WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Silver Spring-based nonprofit organization Docs In Progress will present the second installment of its Docs In This City this weekend. Docs In Progress is the brainchild of its executive director, Erica Ginsberg, a graduate of Albert Einstein High School who became interested in documentary production while taking classes at Montgomery County Public Schools’ Visual Arts Center. Docs In Progress supports aspiring filmmakers by connecting them with established documentary producers and providing venues for public screenings.
In July, Docs In Progress presented the first installment of Docs In The City, an NEA-funded series which pairs aspiring and established documentary filmmakers whose works share a common theme.
For this installment, filmmaker Michèle Stephenson will present her acclaimed documentary “American Promise,” which she co-directed with her husband Joe Brewster. The film, which follows two middle-class African-American youths from Brooklyn over 13 years at the prestigious Dalton private school, won the Special Jury Prize at the 2013 Sundance Festival and was featured on the PBS series “POV.”
“As a child, growing up in a Haitian and Latino household and the larger African diaspora communities in North America, I continued to overhear stories about the history of our island relating to race, color, class, colonialism and human rights,” said Stephenson. “My own parents’ sense of identity and the color politics they brought with them across the ocean informed my experiences and my making sense of the world that surrounded me, as those notions collided with the racism, segregation and discrimination we faced in our adopted countries. Family members would talk about good hair and the need to ‘better’ the race, while simultaneously we were being called the N-word in my school. Those experiences fueled my passion to dig deeper into the consequences of our deeply painful common history of slavery and colonialism and how we continue to internalize such self-hatred. Those experiences and discussions also informed the various career paths I would take, ultimately leading me to independent documentary film.”
Stephenson’s passionate interest in human rights issues led her to study law at Columbia University, where she met Brewster, who abandoned medical studies to pursue filmmaking. When she went to Brazil as an intern working on anti-racism legislation, Brewster encouraged her to take a camera along to document the experience, which Stephenson cites as the experience that led her to pursue documentary filmmaking as a career.
“American Promise” will be screened at American University’s Malsi-Doyle-Michael Forman theater in tandem with “Unfinished Work,” a film by Stephanie Lucas and Josh Kasselman, which profiles Eric Chavez, a teenager attempting to both establish his artistic identity and find peace in his family.
The event will be held on Saturday, Oct. 7, on the second floor of McKinley Hall at 4400 Massachusetts Ave., NW, on the American University main campus in Washington, D.C. “Unfinished Work” will be screened at 1 p.m., “American Promise” at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $10 for either screening or $15 for both. Additionally, Stephenson will participate in an interactive discussion on “Representation in Documentary” at the University of Maryland, College Park’s Hornbake Library the following day, Sunday, Oct. 8 at 1 p.m.
“I saw Michèle lead a ‘Morning Manifesto’ on the topic at the DOC NYC Film Festival in New York two years ago, and I knew this would be an important topic to discuss here in the Washington, D.C. Metro area, particularly because there are so many documentaries being produced by and about people of color here,” Ginsberg said. “It’s important not only to ensure that more filmmakers from different backgrounds are getting to tell their stories, but that we also discuss openly the challenges around who gets to tell what story and the need to diversify the gatekeepers who control the access to funding, festivals, and distribution.”
Ginsberg hopes to continue the Docs In The City series in 2018, if funding allows.
More information and tickets to the event are available at www.docsinprogress.org/docsincity.