Tuesday, April 9, 2019

a COUNCILWOMAN like few -- if any -- others: Carmen Castillo in Margo Guernsey's new doc

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez may be getting most of the publicity these days (and she deserves it for knocking out of office the very non-progressive, would-be Democrat, Joe Crowley), but TrustMovies suspects that, once you've seen the new just-under-an-hour-long documentary, COUNCILWOMAN, you'll want to tip your hat and heart to a lady named Carmen Castillo, who was elected to the Providence, Rhode Island, City Council -- even as she labored (and still does) at her day job of hotel worker in Providence. Neither job pays a living wage, so, as you might imagine, much of Castillo's efforts have gone toward raising the minimum wage of hotel workers.

Talk about a government of the people, by the people and for the people. This gets us a good step closer. And it's about time. The new documentary, produced and directed by Margot Guernsey, pictured right, will have its New York premiere in the documentary competition at the 20th edition of the Havana Film Festival New York (it will screen this Thursday, April 11, at 3:15pm and again Saturday, April 13, at 5:05pm at the AMC Loews 34th Street theater.

The film will also screen as the opening night attraction of the 8th edition of the Workers Unite! Film Festival, beginning on May 10, 2019.

In Councilwoman, we learn the history of Ms Castillo (shown above and below), who was born in the Dominican Republic and emigrated to the U.S. in 1994 with three of her four children (the story of the fourth, a handicapped boy, is a sad one indeed). When a newspaper interview with Castillo that explored the plight of hotel workers in Providence placed her on the newspaper's front page, her life suddenly changed in so many ways.

The documentary explores both her work as a politician in Providence and as a hotel worker, the job she has kept ever since then. We see her having to make decisions that must include and will effect all of her constituents. One of these involves a local restaurant owner who wants his establishment to remain open into the early morning hours; locals fear for their safety, as well as the accompanying noise level. And Castillo must weigh both sides and make a decision.

"People who make beds in hotels can also think and make decisions," the councilwoman/worker tells us early on and shows us examples of this again and again. She also understands that "Every person has their principles, but they get sacrificed in politics. I don't want that to happen to me."

Much of the second half of the hour-long film is devoted to re-election time and Carmen's fight to win her seat over two male contenders. We see the campaigning and canvassing, the time spent on phones and in-person house calls -- as the suspense ratchets up. In the middle of all this, our gal is having husband trouble, too. Win some, lose some. This little documentary however, is a major winner.

As I say, New Yorkers can view it at the AMC Loews 34th Street theater during the 20th edition of the Havana Film Festival New York this Thursday, April 11, at 3:15pm and again Saturday, April 13, at 5:05pm. Next month it will screen again as the opening night attraction of the 8th edition of the Workers Unite! Film Festival, beginning on May 10, 2019. (As I post this, the 2019 Workers Unite! program is not yet available online, but I'm sure it soon will be.)

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