Students present films at human rights festival

Alyssa Villaire

The English Department hosted its first Social Justice Film Festival Wednesday, March 28 in the Warch Campus Center cinema.

The festival showcased seven films from the English class Literature and Human Rights, taught during Winter Term by Assistant Professor Lena Khor and assisted by award-winning filmmaker, Lawrence’s Artist-in-Residence Catherine Tatge.

The subjects of the films ranged from race and discrimination to the United States’ lack of language diversity in schools or lack of respect for privacy online. The films were a result of a term-long preparation process in which the students chose an issue involving Lawrence or the local community that they felt was important and needed to be addressed. They then made a short three to five minute film on that topic, using a combination of interviews and independent research.

While Khor could not be reached for comment, Tatge described her involvement with this class, which used a combination of literary analysis and film studies. “[Khor] wanted to challenge the students to make a short film instead of a simple visual presentation. She asked me if I would be willing to help her since I had been brought to help set up the film program at Lawrence.”

Tatge brought years of experience as a documentary filmmaker into this class. She helped teach the students about the proper way to film interviews and also how to visualize a narrative. “Students found it challenging because they had to learn how to focus on only one aspect of the story they wanted to tell,” she said.

Editing the films proved to be another challenge. To assist the students in this process, Tatge brought in Anna Johnson Ryndova. “I mentored a majority of the students on a one-on-one basis during the editing phase,” said Ryndova, “and I was surprised when several of them spontaneously told me how much more involved with and enthusiastic about the topic they felt as opposed to just writing a paper.”

She continued, “Many also commented how much they enjoyed the hands-on personal experiencing of the topic and simply how intense of an experience the film project was for them.”

The festival attracted people from both the Lawrence community and the Fox Cities area. “My favorite part of the event was [the festival’s] non-judgmental atmosphere,” said Tara Jensen, one of the Lawrentians in attendance. The audience was respectful of the filmmakers’ contributions, and one another. It was freeing to talk about things like race that are highly sensitive under normal circumstances.”

For Assistant Professor of Spanish Madera Allen, “Human Rights: The Next Big Thing?” by freshman Heather Carr was aptly chosen as the final film at the festival. “It was a nice touch to conclude with a film that pointed out the perils of sensational approaches to complex human rights issues, and encouraged audience members to learn more,” Allen said.

However, some people questioned the combination of filmmaking into a literature class. “While I really enjoyed the films, I am not convinced that an integration of film studies is appropriate in literature classes,” said Jensen. “Other than one film, which focused on human rights in the graphic novel “Maus,” I failed to see how literature factored into the filmmaking experience.”

Others, such as sophomore Nicholas Perez, saw the festival as an excellent example of the kind of education Lawrence provides for its students. “The integration of film studies into analyzing literary works reflects the interdisciplinary nature of a liberal arts education,” he said.

Overall, was the festival a success? Ryndova believes it was. “I think that Prof. Khor’s goal…was greatly fulfilled,” she said. “The film making process served students as a means to learn about the topic, think about it critically, and develop their own informed standpoint.”

For more information about the festival, please contact Khor, Tatge or Ryndova