Inspiring Passionate Dialogues at Community Screenings

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Jessica LeeI recently read an article by Dana Gioia titled “Connect the Prose and the Passion.” In the article, Gioia explored the etymology of the word “passion,” revealing that it comes from the Late Latin word passio, which means “suffering”.

What does any of this have to do with documentaries? This month, I attended a screening of Revolution ’67 (POV 2007) hosted by Civic Frame and Alpha Phi Alpha, Inc. at the New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.

The screening was followed by a discussion with April Yvonne Garrett, president of Civic Frame, and filmmakers Marylou and Jerome Bongiorno. Given that Newark, NJ is just across the way from New York City, many audience members had had experiences there as teachers, residents, and visitors. One woman from California recounted her experience living through the Watts and Rodney King riots. “We didn’t get a supermarket in Watts until 1989,” she added. “The riot was in 1965.”

The personal stories that people shared after the screening showed the pressing need for documentaries not only to be seen, but to be discussed. These types of films record a shared history and engage viewers on a personal level. But another thing that the discussion made me realize was the inherently subjective nature of documentaries when an audience member asked, “What is the role of the filmmaker?”

It is always interesting when conflict arises from a screening. Many times, people are just happy to be part of an event or too bound by social norms to complain. However, at the end of this particular screening, there was one gentleman in the audience who was upset over what he perceived to be the filmmakers’ hands-off approach to making any real change in Newark. Essentially, he argued that they “made a good film” but still spoke from a pulpit, and not from the trenches. April graciously gave him time to speak, and the filmmakers accepted his critique while offering their own opinions. It may have been a heated, uncomfortable moment, but this exchange also addressed an important point. It heartened me to see that the films we air on POV are able to entice such provocative commentary and encourage communities to come together through constructive, even if sometimes painful, dialogue.

I know I’ve digressed a bit, but let us go back and revisit the idea that passion is linked, at least etymologically, to suffering. Perhaps it is the case that when people — whether they are filmmakers or audience members — are passionate about certain subjects, there may be an element of suffering involved; that learning is not always simple, that it can bring us to question our motives and ourselves, and ultimately, that though grappling with different perspectives is complex, it may help us gain a better understanding of difficult issues.

Jessica Lee
Jessica Lee
Jessica Lee was a former Outreach and Development Manager for POV.
  • http://HTML Pamela McGoughy

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    Hi Jessica,
    As I was reading your commentary, it reminded me of a time back in the early 60s. Negroes could not use the same public places as our greater race could. This also reminds me, that someone in the greater race had compassion and mercy, not just for one race, but humanity. As I understand, Eleanor Roosevelt had a great impact on this nation for all humanity. I always knew I would have great blessings in my life regardless of the circumstance, which brings me to say, I feel as though Im posting my work to an online class, which I have experienced. Out of respect for our fellow students, we had to login in 5 out of 7 days per week. All students had to read what the other had posted and then critque, or comment in a way to get the person to thinking ,or expand their vision on the subject matter. As I write to you, I find it to be inspiring. I did not attend college after high school, because my parents was not well eduated when it came to filing for financial aid. They were always scared . Said they did not ever want to get in trouble with the government. I told my mom I was going to the navy. That was out of the question. In 1974, I was to get married and become a homemaker. Ok, so I did., but the passion and thirst for knowledge kept burning from within. Say, Jessica? are you going to read this?
    At my age, Im yet working on being all that I was created to be, despite the racial hatered I experience from all race of people. The bible book of Isaiah 45:7 says, I formed the light and create darkness, I make peace and create evil; I the Lord, do all these things.''
    So, my point is , we all have had struggles, and yes, all filmakers are the first to feel the passion , love, hurt and pain of a film that is burning from within. The sleepless nights they have just thinking about it.
    I know what it is like to have that passion,but you and Katrina Brown has all the necessary credintals to get the job done, which is a blessing. At this point , I
    m still playing catchup, financially because of injustice, but I know, God will never go back on his plan and purpose for my life, as I stay obedient to him and all his ways.
    So, I will keep taking the necessary steps daily to make the accomplishment.
    Thank you Jessica,
    and God bless you and all of your family.
    Regards,
    Pam Mcgoughy
    pmcgoughy@comcast.net

  • Jessica

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    FOREIGNPARENTID:
    Dear Pam,
    Thank you for your thoughtful comment and yes, I did read it!
    I am glad you have a passion for life and I hope you find the rest of our season’s films enlightening.
    Best,
    Jessica

  • Maryann Robinson

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    I believe the pain of finding out or discovering truth is painful, when you discover that you are racist because of the foundations built in America it leaves you and us as victims of evil. Honestly when I found that my in daily practices and the way I looked at life was greatly influenced by those of European descent. That I was in fact oppressed due to the environment and dysfunction caused by the society my parents grew up in that I grew up in, I sat at home day after day wrestling with I was oppressed I wasn’t. oppressed. I did not know what to do. Once I dealt with it and accepted it; I had developed the ability to pull away from it and recognize it when it was happening. Recognize that I was straightening my hair for social acceptance dressing for social acceptance. My daughter was affected like me by TV and books, magazines never seeing people that looked like her. She did not like being black she told me, I don’t want to be black. I told her she was not black but brown and we would not accept the label of black nor the label of white for our friends. I had to teach her and reteach my son who had clear signs of oppression when he said “he did not want to go to the family festival in the ghetto” he considered the ghetto were Afircan Americans lived and gathered as a ghetto. I informed him that I nor him had any idea of what a ghetto life was like let alone what a ghetto really looked like , it did not look like the neighborhood we lived in even if it was a disinfranchised area of town. The day my daughter completed kindergarten she said mom I am glad to be an African she now understands she is African Indian and also has some genes of the Irish my grandmothers first grandfather who was an Irish American.
    Thank you for allowing the conversation to go on as we talk about this we make movement when we do not talk we are stagnant and we have been stagnant for to long. I work in the field of Early Childhood the current research indicates that are youngest children can be saved from most of the traumas in there lives and we have to do it or none of us will succeed. Rascism causes trauma which produces abnormalities in the developing brain. We must succeed ; we must.
    PEACE, sincerely
    Maryann Robinson