Carrboro Film Festival

Saturday, Nov. 17 & Sunday, Nov. 18, $15–$20

The ArtsCenter, Carrboro

Art, some say, is never truly finished, and when your art is documenting protests, that’s doubly true. Last week, when I spoke with Chapel Hill filmmakers Michael Galinsky and Suki Hawley about their film Working in Protest, which screens in the Carrboro Film Festival at 7:00 p.m. on Saturday, November 17, they had just updated the film’s Facebook page with new footage of a protest against possible interference in the Mueller investigation, which they had recorded in Chapel Hill the night before. I remarked that the film, which compiles their footage from protests over a thirty-year period, seems like something they could infinitely update.

“That’s what we’re doing!” Galinsky cheerfully replies.

Working in Protest has a simple formula that gets complex results. The film jumps around in time, showing images and interviews from varied protests and discussions about controversial issues and finding unsettling parallels between injustices taking place decades apart—particularly when it comes to questioning the White House or the normalization of white supremacy. Galinsky says the most common themes that emerged as they compiled the clips were the militarization of the police and the criminalization of dissent. “The more things change, the more they stay the same,” he says.

Hawley says she and Galinsky felt an obligation to document these upheavals partly because of how they were being documented elsewhere. “It’s basically just us, in a very neutral way, covering events around us that we feel the media either over-sensationalizes or under-represents,” she says. “There’s no argument behind it. We want to be able to communicate across different lines so people can listen. Once you’re advocating for something, a number of people will just shut down.”

Galinsky says the film falls into a category between advocacy and journalism. “We want these pieces to feel like what the experience actually is like,” he says. “Media is very coherent, very edited and structured, but when you go to a protest, it’s usually very incoherent. There’s a lot of noise and arguing and lack of structure, and we want to capture that.”

The initial inspiration for the film came when Galinsky and Hawley moved back to North Carolina about five years ago and found photo negatives of pictures he’d taken from an ugly chapter in Triangle history that had a distressing resonance with the present.

“I grew up in Chapel Hill, and in 1987, the day after I graduated from high school, the Klan marched on Franklin Street,” Galinsky says. When he posted the photos online, he was told there were also still sound recordings of the protest, which he and Hawley edited over a montage of the still photos. Among other places, the work appeared at The Nasher Museum in the exhibit Southern Accent.

Galinsky and Hawley have another film almost completed, The Commons, a compilation of shorts about the toppling of Silent Sam and Confederate memorials in the Triangle (one part, “Silenced Sam,” is available at Galinsky jokes that the goal of these films is to inspire “absolute, total revolution.”

More seriously, he wants viewers to “get more perspective on events, and how they consume media and how it gets to them.” And there’s a time-capsule element as well, he says: “We want to capture things and preserve them for a later time when people can make more sense of them, when they’re not so angry and inflamed.”