by Dan Habib, Filmmaker in Residence Institute on Disability at the University of New Hampshire
The shooting in Newtown, Connecticut caused shock and grief across this country that lingers – as it should – into this new year. We may never know what caused Adam Lanza to take those horrific actions.
What is possible to determine, based on research, are the educational practices that can help identify and support youth with a variety of emotional and behavioral disabilities.
Although his diagnosis is unclear, reports from Newtown indicate that Lanza was isolated, rarely left his home and was clearly experiencing psychological distress. Many students with emotional and behavioral disabilities – which can include depression, anxiety, ADHD, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and many other diagnoses – feel disconnected from their schools and communities.
Lanza’s violence is the exception, not the rule. Students with emotional and behavioral disabilities are more likely to be victims of violent crime than perpetrators. There is a far more widespread crisis for youth in the United States with emotional and behavioral disabilities: low rates of graduation and high rates of incarceration.
Less than 50 percent of students with emotional and behavioral disabilities graduate from high school, and these students are twice as likely as students with other types of disabilities to live in a halfway house, drug treatment center, or on the street after leaving school. A University of New Hampshire study found that 73 percent of the incarcerated youth at the Sununu Youth Services Center in Manchester, NH, had a diagnosed disability.
Effective school-based interventions can ease the pain of these students, raise graduation rates and help students connect with their community through mentors and peer groups.
Unfortunately, many schools still focus primarily on punitive discipline policies like “zero-tolerance,” which emphasizes the use of suspension and expulsion, and neglect to examine the root causes of problem behavior. Students who are suspended or expelled often drop out of school, which frequently leads to juvenile delinquency, arrests and prison. Zero-tolerance policies do little to improve school safety and disproportionately impact students with emotional and behavioral disabilities as well as students of color.
These grim statistics for students with emotional and behavioral disabilities fueled my desire to create a film that could be a resource to help educators, families and mental health professionals better understand and serve children with behavioral and emotional challenges.
The film Who Cares About Kelsey? focuses on Somersworth (NH) High School student Kelsey Carroll. When Kelsey entered high school, she was a more likely candidate for the juvenile justice system than graduation. She had a diagnosis of ADHD and carried the emotional scars of homelessness and substance abuse, along with actual scars of self-mutilation. As a freshman, she didn’t earn a single academic credit and was suspended for dealing drugs. Many wrote her off as a “problem kid” – destined for drug addiction and jail.
During Kelsey’s freshman year (2006), Somersworth High School had one of the lowest graduation rates in the state (nearly 1 in 10 students dropped out), and discipline issues were rampant. That year, the school implemented a proven approach called Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) to develop a concise outline of the behaviors that were expected of all students, establish clear guidelines for addressing discipline problems and create systems for identifying students that needed more intensive supports.
For students like Kelsey who were at the greatest risk of dropping out of school, Somersworth also implemented a youth-directed planning model called RENEW (Rehabilitation for Empowerment, Natural Supports, Education, & Work).
The results were dramatic: by 2010, Somersworth High reduced its dropout rate by 75 percent, and behavior problems were down by 65 percent.
Who Cares About Kelsey? is the story of Kelsey’s transformation from a defiant and disruptive high school student to a motivated and self-confident young woman who is living on her own and attending college.
It’s too late to reach Adam Lanza, who serves as a horrific example of a gap in our society’s ability to effectively identify youth in crisis, and intervene with services and supports. But it’s not too late to reach and support more than two million other young people in the United States with emotional and behavioral disabilities.
Who Cares About Kelsey? is screening across the country in 2013. For more information about the film and related mini-films, go to www.whocaresaboutkelsey.com. Dan Habib is Filmmaker in Residence at the UNH Institute on Disability and created the Emmy-nominated film “Including Samuel.”
The line up for the 2013 Sundance Film Festival has been announced and we are so excited to see filmmakers that we’ve worked with on this list! Congratulations to the teams behind American Promise, Citizen Koch and God Loves Uganda.
American Promise follows two African-American boys from middle class families as they navigate their way through 12 years at a prestigious New York City Prep school. The film is part of our Reel Education t collaboration, in which nine documentaries about various education issues came together for our residential training in February 2011.
Citizen Koch is the latest film by Carl Deal and Tia Lesson (Trouble the Water) that tells a story about money, power and democracy in the aftermath of the US Supreme Court’s decision to strike down limits on corporate political spending. The film was one of six films that attended our Reel Economy residency held in July 2012 in Washington, DC.
God Loves Uganda follows American and Ugandan religious leaders fighting “sexual immorality” and missionaries trying to convince Ugandans to follow Biblical law. Paige Ruane, the films’ outreach coordinator, attended our Reel Change: Managing Social Issue Film Campaign residency last spring in Washington, DC. At the residency, Paige along with a room full of filmmakers learned how to make strategic plans to get their films and media projects out to the right audiences and form effective partnerships with organizations working on the issues in their film.
We are thrilled about each! Be sure to check them out when you’re at Sundance.
On October 2nd, I attended a screening of Blue Vinyl (a documentary by Working Films’ cofounder, Judith Helfand about the hazardous effects of Polyvinyl Chloride, or PVC) at the Aperture Gallery in NYC. When I stepped out of the elevator onto the 4th floor, I was greeted by enormous photo prints of industrial Louisiana landscapes along the corridor of the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans.
Holy Rosary Cemetery and Dow Chemical Corporation (Union Cardbide Complex), Taft, Louisiana, 1998.
The Union Carbide Corporation purchased the property of the Holy Rosary Church, built circa 1866. A replacement church was constructed in the 1960s in nearby Hahnville, but the cemetery was left behind. In 2009, Dow (which now owns the complex) leaked 26,720 pounds of vaporized ethyl acrylate (EA), a Class II toxic air pollutant, into the atmosphere. No fine was levied, but Dow has pledged a $100,000 contribution to the Supriya Jindal Foundation for Louisiana’s Children, which is led by the wife of the current governor of Louisiana.
As I made my way around the gallery, I started to see the connection to this Blue Vinyl screening. The photos on display are a part of Petrochemical America: Picturing Cancer Alley, a collaboration between photographer Richard Misratch and landscape architect Kate Orff, which presents itself in a 240 page book exploring this region of intense chemical production and the detrimental effects the byproduct has on the land and the human beings that live right next door, in direct line of toxic chemicals.
A giant map that identified every chemical component manufactured by these factories took over one wall of the exhibit.
A map displaying the entire area of the United States connected to the Mississippi River as “Cancer Alley”.
After the screening, Gina Wirth of SCAPE led a discussion with environmental health historian David Rosner (who appears in the film) and Mike Schade (a co-creator of the campaign that was built around Blue Vinyl), Campaign Coordinator for the Center for Health, Environment & Justice (CHEJ). The Petrochemical America exhibit paired with the Blue Vinyl screening really brought back memories for David as he had spent a lot of time in Louisiana working on PVC related cases and he recounted stories of his time in Cancer Alley.
Although the film has been out in the world for 10 years, CHEJ continually uses it to hold screenings and discussions as it is still relevant to the issues faced by communities that live in close proximity to toxic chemical plants. Mike highlighted the successes CHEJ has had in getting corporations to phase out PVC products. These companies include Apple, Google, Target, and IKEA among many more. Currently they are focused on getting more NYC schools to go PVC-free. According to a CHEJ factsheet “children coming into contact with vinyl flooring have been found to have a higher risk of developing asthma, the #1 cause of school absenteeism and a leading cause of hospitalization for children”. You can read more facts about affects of PVC on children’s health on the CHEJ website. Below are some ways that you can take action now!
Switch to green cleaning products in your home.
Chemicals in traditional cleaning products can cause serious health problems in children, including, neurological disorders, learning disabilities, and reproductive problems. Use our green cleaning resources to make the switch in your home, school, or wherever you use cleaning products.
Form a Green Flag Team in your school.
CEHP’s Green Flag Schools Program for Environmental Leadership provides a framework for students to become environmental leaders and contribute to positive change in their communities. Through the program, students of all ages learn environmental concepts, investigate their schools, and identify solutions for making their schools safer and healthier. Download the Green Flag start-up materials.
Documentary filmmaker and educator George Stoney passed away on July 12, 2012, at the age of 96. Judith Helfand collaborated with Stoney on The Uprising of ’34 (POV 1995). (Photo provided by Judith Helfand)
Soon after the news of George Stoney’s passing was made public, POV asked me to write a few words about him and our work together on The Uprising of ’34, which was broadcast on POV in June 1995 — a fact we were both so very proud of.
Life’s divine symmetry had me start writing this on the way to a complicated shoot that I was very uneasy about. So as I searched for words to honor George — and mark a part of his life and work I was so fortunate to share — I found myself concurrently engaging in a ritual I’ve been doing ever since he was my teacher at New York University in the mid-1980s.
Part prayer, part meditation — I’m sure I share this practice with many of his former students, mentees and colleagues.
When the complexities we all face in the field — class, race and the inextricable power of our cameras — come slamming in at me, pushing me to find the most just and decent way to react, direct, retreat, forge ahead and gather my compassionate self, and fast — I ask myself, “What would George do?”
What would he ask? What would he look for? How would he find a way, as he always did, to inject his innate respect and kindness into whatever situation he was filming? How would he navigate those complexities of class and race and the long-term impact of systemic disparity, the kind that impacts generations — no matter which side of town they live on, no matter whether they worked in the mill or not.
George Stoney celebrates a birthday with Judith Helfand (directly behind Stoney), former students, colleagues, friends and family. (Photo provided by Judith Helfand)
This brings me right back to his one-of-a-kind office, his warm, always-open-to-us office on the 11th floor of Tisch (aka 721 Broadway). I am seated between his Selectric typewriter, which he used regularly even after email, his vast (expertly catalogued typed onto index cards) collection of videotapes (reel-to-reel, Portapak, Beta and VHS) dating back to the beginning of community access television and his most current address book at the ready. The worn brown leather is stained with his insatiable desire to introduce everyone who is doing good work, from all over the world, to others who need that work, or more important, need each other. In George’s hands and via George’s heart, that book helped catalyze a great number of enduring relationships, friendships and compelling collaborations that make up our documentary field and beyond.
I can see him. I can even hear him.
I channel his cut-through-the-B.S.-George Stoney-of-a-question that I could always count on to go straight to my heart and set me straight so that I can bring my most authentic self to this shoot.
“Judy, ultimately being compassionate and kind is more important than getting the scene — isn’t it? It might also be the only way you get the scene.”
Did he tell me this, or did I live this lesson when we were making The Uprising of ’34? Or maybe, I just need to hear it again. Perhaps it’s all of the above.
His were the kinds of questions that slowed you down, lovingly stopped you in your tracks and then sped you up so that you found a way to do the right thing for both your subjects and your production, the movement and the movie.
Like so many before me and so many after, I learned all this from him, first in his classroom, then in his office, then at his birthday parties out east at Betty’s and especially in the field when we were making The Uprising of ’34.
George was a middle-class Southerner who didn’t take the management job in the mill in his hometown of Winston-Salem offered to him by a mill boss on his paper route. He went to [UNC] Chapel Hill to study journalism which set him on the most amazing of trajectories.
And I was the consummate outsider, from an all-white suburb in Long Island with a mother who had iconic notions about the South. “Judy, just do me a favor. Don’t talk about unions too loud or tell too many people that you’re Jewish.”
“Mom, the movie we’re making is about unions. But don’t worry, I’m with George, and he’s a Southerner.”
The Uprising of ’34 was broadcast on POV in 1995.
But, George’s Southerness proved to be more complicated than either of us could have imagined. Many of the retired mill workers who were still living in the mill village 50-plus years later and who had participated in the 1934 strike, were either too loyal to the mill or too frightened for their granddaughters’ mill jobs to talk with us on camera. Or they had done such a good job of making people forget that they were union, when we found them, they just had to say, “Thanks, but no.” As I would often lament to George — if only they would tell us why [on camera] they don’t want to talk — or can’t talk, then we really make that a major part of the story.
Their reticence was both frustrating and a teachable moment — especially for George. In fact, he wrote about it in an article for Southern Changes: The Journal of the Southern Regional Council in 1994, around the time the film was a very good rough cut and we were poised to complete it:
“Rejection of any kind usually leads to self-examination. “Is there something about me,” I asked myself, “that makes these people reluctant to talk?” Soon I had to accept the fact that many people, especially the women, were more at ease talking with Judy than with me. The fact that she was a non-Southern who was young and pretty and enthusiastic and who, they assumed, knew absolutely nothing about the kind of life they were describing, seemed to give them assurance. On the other hand, I was a past-middle-aged professor whose inescapable class identification as a middle-class Southerner must have reminded them of the straw boss they once feared or the shoe salesmen in town whose contemptuous remarks made half a century ago stuck in their minds and still stung.
For gaining interviews with spokespeople for the textile industry management (and they have their full say in our film), my class and regional identifications were clearly an advantage. Some of the other males seemed reassured that “this pretty young Yankee girl you’ve got there” was accompanied by a fatherly authority figure who could vouch for her.
But, by and large, Judy was taken at face value. I had to sell myself…“
As I did, our collaborators, editor Susanne Rostock and director of photography James Stoney (George’s son), found George’s personal exploration and revelations about class fascinating. For a while we strived to make that a major theme in the film. It informed our process. It informed our interview style. It was the stuff of our conversations on long country roads going to and from shoots; it was smothered, covered, diced and sliced at Waffle Houses in Georgia, Alabama, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee and it was the subject of our most heated editing room arguments.
But despite our best collective efforts, blessed by George himself, his personal revelations did not wind up in The Uprising of ’34. In fact, the more that George found his voice and used it to explore the complexities of class and race, his and theirs, mine and ours, the more he was sure that if it was to be in the film, it could only be there to help frame the complexities; it could not take away from theiressential story.
This process ultimately helped us make one of our most critical stylistic decisions, one that determined the tone, tenor and pace of The Uprising of ’34. We had always expected to fill the analytical holes with captivating sound-bite savvy historians and other experts. But after many years of production, we came to see that the retired mill workers, no matter which side they were on — be they retired white mill workers or the few retired black mill workers we ultimately were able to find, be they those who worked in the mill or those who worked outside, under, along and around it, be they owners and managers and their grandsons, or “loyal” anti-unionists and trade unionists, be they those whose lives had been informed by that moment of citizenship and activism or those who had tried to ensure that no one ever knew what they had done — they were the experts. And they themselves needed to speak about their history. For George, this was as much an editorial decision as it was a political statement.
Years after we had made The Uprising of ’34, when George was teaching documentary production in Ireland at the New York University’s Dublin program, I had the privilege of subbing for him and taught his documentary workshop in NYC on the Washington Square campus. This was the same class that I had taken with him at New York University when I was an undergraduate in spring 1985. This experience, a circular miracle that never failed to amaze me, led to my teaching documentary production at New York University for the next seven years. And this was when I found out how much George had taught me about teaching – perhaps the greatest gift he ever gave me.
With George in our hearts, I wrote this in conversation with filmmaker/editor David Cohen and filmmaker/professor Beverly Peterson (both of them former students of George), neither of whom I would have gotten to know, love, work closely with or have taught [David was my student in that spring 2000 documentary workshop at New York University] were it not for George Stoney, his address book and his insatiable, magnanimous desire to bring together the people he loved.
So here is to these and so many, many, many other meaningful friendships and “workships” — quietly instigated and matched by our beloved George.
I offer this context because I don’t think the act of remembering George Stoney is a solitary one. I think it is a verb done with friends. So please call the friends and comrades he introduced you to. Ask them how they, their loved ones and especially their parents are. That’s what George would do. That’s the secret sauce. I am sure of it.
Or as he told me many a time, “Nothing will replace a good kiss or a handshake.”
Long live our Stoney friendships, our Stoney collaborations, our Stoney questions and all of our beloved Stoney answers.
And as they must be saying in Brazil (a place he loved and where he was truly loved back again and again), “Viva George!”
And the work continues…
“What will you do when the lights come up? What will they, the audience, do?”
This classic George Stoney question informed the making of The Uprising of ’34 (which you can learn more about at der.org).
Will they be more bitter, more stuck, more true to the ideas and assumptions they had when they walked in? Or will they be a little more willing to look around and see who they laughed with over the past 90 minutes? Will they be able to have more compassion for the other? Will they be more willing to sit with their discomfort? Will they be able to see life through that mill worker’s eyes and heart?
This spirit, this sense of responsibility for the use of a film after you’ve made it — that was the gift of studying, working with, creating and collaborating with George on a story that was so near and dear to his North Carolina-born heart.
When they ask, “What do we do?” what will you say? We will talk about George Stoney and his belief and that making a film is only 50% of the work. And the use of it is the other 75%.
The other 75% of the work — the art, sweat and work of using a film and engaging with an audience —was the inspiration behind me and Robert West co-founding Working Films in 1999 and with it the Stoneyship internship program. George was a founding board member. Almost 12 years later, Working Films is a national leader in linking nonfiction filmmaking to cutting edge activism proudly based in North Carolina.
Documentaries by George Stoney
Here are two opportunities to spend some time with George from the work-in-progress The Happy Collaborator by Mike Hazard, a filmmaker, colleague and archivist for George Stoney.
The Waiting Room, supported in part by our friends at The Fledgling Fund, is a film and hyper-local media project that presents a day-in-the-life perspective for patients and their caregivers in Highland Hospital’s E.R. waiting room. The film by Pete Nicks recently picked up the Special Jury prize at Silverdocs and is described by Variety as a “rock-solid vertié docu that provides ample evidence why our national health care system needs fixing.”Currently, tens of thousands of patients are not receiving the medical attention they need due to lack of health care as well as hospitals being underfunded. The Waiting Room is set for theatrical release this September and will premiere in New York, Washington D.C., San Francisco, and Los Angeles. The team behind The Waiting Room needs your help in getting the voices of both the patients and caregivers heard to a wider audience across the nation. They have launched a Kickstarter campaign to help fund The Waiting Room Storytelling Project with a deadline of July 27 to reach their goal. Help call attention to the thousands of underserved patients by making a pledge here.
Do you live in a community that has been impacted or likely to be by mountaintop removal, fracking, or a coal-fired power plant? Are you in a community where alternative energy solutions are being implemented?
Or, have you already hosted one of the Reel Power films and would like to explore the related issues around coal, gas, climate change and renewable energy solutions with your community? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then the Reel Power Film Festival may be for you.
Working Films is pleased to announce the launch of the Reel Power Film Festival and a Grassroots Mini-grant Opportunity. Reel Power is a collection of films that tell stories from the frontlines of our energy crisis and into our energy future and have the power to get your community talking and taking action. While anyone can host a Reel Power Film Festival, organizations and grassroots groups that are impacted by natural resource extraction, climate change or are tapping into renewable energy solutions are invited to apply for one of fourteen mini-grants to support their event.
We’ll offer mini-grants to frontline groups that are interested in bringing two or more of the films to their community this Spring or Summer. These grants of $250 cash with $500 additional in-kind will cover screening fees and other resources needed to put on a stellar event (such as venue rental, get the word out materials, etc.). Two to four of these events will receive a higher level of in-kind support valued at an additional $2500.
For more information on the Reel Power Film Festival, mini-grants and how to apply, please visit workingfilms.org/reelpowergrants. Contact Reel Power director Kristin Henry at khenry [at] workingfilms.org if you have additional questions along the way.
Working Films is proud to announce the documentary projects selected for Reel Aging: Real Change, an initiative supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. These eleven compelling documentary films and transmedia projects explore aging from varied perspectives and will be tied to the ongoing policy work and grassroots campaigns supporting older populations.
The collaborative of Reel Aging projects was curated to include films that reflect the highest caliber of film-making, feature the most pressing issues facing older adults, and celebrate elders.
These projects tell inspiring stories of active, engaged elders who are changing our culture’s typical perception of aging as well as stories that powerfully illuminate the personal and societal decisions most of us will face as we care for ourselves and our loved ones. Equally important, Reel Aging includes films focused on justice for often marginalized populations that are aging.
Age of Champions (Director: Christopher Rufo) is the uplifting story of a group of athletes—a 100-year-old tennis champion, 86-year-old pole vaulter, octogenarian swimmers, and team of basketball grandmothers—all chasing gold at the National Senior Games.
American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs(Director/Producer:Grace Lee) tells the story a 96-year-old Chinese-American activist and philosopher inDetroit who has dedicated her life to creating the next American Revolution. What Grace means by revolution and her journey through a century’s worth of social movements tell an unexpected story of how one woman changed herself to change the world around her.
Coming of Age in Aging America(Director: Christine Herbes-Sommers) is a multi-platform project that explores a social transformation unfolding across our – and other modern – societies. America is an aging society, and it’s not just about old people. This phenomenon will change everything: how we approach education, work, health, housing, transportation, technology, medical care, and the economy.
Communities for All Ages (Director: Yoruba Richen)is a work in progress that will document five diverse communities where older adults, teens, and young parents identify and take action on issues affecting multiple generations such as health, safety, life-long learning and immigrant integration.
The Genius of Marian (Director: Banker White) follows Pam White in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease as her son, the filmmaker, documents her struggles to hang on to a sense of self.
The Graying of AIDS – Stories from an Aging Epidemic (Director/Co-Producer: Katja Heinemann) is a multi-media, multi-platform documentary project and integrated educational campaign centered on a series of digital video portraits that draw attention to a startling fact: By 2015, half of all Americans living with HIV will be over the age of fifty.
Kings Point (Director/Producer: Sari Gilman) is a short documentary that portrays the complexities of life in a typical retirement community through the experiences of six of its residents, providing a bittersweet look at our ambivalent relationship with freedom, self-reliance, and community.
Old People Driving (Director/Producer: Shaleece Haas) is a short documentary film chronicling the adventures of 96-year-old Milton and 99-year-old Herbert as they confront the end of their driving years.
Parenting 102: The Sandwiched Generation Speaks Out(Director/Producer:Mary Katzke) explores issues common to families caught between caring for their elderly parents, their own younger children, and their careers.
Prison Terminal(Director/Producer: Edgar A. Barens) is a feature-length documentary that breaks through the walls of one of America’s oldest maximum security prisons to tell the story of the final months in the life of a terminally ill, elderly prisoner and the hospice volunteers—they themselves prisoners—who care for him. The film provides a fascinating and often poignant account of how the hospice experience can profoundly touch even the forsaken lives of the incarcerated.
Untitled Gay Retiree Documentary (Director: PJ Raval) traces a year in the lives of three LGBTQ seniors, and a lifetime of experiences, and confronts the realities of aging in the LGBTQ community.
Reel Aging: Real Change will begin with a four-day residency for these media makers to be held from March 23 – 26, 2012 near Washington, D.C. On Tuesday, March 27, the media makers will present their projects to regional, national and global NGOs, funders, government agencies, activists, and policy makers – all leaders in the field of aging who have a track record of supporting the rights, respect and health of elders. Together they will explore the ways in which the documentary film and new media projects can be used to protect and enhance the rights of older adults and advance personal and policy changes that will improve their and our lives.
After starting in festivals in Europe and the US, Our Schoolfinally had its premiere in Romania – a homecoming of sorts for the film and an event that we have been anticipating for almost six years.
We shot in a small town in Transylvania, a very real place in Northern Romania. Our intention was to begin to understand, and hopefully improve, race relations between majority Romanians and the Roma ethnic minority by showing under a magnifying glass the story of three spirited Roma children involved in a school integration project in Targu Lapus. After four years of production and two years of editing we ended up with a paradigmatic story of hope, squandered opportunities, and infuriating cultural and institutional inertia. And racism, quite a bit of racism. Some intentional, some merely reflexive, yet all of it profoundly familiar to all Romanians (ourselves, the filmmakers, included). This is precisely why we were bracing so hard and for so long for the Romanian premiere. We knew that in Romania, even more than in other places in Europe or the United States, Our School would be holding a mirror up to its audience – an unflattering one at that. And there are few things as counter-productive and virulent as unexamined, defensive racism.
We did what we could to prepare for the premiere in terms of press, NGO partners on the ground, and the main characters themselves. The NGO partners were as nervous as we were and chomping at the bit to use the film for their own purposes. The characters got to see the film on their own terms before the festival premiere, on the principle that it is cruel and unusual treatment to see your own story projected on a very large screen with a large audience before absorbing it privately. The kids had never been to the cinema before, so they were extra nervous. Our youngest participant, Alin, helped to lighten the mood by eating three ice-creams in rapid succession and contently throwing up right before the screening.
The press was lukewarm, understandably, since they had not seen the film, and the international success of the new Romanian cinema over past ten years has made them unimpressed with projects with the kind of international festival success that Our School has had). The online comments to the advance press coverage came exclusively from people who had not seen it, but assumed that no film on Roma would ever help. They made violent threats and personal attacks against our team for “destroying Romania’s image abroad.” We imagined they were people who had too much time on their hands, but we were still put on notice: Our School had the potential of generating a strong backlash, and that was the last thing we wanted to happen.
Matters were not helped much by the great folk at the Transylvania Film Festival who programmed us in the largest cinema they had: 750 seats. We worried that the seats would remain empty or would be filled with people who do not like what they seen on the screen.
We worried about everything.
Whatever fears we had were dispersed in the first five minutes of the screening. The huge audience laughed loudly at even the smallest jokes in the film. They clapped after particularly poignant lines, making the projectionist worried that they would not hear the soundtrack. They started sniffling, visibly moved towards the end. And, when the credits ended and we all lined up on the stage, we found them giving the children a standing ovation. For five whole minutes.
Alin turned to me and whispered: “Are all of these guys Romanian?” Yes, they were. And they were applauding the courage, resilience, spirit and sass of Alin, Dana, Beni – and all the Romanian friends they managed to make, despite all odds, along the way. The audience had connected to the kids, managing to see themselves in our film without defensiveness or rancor. They found ways to process and understand what they could change in themselves by the time the credits stopped rolling.
After the film…
A teacher confessed to treating her Roma students as inferior. I wanted to put her in touch with the New York teacher who confessed during our Q&A at the Tribeca Film Festival that she had been tracking immigrant children in special education programs because she herself lacked support and know-how to integrate them.
A local mentioned a case of segregation next door to the screening venue – an activist invited the audience to investigate the case, right then and there. A journalist mused about what the Ministry of Education should do with the film – we referred him to the principal in Our School, who despite an awareness that the film showed him in a light that was “a little too true” (his words), ended up generously saying that it is an extraordinary tool that should be used to train and inform people not only in Romania, but abroad.
There were also hugs – lots of them. Alin, Beni, and Dana said that they were treated, for that one night, better than they had been treated, cumulatively, their entire life.
The press reaction that came in response to the screening was no less enthusiastic. A journalist confessed an allergy to issue films and declared herself not only surprised, but cured. An editorial talked about how Our School is not only a film about Roma, it is a film about us. A reputed blog said the audience had come in with fixed ideas and had come out with the urge to apologize to Roma children on behalf of all Romanians.
We know this was an ideal audience in many ways – progressive, trained by ten years of challenging festival experiences, and moved by the presence of the children in the room. But having an initial reaction like this from hundreds of people gives us confidence in what this film can do. It gives us trust that the film can accomplish what we always intended: Point to a systemic problem, make us understand it in the most direct, human way, and do the hardest things of all – change hearts and minds and open up a some hope for the future.
Guest post by Mona Nicoara, Director of Our School.
STEPHANIE BLEYER produces engagement campaigns and raises funds for social issue documentaries. Some of her current and past clients include Academy Award nominees Gasland and Sun Come Up, BBC’s Why Poverty?, The Documentary Group’s 10×10, Errol Morris’ Standard Operating Procedure, Planet Green’s No Impact Man, PBS’ To Be Heard and OWN’s One Lucky Elephant. Stephanie has studied organic farming in Italy, bicycled across Cuba on a grant to study sustainable energy, created a documentary for Oxygen about her social action bicycle trip from Seattle to Washington D.C., produced a 35-city bus tour for the Eat Well Guide to promote family farming, produced an international conference for a 9/11 family group, produced the opening of Mercy Corps’ Action Center to End World Hunger, worked at a performing arts school for street boys in Kenya and managed displacement camps for thousands of tsunami survivors in Sri Lanka. Stephanie holds a Masters of Public Administration from New York University’s Wagner School of Public Service.
Stephanie Bleyer has a lot on her plate. How does she keep up with it all? Here’s what she told us:
I always have at least four interns working with me; they are my tentacles, my foot soldiers and my secret weapon. On average, 25% of the tasks I assign my interns are administrative and the rest of the work is challenging, creative and cerebral. To keep them engaged, I know I need to build their skill set and give them a sense of ownership over their work. I give them a lot of responsibility with minimal oversight, which empowers them and saves me a hell of a lot of time. There’s usually a one-month learning curve, I start out slow with them and then build up so they take on more and more responsibility and require less and less of my time.
Many social issue filmmakers involved in outreach and engagement campaigns would like to work with interns but are worried about quality control. How do you give meaningful work to interns and assure excellent outcomes?
The quality of interns can vary pretty widely but I’ve figured out a few simple ways to insure some quality control:
1. I only hire grad students, never post-grads and rarely undergrads (unless they are experienced and exceptionally mature). Post-grads will either quit on you once they find a paying gig or they will expect you to start paying them within a month of working. My interns work virtually so it doesn’t matter where they live but it does matter to me that they are current students enrolled in quality programs.
2. I don’t hire film students because they rarely care about learning about outreach and engagement. I hire writers and organizers, students studying marketing and communications and young people who are very passionate about the issue that the film addresses.
3. I post my job ad on career boards for the top schools in the country, never on craigslist or on filmmaking job boards and rarely Idealist. I also distribute the job ad through my social network and on the Facebook page for the film so I can find interns who are already familiar with the film.
During a number of our recent trainings and consultations, filmmakers have expressed concern that it takes too much time to train and manage interns. How extensive is your orientation and training of interns?
If you choose the right interns you shouldn’t need more than a one-hour orientation. I require them to read every page on the film’s website before the orientation and I expect that for the first month they’ll need some guidance and that it will lessen over time.
How often to you check-in with them and how do you make sure they are “on track”?
My interns check in every Monday morning and Friday afternoon. We email throughout the week and they call me when they’re stuck. We meet face-to-face maybe once or twice during the internship.
How do you create incentives for unpaid interns to stick with a project?
I incentivize interns in three ways:
1) I organize career building brown bag luncheons twice throughout the semester. During the brown bag I give them an hour lecture about getting, finding and keeping a job. Part two of the career-building luncheon is a one-on-one session where I rip their resumes to shreds and help them rebuild it. They love this.
2) I challenge them.
3) I only ask that they work 10 hours/week.
Are there pitfalls that you have learned to avoid in your experience with interns?
Top 5 lessons:
1) Commitment. I just lost two interns in a two-week time period. Two of these interns were grad students but weren’t receiving credit, and mid-semester they felt overwhelmed with the internship and school and work. If they were receiving credit, it would have prevented them from leaving. I make it very clear up front that I need a four-month commitment, and 99% of the time the interns live up to their commitment.
2) Generation Text. Most of my interns are afraid of calling people up on the telephone and I have to constantly push them to pick up the phone if they haven’t received a response to their emails.
3) Communication. Because my interns all work virtually, I need them to over-communicate with me. I constantly have to remind my interns to let me know where things stand.
4) Overwork. I have a tendency to pile work on my interns expecting they’ll get it all done efficiently and well. I’ll have the rare intern who can’t meet deadlines and ultimately creates more work for me with the quality of their work. They don’t last.
5) Dear Stephanie Bleyer. This is not a pitfall; it’s just a funny thing that every single one of my interns does when they first start with me. They think the proper way to address someone in an email is Dear first name, last name.
To inquire about Stephanie Bleyer’s audience outreach and engagement services, contact her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
How do you make your documentary film resonate with local audiences and issues? How do you build a bridge between community activist groups and the movements in your film? Watch how Deep Down’s film team is bringing together grassroots leaders from Appalachia with community leaders from across the country engaged in similar struggles.
Deep Down’s protagonist Beverly May, co-director Jen Gilomen, and outreach director Lora Smith traveled to Chicago for an ITVS Community Cinema Screening partnered with members of the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization (LVEJO). The group toured the Little Village neighborhood, a community known as “The Midwest Mexico,” to learn about their struggle to fight the abuses of several toxic industries including two massive coal powered power plant that are poisoning their air and people.
IMPACT is a series of videos created by Working Films and The Fledgling Fund focused on building film campaigns that ignite social change. Previous videos include “No Impact Man: Activating Your Audience” and “IMPACT: A Funder’s Perspective.”