By: Natalie Neuhaus (Communications Coordinator and Reporter ‘21)
On Tuesday, October 27th, Friends’ Central was lucky enough to have André Robert Lee come and talk with our middle and upper school students and faculty about his Film Virtually Free. The film shines light on the realities of teen incarceration in Richmond, Virginia. Students and faculty watched Virtually Free either on campus or on Zoom and then met as a whole student body before going into breakout rooms with student facilitators. I got the chance to speak with André after Tuesday to ask him some questions about the film as well as about his visit to FCS.
I began our conversation by asking André about his thoughts on the role of media and filmmaking in our world today and the impact it has and will continue to have. He said, “I think young people work much better visually, and they learn that way. Art heals, and documentaires can be informative and entertaining.” André pointed out that Virtually Free is not just faces talking to the screen, but rather it allows viewers to see kids actually interacting with art. Virtually Free was filmed in a style called verite, which is where you film what is actually happening in the moment. André explained that documentaries can give you all the facts and information without you even knowing it. “It was almost like we found a sneaky way to make you eat broccoli,” he told me.
The process of developing the idea for, filming, and editing a documentary is no easy task. I asked André if there was anything that was especially difficult about the process to film and produce Virtually Free. André told me that the beginning of the project was hard because they were not allowed to film the children's faces. Because these children were detained, the images of the children belonged to the state, not the parents and the children themselves. André explained this made it really hard to film, and they anticipated having to blur out the childrens’ faces when going through the editing process. However, later on, the state changed that statement and gave André permission to film the faces of the children.
Finally I asked André about how his breakout sessions were during his visit on Tuesday. Andre expressed to me that the conversations were really good because they got people thinking. André said, “The thing I saw, that I was hopeful about from first making the film, was that people were excited about trying to figure out what they can do to try to stop incarceration of children. In my mind, just because I heard people asking and thinking that way, it was successful.”
Friends’ Central was so lucky to have André come visit us. We also give a special thanks to the facilitators, who ran the breakout room discussions, as well as Erica Snowden and everyone else responsible for bringing André to FCS to share his amazing work.