VCU Southern Film Festival inspires discussion of American justice

Recent events in Charlottesville made the VCU Southern Film Festival’s theme all the more pertinent.

The festival’s theme was “Screening Southern Justice,” showcasing courtroom dramas like “My Cousin Vinny” and “Loving,” along with the unflinching documentaries “Do Not Resist” and “An Outrage.”

“One of our goals every year is to have post-film discussions that are meaningful,” said Emilie Raymond, director of the Southern Film Festival.

As a history professor at VCU, Raymond hopes to encourage all types of conversations related to film, like the filmmaking process or analytical discussions.

“Sometimes we’ll focus more on the filmmaking or behind the scenes,” Raymond said. “Other times the emphasis will be on the issues the film raises, or sometimes it’s a mix of both.”

The festival began last Thursday with a showing of “Do Not Resist,” an honest look at the militarization of police in the United States. Set against the shootings of Mike Brown, the documentary made many people in the audience gasp and express feelings of disbelief.

A discussion with local activist Osita Iroegbu and Richmond Deputy Police Chief Steve Drew followed the screening. Both were asked their opinions on the film.

“I felt my spirit being moved to do something,” Iroegbu said “And I hope you all felt that as well.”

Drew was quick to assure the audience that RPD focuses on de-escalation tactics rather than violent actions.

“The best processes we’ve had are sitting in rooms and having conversations,” Drew said. “Once we explain it, people may not always agree, but at least they have an understanding of why we do what we do. I think that’s why it’s so important to have conversations.”

Drew tried to dispel any negative feelings about the police the movie may have given people by expressing how the issues discussed are not representative of all police departments.

“My Cousin Vinny” was screened the next night. The film is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. The film is quite different from the other’s selected, taking a comedic look at southern and New York stereotypes in the courtroom.

The feeling in the room was much lighter than the previous night, with most in attendance laughing and having a good time. Another point of levity was that one of the actors in the movie, Raynor Scheine, who played the character of Ernie Crane was in attendance.

Raymond mentioned it’s inclusion was not only due to its classic status, but also how tonally different it is.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea to have a bunch of films that are the same in tone,” Raymond said. “We try to offer a variety of films and moods to try and appeal to all different types of audiences.”

What was similar among the screenings was the diversity of the audience. There were people of all ages and backgrounds, which to unique questions and ideas being discussed at each panel.

The goal of the Southern Film Festival, according to Raymond, is to bring people from all walks life to strengthen the conversations.

“A lot of films have stereotypes,” Raymond said. “We make sure that when we introduce the film or discuss the plot, we address these issues and are able to talk about them openly.

Sam Goodrich, Staff Writer

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