JOHN DAVIES: Gary filmmakers tackle ‘the elephant’

2012-10-14T00:00:00Z JOHN DAVIES: Gary filmmakers tackle ‘the elephant’By John Davies nwitimes.com
October 14, 2012 12:00 am  • 

One of the films featured during the Gary International Black Film Festival was called “Goners.”

Written by Ben Clement in collaboration with Mark Spencer, who produced the film, it represents a Northwest Indiana version of an educational entertainment series called “Edutainment.”

Now, it can be argued this genre has existed for millennia in the form of parables and fables promoting social change. The phrase "Edutainment” was first introduced by Disney in 1948. But Ben and Mark are introducing it in a new compelling way for today’s audiences.

This is one of a series of relatively short films aimed at changing behaviors of youthful audiences produced for progressive clients who want to impact the behaviors of children in classrooms and at conferences.

This film focuses on teenage suicide, which is difficult to talk about under any circumstance, but especially daunting in an urban setting.

Of course, we often refer to these subjects as “the elephants in the middle of the room.” For those of us who are parents, it is difficult to discuss not only this topic, but also substance abuse, HIV/AIDS, smoking and bullying.

In “Goners,” Ben told me he couldn't identify the spark to make the film connect with his audience. That is, until he had a conversation with Columbia film students in his role as executive director of the Gary film and television office. “They told me that boyfriend and girlfriend relationships are the cause,” he said. He then finalized the script, loaded with information aimed at helping people identify symptoms of youth at risk.

Their first film in this series was “The Firing Squad.” Like the other films, it has a powerful social message. The story is about teenage smoking. The basis of the story is that gang member wants to quit the gang. The “bangers” discover this, and his punishment is to smoke cigarette after cigarette.

Fortunately, police discover the criminal intent. Throughout the film, there are all kinds of facts to help young people learn the hazards of smoking. Like “Goners,” this film is intended to change behavior of the audience.

A new film currently in production deals with a national epidemic – bullying. It involves the principal of an urban school whose job is on the line following the suicide of a student bullied by other students.

She is under pressure by the administration and the media. Interestingly, she bullies her colleagues to stop the bullying. Then she has an epiphany when she nearly mishandles a confrontation with three students who bullied another student. The ending needs to remain a surprise, but suffice it to say, she has a day of reckoning when confronting her past. It’s called “Comes to Shove.”

It takes courage to address these issues. Ben and Mark — both members of The Society of Innovators — are to be commended for using films to move people to change.

John Davies is managing director of The Society of Innovators of Northwest Indiana, launched by Ivy Tech Community College Northwest in 2005. The opinion expressed in this column is the writer's and not necessarily that of The Times.

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