Norfolk, my first stop on the OSIP tour, offered two memorable opportunities to present “Concrete, Steel & Paint.”
Wednesday afternoon, I was invited to speak to high school students from the Virginia Governor’s School for the Arts and also had a chance to present the film (in a spontaneous sneak preview showing!) to a core group of students in the public art class – who are currently working on their own mural project in partnership with Norfolk’s light rail system.
Watching the film with the students was a unique opportunity to get their feedback. I was a bit nervous, trying to anticipate their reactions – because these youth were in an art program, I wasn’t entirely certain how the film’s criminal justice content would resonate. I was pleasantly surprised (and relieved) when they told me that part of the film made the art project more interesting and got them thinking about perceptions in our society of prisoners and crime victims. The conversation then took a turn toward collaboration, and a possible opportunity to work with other teens in Norfolk on a mural project to explore differences in their life experiences.
We traversed a range of topics – from the creative process to public art styles. It was exciting to see how the film added to their educational activities, and also was a really fun way to spend the afternoon.
The public screening, later that evening at the Chrysler Museum, was equally as energizing. After the film ended, one woman promptly started the Q&A on her own terms with a question about murals in Philadelphia and an anecdote about a recent visit there. From there, the comments flowed. The group in attendance represented artists and art therapists, substance abuse counselors, volunteer victim advocates, students, educators and general lovers of film who enthusiastically shared questions and reactions. “I just loved how Zafir talked about still being able to feel the gentleness in other lives,” one woman remarked – “that really stuck with me.” One gentleman was a little disappointed that the dialogue in the meetings didn’t go further, which prompted other audience members to jump in and share their thoughts in response. I fielded a number of general questions that had to do with the logistics of the process, security issues in prison, ongoing relationships resulting from the project, and continuing opportunities for collaboration.
It was a very full day of activity, and a memorable experience.
Post and photos by Cindy Burstein, OSIP touring filmmaker