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For nearly two decades, John Gianvito has been carving out a unique space in American cinema with passion projects of expansive shape and political ambition, including The Mad Songs of Fernanda Hussein, a documentary-fiction inquiry into the human toll of the Gulf War, and Profit Motive and the Whispering Wind, a becalmed yet radical Howard Zinn–inspired reflection on American progressivism. In his new film, Gianvito meditates on a particular moment in early 20th-century history: when Helen Keller began speaking out passionately on behalf of progressive causes. Beginning in 1913, when, at age 32, Keller gave her first public talk before a general audience, Her Socialist Smile is constructed of onscreen text taken from Keller’s speeches, impressionistic images of nature, and newly recorded voiceover by poet Carolyn Forché. The film is a rousing reminder that Keller’s undaunted activism for labor rights, pacifism, and women’s suffrage was philosophically inseparable from her battles for the rights of the disabled.
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