RiverRun tackles the tough issues in upcoming event
It may sound like a cliché, but Feb. 14, 2018, is a date that will live in infamy. Nikolas Cruz, a 19-year-old who had been expelled from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, embarked on a savage shooting spree that left 17 students and staff members dead and another 17 injured. It marked the worst instance of school violence since the Columbine High School massacre in Colorado nearly 20 years ago.
It also reignited the ongoing firestorm of debate regarding gun laws, and for some teachers and students at Douglas, it ignited their activism. Spurring a campaign of education and information captured on film in the documentary We Are The Change, which examines the aftermath of the shooting upon them, the community, and even the nation.
On Oct. 19, the RiverRun International Film Festival will present a screening of the documentary We Are the Change at the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art. Following the screening will be a panel discussion featuring special guests Debby Miller and Greg Pittman, two teachers at Douglas High School, and a trio of students. During their visit to North Carolina, they will also be visiting several schools in the area.
“RiverRun’s mission is to foster a greater appreciation of cinema and a deeper understanding of the many people, cultures, and perspectives of our world through regular interaction with great films and filmmakers, and our Films With Class program uses film as a vehicle through which to learn,” said Rob Davis, RiverRun’s executive director. “Certainly, we would be failing our mission and our audiences if we did not showcase films addressing a variety of issues in contemporary society.”
“It’s important to be advocates for change,” observed Pittman, who lived in North Carolina for several years before relocating to South Florida more than 20 years ago. “The biggest thing we want people to learn is that if you raise your voice, and if you organize, you can be heard and you can bring about change.”
Revisiting the event is unquestionably traumatic, yet despite the pain, it continues to galvanize his efforts.
“It’s still there,” Pittman said. “All of us definitely have our ups and downs. I’m great one minute and the next … something just triggers it. A certain sound, a thought that runs through your mind. A teacher from Columbine came to speak and said that you never really get over something like that, no matter how long ago it was.”
Pittman is himself a gun owner, yet expresses astonishment that “you can’t drink until you’re 21, you can’t rent a car until you’re 25, but you can purchase an assault rifle at 18.”
At least, until recently. Shortly after the tragedy, Florida governor Rick Scott signed into law a change that raised that age to 21 – which promptly (even predictably) inspired a lawsuit filed by the National Rifle Association that it violates the second amendment of the Constitution. Pittman and many others would have hoped for stronger legislation, but he admitted that “at least it’s a step in the right direction.
“Whether it’s with the School Board or the state, I haven’t been shy about voicing our concerns,” Pittman said. “I’ve been quite vocal, even confrontational, about it. Something like this, it changes everything.”
If the gun lobby’s going to shout, he’s going to shout right back.
“If we put the pressure on and keep the pressure on, we can bring about common-sense change,” Pittman said. “We need to persuade our elected officials that change is needed.”
The festival became involved when Davis was having dinner with Estelle Fineberg, a friend, and former colleague from the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival board of directors. “She mentioned the film and that it was being screened at the Fort Lauderdale festival’s year-round cinema (program). I told her I would like to see the film and talk with the lead teacher on the project, and she put me in touch with Debby Miller – and that’s what got everything started.”
Davis was impressed by We Are The Change and those who made it in the wake of so horrific an incident. “Their goal is talking about their journey and in showing the film to inspire other students, as well as adults, to become activists on behalf of whatever causes may be important to them. Everyone I have spoken with has been very open and enthusiastic about RiverRun hosting this event and these special guests.”
See Mark Burger’s reviews of current movies on Burgervideo.com. © 2018, Mark Burger.
The RiverRun International Film Festival’s special screening of We Are the Change, and a post-screening discussion will be held 7 p.m. Oct. 19 at SECCA, 750 Marguerite Dr., Winston-Salem. Tickets are $10 (general admission) and $5 (students with valid ID). For more information about this and other RiverRun events, call 336.724.1502 or visit the official website.