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Stone Center hosts film festival, first showing highlights environmental racism in NC

varsity theatre
The 2022 Diaspora Festival of Black and Independent Film opened at the Varsity Theatre on Sept. 29.

At the first screening of the 2022 Diaspora Festival of Black and Independent Film, organized by the Sonja Haynes Stone Center on Sept. 29, attendees watched a documentary called "Freedom Hill" at the Varsity Theatre on Franklin Street.

The movie, a documentary on environmental racism and its effects on Princeville, N.C., is the directorial debut of Resita Cox, a filmmaker and UNC alumna.  

 Princeville experienced flooding following repeated hurricanes, including Hurricanes Floyd and Matthew. The majority-Black residents of the Town were often forced to live close to the flood-prone Tar River throughout the settlement's history.

“I am from Kinston, which is not too far away or dissimilar from Princeville, and I didn't learn about Princeville's history until I was well into my adult life,” Cox said.

According to the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, Princeville was one of the first towns in the U.S. founded by African Americans. 

Cox said she first learned about Princeville’s history when she went there as a reporter to cover Hurricane Matthew in 2016. 

From there, she said she knew she wanted to make a longer-form piece about the town that wasn't possible under her television reporting job. 

“I am really in awe,” Cox said. “Honestly, I feel like I'm always in awe at the people around me for this project.”

Cox said that the screening felt like a homecoming, for both the film and herself. She added that she hopes to continue with her impact campaigns moving forward, including a youth media camp and a family screening series.

Salena Braye-Bulls, the 2022 Sean Douglas Leadership Fellow at the Stone Center, said she hopes both students who are of African diasporic backgrounds and those who aren’t go to the film festival.

“I truly do believe that there is something for everyone, and I think that just a little time spent learning about the film festival overall is definitely worth it,” she said.

Sydney Schulterbrandt, a UNC student, said she loved "Freedom Hill."

“Social and economic justice is my passion,” she said. “It's what I want to do after I finish law school. So to get a film just displaying work in real time and being able to connect with the creators and further that work was very inspiring.”

A question-and-answer session after the showing lasted for over an hour and included Cox, Marquetta Dickens, Kendrick Ransome and Danielle Purifoy, a professor at UNC, as panelists. Dickens and Ransome were involved in the making of the film. 

Jordyn Middleton, another student at UNC, said the film connected with her as both a Black woman and Black student at UNC. She said the answers from the panelists inspired her to explore how students can change their local communities.

“I thought each and every one of them were super engaging and thoughtful,” she said.

Dickens, the CEO of the Freedom Org, appeared in "Freedom Hill." She said it was exciting to hear students' questions and that it’s inspiring to see the passion of young people. 

She said she wanted to share Princeville’s and her organization’s story through the documentary.

“Resita reached out and I was already doing work in Princeville and advocating for our community, and so when she reached out it was a no-brainer to me,” Dickens said.

Sheriff Drammeh, senior program manager at the Stone Center, said he was in charge of organizing the festival. He said the festival is currently on good footing and he’d like it to be bigger and better in the future.

“We're limited in funding,” he said. “We're doing the best with what resources we have, but we'd like to see the film festival grow even bigger in terms of audience, in terms of films we're able to secure.”

The festival will continue through Oct. 13, with several more film showings in the coming weeks.

@DTHCityState | 

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