‘Heather Booth’ director highlights life of social activist

Change.  It’s vital to our growth as a nation.  Over the course of the last 50 years, one woman has been an integral part of momentous historical changes,  addressing injustices pertaining to women and minority groups.  Her name is Heather Booth.  While she is not a household name, she is the backbone of social change.  She is an organizer who has inspired, mentored and taught others to create programs and strategies for change.  From rallies on the National Mall to the Women’s Liberation Movement, Booth is at the center.  Without her, our world would be a different and most likely, a more inequitable place.  

Lilly Rivlin highlights this extraordinary woman in the documentary Heather Booth:  Changing the World.  Rivlin introduces us to Booth and takes us back in time to her roots in New York City and Chicago through personal interviews with this leader and those who know her best.  These interviews are seamlessly stitched together with archival footage, photographs and an audio diary to create a beautiful tapestry depicting a woman who not only changed the world, but continues to do so.

Booth recalls her introduction to activism in the ‘60s as one that was quite frightening as she was completely unprepared for even the most simple of tasks—handing out flyers in New York City to protest the death penalty.  It was this experience that sparked her lifelong endeavor to help others have the skills to organize successfully to create change.  Over the course of the next 50 years, Booth would be the “go-to” person for political activism, financial reform and setting up strategies for a myriad number of organizations that target social injustices.

Rivlin’s interview with Senator Elizabeth Warren, author Jo Freeman, strategist Joel Silberman, and activist Diane Fager, to name just a few, allows us to understand Booth’s life work, her motivation and drive, and the passion she has to help others help themselves through empowerment in organizing.  Booth’s involvement in anti-war demonstrations, creating the first “sit ins” and providing a safe environment for women to gain access to abortion doctors before the Roe v. Wade decision immediately gives you a sense of the importance of Booth’s impact upon our nation.  

Booth candidly shares her experiences from her past, and one in particular that had a profound influence upon her future endeavors—the Freedom Summer Project in Mississippi, 1964.  The horrific situations she observed and experienced still evoke an emotional response which could be heard in the tremor of her voice.  Her words were strong to combat the inhumane treatment of those she grew to know and care about.  Perhaps it was this event that will be the ever-burning fuel she needed to continue to fight for those who did not know how.

The film takes us on Booth’s life journey, highlighting the Midwest Academy which she co-founded in 1973.  This training school “…for organizers across the progressive movement” is where leaders learn how to affect social change.  It is Booth who developed “The Strategy Chart,” the recipe by which any goal can be accomplished.  Utilizing her own techniques, Booth was integral in the voter registration initiative and continues to fight for equality and reform in today’s tumultuous political environment.

Rivlin’s exceptional filmmaking allows us to not only know Booth, but to understand the importance of her work.  It’s an inspirational and informative film that reminds us that change is possible, but only through organization.  Grass roots initiatives still do and can work.  This film couldn’t be any more perfectly timed, giving women and minorities hope in our ability to support one another.  

Heather Booth: Changing the World can be seen at the Gene Siskel Film Center beginning Friday, May 19.  For tickets and information go to  http://www.siskelfilmcenter.org/heatherbooth

© Pamela Powell (5/18/17) FF2 Media

Photos: Heather Booth in Heather Booth: Changing the World

Photo Credits: Just Luck Productions

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New York native film critic and film critic Pamela Powell now resides near Chicago, interviewing screenwriters and directors of big blockbusters and independent gems as an Associate for FF2 Media. With a graduate degree from Northwestern in Speech-Language Pathology, she has tailored her writing, observational, and evaluative skills to encompass all aspects of film. With a focus on women in film, Pamela also gravitates toward films that are eye-opening, educational, and entertaining with the hopes of making this world a better place. 
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