Monday, July 29, 2013

Behind the Screen: Finding Refuge.

Note: Moving Pictures is featuring the filmmakers from the CSWE 2013 Virtual Film Festival sharing the stories behind the making of their films. Here's how you can see the films and vote for the Virtual Ovation Award. The award consists of a $500 prize and will be presented to the top-ranked film in the Virtual Film Festival, as determined by the audience.

Maya Navon, a member of the Tufts team for Finding Refuge, explains below the genesis for the film and the inspiring example of refugee Mani.

Finding Refuge emerged from an extremely challenging, yet enormously life-changing, college class. When we three filmmakers of Finding Refuge entered the course “Producing Films for Social Change,” we had no idea that we were about to begin an emotionally charged, fast-paced, and eye-opening period of our lives. In September 2012, we did not know how to use a camera, edit a clip, or even write a treatment.  Over the course of 3.5 months, we learned each and every aspect of creating a film, from the research stage to post-production, and emerged with a 20-minute piece that we were proud to share.

The idea for Finding Refuge stemmed from a class discussion about the topic of refugees. Armed with this very broad topic, we preceded to contact various refugee organizations. After weeks of trying to find just the right niche in this realm, we finally made a breakthrough with the connection to Natasha Soolkin, director of the New American Center in Lynn, MA. We knew that we wanted to focus on refugee resettlement in the United States, and in particular, the various challenges and triumphs that newly resettled refugees face when they arrive in the United States. However, we also knew that this topic would have no impact without a personal story. We knew we needed a refugee to share his or her experiences and that it would be no small feat to find someone. Luckily, Natasha had just the person for us who would bring a voice to this issue: Mani.

Once we connected with Mani, the documentary finally took shape. We spent countless hours interviewing Mani and his family, touring his home and office, and getting a glimpse into his new American life. We also spoke to a wide variety of experts and workers in the field of refugee resettlement to gain a broader understanding of the journey from a place of turmoil to a new life in the United States. In a few months, we had our final product, a piece that shed light on refugee resettlement through the story of one courageous, hard-working, and resilient man.

Our connection with Mani extended far beyond filmmaker and subject. He touched our lives with his story and made us realize the true meaning of strength. After spending 17 years in a refugee camp, Mani managed to keep his spirit and his thirst for success alive. The perpetual smile on his face reminded us to always stay positive, even in the face of hardship.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Behind the Screen: Behind Closed Doors--Voices From the Inside.

Note: Moving Pictures is featuring the filmmakers from the CSWE 2013 Virtual Film Festival sharing the stories behind the making of their films. Here's how you can see the films and vote for the Virtual Ovation Award. The award consists of a $500 prize and will be presented to the top-ranked film in the Virtual Film Festival, as determined by the audience. 

Robert Ambrosino, one of the team members of Behind Closed Doors: Voices From the Inside, discusses below the challenges involved in producing the film


Robert Ambrosino
Behind Closed Doors: Voices From the Inside is a feature-length documentary on domestic minor sex-trafficking (DMST) produced by master's-level graduate students enrolled in the summer 2011 Advanced Policy class in the Department of Social Work at the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA). Each of the courses in the UTSA Social Work Program has a master competency assignment; the competency assignment for the Advanced Policy course is to develop and implement a social welfare policy campaign that involves at least one community partner (in this case, a community mental health services agency that was large and quasi-public). Students choose the topic to be addressed by the campaign (DMST), the type of campaign to be used (public awareness), the target group(s) addressed by the campaign (general community), and the methodology used to carry out the campaign (video documentary).

DMST was selected as the topic for the campaign for the following reasons: 
  • the locale of Interstate I-10, which crosses Texas, is a major conduit for DMST, and runs through San Antonio;
  • the need to dispel myths about DMST among members of the general community;
  • the desire to build on the work of a senior state senator from San Antonio who has worked tirelessly on passing legislation aimed at preventing and eradicating DMST; and
  • the availability of a key informant who had direct access to current and former victims of DMST.
Although there was a high level of enthusiasm among members of the class to undertake the making of the documentary, no one (including the course instructor) had any experience in creating such a product. The students’ social networks were tapped to identify a videographer who was willing to work with class members on a pro-bono basis to produce the documentary. A young, untested videographer with a limited portfolio but a passion for social justice offered his time and talents to help make the documentary. The class had 10 weeks in which to produce the video. The informant provided access to current and former victims of DMST, all of whom were interviewed, but only some agreed to be included in the documentary. Several nights a week (and occasionally on a weekend), students accompanied the informant into parts of the community where DMST could be found. The class instructor used his contacts to secure interviews with individuals and organizations in the community who were engaged in a variety of efforts to prevent and eradicate DMST. Approximately 100 hours of video footage were shot.  

There were a number of challenges associated with making the documentary. First and foremost was ensuring the privacy rights of the current and former victims of DMST who agreed to be in the documentary. A related challenge was protecting victims of DMST who agreed to be in the documentary from retaliation by their traffickers. There also was the daunting task of completing the project in such a short time. It was extremely difficult to hear the stories of teenage girls, some of whom had been trafficked since they were as young as 8 years old or forced by their parents into life as a sex slave (familial trafficking). Equally difficult were the stories of adult DMST survivors who bore long-lasting emotional scars of being trafficked and had lives filled with violent relationships, drug addiction, homelessness, and incarceration. It is noteworthy that one woman who had been interviewed and agreed to appear in the documentary was found dead in a motel room under suspicious circumstances before the film was released (the film is dedicated to her memory). On several occasions, the students were confronted with the possibility of physical harm as a result of being in parts of the community in which they clearly did not belong and attempting to speak with people with whom they were not supposed to speak. It is important to point out, however, that student safety was of paramount importance, and never were students allowed to enter a situation where their well-being was clearly compromised.

The main relevance of this work for social work instructors is that it provides a transformational learning experience that simply cannot be found in the classroom. Students set the learning agenda for the class. The instructor ensures a safe space for playing out that agenda. Students are afforded the opportunity to gain knowledge about policy advocacy through a compelling real-life experience.

Update. Behind Closed Doors: Voices From the Inside has received the CSWE Virtual Ovation Award. The film will be shown at CSWE's Annual Program Meeting in Dallas on Saturday, November 2, at 5 p.m. in the Hilton Anatole's Metropolitan Ballroom, followed by a Q&A with Ambrosino.

 

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Behind the Screen: Pieces of the Soul.

Note: Moving Pictures is featuring the filmmakers from the CSWE 2013 Virtual Film Festival sharing the stories behind the making of their films. Here's how you can see the films and vote for the Virtual Ovation Award. The award consists of a $500 prize and will be presented to the top-ranked film in the Virtual Film Festival, as determined by the audience. 

Filmmaker Spencer Sullivan discusses below the background to Pieces of the Soul, his film on Utah artist Matt Clark. 

Filmmaker Spencer Sullivan
I was introduced to Matt Clark, the subject of my film, because I was dating his niece. The first time I met him, I felt like he was an old friend. His house had many unique sculptures inside and outside. I was intrigued how a man in a wheelchair, who had limited use of his hands, was able to create such beautiful masterpieces out of metal, some quite large. A few weeks later, I approached Matt and asked if I could make a film of his life story. He consented.

The film, which took 2 years to make, was my senior capstone project while I was pursuing my degree of digital motion picture production at Dixie State University.

One of the most memorable moments during the film came nearly a year and a half into the project. Matt was comfortable with me being around and constantly having a camera on him. One day, he discussed the many frustrations of his life and how differently people treated him for being in a wheelchair. It became a major piece of the film when he was able to convey his true feelings and frustrations and show how he had to learn through time to define himself. He created his own meaning of life through his experiences.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Behind the Screen: Got You.

Note: Moving Pictures is featuring the filmmakers from the CSWE 2013 Virtual Film Festival sharing the stories behind the making of their films. Here's how you can see the films, participate in online conversations with the filmmakers, and vote for the Virtual Ovation Award. The award consists of a $500 prize and will be presented to the top-ranked film in the Virtual Film Festival, as determined by the audience.

Filmmaker Bianca Morris discusses below the background to Got Youher film about a mother contemplating suicide. Join Morris for a Twitter chat on her film on Thursday, August 29 at 8 pm EST; hashtag #SWUnited.

Filmmaker Bianca Morris
When I was growing up, my mother was my everything. She is a beautiful woman, a caring mother, and an extremely hard worker. My father was never around, and I have no brothers or sisters, so it was just my mother and me. 

I noticed my mother was often sad, so often that it was certainly depression. As a child, I didn’t know what to do about it. I would try to make her proud by doing well in school and trying to not pester her at home, but her sadness never seemed to go away. She struggled to keep up with the bills, attend college courses at night, and work as a teacher’s assistant during the day. She would constantly let me know that I was not the cause of her sadness, but all that meant to me was that I couldn’t do anything to help her, even though I so desperately wanted to.

Along with the need to cure her came a wave of anxiety that stayed with me even to this day. I constantly worried about what would happen if my mother got so sad that she would decide to run away and never return, or even worse, kill herself. I often make films about my life, usually for the relief of getting it out of my system, and Got You was no different. Making this film was somewhat of a personal therapy for me. My hope is that it will touch audiences and lift stigma about depression, anxiety, and suicide.

   

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Participate in the CSWE 2013 Virtual Film Festival.

You can now view, rank, and discuss the nine films selected for the CSWE 2013 Virtual Film Festival. The festival’s student-produced films focus on areas such as cross-cultural adoption, disability, LGBT issues, refugees, sexual abuse, and suicide. The winner of the Virtual Ovation Award—the top-ranked film of the festival, as determined by the audience—will receive a $500 prize.



How to Participate
  1. Sign into or register for Google+
  2. Go to "Communities"
  3. Search for "CSWE Film Festivals" and click on the Film Festival logo
  4. Click on "Ask to Join"
Once you are a member of the community, you will be able to view the films and complete the rating sheets online as well as participate in conversations with the filmmakers. The festival will run until September 6.

Questions? E-mail CSWE.