Senior Project to Screen at Vintana

A private screening of Brigitta Sanchez-O’Brien and Paul Campa’s senior thesis film, Mi Sangre es su Sangre, has been scheduled for viewing at Vintana Restaurant after JPCatholic Professors Chris Riley, Tom Dunn, and Nathan Scoggins decided against showing the film at the JPCatholic senior screening.

Mi Sangre es su Sangre documents the public health crisis in the north zone of Tijuana, exacerbated by intravenous drug use. Ms. Sanchez-O’Brien said, “We wanted to show the humanity behind those suffering from addiction on both sides of the border.” The original pitch was to cover the opioid epidemic near the Mexico-United States border. They soon realized that the opioid epidemic was too large of a story for a twenty-minute documentary. Ms. Sanchez-O’Brien said, “We went with a story that we came upon, literally a 20 minute walk from San Ysidro border crossing, and that was a focused look at heroin addicts in Tijuana, and the larger implications of the effects of that addiction.”

Mr. Campa and Ms. Sanchez-O’Brien were able to set up a separate, private screening for their film. Ms. Sanchez-O’Brien said, “Some very generous donors decided to re-route funds originally intended for JPCatholic, and instead, put them towards getting us a venue.” Professor Scoggins expressed his support for the screening. “It’s important to point out that the students have secured their own screening, where the film can be screened as they wished it to be, and I’m glad for them.”

The filmmakers decided against making the faculty’s suggested cuts for the senior screening, as it would have drastically changed their film. “We read, listened to and considered all of the notes and suggestions from our professors. It was months’ worth of hours of careful deliberation, which is why we were unwilling to compromise and cut an entirely different film both in terms of content and genre, at our professors behest.” Professor Scoggins added, “They chose to leave the film alone; I admire their integrity and willingness to stick to their convictions.”

According to Professor Dunn, the content in the film was too graphic for the audience’s wide range of ages. Professor Riley specifically mentioned the close-ups on open wounds, the shots of heroin use, and the openness to which everything was displayed. Prof. Dunn said, “Our objection is to the screening of it, Thursday night, at Regal, with all the families, alumni and class members and little brothers and sisters there. It’s not the film in [and] of itself.”

Prof. Scoggins said the faculty’s primary issue with the film moved beyond its graphic content. “While from a technical standpoint [Mi Sangre es su Sangre] is well-shot and the music well-crafted, etc., the faculty’s stance is that a quality film is not just a series of well-composed shots, but a compelling story, well-told and well-produced. It is at this level that the film is unfortunately lacking.”

Prof. Riley elaborated, “There’s not a message, there’s a weakness in the storytelling. It largely lacks a story. It contains information, but that doesn’t help us to make that information meaningful.” He continued, “Documentary filmmaking is about more than just showing, ‘here’s some stuff’. It’s about constructing it in a way that provides some insight and adds meaning.”

Professor Kevin Culbertson, who’s worked on award winning documentaries for PBS as well as The PBS NewsHour and Frontline, recommended Mr. Campa and Ms. Sanchez-O’Brien not cut anything. “Though I do not think the JPCatholic senior screening is the appropriate venue, it [the film] is compelling and will serve them well in their job search. If I were hiring for Frontline or Vice, I’d bring them aboard to hone their craft with experienced documentary producers.”

Professor Stephen Kramp, Chair of Humanities, shared his observations. “More than establishing its own narrative arc, the documentary’s aim seemed to be to collage multiple personal narratives together, and to let the drug users’ narratives resolve–or more often fail to resolve–on their own. This reflected the powerlessness of the addicts both against the lure of heroin and also against the developing events of their lives.”

Speaking to the film’s alignment with JPCatholic’s mission statement, “To Impact Culture for Christ,” Prof. Kramp said, “Our culture’s so saturated with abundance that we begin to treat really important things–food, resources, even human beings–as if they have no value. I see [Mr. Campa] and [Ms. Sanchez-O’Brien] trying in their own way to challenge that complacency. For all of its rough edges, the film brings attention, respect, and compassion to some seriously ravaged lives. And that’s what Jesus tells us we have to do.”

Prof. Riley also expressed concern over the legalities of the film, “without the actual pieces of paper [release forms] signed by the people on film.” Professor Shun Lee Fong, attorney and professor of Media Law, said he always recommends collecting written release forms, however, it is not necessary for a documentary film. “In that situation, it falls under the journalistic exceptions, and you do not need a release.”

The media faculty’s notes and critiques first came to Ms. Sanchez-O’Brien and Mr. Campa on August 13, 2018. The late notes surprised the filmmakers, as Prof. Dunn and Prof. Riley had not been involved during production or post-production. Still, they gave extensive notes and expected it to be edited accordingly if the filmmakers wanted it shown at the senior screening. Ms. Sanchez-O’Brien said, “I honestly didn’t know Prof. Dunn and Prof. Riley held such a powerful veto. I think if their voice carries as much weight as we’ve discovered it does, then it’s imperative for all future senior projects that all three professors be directly involved in every phase of senior projects.”

Prof. Scoggins clarified, It doesn’t make sense for them [Prof. Dunn and Prof. Riley] to review earlier, since the films are often still in rough stages and notes are less helpful at that point.” There is a distinction between the filmmaking process and the screening, says Prof. Riley. “Professor Scoggins is guiding them as they’re making the film. He is not indicating to anybody whether or not their film is shown at the screening, because that’s a decision made by the three of us.”

Prof. Scoggins said he made this clear to seniors at the beginning of the Senior Project class. “The faculty reserves the right to approve any project prior to a screening for quality issues as well as issues that may arise in terms of violation of the production handbook.” Prof. Dunn further clarified, “There is not language that specifically covers every possible incident and event [in the handbook], but generalized language regarding exhibitions and allowable content and the need for faculty approval.”

The manual itself doesn’t mention anything specifically about the final reviewal process for the senior screening, although it stipulates that the “policies and procedures are subject to change throughout the year”. Ms. Sanchez-O’Brien expressed her frustration with the unwritten policies. “We’re aware that faculty screens a [fully edited version] of every film and offers feedback for students to consider, but that’s very different than a committee who holds power over an unspoken second [approval] process.”

A suggested compromise was to place a warning before the film at the JPCatholic screening. The faculty decided against it. Prof. Dunn explained, “The one time we did it, it was a very awkward situation, and you could tell there were a number of parents out there with this quizzical look.” Although Prof. Scoggins stated, “We would never prioritize reaction to the film over the screening of the film,” he later said, “The faculty’s opinion on [Mi Sangre es su Sangre] was that it was so dark that it would not serve the audience well.”

The private screening will take place on Friday, September 7th, at 12:30 p.m, before graduation. Contact Brigitta Sanchez-O’Brien to RSVP and for more information.