Recently, I spent two days at the Communities for Public Education Reform (CPER) convening, an amazing gathering of grassroots education organizers and the foundations that support their work. I went to support the Reel Education filmmakers and others who were leading a panel discussion, “Moving Hearts and Minds: Connecting Filmmaking and Organizing.” Because of their experience at the Reel Education convening in February, Ly Nguyen of CPER and Roberta Furger of PICO CA, organized the session. They pulled together a great team that included filmmakers, Roland Legiardi Laura of To Be Heard and Marcia Jarmel of Speaking in Tongues, as well as filmmaker Susan Zeig who made a powerful film about education organizing called A Community Concern. Marcia, Susan, and Roland spoke about the concrete impact their films have had so far. Check out this video to hear how Speaking in Tongues has already advanced multilingual education programs in a variety of school systems.
The panel was rounded out with organizers and advocates who have also used film and video and even created it. Cesar Castrejon of Californians for Justice and Liz Guillen of Public Advocates spoke about the video that they and allied grassroots organizers in produced to get the word out about a lawsuit they filed against the state of California. The suits demands that the state revamp its school funding formula and make other changes to assure equitable access to quality education for all kids. Rosie Grant of the Paterson Education Fund also shared how their organization used A Community Concern and opened the eyes of the superintendent of Schools in Paterson, N.J. about the possibility of parents and communities having extensive power and influence over decisions made in the schools. Here’s a video of her sharing other ways their organization has used film recently.
The response from the education organizers in the room to these stories was incredible. They were energized and wanted to know more about where they could access great films like these. Hello Reel Education… (more to come on that below). What I found most interesting was that while many folks in the room had produced their own short videos to advance campaigns, many had never hosted screenings or used clips of full length documentaries in their work. As someone who is engrossed in the work of using film on a daily basis it was a good reality check to know that for some organizers this is a new approach and that they might need direction and resources both on how to access films and how to set up successful events. Their feedback will definitely help to inform how we continue to roll out the Reel Education collaborative.
We also put together a mini film festival at the CPER convening featuring trailers and clips from all seven of the Reel Education projects and A Community Concern. The room was packed with folks who enjoyed a late afternoon break from workshop sessions to watch these high energy and emotional trailers. When the lights came up, hands shot up from folks asking how they could access all of the films. It felt good to have confirmation in yet another setting of the power of bringing this cadre of films together as a tool to make change.
In addition to the great responses to these films, just being at this conference was completely inspiring. I heard amazing speeches and presentations by leaders in the fight for educational justice. Here’s just a snippet of one by Pedro Noguera.
On top of that I had great conversations with individual organizers and with the filmmakers about ways that we might collaborate to strategically position the Reel Education films and others as resources for communities to plug into their organizing efforts. I left incredibly energized about our work on Reel Education.