Local poverty, jails and public schools were the topics of conversation on Main Street Wednesday night, sparked by the work of a Chattanooga-born filmmaker who has been working to stir civil engagement around some of the community's most intractable problems.
A small crowd gathered at the nonprofit Green Spaces, where Robert Winslow, a 27-year-old graduate of the Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences, showed three short films he shot and produced.
One was a film commissioned by UnifiED, a local nonprofit that advocates for public schools. Another was a a short film about the Hamilton County Jail. And a third, funded by the New York-based Solutions Journalism Network, was an examination of "The Poverty Puzzle," a multi-part series published last spring by the Times Free Press, which explored causes of and solutions to the area's growing poverty and limited economic mobility.
"There are a lot of people who are fortunate, who are not in great need, who would like to make a difference but don't know where they can have the most impact," said Mel Cooper, a retired fundraiser for McCallie School who attended the Wednesday screening. "So I think he [Winslow] is on to something here, showing short films to stimulate dialogue and make you think."
Wednesday's event was one of three screenings Winslow held this spring in preparation for a larger summer project, with which he hopes to engage a much wider audience in discussing and solving local problems. The summer screening event is being funded, in part, by the Community Foundation of Greater Chattanooga.
At each event, he poses questions to audience members and asks them to write their own questions and feedback, in between the short videos that he uses to focus the conversation. For instance, what lesson can be learned from Chattanooga's comeback story, he asked.
Winslow said he is using the participant responses to shape the coming summer film screenings he has planned.
"This is all an experiment," Winslow told the 20 or so members of the crowd, who spent far more time writing their feedback than talking. "I don't have any interest in politics or media or buzzwords. I am just trying to get at a better way of doing civics."
Winslow launched the Southern Dialogues web series, which can be viewed at www.southern dialogues.com, in early 2014 as a personal civic mission without funding. There he publishes interviews with everyday citizens and local leaders exploring topics such as the Chattanooga renaissance story, technology and the innovation district, housing and gentrification, as well as public schools.
"I started the project in Chattanooga because our narrative of transformation and current trends presented an ideal opportunity to ask how a city grasps its own future at this time," he said. "It didn't take long for the stories to take a life of their own, and now I'm really proud of having been able to capture this moment in my hometown's history."
For more information about Southern Dialogues and the upcoming summer film series, contact Winslow at firstname.lastname@example.org.