In Its 8th Year, University of Alabama’s “Documenting Justice” Still Shining Spotlight on Injustice

Now in its eighth year, “Documenting Justice” continues to bring attention to injustices in the state of Alabama. The latest round of student films was screened Tuesday night at Tuscaloosa’s Bama Theater.

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When it comes to teaching students about diversity and difference, few exercises are more powerful than having students to research and produce their own films.

We are fortunate at The University of Alabama to empower non-media production students to do exactly that while at the same time bringing much-needed attention to cases of injustice right here in our state.

After eight years,  Andy Grace and Rachel Morgan deserve applause for sustaining a rather unique program known as “Documenting Justice,” where students labor for two semesters to learn the practice and process of making movies while  using the tools of an anthropologist to engage in indepth study of an issue or a community here in our state.

The end product of the two semesters of work is shared in a public screening in downtown Tuscaloosa at The Bama Theater.

This video previews the six films that were screened this evening at The Bama Theater:

The six films screened this evening provided SIX Important Lessons about Injustice in our own state:

  • Lesson #1  Birmingham’s Norwood community shows what happens when white flight collides with Interstate highway development.
    In “Norwood,” Filmmakers Myranda Bennett and Kelly Konrad took the ongoing discussion about urban blight to a new level by showing us what people in Norwood think about the abandoned homes in their neighborhood.  This could have been any community once on the cutting edge, but in latter decades has “gone down” as people have moved away.    The variety of interviews was what made the lessons in “Norwood” real.  I think this was the one of the top two films of the evening.
  • Lesson #2  Sexual assault is still a problem in 2014 and should be examined through the lens of those recovering from the assault.As unfortunate as sexual assault is, there’s been so much attention paid to it , you might think “Why is this still happening?” Abbey Pint and Megan Dillard didn’t just tell another story about rape based on the experience of the one who was assaulted.  They identified a range of female assault victims who focused on telling stories of how they are recovering, not just on the details of what happened.
  • Lesson #3 Disability and race are under-covered and can be depicted by looking at the experience of hearing impaired in the African American community.
    How do you negotiate the two types of difference of being black and not being able to hear?  Filmmakers Gabrielle Taylor and Johanna Obenda tackled this subject in an usual film with lots of sub-titles and silence.
  • Lesson #4- Alabama has a REAL PROBLEM with its laws for animal spay and neutering.
    My favorite film of the evening was “Fixed” where Connor Towne O’Neill and Kenny Kruse took their cameras inside the local animal shelter here in Tuscaloosa and the shelter in Shelby County.   But, they didn’t stop there.  They contrasted the situation in New England where many animals are transferred from Alabama and here in our community where there are not enough laws governing spay and neutering of animals.   I’m not a big pet lover.   But,  I found this particular film so informative.  It increase my sensitivity to a major injustice here in our state.
  • Lesson #5- You can tell a story with no interviews and narration.
    Filmmakers Kyle Leoparda and J.L. Clark may not have intended it.  But “Run of Mine” about the coal mining community is a good example of how to shoot a film and leave out the talking or the interview clips.   The natural sound of the coal mining in Brookwood provided an interesting twist on how to make a movie in a non-traditional fashion.
  • Lesson #6-  There is a ministry for an openly-gay Southern Baptist minister
    The final film, “Sanctuary” spotlights the difficult challenge facing Christians who are openly-gay.   Filmmakers Rachel Arnsen and Myah Wilder interviewed members of The Spirit of the Cross Church in Huntsville.   While a brief mention was of Leviticus, this film focused less on the theological debate and more on the spiritual lives of those who are living their Christian lives often away from their families.

Author: George Daniels

George L. Daniels is an associate professor of journalism at the University of Alabama. After spending eight years in the local television newsroom working as a producer at stations in Richmond, Virginia; Cincinnati, Ohio; and Atlanta, Georgia, Daniels moved from the newsroom to the classroom. He’s conducted research on diversity issues in the media workplace and change in the television newsroom as well as media convergence. Before going to work in television news, Daniels worked briefly as a freelance writer for The Richmond Free Press in his hometown of Richmond, Va.

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