Mountains That Take Wing

Thirteen years, two inspiring women, both radical activists – one conversation.

About the Film
Angela Davis & Yuri Kochiyama in an inspiring, historically rich and unique documentary featuring conversations that span thirteen years between two formidable women who share a profound passion for justice.

Through conversations that are intimate and profound, we learn about Davis, an internationally renowned scholar-activist and 88-year-old Kochiyama, a revered grassroots community activist and 2005 Nobel Peace Prize nominee. Their shared experience as political prisoners and their dedication to Civil Rights embody personal and political experiences as well as the diverse lives of women doing liberatory cultural work.

Illustrated with rarely-seen photographs and footage of extraordinary speeches and events from the early 1900s to the ’60s and through the present, the topics of this rich conversation range from critical, but often forgotten role of women in 20th century social movements to the importance of cross-cultural/cross-racial alliances; from America’s WWII internment camps to Japan’s “Comfort Women”; from Malcolm X to the prison industrial complex; and from war to cultural arts. Davis and Kochiyama’s comments offer critical lessons for understanding our nation’s most important social movements while providing tremendous hope for its youth and the future.

Directed, produced, photographed, recorded & edited by C. A. Griffith & H. L. T. Quan, along with Co-editor Paul Hill, this documentary was completed through a prestigious, Art & Technology post-production residency award at Wexner Center for the Arts (2009-2010). Mountains that Take Wing is distributed by Women Make Movies and available for you to buy or rent.

Participant Biographies

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 politics 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 in 1921, Yuri Kochiyama is a dedicated grassroots organizer, activist and an archivist of the Civil Rights Era. Nominated for a 2005 Nobel Peace Prize, among grassroots communities 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 witnessing her father’s abduction by the FBI and her family’s interment during World War II, 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 with neighborhood educational struggles and rapidly became a respected community activist and organizer. She met Malcolm X at 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 stance against the Vietnam War. 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 both behind the wall and once they gained 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.”

The Conversations

Angela and Yuri ConversationsYuri Kochiyama and Angela Y. Davis embody personal and political experiences, theories, struggles and art. 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. Together, they constitute a culture of social justice and human rights.

With a combined history of nearly a century of community activism, Angela and Yuri shared time in 1996 to discuss their lives and their passion for justice. Although their paths had crossed many times, this was the first occasion they had an in depth conversation with one another. Their dialogue is full of vitality, humility, resolve, hope.and great love. 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 proves to be especially perceptive and poignant when they pick up their conversation twelve years later in 2008. MOUNTAINS THAT TAKE WING is a compilation of the conversations between these two amazing women on life, struggles and liberation. Davis’s and Kochiyama’s, vast historical knowledge, cogent observations and analyses are passionate and compelling, while offering important lessons in empowerment and community building for current and future generations.

The fervent and diverse styles of teaching and leadership of generations of women inspire 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 observed that many natural, relaxed and fascinating exchanges often happened when shooting paused for film or sound reel changes. Griffith and Co-Director, H. L. T. Quan wondered what gems might arise if they had an opportunity to capture what Davis and Kochiyama had to say to each other. MOUNTAINS THAT TAKE WING -ANGELA DAVIS & YURI KOCHIYAMA offers audiences the gift of these remarkable women’s lives and their conversations about life, individual and community strategies to resist oppression, and their steadfast resolve that a more just and humane world is not only possible, but 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 receipt of extensive audience feedback at the University of California Irvine and Riverside, along with 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, among others – the original project scope was too expansive for one film and was refocused on political culture, Davis and Kochiyama.