The smell of buttered popcorn and rustle of candy wrappers filled Kresge Auditorium as attendees settled in for the Meredith College Documentary Film Festival, the first since 2020.
Taking place on January 22, the festival was presented by the Department of English. The event was free and open to the public, and screened two short films and one full-length documentary.
The final film of the night was a full-length feature titled My Name is Pauli Murray by Julie Cohen and Betsy West. The film explored the life and work of Pauli Murray, who is often overlooked by history, despite her ideas being a significant influence on some of the country’s most prominent legal issues, such as Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s fight for gender equality and Thurgood Marshall’s civil rights arguments.
Murray, an American civil rights activist, had a diverse career and life and became a lawyer, gender equality advocate, Episcopal priest, and author.
The showing was followed by a panel discussion featuring Barbara Lau, the founding director of the Pauli Murray Center for History and Social Justice, Mayme Webb-Bledsoe, the assistant vice president and director of the Duke-Durham Neighborhood Partnership and Community Development, and Murray’s niece, Rosita Stevens-Holsey. Alisa Johnson, assistant dean for the School of Arts and Humanities and associate professor of English at Meredith, served as the moderator.
The discussion explored how each panelist has been involved in the preservation of Murray’s legacy, impact on the LGBTQ+ community, love for writing, and lasting influences on the world.
“It has been a journey that has been so meaningful to me to see others embrace Pauli’s work and how we interact with so differently in the world now. It’s been powerful to see how it has blossomed and allowed other people to find ways in which they can see their own selves and also be a part of a relationship that is so meaningful when you all begin to talk and begin to start breaking down these walls,” said Webb-Bledose.
Webb-Bledsoe was also part of the team who bought Pauli Murray’s home in 2011 to protect it from demolition and preserve its historical value. The home has now become a National Historic Landmark.
Stevens-Holsey became involved with the preservation of her aunt’s legacy five years ago when she first found out about the work happening in Durham.
“Relatives had asked me for a couple of years, ‘Do you know what’s going on in North Carolina about Pauli?’ And none of us seemed to know. My niece and I decided that we would come down and find out, and that’s how we got to the center and met Barbara and some of the volunteers,” said Stevens-Holsey.
Since then, the three have worked together to continue researching Murray’s work and life and educating the public about her contributions to society.
The first short film featured was Please Rescue Me, by Director Kim Best, which follows Patrick Brandt, a biochemist who rescues cats, and one time even a pet coatimundi, from trees. He has saved over 250 cats in 10 years and was in attendance. Brandt was a few minutes late because he was performing a rescue before the festival and was on his way to another after the event ended.
“The rescue this morning was a tough one, but it went well, and the cat’s down safely. This cat was very skittish, and so I kept on going further and further out onto the branch, and the owners were underneath with a blanket in case the cat fell,” said Brandt. “It was also raining, which made the rescue a little more challenging too, but the people were very happy to have their cat.”
Brandt works as the Director of Career Development and Training at UNC-Chapel Hill and rescues cats in his free time. He does not charge for his rescues because he feels it’s wrong to charge people who are in need, but he does take donations.
The second film shown was From The Soul by Barry Thornburg. This film explores Black gospel music’s legacy, history, and how it’s been used for social change by speaking with pastors and recording genre artists.
The artists discussed the difference between Black gospel music and white gospel music and how historically, Black individuals have seen God as a liberator. For them, the music comes from a place of truth, and the pastors feel history is best preserved and passed on through song. The film also took a closer look at the role Black gospel music has played in recent issues, such as the Black Lives Matter movement.
The Meredith College Documentary Film Festival was presented by the Department of English with grant funding from Legacies of American Slavery, an initiative of the Council of Independent Colleges, in cooperation with the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition at the MacMillan Center, Yale University.