Documentary Film Project in Final Stages
Two Virginia Commonwealth University film students, with help from the Virginia Interfaith Center, spent the summer working on a documentary about human equality.
The Blankstreet Project is coupled with a website and the finished film is going to be premiered before the end of the year.
Schihl: This project started out as a goal for a senior thesis film.
Joey Schihl is a senior from Richmond.
Saunders: We started in the city of Franklin and we went across the state to Lynchburg and spend about a week there.
Ben Saunders, from Mechanicsville, is also a senior.
Schihl: And then came back to Newport News, where we met a really awesome guy named Holliday.
Holliday: I truly believe that every man, woman and child, regardless of their problem, if the right attention, therapeutically, medically or whatever, has been given to them, I believe that they can be transformed into being a productive member of society, I really do.
Saunders: Arlington was kind of a wake-up call where we had come from Franklin and Lynchburg and even Newport News where they were relatively smaller areas. In Arlington, everybody was extremely isolated, very hesitant to the camera, very hesitant to us as potentially reporters or news crew or they weren't sure who we are, and also, the language barrier up there was very difficult to adjust to.
From Arlington, the pair traveled to Harrisonburg.
Schihl: The one place that we, I guess, fell in love with, really, was OCP, Our Community Place, and it's a community center of folks in Harrisonburg that just need a place to go and they serve three meals a day to anybody in the world.
Saunders: We met a lot of really intelligent people, I would say, especially Jim.
Jim: It makes you realize just how much you're at the effect of things and how much you can affect things by the way you live, by the way you live your life.
From Harrisonburg, Schihl explained, they travelled to Danville.
Schihl: And the issue there was the textile mill, which had been the main employer for decades, had closed within the past 20 years. People would not graduate from high school, start working in the mill at 16, and now the mill is closed, there is little to no education and nobody's working, nobody's making any money, and there just seems to be a collective loss of hope. We certainly met some passionate people who love their city, who love their town, who love the sights and the beauty of the place and being right on the Dan River, but in general, there's some angst towards the government in terms of bringing industry back to the states.
The two were provided a place to stay and meals by people in Danville. From there, they drove to Charlottesville.
Saunders: We were pointed to a shelter that is just off the Downtown Mall and, in Charlottesville, there seemed to be a lot of tension around the shelter coming to the area. We were just getting there as it was at its climax, I think.
Some business owners were concerned that the shelter brought panhandlers to the downtown mall area and the impact that might have on business.
Schihl: From Charlottesville, we went to Wise County and spent an afternoon with a woman named Melanie from Friendship Baptist Church, delivering bag lunches to a community that has been devastated by addiction to prescription painkillers.
The final stop on this two-month odyssey was Martinsville, where Schihl and Saunders found hardly anyone at all.
Saunders: One day Joey and I ended up walking down the middle of Main Street about two in the afternoon, and walked down the middle of the street for four or five minutes without seeing a single car. That was pretty eye-opening to see an industry town that had kind of moved out.
Joey Schihl and Ben Saunders say they’re not making the film they thought they started out to make. The one they are making, they discovered, will tell its own story.
John Ogle, WCVE News