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MGH Partnered Studio focuses on the impact of gun violence on individuals and communities in the greater Boston area. The goal is to engage with communities affected by gun violence and document their experiences. Taught by Visual and Media Arts professor Ougie Pak in the Spring 2020 semester, the course resulted in the creation of four short documentaries featuring survivors of gun violence, each offering insight into one of the most serious ongoing social problems in the United States.
The course was developed in partnership with Mass General Hospital’s Center for Gun Violence Prevention, an initiative dedicated to working against firearm-related violence. The Center approaches gun violence as a public health crisis and sees education and community engagement as key components in the effort to tackle this crisis. This is where professor Pak and his students enter the picture. The course offered Emerson’s students an opportunity to learn about gun violence from primary sources. It also created a means to share that knowledge with the public. When the Covid-19 pandemic disrupted the Spring 2020 semester, the project was already under way, but the documentaries were far from finished. Completing the documentaries suddenly became more complicated.The pandemic also meant that the medical professionals involved in the project now had more urgent problems to deal with. These challenges did not derail the project, though. Instead, they called for an additional dose of creativity. Professor Pak devised a strategy in which he would shoot a series of socially distanced interviews, then disseminated the footage to his students to collaboratively edit it. In the Fall of 2020 he worked with an editor to complete post-production on all four films.
Documentary makers form relationships with the people they interview. They must earn the trust of their subjects. In this course, the process of making the documentaries became itself a way of engaging with the communities and individuals impacted by gun violence. Five people were interviewed, andfour of the interviews ended up being used to create five-to-six-minute documentaries.Each documentary focuses on the testimony of one particular individual. All four subjects in the documentaries share harrowing stories of pain and loss. But their testimonies tell us a great deal about courage and resilience as well. Together they help us understand how gun violence impacts the lives of different people. They also draw attention to a problem we must face collectively.
“When your child dies, you’re still a parent. You’re always a parent,” says Gail Hiller in this moving testimony about loss, love, and resilience.
A doctor recalls a day in 1983 when he was shot by the disgruntled brother of his colleague’s patient: “Watch out . . . Bad things can happen when humiliated people have weapons.”
A young man describes the shooting that almost took his life and the challenges he faces as a survivor of gun violence: “I don’t really go out on the 4th of July, because when I hear the fireworks, I still jump.”