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The Muckraker

"Banished" screening and conversation with Marco Williams

Join Facing History and CIR for a screening and discussion of Banished, our 2007 documentary produced with Marco Williams of Two Tone Productions.

At the turn of the last century, in communities across the U.S., white residents forced thousands of black families to flee their homes. Many of these towns remain almost entirely white to this day. Banished tells the story of three of these communities and their black descendants, who return to learn their shocking histories.

The event on December 3rd will include excerpts of the film, followed by a conversation with director Marco Williams. A member of the faculty at NYU, Williams is a documentary and fiction film director. His films have been broadcast on cable and public television and have been screened at film festivals throughout the world.

As part of Facing History and Ourselves' national series of Community Conversations, this event is free and open to the public. Reservations are recommended. Click here to RSVP. For more information about the event, contact Karen Foster at 510-786-2500 x226 or karen_foster@facing.org.

Banished wins anthropology award

The Society for Visual Anthropology said Banished—a documentary co-produced by CIR about racial cleansings in small American towns—"has great anthropological value" and honored the film with an Award of Commendation.

From the SVA website:

From the first minutes of filmmaker Marco Williams’ Banished, viewers know that they are in the hands of a master storyteller. Williams’ multi-layered and complex story takes us into the cultural history of racial cleansing in the American South. The film focuses on the long forgotten banishment of African American families from several southern towns in the early 1900s. It takes us on an historical and emotional journey from yellowed newspaper clippings of the time to the present day descendants of the banished families and their struggle to gain recognition, justice and compensation for the land and possessions appropriated from their ancestors over a hundred years ago.

Banished never takes an easy or obvious turn. It refuses to reduce the issues to good and evil. Instead it subtly, carefully weighs the complexity of race, history, memory and the clouded path towards seeking reconciliation and justice for injustices of a distant past.

Marco Williams’ respectful on-camera probing results in surprisingly honest and emotional responses from allies and opponents alike. One’s allegiances keep shifting in viewing this film, making the questions it raises more critical and lasting than the answers, questions the audiences will be thinking about days, months, perhaps years after viewing.

Banished has great anthropological value. It reveals the structure of land holding African American families at the turn of the century and the consequences of their banishment and disenfranchisement on their descendants generations later. It also reveals much about the values of “black free” towns in the South today and the long shadows cast there by injustices of the past.

Banished sparks debates about racism and reparations

BANISHED is still screening in cities across the country through the end of February as a buildup to the PBS broadcast on February 19. Check for screenings near you.

Also, here is a sampling of reactions from event organizers to recent screenings—which are getting record crowds, upwards of 500 people in every city:

ST.LOUIS, MO: This was the biggest Community Cinema screening to date for producing partners KETC and Missouri History Museum, with 500 community members flocking to the museum. Much of the discussion centered on steps to right the wrongs of the past and how racism is deeply embedded in our society. One audience member noted an important step towards healing is to "have more frank discussions like the one provided tonight by KETC and Independent Lens films." The discussion ended on a hopeful note that people could right wrongs by finding a voice to confront people in power.

PHOENIX, AZ: Producing partner, Make A Difference, planned their screening to coincide with their weekend of Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration events. Presenting partners included the Heard Museum of Native Cultures and Art, and the Arizona Black Film Showcase. Following the film, panelists shared their reactions and thoughts to the questions and issues raised by the film, including racism, banishment, and reparation. The audience’s response to the film and the speakers was unusually intense and urgent, which created a “very open, very raw, very real and genuine community discussion.”

EVANSTON, IL: The audience at this event was diverse, with a large group of high school students (our producing partner, Reeltime Film and Video, reached out to the local high school’s history department), senior citizens, local independent filmmakers, African American community activists and college students, as well as some Latino audience members. BANISHED elicited strong emotions from the audience -- several African American audience members stood up and said "This is exactly my family's story!" Author Doria Johnson, shared her family's story of banishment and lynching with the audience, and guest speaker Dino Robinson discussed banished families who had settled in Evanston. (Robinson is the founder of Shorefront, a black history organization, focusing exclusively on the northern suburbs of Chicago).

Event organizer Ines Sommer observed that “people felt that there was no realistic legal recourse open to descendants of the banished families, but that issues of gentrification and imminent domain were today's form of forcing people of color and working class people out of their neighborhoods.” This point resonated very strongly with the audience as Evanston has seen major redevelopment just in the last few years.

GRAND RAPIDS, MI: This was one of WGVU’s highest-attended screenings ever! The panel featured Brian Collier and Matthew Daley, both history professors at Grand Valley State University, as well as Oliver Wilson, Dean of the Office of Multicultural Affairs at GVSU. All three panelists discussed the fact that Michigan is one of the most racially segregated states in the country, as well as being home to both the Michigan Militia and an active KKK chapter. Oliver spoke about his experiences as an African American man in West Michigan, and discussed his belief that education is the way to prevent banishment from happening again.

The audience questions revealed a deep interest in learning more about reparations and its potential for healing. One audience member approached station contact Emily Maurin after the event and shared that she had lived next door to Charles Brown for eight years; she then called him on the phone, from which point he spoke to all of the panelists, set up a radio interview with the moderator and discussed possibly coming to GVSU to speak to Oliver's students. Audience members continued discussion in the lobby for an hour after the event was officially closed.

BOSTON, MA: The turnout and reception of this film was very powerful. People were thankful to the director and the producers for encouraging community conversations about this film. We had an excellent facilitator who really drew out the audience and set a very positive tone by explaining: we are not here to debate or solve the problems of the past.

JAMAICA PLAINS, MA: The turnout and reception of this film was very powerful. People were thankful to the director and the producers for encouraging community conversations about this film. We had an excellent facilitator who really drew out the audience and set a very positive tone by explaining: we are not here to debate or solve the problems of the past.

A few important points: Several people of Native American heritage felt invisible—as there was no mention of the original banishment of their people. As northerners, we wondered what part of our hidden history is unknown to us. Were there banishments in northern states? A number of people commented on the pacing of the film—how careful and thoughtful it was—and how the stories and the people were really developed. Several participants made connections to land struggles and present day banishments—such as the African-American population of New Orleans, post-Katrina. A number expressed embarrassment about not knowing this history and the other atrocities committed in the post-Reconstruction Jim Crow period. We talked about an upcoming film we will screen called Traces of the Trade: Stories of the Old North—that talks about the role of northerners in the slave trade. We think this will be an excellent follow-up to the themes of white privilege that were discussed. Several people were interested in purchasing a copy of the film and took order forms.

Banished screening a hit

The turnout was astounding for ITVS’ Community Cinema screening of Banished at the Oakland (Calif.) Museum last night. Four hundred people watched the film and many more were turned away. (A second screening at the Museum will likely be added in February.) The audience reaction was enthusiastic and animated and the discussion afterward looked at modern day displacements, specifically post-Katrina New Orleans and urban gentrification in Oakland.

As with all of the Banished screenings I’ve been to, audiences are interested in exploring how our society as a whole can explore reparations and reconciliation as a way to right past wrongs. ITVS is holding screenings of the film all over the country leading up to the February 19th PBS broadcast on Independent Lens.

>> Click here to find a screening near you.

Banished screening nationwide

As part of a community outreach effort by the Independent Television Service (ITVS), Banished will screen in more than 12 states in January and February. The award-winning documentary about racial cleansing in America's small towns will also be broadcast nationally on PBS starting February 19, 2008.

>> Check local listings for the PBS broadcast of Banished.

>> See the screening schedule.

Screenings include:

Oakland, CA
January 8, 2008, 6:00 PM
Oakland Museum of California, James Moore Theatre
1000 Oak St.

San Francisco, CA
January 9, 2008, 6:00 PM
San Francisco Public Library, Koret Auditorium
100 Larkin St.

Washington, D.C.
January 6, 2008, 4:00 PM
Busboys and Poets (DC)
2021 14th St. NW

Chicago, IL
January 19, 2008, 2:00 PM
Chicago Cultural Center
78 E. Washington St.

Ithaca, NY
January 18, 2008, 7:00 PM
Henry St. John Building - Suite 103
301 S. Geneva St.

Open call for videos: "Eviction notice"

The documentary Banished, co-produced by CIR, explores how slavery and racism reverberated into 20th-century America with the violent removal of black families from their communities from the 1860s to the 1920s. Banished will be broadcast as part of PBS Independent Lens in February 2008.

An open call from WGBH Lab and National Black Programming Consortium invites filmmakers and other aspiring media-makers to pitch ideas for video shorts (of approximately three minutes) looking at the issue of how we resolve past wrongs, especially around matters of race. Pitches might explore themes of belonging versus expulsion, anger versus forgiveness, guilt versus reparations. A successful pitch offers a new approach to story-telling and presents a surprising visual style, a fresh genre or a unique voice.

Selected pitches will receive production funding and editorial support. Finished shorts may be presented in conjunction with WGBH’s and PBS's African American History Month programming in February, via broadcast and broadband. The Lab will also consider completed shorts (rather than only preliminary pitches) that address these themes.

Learn more about this project on the NBPC website. For more information contact Stefanie Koperniak at 617-300-5317 or stefanie_koperniak@wgbh.org.

Banished looks at an "ugly chapter" of U.S. history

A review of Banished in the New York Times calls the award-winning documentary "quietly sorrowful." Reviewer Manohla Dargis calls for more investigation into America's racial cleansings:

There’s no denying that this ugly chapter deserves more than an occasional well-meaning documentary. (A national day of mourning might be a good start.) ... Mr. Williams has done his own part to shed needed light, though I wish he had dug longer, harder.

Village Voice applauds Banished

CIR's documentary on "racial cleansings" of entire counties, mostly in the South, got the attention of the Village Voice this week. Banished is screening at Film Forum in New York from September 26–October 9.

Lisa Katzman of the Voice applauds filmmaker Marco Williams, saying:

Williams's very presence in the all-white communities he documents is a canny litmus test ... It doesn't matter that Williams is Harvard-educated, or that he's articulate and hip. As our director sits at a kitchen table in Harrison, Arkansas, listening to the local Klan leader matter-of-factly disclose his disdain for blacks, it's painfully clear that in many small (and large) towns throughout America, the legacy of banishment remains: Black people are not only unwelcome, but unsafe. Just ask the Jena 6.

Banished at Film Forum in NY

CIR's award-winning documentary, Banished, will be screening at Film Forum in New York from September 26–October 9, 2007. For tickets and schedules, visit Film Forum's website.

BANISHED won the Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary at the Miami International Film Festival, the Spectrum Award at the Full Frame Film Festival, and the Nashville Film Festival's Best Documentary Award.

>> Watch the trailer and see additional reporting.

Jaspin and Williams speak at SFSU

Cox reporter and author Elliot Jaspin and documentary film producer Marco Williams converged at San Francisco State University earlier this month to talk to students and visitors and answer questions about their respective projects. Jaspin read an excerpt from his new book Buried in the Bitter Waters and Williams screened his award-winning documentary Banished.