Force of Nature Ellen Ratner Captivates Crowd at The Nyack Center

BY CAROLYN JOHNSON

Force of Nature Ellen Ratner with musician Kate Taylor.

For her 60th birthday, friends of Talk Radio News Service and Fox News journalist Ellen Ratner decided to film a documentary about her life. Ratner wanted no part of the project, until she recognized its potential for raising awareness and funds for a cause close to her heart, helping former slaves in war-torn Sudan to rebuild themselves and their communities. The film was initially shown at the Central Park Zoo to 400 of Ratner’s friends. It has since been entered into several film festivals around the country. Members and friends of Rivertown Film viewed “Force of Nature” last week at the Nyack Center.

In the film, Oscar-winning film director Barbara Kopple follows Ratner on assignment, from her home base in Washington, DC to hurricane-ravaged Mississippi to war-torn South Sudan. We meet key figures in her life, including partner Cholene Espinoza and high-profile siblings Michael, a human rights lawyer and Bruce, a real estate developer. Ratner’s best friend, musician Kate Taylor, sister to singer James Taylor, participated in the trip to Africa as well as the documentary filming and production. In preparation for the trip, Taylor spent hours learning to bead jewelry, and taught the women to make beaded heart necklaces that have helped raise money. She played the guitar and sang songs with the Sudanese people, including a young man who had been blinded by his captors. Ratner has brought the young man to the United States to live at a school for the blind that Helen Keller attended in New York.

Necklaces made by women in South Sudan.

Rockland County resident, investigative journalist Diane Dimond facilitated a panel discussion following the film. The panel at the Rivertown event included Ellen Ratner, Director/Producer Barbara Kopple, Producer Suzanne Mitchell (Rockland County resident), Editor William Davis and Musician Kate Taylor. Dimond, who has covered all kinds of celebrity and pop-culture stories, said, “I look at the film about Ellen and feel like I’ve done nothing. Now I need to go out and do something. I’m not a religious person, but I it seems I’ve forgotten to do unto others. I’m in awe of her.”

Kate Taylor said, “It’s a thrill to be able to surprise Ellen and to be part of this project. She’s hard to surprise! I am so grateful to Jon Poussett-Dart who accompanied me for the song tonight, which we called, “She’s a Need Seeking Missile.” The filmmakers asked me to write it. It’s interesting to see how the film inspires others.”

After the film, Mwende Mwinzi-edozie, a woman from Kenya stood up to poignantly share her experience as an African woman watching Americans watch Africa on the screen. Mwinzi-edozie has lived in Rockland County for seven years. Mwende has also started a non-profit organization, called twanatwitucares.org. To date, helps 559 children in Kenya orphaned by A.I.D.S.

Attendees purchased crystal heart necklaces, and contributed to the “Goats For the Old Goat” program, which began as Ellen Ratner was preparing for her birthday project.

Ellen Ratner and feathered friends in South Sudan.

Although Ellen can’t believe it, she is in fact an “old goat.” Because of her work in Southern Sudan (a part of which was recently called “the hungriest place on earth”) she wanted her friends and others to contribute money for goats, in lieu of presents, so that people would be able eat and children would not have a lifetime legacy of malnutrition. (See goatsfortheoldgoat.com)

Lively informal discussion continued long after the stimulating film about how people can expand their breadth of generosity to people in need all over the world.

Information about the documentary can be found at www.cabincreekfilms.com.