howard zinn at tiff tonight

Movie fans lucky enough to be attending the Toronto International Film Festival tonight have an opportunity to see someone more important than any film being shown there.

Radical historian Howard Zinn will attend the opening of "The People Speak".
Howard Zinn taught us to look at history with fresh eyes. His landmark book A People's History of the United States, first published in 1980, has sold one and a half million copies around the world and inspired innumerable fresh approaches to reflecting on the past.

Now comes a unique documentary collaboration between Zinn and others. They have enlisted an extraordinary lineup of actors, including Viggo Mortensen, Danny Glover, Marisa Tomei and Kerry Washington, who contribute live stage performances of historical testimonies. The actors portray labour leaders, civil rights demonstrators and other activists, whose stories are drawn from Voices of a People's History of the United States, an anthology edited by Zinn and Anthony Arnove that was published in 2004.

In their introduction to the book, they wrote, "Whenever injustices have been remedied, wars halted, women and blacks and Native Americans given their due, it has been because 'unimportant' people spoke up, organized, protested and brought democracy alive."

Zinn and Arnove are bringing this work to film with the support of Matt Damon and Chris Moore, who previously collaborated as producers on the television series Project Greenlight, and whose formidable powers as producers enabled them to greenlight such a unique project.

In this special Mavericks presentation, the audience will be treated to a sneak preview of clips from the documentary The People Speak, along with a discussion on stage between Zinn, Damon, Moore and actor Josh Brolin (who performs in the project) about the process and their motivations. This continues a Mavericks tradition of giving Festival audiences a sneak peak at works-in-progress. In 2006, Michael Moore tried out early clips of Sicko, and in 2007, Larry Charles and Bill Maher showed samples of Religulous, which premieres at this year's Festival.

The People Speak combines archival footage with new performances, the actors embodying voices full of courage and passion. For anyone who found school-book history dull, this version is an invigorating change.

If you haven't read A People's History of the United States, I hope you will. It's history told from the point of view of Native Americans, slaves, workers, women, war resisters, incarcerated people, gay people - everyone who has struggled for freedom and equality, and whose struggles have advanced democracy. It's also a history of people's movements, and a primer on how people, united, can - and do - change the world.

I often recommend reading this book a bit at a time. Read a chapter, put it down, read other things, live your life, go back and read another chapter, put it down, and so on. The beginning chapters are very heavy. Painful. But it's tremendous. It's also an indispensable reference work; Allan and I both take it off the shelf periodically when we need facts and evidence.

I also highly recommend Zinn's memoir, You Can't Be Neutral On A Moving Train. I feel a personal indebtedness to Mr. Zinn from this book, which I shared with him. After the 2004 US "election", I fell into a real funk. Although we had already gotten the thumbs-up from the CIC, and we knew we were leaving no matter what the outcome of that farce, it still depressed me. Another stolen election. Fascism staring us in the face.

Luckily I was already reading Zinn's memoirs. He reminded me of what is most important - not who is in power, but how we challenge that power. The book brought me back to myself. I posted about it here, here, here and here.

I look forward to being similarly inspired by this film.

Howard Zinn's wife and life partner, the artist Rosyln Zinn, died in May. They were married 64 years. My condolences to Mr. Zinn and his children. I know that while Ms Zinn was ill, Zinn wasn't traveling or speaking. I'm glad to know he's back.

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