Written by Natalie Hulla; posted by Dustin Jenkins
Recently, documentary filmmaker and editor Paul Hill visited with O.U. Film M.F.A. students to engage in discussion about his recently completed feature documentary, Cincinnati Goddamn. Hill edited and co-directed the film with collaborative partner and filmmaker April Martin.
Cincinnati Goddamn is a documentary about police brutality, institutional racism, and the power of grassroots activism in Cincinnati, Ohio. The film focuses on the murders of Roger Owensby, Jr. and Timothy Thomas at the hands of Cincinnati Police, an act which not only grievously affect the two mens’ families, but also led to a vigorous campaign by local activists. This unapologetically candid documentary is told through news reports, first-person accounts and cinema verité footage of the surviving families' long-suffering battle for justice.
Assistant Professor Tom Hayes screened Cincinnati Goddamn to his Documentary Production and Digital Editing classes. Hayes then hosted Q&A and discussion sessions with Hill during each class, where students gained more insight into the documentary's production, his relationship with Martin, as well as his experiences working as an editor for the Wexner Center for the Arts Studio Program in Columbus, Ohio.
Hill spoke with students in detail about the evolution of the production process. Whereas the film was originally a look at the history of riots in Cincinnati, the documentary grew to include both an emotional focus on the Owensby family retelling their experiences in their pursuit of justice as well as a look at the activism that surrounded the riots and the institutional responses that followed. Ultimately, as Hill explained, the film became an intricate look at the time and place of these events including the systems at play.
Both students and Hill himself spoke of the relevance of Cincinnati Goddamn amidst the national focus on police brutality in the wake of the murders of unarmed African American men at the hands of police. Hill recalled watching news footage of the protests in Ferguson, Missouri and across the nation in the Fall of 2014 while editing the film.
"It was fascinating to hear it play out," Hill said. "It helped contextualize things because the events are so similar."
Hill also engaged discussion about offline processes that influenced the film. To ensure that they maintained a similar mindset for production, he and Martin held regular roundtable discussions about relevant news items, race relations and racism in society within the United States. As he and Martin come from different demographic backgrounds, Hill explained that it was eye-opening for him to understand this issue through Martin's lens, given that his upbringing -- being of a white, middle class, male perspective -- was different from hers. This ended up having a "subconscious effect" on Hill's editing, as it helped him to understand the tone of the events and the underlying anger associated with them. He and Martin also spent time immersing themselves in the topics of race, slavery and white privilege through music and literature.
In class, Hill discussed the mechanics of the film while working with Avid Media Composer, the digital editing system that Hayes teaches in the program. He shed light on his artistic choices through the editing process and offered salient advice and suggestions for students who work with the software. Hill also shared more of his experiences working as an editor with various kinds of film directors and various styles of filmmaking.
Cincinnati Goddamn is currently scheduled to screen at various film festivals and the filmmakers have planned for educational sessions throughout the region. The documentary has been accepted to the Athens International Film & Video Festival and will screen on Mon., April 6th at 5:15p at the Athena Cinema on Court Street.