"Prosperity always inflates the imprudent, and worldly peace weakens the vigor of the soul." - Peter Abelard

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Wellesley High School Grads' Documentary Examines Race Relations In Hometown

This story was originally published on the front page of the July 28th issue of The Wellesley Townsman.

Steve Cameron (left) and Jake Sobol (right) goof off for the camera. Photo courtesy of Jake Sobol.
WELLESLEY, Mass. - - After 18 years of feeling simultaneously comfortable and alienated in their hometown of Wellesley, WHS graduates Jake Sobol and Steve Cameron decided to make a film that expressed those conflicting emotions.

The result, a 79-minute documentary called “A Conscious Effort,” painstakingly filmed and edited over a six-week period for their senior project, was released online on July 20, where it received more than 50 views in one day.

“Basically, this film is an examination of racial dynamics stemming out of what we’ve seen in Wellesley conducted through interviews,” Sobol said.

“I would say it’s a study of race relations in the suburbs, asking a variety of different people and getting different opinions,” Cameron said.

Although Sobol and Cameron are two (self-professed) privileged white kids from the suburbs, they say their interests and opinions run contrary to those espoused by most of their peers.

“So many kids want to be just like what they have here in Wellesley and don’t want to stem out or do anything different,” said Sobol.

After taking an African-American Studies class together in the fall of 2010, they said it was a logical extension for them to examine race relations in Wellesley for their senior project.

“We decided to make something that would help the African-American Studies class, more than just a narrative film,” said Sobol.

The film features lengthy interviews with several past and present METCO students, students and teachers from WHS, and Selwyn Cudjoe, a professor of comparative African-American literature at Wellesley College.

“I don’t think what makes it good is that we’re particularly great filmmakers, there’s just a lot of good content with the interviews. It did its job,” Cameron said.

The lion’s share of the filming and editing took place from April 4 to May 18. Sobol and Cameron had to cut it down from the over seven hours of film they initially collected.

The film centers on a few key themes: white privilege, defining “the Wellesley community,” and a debate on what best represents “the real world.”

“I don’t think Wellesley is an unreal world, I just think it’s a world that not many people ever get the chance to see or live in,” said Grant Hightower, a special education teacher at WHS, during his interview in the film.

“In the end, you don’t really know anything. You can never be prepared for the real world. We had to admit that there’s a certain type of racial dynamic that we’ll never understand,” Sobol said.

Sobol and Cameron said they constantly have to toe the line between living in Wellesley and feeling alienated there.

 “My friends are my home, of course. My house is my home, of course. But the town that surrounds it, I don’t feel at home there at all,” said Sobol. “That being said, I’ll admit, I own a pair of Sperry’s.”

“It’s a very comfortable place to live and it’s very easy to get in that bubble. However, I think any kind of isolated environment like Wellesley isn’t really conducive to having a nice, well-rounded personality,” said Cameron.

Sobol, who will attend Hampshire College in Amherst this fall, plans to study filmmaking and radical politics. Cameron will head to Emerson College in Boston, where he’ll study radio production.

Their documentary can be seen online at: http://www.vimeo.com/26678574


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