Tag Archives: documentary

Into the Fields and into the Archives: Student Action with Farmworkers

Post contributed by Paula Jeannet, Visual Materials Processing Archivist at the Rubenstein Library

Did you know that October is American Archives Month?  During this time archivists and their allies take to social media and other outlets to raise public awareness about the importance of preserving the historical record.  This year’s theme in North Carolina is “Activism and Social Justice in North Carolina.”  To honor that theme, this post highlights an inspiring N.C. activist organization whose records are in the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

Officially founded in 1992 in Durham, N.C., Student Action with Farmworkers (SAF) has brought college and high school students and farmworkers together to collectively work for economic justice, consumer awareness, and improved living and working conditions for people who grow and harvest our food.

20th Anniversary Poster

The long arc of SAF’s activist work, which began in the 1970s, is well-represented in their archives in the Rubenstein library.  The collection’s 148 boxes house materials documenting SAF’s founding, its operations, meetings, and planning, and records on every program from inception to launch.  There are many photographs, audio, video, and, with the arrival of the 2000s, digital records.

A flier and worksheet
These educational fliers and worksheets are found in Box 145 of the Printed Materials Series.

College-age interns, many of them from farmworker families, travel to isolated rural migrant camps to document living conditions through photography, oral histories, and writing.  Thousands of SAF student alumni have also gone out into the world to join and found other social justice programs and organizations.

Migrant camp at night
NC migrant camp at night during health outreach. Photo by Jim Coleman, 2010. From “Theater in the Fields” SAF publication.
Quinceañera photo
Cover of “Recollections of Home / Recuerdos de mi tierra: A Compilation of Folklife Documentaries by Student Action with Farmworkers’ Interns,” 2000. Photo by Rachel LaCour, 1999: Latino teenagers at a quinceañera.
Table of contents
Table of contents from “Recollections of Home / Recuerdos de mi tierra.”
Printed page with photograph of women protesting
Page from “Fields Without Borders / Campos sin fronteras”: Women’s stories, often overlooked, are told through photographs as well as oral histories, preserved in this publication in the Printed Materials and in the Audiovisual series of the SAF collection. Photo by Chris Sims, 2004.

Student projects such as this 2011 video documentary created by three students are housed in the SAF collection at the Rubenstein (student project folders require permission for access).  Through Story+, a summer research internship sponsored by Duke University libraries and the John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute, students have created several other SAF video documentaries.

An integral part of SAF’s work is educational programming and outreach for children, teens, and adults.  In 2014, SAF’s Levante Leadership program was recognized as one of the most effective programs in the nation that improves educational outcomes for Latino students.

Photo of leadership program participants

SAF also organized and participated in protest actions, including the Mount Olive Pickle Company and Burger King labor protests. These actions directly led to improved conditions in the factories and fields.

Black and white SAF protest drawing

Did you know that many farmworkers are forced to live next to fields sprayed with pesticides?  SAF has mounted successful long-term campaigns on specific issues such as pesticide safety that include outreach tools such as this video for children called “José Learns About Pesticides.”

Theater in the Fields brings a powerful message and educational opportunities to the fields where agricultural workers toil.  The giant puppet “Big Papa” is also found in the SAF archives!  The puppet was created by NC sculpture artist Daniel L. Mathewson (1964-2011) for the play “Gigantes en los Campos/Giants in the Fields,” written by NC writer Cara Page. The Big Papa character had few lines, but loomed ominously over scenes in the play as a method of intimidation and mockery of the farmworker characters.

Photo of actors
This publication is found in the Printed Materials series of the Student Action with Farmworker’s collection, along with the other materials featured in this blog post.
Actors mid-scene
Actors in Teatro en el Campo

The mobilization of students and farmworkers originally begun at Duke in the 1970s was in part inspired by a 1960 documentary by N.C. journalist Edward Murrow, “Harvest of Shame.”  Today, the same labor, health, and social justice issues continue to plague the U.S. agriculture system, so Student Action with Farmworkers continues its work to improve conditions and to make their vision a reality, that “One day, all farmworkers will have dignity in their work and livelihood.”

During this Archives Month, we salute those who give so much of their energies to justice, and to those who recognize the importance of keeping this history alive in collective memory by placing their records in an archive.

The records of the Student Action with Farmworkers organization span the entirety of their history, and are available at the Rubenstein Library.  Learn more by visiting the online collection guide

To learn more about SAF, view this video.  There are more videos on this site, many using archival resources from the collection to tell the farmworkers’ stories. Also, check out their 25th anniversary “More Than One Story” exhibit and web site.




“The Guardians of History,” a Documentary

Mary Samouelian, the Heschel Processing Archivist here at the Rubenstein Library, has created a short documentary. “The Guardians of History” features seven archivists working in our Technical Services Department and explores why archivists do what we do.  In Mary’s words, the documentary “reveals our intimate relationship with the historical materials we work with, why we are drawn to the mission of preserving history, and how our work makes it possible for researchers, historians, writers, and the general public to discover and experience intimate connections between their lives and historical materials.”

Mary enrolled as a student at the CDS in 2011 and this documentary piece is her final project for the Certificate in Documentary Arts. The photographs associated with the documentary will be exhibited on the Student Wall in Perkins Library this coming Friday.

Congratulations to Mary on this wonderful work!

Rights! Camera! Action!: The Undocumented (Director’s Cut)

Date: Tuesday, October 8, 2013
Time: 7:00 p.m.
Location: Full Frame Theater on the American Tobacco Campus (directions & parking information)
Contact: Patrick Stawski, patrick.stawski(at)duke.edu

Marcos Hernandez lives and works in Chicago. He came to the United States from Mexico, after a life-threatening border crossing through the Sonora Desert in southern Arizona. Each month, he sends money to his mother in Mexico City to buy medicine for his brother, Gustavo, who needs a kidney transplant. The Undocumented, by acclaimed filmmaker Marco Williams, is Marcos’s story—as well as the story of countless other migrants.

Chronicling Arizona’s deadliest summer months, award-winning documentary and fiction film director Marco Williams (Banished, Two Towns of Jasper, In Search of Our Fathers) weaves Marcos’s search with the efforts of humanitarians and Border Patrol agents who are fighting to prevent migrant deaths, the medical investigators and Mexican Consulate workers who are trying to identify dead border crossers, and Mexican families who are struggling to accept the loss of a loved one.

Poster for Screening of The Undocumented

In true cinéma vérité style, The Undocumented (91:00 TRT; 2013 Full Frame Honorable Mention for Kathleen Bryan Edwards Award for Human Rights) reveals the ongoing impact of immigration laws and economic policies on the very people who continue to be affected by them. By going beyond politics, the film also tells a story that is deeply personal.

The screening, which is free and open to the public, will be followed by a panel discussion featuring director Marco Williams and Duke University professor Charlie Thompson.

Rights!Camera!Action! is sponsored by the Archive of Documentary Arts and the Human Rights Archive in the Rubenstein Library, the Duke Human Rights Center @ FHI, and the Program in the Arts of the Moving Image.

Portraits from Charleston

The Archive of Documentary Arts continues its monthly series highlighting work in our holdings that has been digitized. This month we are spotlighting the Michael Francis Blake Photographs, 1912-1934. The collection includes 117 photographs of men, women, and children taken between 1912-1934 by Michael Francis Blake. Blake opened one of the first African-American photography studios in Charleston, S.C. and the photographs represent his work from the 1910s to his death in 1934.  The images come from a photographic album entitled “Portraits of Members,” which might have been used by clients in the studio to select the backdrop and props they wanted in their photographs. To see more of Michael Francis Blake’s photographs, visit the library’s digital collection.

Post contributed by Kirston Johnson, Moving Image Archivist, and Karen Glynn, Photography Archivist, Archive of Documentary Arts.

Gedney’s Cars

With this post, the Archive of Documentary Arts inaugurates a monthly series highlighting work in our holdings that has been digitized. Our first post “Gedney’s Cars” celebrates the work of photographer William Gedney and his fascination with cars and people’s behavior/relationship with automobiles.  All four of the photographs below are untitled and were taken in Kentucky in 1972.  To see more of Gedney’s work in our digital collections, visit http://library.duke.edu/digitalcollections/gedney/.  William Gedney’s life’s work is housed in the Archive of Documentary Arts.

Post contributed by Karen Glynn, Photography Archivist, and Kirston Johnson, Moving Image Archivist, Archive of Documentary Arts.

Oil Blue (Väylä)

This is the fourth in a series highlighting film shorts from the Full Frame Archive, a collection within the Archive of Documentary Arts that preserves masters of all past winners of Durham’s Full Frame Documentary Film Festival. The Full Frame Archive has acquired 79 films since 2007 and continues to grow; DVD use copies of these films can be viewed in the Rubenstein Library reading room. The Full Frame Archive finding aid provides a complete list with descriptions, as well as titles of award-winners not yet acquired.

Oil Blue opens to long shots of only sea and sky, vast and awe-inspiring.  Not until after the two-minute mark does any sign of humankind appear, when a gigantic oil tanker slowly moves across the screen.  Finnish film student Elli Rintala sought to make a film about the North Sea oil industry, but not a conventional documentary. “I wanted to explore the area between experimental film and documentary film.” Oil Blue won the 2009 Full Frame President’s Award for the best student film.

Still from Oil Blue

“On the coastline of my hometown Porvoo is situated the biggest oil harbor and oil refinery of Scandinavia,” she explained to me by email.  “I remember that as a child I was fascinated by the massive ships moving slowly in the horizon. . . . Of course I could have made a more traditional and more informative documentary on this subject, but somehow I wanted to maintain the viewpoint of a child, which shows the vessels as a mystery.”

Filming at sea was not easy. “Because the conditions were quite demanding we had to plan everything in advance as precisely as possible. Every image and every angle had to be known beforehand, we couldn’t improvise that much. But I think that all that planning was a great advantage for the film.”

Rintala was granted access to film aboard the oil tankers without much difficulty, however. “Neste Oil, the company which owns the refinery and the tankers, was very cooperative from the very beginning. . . . [They] realized that my aim was not to make a provocative or accusing film.”

But the strict security regulations were a challenge. “Any electrically powered cameras or equipment were prohibited on the deck because of the danger of an explosion. So we had to use a very old spring-wound Bolex camera when shooting on the deck. . . .

“Part of the material is shot from a tiny inflatable in order to get as close to the water level as possible.”  Filming on a raft presented its own challenges.  “Occasionally the swell of the sea was quite strong and naturally that made the filming more difficult. Once our camera-assistant even threw up during the filming.”

The absence of words in the film compel the viewer to listen—to the sounds of the ocean and machines and to the evocative musical score.  “In general I like the way the music and the sound design coalesce in the Oil Blue. The structure of the film is quite musical in any case. One person said to me, that it is possible to watch it the same way you listen to ambient music. This was a great compliment for me, because my aim was that the images could be like music.”

Although Rintala wants to leave any message in Oil Blue open to interpretation, she says it “could be seen as an allegory of our life style also in a more general way. The oil transportations are only one example of this balance of terror between human race, technology and nature, which is so typical for our time.”

Rintala is currently at work on her graduation film “about the main airport of Finland, Helsinki-Vantaa and the development of air traffic from 1950s to this day. I’m going to use archive material and current footage to portray the lost innocence of flying in our time. So from the element of water in Oil Blue I’m moving on to the element of air.”

Post contributed by Tanya Lee, Full Frame Archive Intern.

Rights! Camera! Action!: Good Times

Date: Tuesday, November 15, 2011
Time: 7:00 PM
Location: Franklin Humanities Institute Garage, Bay 4, Smith Warehouse (map)
Contact Information: Patrick Stawski, 919-660-5823 or patrick.stawski(at)duke.edu, or Kirston Johnson, 919-681-7963 or kirston.johnson(at)duke.edu

Still from Good TimesJoin us for a screening of Good Times (31 minutes, Hebrew/ Arabic/ English with English subtitles), the second film in the 2011-2012 Rights! Camera! Action! series and the winner of the 2004 Full Frame Jury Award for Best Short.

Good Times was shot in Abu Dis, a small Palestinian village divided in two by a wall built by the Israeli government. The film follows the villagers’ lives before the wall was built and through the construction of a temporary, then a permanent, wall. Moving in colliding microcosms, the inhabitants of the village and the Israeli soldiers protecting the border create an absurd routine of mutual respect and resentment.

Following the film, students from Duke’s BorderWork(s) Humanities Lab will give a presentation on their work this semester.

The screening is free and open to the public, and free popcorn will be provided!

The Rights! Camera! Action! film series, which is sponsored by the Archive for Human Rights, the Archive of Documentary Arts, the Duke Human Rights Center, the Franklin Humanities Institute, and Screen/Society at Duke’s Arts of the Moving Image Program, features documentaries on human rights themes that were award winners at the annual Full Frame Documentary Film Festival. The films are archived at the Rubenstein Library, where they form part of a rich and expanding collection of human rights materials. This screening is also co-sponsored by the BorderWork(s) Humanities Lab at the Franklin Humanities Institute.

Rights! Camera! Action!: The Betrayal

Date: Tuesday, September 13, 2011
Time: 7:00 PM
Location: Franklin Humanities Institute Garage, Bay 4, Smith Warehouse (map)
Contact Information: Patrick Stawski, 919-660-5823 or patrick.stawski(at)duke.edu, or Kirston Johnson, 919-681-7963 or kirston.johnson(at)duke.edu

The fourth season of the popular Rights! Camera! Action! film series begins with The Betrayal (Nerakhoon), winner of the Spectrum Award at the 2008 Full Frame Documentary Film Festival.

Filmed over the course of 23 years,  this is the epic story of a Lao soldier family’s journey from war-torn Laos to the mean streets of New York. Thavisouk Phrasavath describes his own life as a young man struggling to survive a war and survive the hardships of immigrant life, counterpointed by his mother’s astonishing tale of perseverance. Renowned cinematographer Ellen Kuras’ directorial debut is a remarkable collaboration with Phrasavath—a poetic, cinematically-resonant film about the hidden, human face of war’s “collateral damage.”

A discussion with co-director Thavisouk Phrasavath will follow the film. The screening is co-sponsored by the Kenan Institute for Ethics and Duke’s 2012 Winter Forum.

The Rights! Camera! Action! film series, which is sponsored by the Archive for Human Rights, the Archive of Documentary Arts, the Duke Human Rights Center, the Franklin Humanities Institute, and Screen/Society at Duke’s Arts of the Moving Image Program, features documentaries on human rights themes that were award winners at the annual Full Frame Documentary Film Festival. The films are archived at the RBMSCL, where they form part of a rich and expanding collection of human rights materials.