Adam Schlachter: A compromise would be eliminating assault-style/millitary-style weapons from the country. It worked in Australia after a school shooting in the 1990’s, and there have been zero mass shootings since. Let citizens keep their guns that do not carry magazines of forty to fifty bullets. You want to shoot Bambi? Use a shotgun. You want to protect your home and property? Use a handgun. There are handguns out there that will blow away the face of any perpetrator invading your home.
Quendrith Johnson: Spike Lee released the film “Chi-Raq” in 2015 that featured silent protests by the real bereaved mothers of those killed in Chicago gun violence, and this movie was overlooked in awards season; do you think that maybe this topic is too polarizing for the general public, or have the relentless mass shootings changed this attitude among people everywhere in America?
Adam Schlachter: [Masses] have been brainwashed into thinking what celebrities are wearing is more important than what laws their elected officials are passing. Until one of the victims of gun violence is your kid or your brother or your mother. So, in a way, it is polarizing, and that is the biggest shame of it all. Some of these “earmarks” and hidden clauses in laws disguised with pretty sounding names are invading our rights. On a personal note, it is about freaking time Spike got his competitive Academy Award for “BlackKklansman”. When I ran into him at a Halloween Carnival, I simply said: “Mr. Lee…. Thank you for your service.”
Quendrith Johnson: Your journey on this 19-minutes to Awards qualifying run week – can you put that in a few words for people who might want to see where you stand as an artist?
Adam Schlachter: I am a passionate man who wants to capture the voices of compelling subjects who need to be heard by the masses, but who are sometimes underrepresented in media. Before I embarked on this film, my first documentary, I had a career as a fictional storyteller in the medium of film. One of the common themes in my body of work, regardless of genre, is: I want to inspire people with stories about underdogs who fight a system that is not looking out for their best interests. Tell the stories of people who make their dreams happen through ambition, hard work, perseverance, love, and an insatiable need to make a positive impact in those around them.
Quendrith Johnson: What’s your origin story as a filmmaker, including your AFI odyssey, and what influences shaped your vision here?
Adam Schlachter: When I first moved to the United States from Puerto Rico, I did not speak English. Thus, I was the literal punching bag of any kid who came from a home of prejudice and hate. The movie theatre was my sanctuary, and I would spend the weekends hopping from one theatre to the other (“movie skipping” it was called) to avoid being in my neighborhood and have to face any more bullies.
It kind of prepared me for Hollywood: If you can survive neighborhood race wars and gang issues, anything else is a piece of cake.
I studied undergraduate film production at Florida State University after transferring from the University of California School of Cinema-TV. I loved both, but FSU gave me an offer I could not refuse: An incredible scholarship that pretty much paid for everything, and they had the newest equipment and resources around. AFI was probably the best education in film I have ever received. It is a shame they are so expensive because that is going to limit the amount of worthy candidates who should be attending simply because they cannot afford tuition.
Quendrith Johnson: How did you assemble crew for this, and what were your sources of funding?
Adam Schlachter: I WAS the crew. My editor and producing partner, Van Kassabian, is my best friend. He came on-board after watching the footage I shot and recognizing that we had an important story in our hands. Since we had already collaborated on a few shorts and a feature, our short-hand communication was in place, but this film would not have been completed on time without him. Our Executive Producers, Sundance-winner Anne Clements and Hoan Tran, came on board during post-production. Anne and I met as interns several years ago and have always talked about collaborating. She has produced at least two feature films set in the political arena: “Gay Republicans” and “Political Animals”.
Hoan, one of my best friends from high school, is a renowned neurosurgeon, inventor, and owns a patent company. He acted in my first two films right after high school, and I guess he really enjoyed that experience. When I asked for his assistance, he jumped right in, no questions asked.
Associate Producer Maylen Calienes has been instrumental in film festival outreach. Met her at Sundance a few years ago, and I am in awe of what she accomplished since with the Latino Filmmakers Network….
Always be nice to everyone, because you never know who is going to be your biggest fan.
Quendrith Johnson: In the credits, you thank Hollywood people like Edward James Olmos and John Leguizamo – did they participate in the making of “And the Brave Shall Rise”?
Adam Schlachter: Edward James Olmos and his organizations, the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival and the Latino Film Institute, have supported my career since the film school days. I still call him Mr. Olmos. John Leguizamo was an avid supporter of Cindy during the days just after the primary. He surprised her at a small party she had, and she was floored by his presence and inspiration. As a producer of the film, I thought that deserved a “Thanks, Mr. Leguizamo.” All the other recognizable industry names either gave me feedback during post-production, which was extremely valuable, or helped steer me in the direction of in-kind services, etc.
Quendrith Johnson: The title of this film sounds like a quote, and likely is, can you reveal the source material?
Adam Schlachter: I was originally going to call it “And The Children Shall Rise”, not in reference to the victims of the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, but in reference to the children gun reform should be protecting.
Upon realizing the title could be misunderstood as insensitive, I changed it to “And The Brave Shall Rise”.
All I had to do was think of the bravery it took for Cindy Polo, Guadalupe Perez, Irene Torroella-Garcia, Paola Batic, and all of the other social activists to do their thing. If there is a famous quote out there I am not aware of, I guess the author and I should get together since we have something in common. I love movie titles that sound like romantic novels. My AFI thesis film is called “My Backyard Was A Mountain”. My FSU final film is called “Facing The Ocean”. If I ever do a Marvel film, perhaps I will call it: “X-Men: The Tragic Love Affair” or “Iron Man: Demon In A Bottle”.
Quendrith Johnson: Where do you go next now that Cindy Polo’s path has been determined?
Adam Schlachter: I am in post-production on a feature documentary titled: “Hair In A Bag: The World’s Greatest Rock Star Home Movie About Minino The Cat & His Super Friends”. This is a mixed media project depicting the last few months of a therapy cat with cancer who may or may not have been the oldest cat in existence. It also depicts the neighborhood characters of Westchester Miami, all of whom have turned an extreme negative into a positive experience. In my heart, I know this film will save lives. But because I am still discovering several aspects of the film, that is all I will or can say about it at this time. (Know any affordable animators?). I also want to return to fictional storytelling, so I am polishing seven of my unproduced feature scripts. I also want to produce a phenomenal screenplay by a former AFI classmate, inspired by a Rolling Stone article from the 1980’s, but that one requires studio support or studio money.
Quendrith Johnson: What would you say to all the mothers and fathers of the children of all the school shootings, from Virginia Tech to Stoneman Douglas to Jackson?
Adam Schlachter: I am deeply sorry for your losses. If there is anything I can do to help you in your pain, please let me know. I hope you find the courage to tell your stories to those who will listen, not because of an agenda, but because they genuinely want to help other families to NEVER have to experience your loss. This was not an easy film for me. Your children’s loss of life were constantly on my mind.
Watch the trailer
Prayers, hashtags, and best of luck for AND THE BRAVE SHALL RISE, a short film with a huge message and a heart. Catch up with the career of Rep. Cindy Polo here, and some background on the director here.
(Special Thanks to the Filmmaker and Crew for Artwork & Interview. And love to all the families who have lost someone. – Quendrith Johnson for THRIVE GLOBAL.)
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