05 Mar Statement on The Commons at True False
We are the filmmakers of a movie, The Commons, that screened last weekend at the True False Film Fest. Our film captures a small part of the important story of public protests and the successful removal of, Silent Sam, a Jim Crow era Confederate statue, at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, where we live. After the fourth festival screening of our film on Sunday, Courtney Staton, one of the filmmakers of a powerful documentary, Silence Sam, which documents these same protests from the perspective of the activists, delivered a strong statement against our film.
We take that statement very seriously. We hear the concerns of the activists and understand the importance of listening to them. Further, we sincerely apologize that our film has caused anguish to the individuals who appear in footage from the protests. We recognize that we could have communicated more effectively as we made our film. Although we reached out and offered all of our early footage to support their film, Silence Sam, and let them know we were making a film, we should have made more of an effort to get direct feedback from the filmmakers and activists as we worked to finish The Commons- and included them in the process in a direct way. Our film would have benefitted from their perspective and we hope that it still can. We also want to apologize for referring to Silence Sam as a student film during our Q&A last Friday; we recognize that using that terminology minimized Silence Sam; we think this film is important- and that it should be seen. It is our hope that we can screen our films together in the future.
The Commons is part of large body of work that we have created over that last 20 years. Each of our documentaries are varied and diverse in their subject matters but they are largely connected through a common thread of protest. Each film focuses on individuals challenging a powerful system, often unsuccessfully. Throughout these films, and as part of many other projects, we have spent a great amount of time filming protests. We see The Commons as a continuation of that work. However, the discussion we had on Sunday after the film is an important reminder that as filmmakers, and as people, we can get caught up in our own frames and become blind to important perspectives. At the same time, protests, by definition, take place in public spaces and are designed to be documented. In general, protestors gather to express their words and actions in the hopes that they will inspire others to act and to effect change. We filmed alongside dozens of other people and hoped our footage would help to amplify those voices. The concept of consent to be filmed at a protest is a more recent development and one that we are struggling to figure out how to integrate into our process.
As white individuals, we have a responsibility to challenge our own perspectives and positions of power when filming protests that involve historically marginalized groups. We are committed to understanding these broader perspectives, in relation to our film, and as part of a larger dialogue about documentaries and media in general. We hope that through dialogue we can address concerns within our film and work together to get both films seen and help foster an even more inclusive conversation around these issues.