Bright Lights Film kicked off its fall 2021 series on Wednesday, September 22 with the documentary “On These Grounds”.
The film was created by three alumni, Garret Zevgetis ’05, Kevin Bright ’76 and Christopher Dawkins ’16, who joined together with activists, geographers and North Carolina sheriffs to “expose over-policing in schools ”.
The Bright Lights film series, sponsored by Emerson’s Department of Visual and Media Arts, seeks to engage the Emerson community and the greater Boston area in conversations with visual media-related events. These events present the work of professors, students and alumni, which are followed by discussions and lectures given by experts in the field.
“At the heart of it is a series of academic films with a conversation after… the conversations are really more about the subject of films,” said series curator Anna Feder in an interview.
‘On These Grounds’ delves deep into the troubling history of South Carolina’s ‘disturbing schools’ law, and the ongoing struggle to get police out of schools after disturbing video showing police brutality goes viral . The documentary captures the reverberating tension that follows those involved in the video: South Carolina Spring Valley High School students Shakara Murphy and Niya Kenny, alongside Every Black Girl, Inc. activist and founder Vivian Anderson.
The viral video, from October 2015, shows Murphy, an African-American college student, sitting in her math class when a white school resources manager, Ben Fields, forcibly pulls Murphy out of his desk, throwing her across the classroom and kneeling on it. The assault was filmed and garnered national and international attention.
Anderson was in Brooklyn when she learned of Murphy’s assault. A member of the New York chapter of Black Lives Matter, Anderson felt that the right thing to do was buy a one-way ticket to Columbia, SC, and do whatever she could to draw attention to the situation. This is where she founded “EveryBlackGirl, Inc.”, A company that“ is committed to creating a world where #EveryBlackGirl can thrive ”.
Feder hopes that “On These Grounds,” like many showings in the series, sheds light on a social justice issue for viewers.
“[The documentary] is a very clear example of how bringing the police into schools is a fast track to traumatize students of color, ”said Feder.
Zevgetis, who directed the film, discovered the video after the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against South Carolina. The complaint was filed after Kenny, also an African American, was charged with “disturbing schools” and held in an adult detention center for standing up for Murphy and failing to comply with Fields’ orders. to sit.
“I thought the safest place in the world was a school desk, but apparently now it isn’t,” Zevgetis said during a webinar Thursday night.
South Carolina’s “disturbing schools” law was the only one of its kind in the United States. Derived from an anti-flirtation law enacted by the state in 1919, “Disturbing Schools” was a criminal charge against students who “disrupted schools in any way.” As of May 17, 2018, the South Carolina State Student Disturbing School offense was revoked.
“On These Grounds” features interviews coupled with stunning clips of South Carolina scenery, as natural background noise plays softly under the film’s soundtrack. The film delves into an in-depth analysis of South Carolina’s land history with the expertise of geographers like Jenae Davis.
The discussions are based on the idea that the earth can contain trauma, which means that the history of the earth can often reflect current problems. These discussions add a unique element to the documentary and set it apart from other social justice films.
Dawkins, the film’s cinematographer, used natural lighting throughout the film to add a subtle yet poignant touch. With subject shots that bring the documentary to life, Dawkins’ style of shooting immerses the viewer in the heavy topics covered in the film. This is illustrated when Anderson stands in a friend’s kitchen, in tears as he reflects on his past experiences with abuse and the education system that has failed him.
Dawkins’ ability to capture raw emotion, even in the simplest of gestures, demonstrates how “On These Grounds” breaks down barriers between viewers, crew, collaborators, and producers. The documentary is set up in such a way as to establish a link between viewer and collaborator, constantly drawing viewers’ attention to key points in the film.
“[Filming] is about being there and feeling people’s hearts, ”Dawkins told the webinar.
A conversation between Fields, a disgraced school resources manager, and Anderson midway through the documentary is particularly striking due to Dawkins’ ability to capture the tension in the play. In a wide shot of a table in front of a bright dining room window, Anderson and Fields are alone, facing each other at opposite ends. The frustration on both sides is palpable, to the point that the viewer is part of the conversation.
By creating a space where activists like Anderson have a platform to share their thoughts, both with a larger audience and an individual on the opposite side, “On These Grounds” educates and facilitates civil dialogue among viewers.
“If these conversations aren’t happening, then where do we go from there,” Anderson said in the documentary.
Feder explained why it was so important to show Field’s point of view through the conversation between him and Anderson, a choice she said humanized the former head of school resources.
“It’s really important to see him both as a person and as part of a system,” said Feder. “If he’s a ‘monster’, then it’s that ‘bad apple’ idea … and that absolves the larger structure.”
With cohesive questioning and storytelling, “On These Grounds” captures both sides of a narrative while simultaneously blaming harmful or false rhetoric. Zevgetis and executive producer Bright’s decision to get multiple perspectives from a variety of different sources allowed the counterpoints to stop the spread of disinformation.
Anderson’s ideas about reforming school resource managers and the school-to-prison pipeline were ahead of their time. Many of her feelings were shared during the Black Lives Matter protests that took place in the summer of 2020, another topic that was mentioned towards the end of the documentary.
“I’m not saying that children shouldn’t be held responsible. All we’re saying is “what does this responsibility look like?” Anderson said in the documentary. “We shouldn’t have a law where children are arrested for things they cannot be arrested on the streets for.”