After traveling the world—from Poland to Kenya to Hawaii—to produce social justice documentaries, the Boston College filmmakers screened their completed film projects at the 24th Annual BC Arts Festival.
The students created the documentaries in collaboration with British Columbia’s Jacques Salmanowitz Civil Courage in Film Program, which provides financial grants to filmmakers in British Columbia who seek to investigate global injustices and strive for social justice.
Salmanowitz, the program’s namesake, was a Swiss businessman who helped Swiss citizens escape behind German lines during World War II. Launched in 2001, the program assists filmmakers with advising and distributing their films while attempting to emulate the boldness of the program’s namesake.
“The Jacques Salmanowitz Program for Moral Courage in Film is dedicated to promoting the production of films that explore civil courage and providing role models for youth worldwide,” states the program’s website.
The presentation of the documentary began with an introduction by John J. Michalczyk, Director of the Salmanowitz Program and Chair of the BC Department of Fine Arts. He emphasized the seriousness of the subject matter of the films.
“I think our students did very well at capturing … social justice,” Michalczyk said. “Students get between $2,000 and $3,000 and travel there [to] some great places.”
The first documentary Water Security on Indian Reservations by Rourke Morrison, MCAS ’22, and Tyler Gollin, MCAS ’23 observed various Native American reservations in the American Southwest and highlighted the region’s ongoing drought.
According to the documentary, one in ten Native Americans in the United States does not have access to safe drinking water. But the documentary points out that sugary soft drinks are plentiful and morbid obesity is rampant among the Native American population. The film also addresses high levels of arsenic in water in Native American land, the decentralization of water sources in the Navajo Nation and Hopi Tribe, and the negative effects of EPA deregulation.
“Mother Earth is losing her patience,” said the documentary’s narrator. “The time for action is now.”
The next documentary La Vida in San Juan by Nicole García, MCAS ’22, contrasted the bright, effortlessly beautiful landscapes of Puerto Rico with the sombre stories of Puerto Ricans. The film shed light on the chaos of Hurricane Maria and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic in the island territory.
The film discussed Hurricane Maria’s impact on the island’s energy and food crises and perceived inaction and mockery of Puerto Rico by the US government. The issue of the government prioritizing commercial enterprises over the standard of living of Puerto Rican citizens emerged as a recurring theme. Puerto Rican and U.S. government agencies restored power to malls months before many homes in the same neighborhoods after the hurricane struck.
“They give us food to warm up that we couldn’t even warm up [without power]’ said one interviewee in Spanish.
the next movie Building bridges in Poland by Mary Zgurzynski, MCAS ’22, and Angelos Bougas, MCAS ’21, focused on Brama Grodzka, an organization in Lublin, Poland that supports improving Polish-Jewish relations in the nation.
Leora Tec, a co-founder of the Polish organization and the daughter of a Holocaust survivor, appeared frequently throughout the documentary and was present at Saturday’s screening. The documentary sheds light on the thousands of Jewish people in Poland who died in the Holocaust during World War II and explains that healing and empathy are the best ways to move forward.
“You have to understand this story if you want to understand why it’s so tragic,” Tec said in the film.
Other featured films included a documentary called Kenya Water Security Project: Protecting Our Children and The struggle for existence: making space in Poland’s “LGBT-free” zone, The latter concentrated on the existence of anti-LGBTQ homophobic zones in Poland. another movie Redfish Point: Stolen Land, Lost History and the Icons Who Built It focused on the lost history of the Redfish Point Native American community.
The last main film of the evening, Hawaii: The Price Of Paradise, got the most applause. The 31-minute film, created by Lauren Burd and Megan Traudt, both MCAS ’22, was the longest-running documentary and discussed the US tourism industry’s blackmail of the tropical beauty of the Hawaiian Islands. The documentary highlighted the beautiful coastlines of the archipelago while revealing the societal gentrification, land mismanagement and food crises that are also attributes of the island.
“The life of the land will be perpetuated in righteousness,” the documentary concluded, citing Hawaii’s first king Kamehameha I.