After traveling across the world—from Poland to Kenya to Hawaii—to produce documentaries with the theme of social justice, Boston College filmmakers displayed their finished film projects at the 24th Annual BC Arts Festival.
The students created the documentaries in partnership with BC’s Jacques Salmanowitz Program for Moral Courage in Film, which gives monetary grants to BC filmmakers that seek to investigate global injustices and pursue social justice.
Salmanowitz, the program’s namesake, was a Swiss businessman who helped Swiss citizens escape from behind German lines in World War II. The program began in 2001 and assists filmmakers with advising and distribution of their films, all while seeking to replicate the courage of the program’s namesake.
“The Jacques Salmanowitz Program for Moral Courage in Film is devoted to encouraging the production of film concerned with acts of moral courage, providing role models for youth worldwide,” the program’s website reads.
The documentary presentation began with an introduction by John J. Michalczyk, the Salmanowitz Program director and chair of the fine arts department at BC. He emphasized the gravity of the films’ subject matter.
“I think our students have done extremely well in … capturing social justice,” Michalczyk said. “Students receive anywhere from $2,000 to $3,000 and travel [to] some great places.”
The first documentary, Water Security on Native American Reservations by Rourke Morrison, MCAS ’22, and Tyler Gollin, MCAS ’23, observed various Native American reservations in the American Southwest and highlighted the ongoing drought in the region.
According to the documentary, one in 10 Native Americans in the United States lacks access to clean drinking water. But the documentary points out that there is an abundance of sugary soft drinks and morbid obesity is prevalent in Native American populations. The film also addresses the 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 impacts of EPA deregulation.
“Mother Earth is losing her patience,” the documentary’s narrator said. “The time to act is now.”
The next documentary, La Vida en San Juan by Nicole Garcia, MCAS ’22, contrasted the bright, effortlessly beautiful landscapes of Puerto Rico against the somber stories of Puerto Rico’s inhabitants. The film highlighted the chaos of Hurricane Maria and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic on the island territory.
The film discussed the impact of Hurricane Maria on the island’s power and food crises and the U.S. government’s perceived inaction and mockery of Puerto Rico. The issue of the government prioritizing commercial enterprises over the living standards of Puerto Rican citizens appeared as a recurring theme. Puerto Rican and U.S. government authorities restored power to malls months before many houses in the same neighborhoods following the hurricane.
“They give us food to reheat that we couldn’t even reheat [without power],” one interviewee said in Spanish.
The next film, 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 the improvement of 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 highlights the thousands of Jewish people in Poland that 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 that history if you want to understand why it is so tragic,” Tec said in the film.
Other films presented included a documentary called Kenyan Water Safety Project: Protecting Our Children and The Fight to Exist: Creating Space in Poland’s “LGBT-Free” Zone, the latter of which focused on the presence of homophobic anti-LGBTQ zones in Poland. Another film, Redfish Point: Stolen Land, Lost History, and the Icons that Built It, focused on the lost history of the Redfish Point community of Native Americans.
The final featured film of the night, Hawai’i: The Price of Paradise, garnered the most applause. The 31-minute film, created by Lauren Burd and Megan Traudt, both MCAS ’22, was the longest featured documentary and discussed the U.S. tourism industry’s extortion of the tropical beauty of the Hawaiian Islands by the U.S. tourism industry. The documentary highlighted the gorgeous shores 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 is perpetuated in righteousness,” the documentary concluded, quoting Hawaii’s first king, Kamehameha I.