Students push for change on Capitol Hill

May 7, 2014
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Students push for change on Capitol Hill

By Nicole Beale

On Wednesday, May 7, BU students showcased their work in Washington D.C. in an effort to protect children in the family court system. Prof. Garland Waller’s
Hothouse Productions, a class that operates as a client-driven, student-run production company, partnered with Eileen King of Child Justice and Dr. Joyanna Silberg of the Leadership Council to create a multimedia campaign, titled “Ignorance is This…”.

Fourteen students worked together to create a series of three Public Service Announcements, as well as a “Making of” documentary. Each video tackles a prevalent issue in the family courts. Students wrote, filmed and edited the PSAs throughout the spring semester in anticipation of the May 7 event.

“The students in Hothouse worked tirelessly on this series of PSA videos and an accompanying social media plan. It's never easy to take complicated subjects and turn them into videos people would want to watch and that would also educate the public about a national scandal. These students did just that,” says Waller.

The American Judges Association found that approximately 70 percent of abusive parents obtain sole of joint custody of their children. The problem is underexposed and widespread, which is why Hothouse Productions took on the project.

In order to raise awareness about the issue, the students highlighted various key points in the films. Ignorance is Irresponsible, created by Rebecca McKee, Daniel Patton, Melissa Moriarty and Michael Lupia, reveals how children are often ignored by the courts when they speak up about abuse and neglect at home.

Melissa Moriarty, Rebecca McKee and Courtney Schmidt
Melissa Moriarty, Rebecca McKee and Courtney Schmidt

Courtney Schmidt, Jessie Torrance and Nate Suri produced Ignorance is Institutional, which examines the outrageous real-life comments judges have expressed during child abuse and custody cases and the fact that the problems are systematic. The students wanted to bring to light the scandalous current state of affairs that is widespread in the court system.

In an effort to explore the public’s lack of knowledge about the cost of protecting children, Lee Anne Carluccio, Julia Hines, Chris Roewe and Samantha Jones took to the streets of Boston. There, the students filmed Ignorance is Inconceivable, where they quizzed locals’ knowledge in a game-show format. This film examines how many people are unaware about the injustice of many family court cases, as well as the exorbitant cost of court cases – which can easily be over $50,000 and sometimes reaches into the millions.

Furthermore, a behind-the-scenes documentary, produced by Jessica Lipman, Jason Kashdan, Erica Cohn and Michael Lupia, shares the steps of production and records the students’ process of bringing the project to fruition. Kashdan states that, “I was shocked not only by the number of cases like these that are taking place every day around America, but also by how few people know that judges often grant custody to an abusive parent."

Nicole Beale ('15), Jason Kashdan ('14) and Rebecca McKee ('15)
Nicole Beale ('15), Jason Kashdan ('14) and Rebecca McKee ('15)

Social media manager, Julia Hines, and executive producer, Nicole Beale, have developed a social media strategy to propel the campaign, spread the videos and incite an online conversation about the issue.

The videos will be screened at The Themis Justice Reception at the Visitor Center on Capitol Hill. The event will recognize members of Congress and public officials who have played a part in saving children from abuse and violence.

Working with clients and a strict deadline was what Waller called “a real world test.” She says, “These Hothouse students aced that test. They are all impressive individuals who are using their real world skills to make the world a better place."

According to Prof. Paul Schneider, chair of the Department of Film and TV, “Hothouse has been one of the most successful classes we have, in terms of introducing students to the real world of producing. By working with clients, they learn how to collaborate, and gain hands-on experience, which is very valuable.”

“It’s been a truly incredible experience to be a part of this project," says Beale. “As students, we never thought we would have such a remarkable opportunity to collaborate and use our skills to advocate for important change.”