Students Screen Social Justice Documentaries from Around the World

Social Justice Film Screenings

This past Saturday, while many were outside basking in the heat, a group of students gathered inside Devlin Hall’s air-conditioned screening room to support a couple of Boston College’s best student filmmakers. Each and every year, the BC fine arts department gives students the chance to spend the summer abroad, making a social justice documentary. Funding for the grants is offered by the Jacques Salmanowitz Program for Moral Courage in Film and the LaMattina Film Scholarship, which are designed to help inspire and ensure the creation of films with an ambitious drive to improve the world. Students are given the initiative to film where and what they want, and the project eventually comes together with the help of John Michalczyk, director of the film department.

First to present was Audra Hampsch, MCAS ’17 and a member of BC field hockey, who has dedicated much of her time at BC to creating socially conscious documentaries. Before the first film screened, Michalczyk introduced Hampsch by talking about the many projects she has undertaken over the last four years, visiting countries including Germany and Israel to create films. Hampsch presented two films on Saturday, the first of which being one she edited, Mary Dyer: Death of a Quaker, and a film she directed, wrote, and edited, titled Berlin: Remembering the Holocaust Through Art.

Clocking in at around 27 minutes, Mary Dyer: Death of a Quaker tells the story of Mary Dyer, exploring how America was founded upon a culture of religious intolerance and hatred. Dyer was a Puritan, born in England in the early seventeenth century before moving to the ‘new world.’ When she arrived at Massachusetts Bay Colony, Dyer came into conflict with those Puritans in the colony who believed in a ‘covenant of works,’ that following a moral code would bring you closer to God. Dyer, rather, believed in a ‘covenant of spirit,’ which contended that faith alone is needed to achieve salvation. Through the use of talking heads, Puritan artwork, and documents, the filmmakers show how this conflict came to a boil throughout New England. The documentary then describes Dyer’s eventual conversion away from Puritanism by becoming a Quaker. This film consequentially observes that the widely promulgated idiom that the Puritans left England for religious freedom is false—America was, evidently, founded by an extremely intolerant sect of Christianity. The film promptly ends with Dyer hanging in the gallows, killed for being a Quaker in Massachusetts in 1660.

Immediately following this film, Hampsch briefly introduced and began screening Berlin: Remembering the Holocaust Through Art—a film interested in the role of art in a broken society. Prior to the World Wars, artists were left to wonder how beauty and art can exist in a world that just gave way to the Holocaust. One of the talking heads mentioned that at some point, German children began asking things like, “What did you do in the war, daddy?” Once these difficult questioned had been asked, recovery and healing could begin as monuments began popping up around Berlin. These modernist structures—beautifully depicted and described in the film—are meant to draw attention to themselves, standing as a constant reminder of the atrocities committed against Jews, homosexuals, the Romi, and euthanasia victims. The culmination of the images of contemporary Berlin, alongside numerous talking heads and voiceover helped create a wholesome and sobering image of how an epicenter of evil can, with time, become unflinchingly remorseful.

Lastly, Matthew Michienzie, MCAS ’17 screened his newest documentary, Unwitnessed and Untold, about Jehovah’s Witnesses’ response to the Nazi regime in Germany. Matthew begins the film by drawing a clear and distinct thru line between the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ refusal to adhere to Hitler’s requests, and Colin Kaepernick’s decision to kneel during the national anthem in 2016. Much of the film revolves around a Bavarian woman describing how and why her family was taken from her unfairly, for the Nazi’s targeted Jehovah’s Witnesses for refusing to support Hitler’s regime. This woman urges all viewers that, “it is possible to say no.” Resistance to power structures, it seems, is not only encouraged but often necessary to keep powerful bodies from harming the helpless. This personal, often moralizing film searches for answers in the rubble of tragedy in an attempt to inspire future generations.

Featured Image by YouTube