VCU Students Creating Poverty Film
Two VCU film students leave this morning on a two month odyssey across Virginia. They are focusing on the faces of poverty.
Joey Schihl and Ben Saunders say they want to create a film that will accurately depict the lives of Virginia’s working poor and homeless.
Saunders: We are working on what we have called the Blank Street project. It’s a documentary film where we will be meeting the people of the Commonwealth and basically figuring out what poverty is and what it looks like in different situations and seeing the different faces of poverty.
Saunders, a junior, is from Mechanicsville. He says he sees filmmaking as a vehicle for social change. Schihl, a senior, agrees. He hopes the project will lead to grassroots student-driven efforts to improve the quality of life of the people they meet. How are the two defining poverty?
Schihl: ..It’s a little bit up in the air. I think the fact that it’s a research project, I think it’s something that people often stereotype. And so I think part of our project is to kind of learn that definition.
The plan, they say, is to use their film to raise awareness of issues that transcend borders, and towns, and streets:
Saunders: I think it is going to be different in every town. It’s gonna be different in the City of Norfolk and it’s gonna be different in the Blue Ridge Mountains of the Shenandoah valley. It’s going to be different everywhere. We’re looking to develop relationships with our neighbors in the Commonwealth. We are looking to make friends. We want to put a face to poverty.
Do they have a preconceived notion about what the final product may look like?
Schihl: I like the fact that, while I think both Ben and I have ideas based on other films we’ve watched or research that we’ve done, filmmakers who have done similar projects. We have a general idea for what we want it to look like, kinds of images we want to see, but I think the fact that documentary film in general because it is unpredictable, the adventure’s gonna happen in the next two months, and the story’s going to come together in the fall as we are piecing things together.
Schihl and Saunders were given a send-off this morning from the headquarters of the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy in the Bottom. They say without the Center’s support the project couldn’t have happened.
Schihl: We have a website: www.blankstreetproject.com. If you go there, each week we’re going to have like two to three video updates of, you get to meet this character that we’ve just spent like two days with in Franklin, or in Lynchburg or in Norfolk, or wherever. Now all those shorts, which will probably be, I’d say, like 90 seconds to two minutes, will be used by the Interfaith Center. They’re the political side, they’re gonna take things and present these images of these people and their living situations, everybody that we encounter, anybody, really, to show it to the important figures who can actually make the public policy changes.
The young filmmakers are traveling in a 1982 VW Vanigan they bought from a couple in Colonial Heights. Schihl explained that the couple bought it with a tax refund some years ago and named it IRS, for the Internal Revenue Service.
Schihl: So her name is Iris, she’s in really exceptional shape: passed inspection, got some new tires on it, and I’m sure anything that happens to it along the way will be all part of the story.
Learn more online at www.blankstreetproject.com.
John Ogle, WCVE News.