2015 John Hope Franklin Award Winners Immerse Themselves in Summer-Long Documentary Projects

Photo by Reem Alfahad, taken during an Arts-Policy Internship with the Ministry of Culture in Medellin, Colombia

Photo by Reem Alfahad, taken during an Arts-Policy Internship with the Ministry of Culture in Medellin, Colombia

And they’re off….six undergraduates and recent graduates from local universities will be pursuing summerlong documentary projects as recipients of the 2015 John Hope Franklin Student Documentary Awards. While many of the Center for Documentary Studies‘ awards are national or international in focus, the John Hope Franklin awards go to Triangle-area undergraduates who wish to pursue projects involving oral history, photography, film or video, and/or writing. Established by CDS in 1989, the awards are named for the noted scholar John Hope Franklin, professor emeritus of history at Duke University, in recognition of his lifetime accomplishments and his dedication to students and teaching.

Congratulations to the 2015 John Hope Franklin Student Documentary Award winners; we’ll be following their progress as they immerse themselves in their projects:

Reem Alfahad (Duke University), a Baldwin Scholar who majored in public policy, graduated in May 2015. Through her project, “Hope and Reconciliation,” she will explore the narratives of young artists in Medellin, Colombia, as they grapple with their city’s past and present. While these artists grew up after the death of Pablo Escobar and are experiencing the ongoing revival of their city, narco-trafficking, poverty, and displacement are ongoing realities in present-day Medellin. Reem will be based at the Proyecto Boston Medellin (PBM), and will create profiles of several artists and the trajectories of their artwork and stories through her writing and audio work. One of the potential artists creates silhouettes of gang members, sex workers, and street vendors; another documents his family’s dairy farm on the outskirts of the city, which faces questions of preserving natural spaces in the face of encroaching development.

Mariana Calvo (Duke University) is a rising junior studying history and public policy. In the summer of 2014, she participated in a DukeEngage program in Tucson, Arizona, where she worked with a number of women from the western highlands of Guatemala. For her project, she will travel to Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, conduct oral history interviews on the country’s civil war, and write an essay drawing on the connections between the civil war and immigration to the United States. “The narratives surrounding Latin America are often about places of absence—absence of wealth, absence of history, absence of the rule of law. However, as a Latin American I know that there is so much cultural and historical wealth in Latin America, and in this case specifically, Guatemala. My goal in writing this essay is to show people that Guatemala, and other countries that have historically supplied immigrants to the United States, have an intrinsic value, and that we should work to keep people from immigrating.”

Brenna Cukier (University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill) graduated in May 2015 as a Robertson Scholar with a major in journalism and mass communication and will be a CDS Lewis Hine Documentary Fellow in 2015–16. She also received a CDS Certificate in Documentary Studies from Duke University. The granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor whose family fled Berlin, Brenna is working with an organization that handles claims for the restoration of German citizenship for Jewish victims of the Nazi regime and their descendants. Brenna will be making a film that documents this process while simultaneously telling her grandmother’s story. “The culmination of my documentary will be a trip to my grandmother’s hometown of Berlin this summer after I secure my German citizenship. My goal is to document my first experiences in a country I have never visited or lived in, but will all of a sudden officially ‘belong to.’ . . . I intend to explore and document my experiences in modern-day Europe as a Jew, which I believe is of particular relevance given the many recent acts of anti-Semitism there.”

Christine Delp (Duke University) graduated in May 2015 with a self-designed Program II major in ethics and visual documentary studies. Her project will be a short film, Derailleur, that examines the bicycle through documentary and ethnographic lenses: “The bicycle is both a symbol of youthful innocence and adulthood nostalgia. It is used by privileged communities for health and environmental reasons, as well as by less privileged communities as a form of cheaper transportation. A bicycle evokes feelings of power and freedom within the rider, as well as feelings of fear and danger. Economically, the bicycle is perhaps more democratically accessible; but in space, it—or rather its rider—is a precarious authoritarian. Furthermore, as a human-powered, open-air, and unpredictable machine, the bicycle resists modern norms for transportation systems. The film’s narration will explore these themes and others through a detached voice in the style of a documentary essay, similar to a nature film. Though the film is not strictly satirical, the style of examining the bicycle both as an unfamiliar object and as a means for social commentary will likely contain satirical elements.”

Grace Farson and Amirah Jiwa (University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill) are creating a joint project. Grace graduated in May 2015 and majored in media production and food studies; Amirah graduated in December 2015 and majored in economics and peace, war, and defense. Their interactive website will use photographs, video, and long-form narrative writing to explore the creativity, innovation, and enterprising inspired by Europe’s refugee crisis. While governments across the continent are floundering in their responses to the recent influx of refugees, their citizens have sprung into action, exercising creativity and compassion as they develop solutions that help those incoming to find housing, work, and community in their new host-countries. Grace and Amirah will contextualise and profile one such venture, The Magdas Hotel in Vienna, that stands out for its dual emphasis on providing refugees with both employment and an opportunity to connect with the local community in a meaningful way.

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