Every year, we at California magazine get more press releases about movies, podcasts, books, and performances produced by the Berkeley community than we know what to do with. While we’d love to feature all of them, here are a few of our favorites this winter. Enjoy!
Valley of Giants: Stories from Women at the Heart of Yosemite Climbing
Edited by Lauren DeLaunay Miller, M.J. ’23
Frustrated by a lack of recognition for Yosemite’s female climbers, Lauren DeLaunay Miller took it upon herself to gather stories about such legendary athletes as Lynn Hill, the first person (man or woman) to free-climb the Nose route of El Capitan, and pioneering alpinist and 1925 Cal graduate Marjory Bridge Farquhar, who was the first woman to climb Higher Cathedral Spire, in 1934.
A current student at Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism, DeLaunay Miller is a climber herself and a former member of Yosemite Search and Rescue. Her anthology draws parallels between women’s freedom on the rock walls and their rights and freedoms in the country as a whole. As she writes in the preface, “The mountains and walls do not care who we are, but they demand that we bring the very best of ourselves to our every interaction with them.”
Cal freshman Bianca D’Ambrosio ’26 plays a supporting role in this film starring Elizabeth Banks and Sigourney Weaver about the Jane Collective, a women’s group in Chicago that provided illegal abortions in the days before Roe v. Wade. As more than one reviewer has noted, it could hardly be more timely. Emmy-nominated D’Ambrosio comes to Berkeley with a host of film and TV credits. As children, she and her twin, Chiara, played Summer Newman on The Young and the Restless. Call Jane opened in theaters in October.
Surveillance State: Inside China’s Quest
to Launch a New Era of Social Control
By Josh Chin, M.J. ’07, and Liza Lin
Surveillance State is the product of a five-year investigation by Wall Street Journal deputy bureau chief Josh Chin and China correspondent Liza Lin. The duo cover the alarming expansion of China’s biometric data collection, which was fast-tracked to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 but also to monitor Turkic ethnic groups.
China’s surveillance technologies were adopted from Silicon Valley, and their implementation raises serious ethical questions about harnessing data and offers a case study on the line between digital utopia and digital police state.
As Lin and Chin write, “the results of [China’s surveillance state] will offer the rest of the world critical lessons about the benefits and the perils of marrying mass data collection and algorithmic machines to state power.”
By Javier Zamora ’12
In Spanish, solito means alone—very alone. That’s how 9-year-old Javier Zamora felt when he left his native El Salvador to trek 3,000 miles among strangers and “coyotes” to join parents who had fled the U.S.-backed war years earlier. Already an accomplished poet, Zamora turns to memoir to recount his harrowing journey north. Francisco Cantú, a former Border Patrol agent turned author, calls Solito, which has already spent weeks on the New York Times bestseller list, a “landmark in the literature of migration, and in nonfiction writ large.”
Believe in Me
Directed by Erin Chessin, M.J. ’21
This mini-documentary follows Brenley Goertzen, former standout runner at Texas Christian University, as she excels in her sport, winning a Big 12 Conference title, qualifying for cross-country nationals, and breaking a school record. But athletic success can have a dark side.
“Breaking the school record was kind of the nail in the coffin,” Brenley says in the film. Like many Division I athletes, she suffered from an eating disorder, something that Brenley and her teammates suggest was encouraged by their coach, who insisted weight was the deciding factor in competition.
It’s a story all too familiar for collegiate runners, and it’s hard not to cringe as Brenley becomes gaunt and emaciated. “She does not look like Brenley Goertzen,” her tearful mother says at one point.
And Brenley wasn’t the only one struggling: Two former teammates admit they too had an eating disorder.
Things turn around, however, as Brenley begins to appear healthier, and she transfers to Cal for a better running experience. While the recovery process is largely left out of the documentary, watchers come away rooting for Brenley, who graduated in 2020. She now works as a journalist.
Believe in Me is available on Amazon Prime.
On The Same Page
Interior Chinatown, by Charles Yu ’97
Charles Yu’s award-winning novel Interior Chinatown was the On The Same Page selection for incoming students this fall. The program is designed to give new students a unifying cultural experience with classmates and professors to begin their journey at Cal.
On The Same Page was kick-started in 2006 when a donor offered to buy a copy of Stephen Hawking’s A Briefer History of Time for every first-year student in the College of Letters and Science in anticipation of the renowned physicist’s visit to campus later that academic year. Since then, selections have included Ang Lee’s film The Ice Storm (1997), Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical Hamilton (2015), and Tommy Orange’s novel There There (2018).
Yu’s novel won the National Book Award for fiction in 2020. Critics called it “darkly hilarious” (New York Times) and an “inventive satire about racial stereotyping” (NPR). Student reviewers praised the book for its storytelling and examination of Asian American identity and representation in media.
In a conversation with Berkeley theater professor Philip Kan Gotanda at the opening event of the program, Yu was asked what advice he would give to students. For starters, he responded, “Go to class. Coming back, I realized how special this place was to me. Also, that I didn’t go to class enough.”