Humanities In Focus Presents Student-Made Documentaries Aimed At “Giving Voice To The Voiceless”

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“We hope to give voice to the voiceless.”

Jeff Metcalf, a professor in the Department of English, opened the premiere of five student films in the Gould Auditorium of the Marriott Library with these words. The short documentaries are the product of a year’s worth of student effort in the Humanities in Focus class, a course offered by the Honors College that is open to all members of the Salt Lake City community. Taught by Metcalf and Craig Wirth, a professor in the Department of Communication, the course stresses the importance of telling emotional and powerful stories of people and organizations in the community.

The class’s objective is to “give voice through visual and written expression to otherwise unheard individuals in our community,” Metcalf said.

The first film of the night was a good example of that objective. Directed by Peter C. Davidson, “Diego’s Dream” provided a platform for a young man to tell the story of how he and his family crossed the border illegally when he was 8 years old and the challenges they faced in doing so. During the film he said some people have told him that he broke the law and should have come to America the “right way” (i.e. legally).

“If I was born here, wouldn’t that be the only right way?” he said in the film.

He said he wants to make the world a better place, rather than accumulate money for himself.

“Rich or poor,” he said. “We all get buried in the same dirt.”

Following this film was “What Makes it Bearable,” by Kenneth Brewer, which discussed the invisible lives of the homeless in Salt Lake City. More than 60 people a year die homeless on the streets in Utah’s capital, according to the film. An organization called the Inn Between creates a space for the dying and ailing to turn to when they are sick so that they can die in dignity.

The space helps connect people to family members and even help some of the patients recover from whatever illness they have.

The fourth documentary shown presented a similar topic. The Home Inn provides a home to homeless people, as well as helping its residents get a job in the building. The primary goal of the inn is to help people become self-reliant again so they can move out on their own without the fear of homelessness.

Between these films came “If This Is Heaven, Give Me Hell,” which narrated the story of how one woman — who is currently a U student — and her family escaped from a compound of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In the film, Barbara tells how she could not bear to see her children stripped of the freedom of childhood. There, girls were only raised to become mothers, children could not play with toys and families were ripped apart as they were divided between the worthy and the unworthy.

The unworthy would be relocated to other families in hopes that they would be cleansed. While she talks about how escaping cut them off from their families, she said she has never felt so free.

The last documentary, titled “Walk With Me,” tells the story behind Sophie’s Place, a space in Primary Children’s Hospital where volunteers and therapists provide music therapy. Providing a happy place to escape from the scary environment that a hospital can have, Sophie’s Place was inspired by a 17-year-old girl, Sophie, who died unexpectedly while away at a church camp. She had a love of music, and this passion inspired friends of her family to create a space where sick children could come and take a break from all of the stress that comes from a major illness. The success of the clinic is inspiring similar rooms to open at other pediatric hospitals around the country.

The documentaries were all created, produced, shot and edited by students, usually with little to no background in film-making.

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