On Tour: Newport News, VA

Usually when you’re sharing a social issue documentary, most people only want to hear about the issues. So I was glad for the chance to talk filmmaking with a group of bright, engaged cinephiles at the Christopher Newport University film club. Despite the fact that the school doesn’t yet offer production classes (the film club president had to create her own film major) the group is currently working on a collaborative “Exquisite Corpse” production inspired by a film that On Screen / In Person showcased last year. It sounds like a blast.

That evening much of the campus was occupied with a visiting Youtube star and a massive sorority party, but the coolest kids in the school were unquestionably the ones at our screening. I shared a panel with Elena Valdez from the Spanish department, a specialist in migration, and Angela Spranger, an instructor of management at the business school, who said her job is to teach managers how to avoid situations like the one in our film. That means paying a living wage, obeying all labor laws, and refraining from what she called “SPIT” tactics: spying on, intimidating and threatening employees. One professor asked me what advice I would give to aspiring documentary filmmakers, and I said, “try to pick a topic that lots of people are interested in right now.” It sounds obvious, but I wish I’d had someone tell me that when I was in my twenties.

Afterwards one student approached me to say he used to work at a fast food joint, and our protagonists reminded him of some his coworkers there. At the time, he thought he was just passing through to better things, but now, as a theater major, he’s realizing he might be back in a restaurant job before long.
All around the country we’ve been meeting people like this student: smart, creative young people stuck in dead-in service sector jobs. What if we could turn all this wasted creativity and talent toward making these jobs better?

Post by OSIP touring filmmaker, Robin Blotnick.