By Abby Weingarten
Inspiring cultural dialogue is the goal and cinema is the medium as the second annual “Visions of the Black Experience” film series returns to New College this week.
From November 12 to 22, the free virtual festival is set to showcase 30 selections (including both local and international features and shorts) that illuminate historical, social and cultural aspects of Black life. This year, the overarching themes include social justice, youth engagement and activism, and healthcare in the Black community—all issues that have been at the forefront of the collective conversation throughout 2020.
“With many of the selections this year, we want to reflect on our history—where our country has been—and to understand the power young people have when they use their voices to stand up and make a difference,” said Bill Woodson, Ph.D., an event organizer, and New College’s chief diversity officer and dean of outreach.
One of the selected films emphatically makes Woodson’s point—a documentary entitled Into the Storm, which students at Sarasota’s Booker High School produced last year. It is a true story about young activists who fought to keep their cherished, predominantly Black Newtown institution open at a time when court-ordered desegregation led to mass closings of Black schools countrywide. The story is particularly poignant, as it takes place in the same year that Booker’s dominant men’s basketball team ascended to win the state championship.
“Today’s political environment has caused many young people to question whether their voice matters,” Woodson said. “Well, this film provides strong evidence that it does.”
To delve further into this discussion, festival organizers have invited students from Booker, Sarasota High School and Southeast High School (among other institutions) to join a live post-film talk via Zoom on November 19. “Visions” sponsors are also funding a major gift to benefit Booker’s Visual and Performing Arts (VPA) program—a gesture that speaks to the community-building component of the festival itself.
The inaugural “Visions” series was in-person and on-campus, and it drew about 800 people from New College and the local community. Current event organizers on the New College side include Woodson; adjunct professor Dr. Lisa Merritt; Stacey Campo, Ph.D., director of community outreach in the Office of Outreach and Inclusive Excellence; and Queen Zabriskie, Ph.D., associate professor of sociology.
The series is also a local collaboration led by the Sarasota Film Festival, the Community Foundation of Sarasota County (lead financial sponsor), the New College Foundation, the Charles & Margery Barancik Foundation, the Boxser Diversity Initiative, The Ringling museum, the Multicultural Health Institute, and the Manasota Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH).
This year’s film lineup includes a retrospective of late actor Chadwick Boseman (with the screenings of 42 and Get On Up); locally-made films like 9/11 Kids and Sincerely, The Black Kids (the latter is by alum Miles Iton ’14, who is also screening a short film in the series); and acclaimed festival selections such as Pahokee and American Trial: The Eric Garner Story. The series will offer corresponding panel discussions and live question-and-answer sessions with the filmmakers, as well as pieces from the COVID-19 student PSA contest at New College.
“When we highlight films created by college and high school students, and films that center on their voices, it’s empowering. It shows that there are ways they can give their voice reach and power and permanency,” Woodson said. “It shows young people that, if they have passion and a story to tell, they can turn their vision into reality.”
Abby Weingarten is the editor/writer in the Office of Communications & Marketing.