The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com
Thursday, March 21, 2013 - 3B
tac les inequality
issues in new film
By SEAN CZARNECKI
Daily Film Editor
In 2008, an undocumented
immigrant named Luis Ramirez
was beaten to death by four
white, star football players in
* Shenandoah, Penn. - a trag-
edy now immortalized by the
upcoming documentary that
shares its name with the town.
Scheduled to show at the
Michigan Theater on March 27,
"Shenandoah" is as much a doc-
umentary about the victim as it
is about the coal-mining town
itself. And for five years, Pulit-
zer Prize-winning photographer
and filmmaker David Turnley,
and Art & Design professor,
labored to capture this painful
moment, this volatile re-imagin-
ing of Americanism - what the
film's tagline calls "The Ameri-
can Dream on Trial"
Turnley was sure to tread his
words carefully. Several times,
he started, stopped, double-
backed and skipped forward just
to recount this American story
with the same precision and
respect displayed in the crafts-
manship of the film itself.
"The challenges of working-
class communities and where
we stand as a nation today in real
terms with regard to our values
as an immigrant nation," Turn-
ley said, "are all seriously impor-
tant questions and realities to
where we are as a country."
Both Turnley and his twin
brother Peter grew up in Fort
Wayne, Ind. - a very segregated
city at the time - with an ideal-
istic spirit instilled into them by
historical figures such as Martin
Luther King Jr. and President
John F. Kennedy.
After sustaining a football
injury, Peter went into the inner
city of Fort Wayne to photo-
graph the lives of people there.
"When I started looking at
these photographs, it was then
I realized what is equal, what is
human dignity," Turnley said.
"And when I discovered photog-
raphy, it gave me an opportunity
to use the camera to do those
things, to actively seek to engage
with the world we live in and all
kinds of different people."
I picked up a camera and sort
of never looked back."
Turnley went on to work at
the Detroit Free Press for 18
years, where he covered Apart-
heid South Africa for three
years. He worked in Europe and
all over the world until finally
comingback to the United States
from 1996 to 1997 to study film-
making at Harvard.
"I wanted to live in a world
that wasn't divided, in a world
that was ... " Turnley trailed off,
thought to himself a moment
and continued, "I thought life
sort of meant the world we live
(in) is meant to be celebrated
and explored. And I wanted to
be part of that big world."
In 2008, then-Illinois Sena-
tor Barack Obama campaigned
for the American presidency
under the slogan, "Yes, we can!,"
which originated from Latino
American civil rights activist
Cesar Chavez. Inspired by what
he viewed as the inclusive vision
long aspired toward by the lead-
ers he grew up with, Turnley
worked with the presidential
hopeful as the campaign pho-
tographer for several days.
"And then at some point in the
spring of 2008, President-elect
Obama, at a fundraiser, made a
statement that in times of cri-
sis, the working class across the
Rust Belt clings to their guns
and religion," Turley said. "And
it made me think, once again,
here we go: His vision is an
inclusive America, but in fact,
there appear to be many Ameri-
At this, Turnley, who was
briefly a walk-on for the Uni-
versity football team, was com-
pelled to make a film about the
working class in a place of peo-
ple about whom his father and
grandfather spoke, where they
play tough football.
This year's Out Night theme is "History, Glamour, Magic."
explored att Night
By CASSIE BALFOUR
Daily Arts Writer
Wednesday night, the Ann
Arbor Film Festival showcased
films at the annual Out Night,
which pays homage to queer
historical legacies and, in some
David Turnley teaches in the School of Art & Design at the 'U.'
"It was always fascinating mine industry showed no signs cases, reshaped them.
me when I grew up hearing of faltering. People said it was For over a decade, the At
about the tough football in these like walking down the streets of Arbor Film Festival has incl
industrial steel-mill/coal-min- New York City. ed Out Night, which showcas
ing towns," Turnley said. "It was where there's prob- new films (and one archival fil
As fate would have it, a friend ably the most important reserve that focus on LGBTQ experien
contacted him and told him of what they call 'hard coal,' in es and perspectives. The the
about a place called Shenandoah: the world," Turnley said. this year is "History, Glamot
a town where the population of That all changed in the 1950s Magic," honing in on films th
Hispanic people is significantly and 1960s with the rise of oil, deal with "queer/trans legacie
lower than the Caucasian popu- For when coal was replaced, The festival's Program Dire
lation, and the average income Shenandoah was replaced. tor, David Dinnell, said O
somewhere between $25,000 "In an interesting way," Night is a way to showca
and $30,000. Turnley said, "the film reveals a personal films that represent
The town itself rests in the certain clairvoyance on the part broad range of perspectives a:
folds of coal-mining country. of Obama when he talked about aspects of LGBTQ identity.
Houses and low buildings are how it seems that when people "We show films througho
wedged in tight next to each feel their backs against the the festival by LGBTQ iden
other, and among the clutter, wall, when times are tough, that fied filmmakers, but those fili
there are tall church steeples there seems to be a propensity aren't necessarily about g
rising over them, all wrapped to find a scapegoat. People lose identity," Dinnell said. "It's
up by gentle, green mountains. sight of their better angels." night to celebrate queer identi
There is a town where you might The tragedy of Ramirez has in all of its complicated ways."
never have noticed one. forced the people of Shenando- Dinnell added that Out Nig
"I felt like I just arrived in ah to confront the present chal- is one of the most popular pr
'The Deer Hunter'; it was this lenges of the working class to grams in the festival and th
incredibly immigrant town, a profound level. Watching the there's a range of tone and se
ironically, that exists because of documentary, it becomes imme- sibility in the short films. O
immigrants who came to mine diately apparent the town is in a Night films compete along wi
coal," Turnley said. "And ironi- state of bewilderment and grief, all of the other films in the fe
cally, in the heart of an immi- that it's not a white monolith, tival for awards and, after t
grant town, four of the star sons, but much divided on the issue of screenings, audience met
football players, were charged immigration - a critical aspect bers and directors alike have
with beating to death an undoc- of American identity. chance to mingle at Aut Bar f
umented Mexican immigrant." "I don't think there's any a post-screening party.
Ramirez left behind a wife, a question that Shenandoah, According to Dinnell, the
son and daughter, and friends. that (it) will never be what it have been films that honed
"They knew nothing about was previous to this incident," on queer experiences throug
him," Turnley stated. "Other Turnley said. "I very much out the history of the festiv
than that he wasn't from there. hope at some point if you go "Song for Rent," by filmmak
Theyknewhespoke Spanish and to watch 'Shenandoah' that it Jack Smith, was the historic
he had brown skin. That's it." might invoke questions about film shown on Wednesday, a:
But in an attempt to under- your own life and your own cir- it was considered radical wh
stand this man's life and what cumstances and your own per- it was first screened back in t
it means on a broader scale, ceptions." 1960s; some were even used
Turnley faced an equally impor- At present, Turnley is on the test cases for obscenity laws
tant challenge: to humanize tenure track at the School of Art the time.
the attackers themselves and & Design and the Residential "Historically, throughouti
the town - both all too easily College, which he said would over 50 years, the festival h
condemnable by outside prying be a supportive environment for been a platform for films from:
eyes. him to continue his work. kinds of very different comm
"I never really wanted or "I think I always thought of nities, viewpoints, sometim
believed in an 'us' and 'them' myself as an educator with a viewpoints from historical
world, but it seems that it very camera." marginalized communiti
often plays out as an 'us' and
'them' world," Turnley said. "I
determinedly did not want to
make an 'us' and 'them' film.
And that means I didn't want
equally to be an outsider look-T1 ANN ARBOR FiLM FESTIVAL
ing at them.
While the media firestorm
understandably flooded the
town for the story and then
left, Turnley was going to tell
a different story. He was in
for the long haul. For the first TICKETS & PASSES NOW AVAILABLE
year, he drove the three-hour
ride from his home in New AAFILMFEST.ORG
York City to Shenandoah each
weekend, attending every foot-
ball game, every parade and
every holiday celebration. THE LONGEST RUNNING '
"It wasn't hard for me to
enjoy being there." INDEPENDENT & EXPERIMENT
"As you actually dig into a ILM FE STIVAL IN NORTH AM
town like Shenandoah, Penn-
sylvannia and you talk to peo-
ple and you go back into their
family's histories, you learn
very quickly that the proverbi-. .
al melting pot was always boil-r f
ing," Turnley said. "That every
wave of immigration faced
challenges from the previous *
waves of immigration."
Shenandoah was once a y "
great and rising city. In the
1920s to the 1930s, 40,000 ------~.-
people lived there. The coal-
cal. I m
a lot of
," Dinnell said. "I think that invoke a call-and-response
a profound lack of view- theme in which younger or con-
and depictions of queer temporary queer identified art-
here's not enough." ists "work with figures from the
s Vargas, a young film past."
deomaker from Oakland, Dinnell said he wanted to
whose 2011 short film reach out to much younger
acion" was shown, used queer filmmakers because he
zed Liberace. After doing thinks they're creating interest-
h that revealed his camp ing work. He added that some of
a political conservative the films Davies picked have a
sed to pal around with more performative aspect than
Reagan, Vargas -who in years past.
Liberace in his own film "It's not like it's going to be
red history by recasting some coming out melodrama,"
litical Liberace as a radi- Dinnell said. "It will be some-
V/AIDs activist. thing much more complicated
inhabiting and twist- and interesting, and that's
tory a little bit and using where a strain of that work is
ographical and historical heading."
and kind of embellishing Davies relished the freedom
o fit my own motivations to pick recent films from both
lsh fulfillment about the artists he already admired as
I'm portraying," Vargas well as from artists he stumbled
I embellished his politics upon while researching. He
ide him sort of more radi- emphasized that queer identi-
ade him the kind of queer ties and themes may become
odel that I was looking more common in the main-
stream film industry and with-
in independent film, but that he
likes that there is a night at the
-nn Arbor Ann Arbor Film Festival that
specifically explores a histori-
im Festival callyunderrepresented demo-
graphic, as well.
s void left b "I like the idea of a program
that's set aside to specifically
jor industry have that queer point of view,
and be able to have that con-
versation among directors, the
curator and the audience about
as, who wasn't able to what these histories and lega-
the Film Festival this cies mean today," Davies said. "I
'mphasized that he was like that queer themes are both
Ito participate because he becoming part of everywhere,
ard that it screens a lot of but at the same time, it's also
mental work. great to carve out a space spe-
re is a lot of cutting edge cifically for them as well."
being made currently," According to Davies, the
said. "And a lot of queer mainstream film industry
ets kind of ghettoized at doesn't yet represent the full
film festivals, so it's sort spectrum of queer experiences,
to get some representa- and independent film festivals
d something that is out of like Ann Arbor's can fill the
y ghetto because there is void.
inventive work." "I feel like there is a hunger
Davies, a Toronto-based for new stories and representa-
r, writer and cinema tions that weren't necessarily as
was picked to curate this visible in the past," Davies said.
Out Night. He described "Hollywood has always evolved
op of films as ones that a lot more slowly than people
iueer legacies and as ones working more independently."