For the last decade, I have been reading and writing about the potenial of documentary to engage large scale popular publics, local communities and everything in between. Additionally, I have been circulating five short documentaries as an experiment in my own creative inquiry but also in gathering insights that might jar this question of documentary and community engagement. What I learned long ago is that there is a great academic and cultural divide between those who produce documentary and those who study and write about it….and that difference matters when it concerns understanding community engagement and social change. I am in the process of exploring the ways in which this divide matters in how we theorize and historicize the social transformation potential of documentary. Additionally, this divide discourages scholars to include practitioners as part of their audience. I am suggesting insightful scholarly work on documentary could, more frequently, function as a springboard into activist arts practice as well as practice informing how we theorize.
778 Bullets screened on September 6th as part of the Sustainable Living Film series at Longbranch Coffee House in Carbondale. In the sixth community screening, the audience was mostly a combination of locals, followers of the Sustainable Living Film Series, university students and faculty. Most of our other screenings had been based out of community centers, church basements, grade schools and other such venues that produced a crowd not directly connected to the university. As at most local screenings, conversation begins with a focus on historical details, understandings of power relationships and the social construction of history. But the consistent theme throughout our community screenings is that most of the discussion involves the documentary screen as a sounding board for a host of normally unspoken issues about race in the local community including how history impacts the current educational enviornment and police relations.
With every new community screening we have gathered another cross-section of the town, interested in unearthing historical detail, stories vanishing with time, as a means to better understand the present.
Our next screening of 778 Bullets is at the Carbondale Public Library as a part of the 11 days of Peace sponsored by Nonviolent Carbondale. Join us Sunday October 27th at 2:30 for another discussion about Rural Civil Rights.
The Community Racial Justice Coalition that emerged from the documentary will meet on Thursday, Nov 7 at 7 pm, Church of the Good Shepherd.