“A Roshanda by Any Other Name” Subjective Summary Response

In the segment “A Roshanda by Any Other Name” from the documentary film Freakonomics, there is an investigation of “white names” versus “black names” and how they can affect the life a person leads.  There was a good amount of information in the segment, and it was presented in many ways that I think could help a variety of people could be entertained by while still being able to learn from.  For example, there was information from Roland Fryer, a researcher at Harvard University.  There were scripted examples of the types of lived people might have with different names.  The documentary also asked people on the street what types of names they consider “white” or “black.”  The mix of fictional example, professional opinions, and ordinary people, help to paint a complete picture of this complex issue.

Spurlock, Morgan, “A Roshanda By Any Other Name” from the film Freakonomics. 2010. DVD. Magnolia Pictures, 2011.

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Thoughts on the Segment “Can You Bribe a 9th Grader to Succeed?” from the Film Freakonomics

In my English class that I took in the Spring 2012 semester, we viewed three of the four segments of the documentary film Freakonomics, and we wrote several short assignments about them.  This post is my summary of the segment, “Can You Bribe a 9th Grader to Succeed?” as well as my thoughts on the issue at hand.

 

Education has always been very important to ensure financial security.  However, in America there seems to be a crisis of students not doing well enough.  Failing to graduate from high school can be a financial disaster, since most decent playing jobs require at least high school diploma.  (On a side note, nowadays, a high school diploma is not enough to ensure financial security; a Bachelor’s degree is often needed for a good-paying job.)  This essay focuses on a study done by University of Chicago researchers.  The study focuses on 9th graders at Bloom Trail High School in Chicago Heights, Illinois, a suburb approximately, a twenty-minute drive south of Chicago; it is attempting to find if students can be bribed into performing better in school.  Students will be paid 50 dollars per month if they can improve their and keep them up.  Presumably, the rationale is that such a program will get students to understand the connection between good grades and financial security by giving them an example of the money they will earn if they do well in school and get a good job.  The segment focused on two students participating in the study Kevin Muncy and Urail King.  Both young men have mediocre grades.  This essay will focus on whether bribing students is a good idea.

Bribing students can have a mixed response.  For some people, money is enough to motivate them.  On the other hand, some people will not change their habits even if they have a motivation.  The documentary showed that the program had a mixed effect on both King and Muncy.  Both of them improved some of their grades, but they also did worse in other classes.  Muncy was shown not changing his work habits very much if at all.  He is shown texting during class and playing a video game while at home.  Bribing might have some positive effect; however, the positive effect may be incomplete at best.

If I was in charge of the study I might do it differently.  First, I would give students money at the start as motivation for their grades.  If they do not keep their grades up, then they lose the money.  If they keep them up, they keep the money and earn more.  It seems to me that being rewarded at the start would make the reward seem more real to the students, and that would encourage them to do better because the reward is physical rather than just an abstract concept that must be made concrete.

In conclusion, bribing students to get them to improve their school performance is at best going to have a mixed response.  Some people will be motivated more than others.  Even those who are motivated may not be completely motivated to change their study habits completely.  To get students to achieve in school much more needs to be done.

Thoughts on Bias in Documentary Films

In the course of any kind of education, whether it is formal or otherwise, one needs to make sure that the information they are consuming is accurate, fair, and complete.  As anyone who has ever done or assigned research assignments for school would know, it is important to know several things about the sources of information for the assignments.  One needs to know where the information became from, the person who is giving the information, and how they reached the conclusions that they reached.  Failing to do one or all of those things may result in a paper with lots of inaccurate or biased information.

Documentary films are important tools.  They have the power to educate people about things that they might not otherwise know about.  They can offer different perspectives.  Documentary films can even be the catalyst of a movement that could change the world for the better.

However, any source of information can be prone to bias.  Documentary films are of course no exception.  Many documentary films and filmmakers have been accused of being biased against and/or bias towards certain people, subject matters, and the like.  They may also be accused of misrepresenting issues in order to “prove” their point and justify why their viewpoint is right and why whatever agenda they have should be followed through with by society at large.

For this paper, I will talk about bias in documentary films, including whether and how it can be avoided and if it can be good and/or bad.

I feel that bias can have lots of effects on documentary films.  It can, of course, misrepresent an issue, preventing such an issue that could.  Such forms of mis-representation might include things such as factual inaccuracies, over-simplification of a complex issue, and unbiased perspective and on and on, as we have mentioned several times in class.  Not only that, if an issue is biased it may lead to people being unwilling accepting the message of the film.  Failing to present one both sides can also be dangerous; the conventional wisdom is that there are two sides to every story.  I think that it is important to let people know both sides of an issue.  I have learned that in making arguments, one can strengthen their case if they respond to and attempt to refute the other side.

In conclusion, I have discussed how bias might affect documentary films.  In depicting issues, I feel that it is paramount to make sure that one accurately and depicts the topic in the documentary.  Even if one has a specific agenda, they still need to be sure to back their views up and to present each side in order to show why they are right.  Documentaries can change the world, but care must be taken to be sure that the change is for the better.

Report on Mea Culpa Maxima: Silence in the House of God

The Director:

Alex Gibney’s purpose is apparently to expose the child sexual abuse cases in the Catholic Church and how every level of authority in the Church was not accountable in handling it.

The Story:

Mea Culpa Maxima: Silence in the House of God talks about the child molestation cases and scandals in the Catholic Church all around the world.

The film starts out focusing on four deaf men, Terry Kohut, Gary Smith, Pat Kuehn, and Arthur Budzinski.  They all attended the St John’s School for the Deaf.  They all suffered sexual abuse at the hands of Father Lawrence Murphy, a priest at the school.

Through interviews, the men talk about the abuse that Murphy inflicted upon them and the toll it took.  It was difficult to deal with, not surprisingly.  One of them could not tell his parents because they did not know sign language.  Another of the men was fearful of not being believed.  One of them was confused by Murphy’s abuse.  He wondered if it were really bad if a priest was doing it.

The problem was of course much larger than it first appeared.  First, it turned out that the hierarchy of the Catholic Church all the way up to the Vatican knew about Father Murphy’s actions.  An attempt was made to get the local Archbishop to remove Father Murphy, but Murphy refused to be removed since he ran the school.

In addition, attempts were made to have Murphy held legally accountable for his crimes.  However, due to the “politics” of the situation, no charges were filed.  Eventually Murphy left the school for “health reasons.”

Later, Father Fitzgerald from Boston created an order that sought to treat pedophile priest by way of prayer rather than counseling and to contain sexually abusive priests from the public at large.  One such order was created in Grenada with more created in the Philippines, Africa, and the UK, and their goal was to rehabilitate priests and send them to new parishes.

Gary Smith eventually confessed to father that he was been molested.  His father sued the school, Father Murphy, and the local Archdiocese.  Nuns from the community pressured him to drop the case.  Eventually Smith was tricked into settling for $500.00 in legal fees and a few thousand dollars for counseling and apologizing to the Church for bringing the suit in the first place.  He never received the money that was supposed to go into counseling until twenty years later.  Due to his deafness, partially, Smith was rather illiterate, and therefore, it was easy to get him to agree to a subpar settlement.

The Vatican’s policy of dealing with pedophile priests is to deal with the problem internally and certainly not to refer such cases to the police.  This eventually led to national and international outrage.

Cardinal Bernard Law, the Archbishop of Boston cost the Church tens of millions dollars in settlements because of the cover-up of child sexual abuse.  He resigned from his position in 2002, but then was appointed on a seven-year term at the Basilica Papale Di Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome at the Vatican.  He was essentially rewarded for his actions and inactions.

Soon after the scandal of sexually abusive priests broke in America, it turned out such cases were not limited to just America and Canada unlike what the Vatican claimed.  In 2010, cases broke from all over Europe: Ireland, France, Switzerland, Belgium, and Austria.

A noteworthy non-American case was that of Father Tony Walsh of the Dublin, Ireland suburb of Ballyfermot.  Walsh had abused dozens of children more than 200 times.  The local Archdiocese knew about it, but, of course, they kept it quiet and kept it quiet on order Vatican; under Canon Law, all involved, the accusers, the accused, and the witnesses, were sworn to secrecy otherwise they would be excommunicated.  Walsh was sent to a secret Catholic treatment facility and was kicked out, yet he was still given access to children.  Eventually, Walsh was held legally responsible for his crimes.  This case has led to church attendance in Ireland to drop considerably.

There is a very severe lack of accountability.  In Ireland, Pope Benedict XVI attempted to gain the forgiveness of the Irish public, by writing a letter to them.  However, the letter blames the scandal on the local bishops rather than the Vatican and their orders.  Not only that, when Benedict later commented on the sexual abuse cases, he was more concerned with the fact that the image of the Catholic Church was tainted than with the suffering of the victims.

Benedict has known about sexual abuse cases long before he became

The main reason for the lack of accountability seems to be the fact the Pope has immunity and cannot be punished by an government or religious body.

Style:

The style is primarily in “talking head” interviews.  There is also archive footage, and photographs.  The interviews of the four deaf men are emotional.  Actors narrate their words, and we learn about the emotional toll being abused did on them.  There are also other interviews of reporters and even members of the Church clergy talking about all of the vile details of cover-ups.

A Call to Action:

There is no call to action in the film.  However, I feel that this film should inspire people not be silent when children are abused.  People should educate themselves on the issue of child abuse in all of its forms and on what to do if a child confesses to being abused or even if you are merely suspicious that abuse has taken place.

 

Report on Food, Inc.

I did this report on Food, Inc. for my documentary film class. 

 

Food, Inc. talks about how large factories and corporations have changed the food industry, and not necessarily for the better

 

The twentieth century brought several revolutions in the service of food.

 

In the 1930’s, car hops were introduced. Customers would drive to restaurant, order their meals, and waiters/waitresses would bring them their meals.

 

McDonald’s restaurants invented a factory-like system of preparing and serving food. Each employee would be required to do only one thing like cook the burgers, or put toppings on the burger buns. This allowed them to prepare large amounts of food in a short amount of time at a small cost.

 

In the 1970’s 50 percent of food in grocery stores came from four companies. By the time the documentary was made, that number jumped to 80 percent.

 

Farms began breeding chickens to grow faster and larger so that more of them could be slaughtered and sold as food. Cows were fed corn in order to get them to grow larger and fatter. This served to maximize profits.

 

Later on, the farm industry ended up largely under the control of food corporations. Farmers entered into contracts with these companies. The companies then provide the equipment to produce food. Animals such as chickens and cows are often kept in large buildings where huge numbers of them have to exist together in a rather unsanitary and inhumane environment, often having to literally live within their own bodily wastes.

 

This, however, led to unintended consequences.

 

Cows who are fed corn produce E. coli in their digestive tracts because their bodies are not biologically programmed to eat corn; they are supposed to eat grass. The unsanitary conditions that animals are kept in from the farms to the slaughterhouses resulted in E. coli occasionally ending up in restaurants and supermarkets. The fact that there are now only 13 slaughterhouses in all of America does not help the matters due to the fact that the factories are so large that it is very hard to prevent the spread of bacteria. The small number of factories also increases the odds of contamination and outbreaks of contamination. In addition, a single, for example, hamburger may be made from several different cows, also increasing the odds of contamination

 

There have been several cases of people falling ill with food.

 

One case is that of Kevin Kowalczyk. Barbara Kowalczyk’s two-and-a-half year old son Kevin died of food-poisoning after eating a burger made of contaminated beef.

 

The beef was not recalled until after his tragic, untimely death. Due to lawsuits from the food industry, the USDA lost the ability to perform inspections of food factories and slaughterhouses and shut them down if they are consistently unable to prevent contaminations.Now, Kowalczyk is lobbying the Federal government to hold food companies accountable for ensuring food safety. “Kevin’s Law” was introduced in Congress to once again allow the USDA to shut food plants that keep on producing meat that is infected. At the time of the production of the documentary, the bill was six years old and due to lobbying from food corporations, still remained unpassed. She shares the pain of her son’s death so that other people will not have to go through the same thing.

 

More Health Concerns Caused by the Food Industry:

 

The Gonzalez family consists of a husband, a wife, and two teenage daughters. They struggle with their diets.? Due to their work schedules, they have no time to cook. Not only that, they can barely afford to buy healthy foods from the supermarket. Mrs. Gonzalez’s husband is diabetic, and she fears that he could go blind and lose his ability to help provide for the family. They also struggle with whether to pay for his Mr. Gonzalez’s medication or healthy foods. Therefore, the Gonzalez family has to buy fast food in order to eat. Their older daughter is scared for her father and her younger sister as well due to their diet. Their older daughter attended a teen health summit to talk about health issues that her community faces. Nearly all of the participants in the summit said that they have at least one relative with diabetes, many at least three.

 

The reason why fast food, candy, soda, and the like are so inexpensive in comparison to fruits and vegetables is because they make use of ingredients that the government heavily subsidizes: wheat, corn, and soybeans. This is why low-income people are more likely to be overweight and obese; they often cannot afford healthy foods. This low cost of unhealthy foods has led to more and more people being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. Not only that, more and more CHILDREN AND TEENAGERS are being diagnosed with the disease. At this rate, one third of all Americans born after the year 200 will develop diabetes. Minority Americans will suffer diabetes at rate of 50%.

 

What Can WE Do About This?

 

We might think we are powerless, but we are not.
We have to CHOOSE to make the food industry better.
We must only elect officials who are more concerned with the interests of the American people than with the Interests of the food corporations
We need to only support companies that treat animals humanely, workers respectfully, and the environment safely.
Purchase only food that are in-season
Purchase organic foods.
Read Labels and know what you are eating.
Purchase locally grown food.
Visit farmer’s markets.
Grow your own food.
Ask schools to provide healthy lunches.
Hold the government accountable for holding the food industry accountable for keeping food safe.
The director’s goal in the making the film was to expose the unethical, if dangerous practices in the food industry in hopes of inspiring change.

 

The style is rather diverse. There is some of use of animated diagrams to give statistical information. Most of it involves people in the food industry, farmers and average, every-day Americans who are affected by the issue. There is testimony from a farmer who was once contracted to provide food for a large food company. There is also testimony from scientists who talk about the issues surrounding modern food production. The film also has a personal touch with the aforementioned stories of Barbara Kowalczyk losing her young son Kevin to food-poisoning and her quest for change and the Gonzalez family whose income is having a negative impact on their attempts to be healthy.

 

As mentioned above, the film offers several suggestions that normal people can take to inspire change in the food industry.

 

Films on Justice and Injustice

This semester I am also taking a class on documentary films about justice and injustice.  In class we have watched several noteworthy films about justice such as Bully, Food, Inc., Waiting for Superman, An Inconvenient Truth, Mea Culpa Maxima: Silence in the House of God, amongst many others.  Each student must report on two films (graduate students must report on three films).  I reported on Food, Inc., and I will do a report on Mea Culpa Maxima.

This syllabus is below.

 

 

Catalog Description: Examines style and influence of key social issue and social justice
documentary filmmakers. Identifies filmmaking techniques and analyzes issues in documentary filmmaking. Examines ethics in social justice documentary filmmaking. Describes effects documentary film has on perception of events and issues, as well as discussing how social media is used in social justice filmmaking.
Course Prerequisite: Any prior course in Communications, Criminal Justice, or
Independent Filmmaking at Governors State or permission of the instructor.
Rationale: This film seminar is intended to introduce social issue and social
justice filmmaking to students in the Criminal Justice, Communications and Independent Film and Digital Imaging programs. Exposure to and study of accomplished documentary films may affect the development of our own methods of critical thinking and demonstrate the power and effect these films have on our society as well as the ability they may have to alter our perceptions and even change the course of lawmakers or legislation.
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Intended Audience: Students in Criminal Justice, Media Communication and
Independent Film with strong personal or professional interest in social issue / social justice documentary film and filmmaking. Course Objectives:
Demonstrate a range of knowledge with regard to the world’s best-known and influential documentary filmmakers, their work, and their antecedents in documentary history. Our emphasis in this course will be on contemporary documentary filmmakers and their approaches to storytelling, production, post- production, and distribution.
Express insight into the pressures concomitant in the otherwise supportive relationship between documentary filmmakers and their sources of financing, and their role in publicity.
Express insight into the ethical considerations of documentary filmmaking.
Express insight into styles and aesthetics of the documentary films screened and discussed in the course.
Know and respect the distinction between a documentary’s content – how it may make us think or feel – and the medium and technique of its filmmakers.
Understand how the emotional response a film engenders draws the sustained engagement of an audience.
Recognize how a filmmaker uses the “call to action” and how social media is utilized to rally an audience and bring action to a cause long after the film has been viewed.
Expected Student Outcomes
Upon completion of this course students should be able to:
Identify message meanings and their significance. Examine techniques of effective message design.
Demonstrate the ability to communicate effectively and with integrity as informed and engaged global citizens.
Explore the relationships between communication and culture as a means of fostering intercultural relationships.
Identify and exemplify ethical and professional communication practices that
promote human relations.
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Master discipline-related theory and aesthetics and demonstrate this mastery through effective written and oral presentations.
Demonstrate critical thinking and evaluative abilities as they relate to interpretations of digital photographic arts and the cinema.
Expected Graduate Students Outcomes:
Graduate students are expected demonstrate a more sophisticated scope and proficiency in interpretation and analysis in both oral and written formats. Graduate students will be required to make three presentations during the term, while undergraduates present twice.
Graduate students are also required to achieve an above average performance with respect to assignments, examinations, and participation.
Instructional Modalities and Activities:
Students will be responsible for finding and independently screening assigned films or works by a given filmmaker on a weekly basis. We will meet on campus in seminar sessions that will include screenings of film clips and filmmaker interviews, as well as discussions and short presentations. You will be expected to speak each week about the films you have seen.
The course has no required text. In lieu of texts, film rentals will be required, and a subscription to Netflix is strongly recommended. All films will be available either on Netflix, or through a streaming rental on iTunes, Amazon, or Hulu.
Optional Text: Cunningham, Megan. The Art of the Documentary: Ten
Conversations with Leading Directors, Cinematographers, Editors, and Producers. New Riders Press, 2005.
Curran Bernard, Sheila. Documentary Storytelling: Creative Nonfiction on Screen. Elsevier Inc., 2011.
Online Resource:
Website for Capturing Reality: The Art of Documentary. Thirty-eight filmmakers from 14 countries share their passion for documentary and talk about the artistic and ethical choices they make in their craft. http://www3.nfb.ca/webextension/capturing-reality/
Relevant/required reading and viewing may be made available by the instructor by email or on Blackboard.
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Course Outline:
Please note: the Course Outline, including any film identified for screening along the way, is subject to change during the semester. Each scheduled meeting will consist of student seminar presentations and discussions about films. The titles of the films to be screened will be determined on a weekly basis as the course progresses and updates to screenings will be posted on blackboard or distributed through email.
Class 1 – August 27 Discuss syllabus, course outline. Class 2 – September 3 Presentations / discussion Class 3 – September 10 Presentations / discussion Class 4 – September 17 Presentations / discussion Class 5 – September 24 Presentations / discussion Class 6 – October 1 No class session – Complete take-home Documentary Social
Media Assignment Class 7 – October 8 Presentations / discussion / term essay assigned Class 8 – October 15 Presentations / discussion / midterm review Class 9 – October 22 Midterm test Class 10 – October 29 Presentations / discussion Class 11– November 5 Presentations / discussion Class 12 – November 12 Presentations / discussion Class 13 – November 19 Presentations / discussion / Term essay due Class 14 – November 26 Final Exam review Class 15 – December 3 Final Exam
Evaluation: Grade Percentages
Documentary Social Media Assignment 10%
This assignment calls for you to consider how social media is used in social justice filmmaking. You will get more detailed information on this assignment later in the semester.
Weekly Blackboard Discussion 10%
Throughout the semester, you’ll be required to post responses to questions I ask about the films we are viewing that week. You must post your responses to the course Discussion board on Blackboard no later than 12 pm on Tuesdays. These responses are designed to help you watch more attentively, think more critically and to be better prepared for class discussions. Undergraduate students are required to submit six (6) responses over the course of the semester; graduate students are required to submit eight (8) responses. Your responses will be graded on a 10-­‐point scale. Here are some additional guidelines:
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• Undergraduates: Your responses should be at least 200 words in length. (The best way to check your word count is to compose your response in Microsoft Word, and then copy and paste it into the discussion board.) Graduates: Your responses should be about 300 words in length.
• Discussion posts for a given film must be submitted no later than 12pm on the day we discuss that film. No late responses will be accepted.
• Begin your response by listing film, filmmaker, and scene in the film that you are referencing. You may summarize a certain scene and then reflect upon some larger question, theme, or issue evoked by that particular scene. An acceptable alternative would be to respond directly to a classmate’s post. Just keep in mind that you should be courteous and kind to your classmates.
Presentations 20%
On two (undergraduate students) or three (graduate students) sessions during the term, you will lead the group in an exploration of a particular documentary film, and/or filmmaker. See handout.
Mid-term Quiz 15%
The midterm will cover content from lectures, discussions, films and assigned reading to date.
Term essay 20%
Your term essay of 2,500 to 5,000 words is due on November 19. I will distribute an assignment sheet with several suggested topics later in the term. I strongly encourage each of you to meet with me to discuss ideas for your paper.
Final Exam 20%
The essay examination will cover content from lectures, discussions, films and assigned reading. The majority of the questions call for short written responses.
Attendance and Participation 5%
You are expected to attend all lectures, screenings, and post screening discussions and participate in class discussions.
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Advisory for graduate students enrolled in IFDI-8400/MCOM-6040/CJUS- 6000-06 : you are expected to meet a higher qualitative standard than the undergraduates enrolled in this course. As such, you will be required to make three presentations during the term, while undergraduates present twice. You are also required to achieve an above average performance (see Grading Policy, below) with respect to assignments, examinations, and participation.
Grading Policy
A Superior Performance 90-100 B Above average performance 80-89 C Average performance 70-79 D Marginal performance 66-69 F Failure 64 and below
Requests for “Incompletes”
A grade of “I” (for “Incomplete”) is assigned and an extension may be granted only by permission of the instructor. In all courses outside of thesis projects and internships, please be aware that after an Incomplete is approved, a student’s maximum attainable grade for the course will be a “B” or lower.
Attendance and Participation:
Your success in the course is directly related to your attendance. In particular, your performance on exams will suffer if you miss any classes. Keep that in mind when you weigh the importance of anything you might miss class for. It should go without saying that this encompasses all personal conduct and the respectful treatment of your fellow students. Please notify the instructor at your soonest convenience after attending to an emergency that has necessitated an absence.
Attendance is otherwise required in all classes. Students are allowed 2 (two) absences or late appearances (15+ minutes). With the exception of emergencies, each absence or lateness thereafter will result in the drop of one letter grade. A fourth absence or late appearance will make a grade of “C” the highest obtainable grade for the course.
In special circumstances, a student may make arrangements to miss class by calling the instructor at least one week in advance. A student who misses a class is expected, regardless, to turn in projects that are due on or before the due date. Any missed assignments or tests cannot be made up. Your mark for participation is linked to your attendance. If you’re not here, you’re not participating. This grade is affected even if an absence is excused.
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