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February 14, 2018

'Left on Pearl' earns John Michaels Film honors

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. — “Left on Pearl,” a documentary that highlights a little-known event in the history of the women’s liberation movement in the early 1970s, is the John Michaels Film Award winner for the 2018 Big Muddy Film Festival at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. 

The film, directed by Susie Rivo and edited by Iftach Shavit, tells the story of the 10-day takeover and occupation of a Harvard University-owned building in March 1971 by hundreds of Boston-area women who demanded a women’s center and low-income housing in a section of the community being displaced for university expansion. 

The award winning film will be among those shown as part of the festival’s John Michaels Award Showcase at 2 p.m., Feb. 25, at the Carbondale Public Library, 405 W. Main St. As with the other festival events, admission is free. 

‘Relevant’ film took 14 years from the first interview to make 

Rivo is “honored and thrilled” to receive the award. She began working on the film after being approached by some of the participants in the 1971 takeover of the one-time knitting factory owned by the university. 

The event helped establish the Women’s Center in Cambridge, Mass., the longest continuously operating women’s center in the country. The film uses television news and newspaper headlines, along with extensive interviews with participants and eyewitnesses on both sides of the issue. 

“We began working together interviewing women who were involved in the takeover and I quickly realized that his was a very compelling story and that these women were incredible,” Rivo said.  She credits Shavit for his “brilliant job editing the film, bringing out the humor and finding the right rhythm to move the story along.” 

Events nearly 50 years ago are relevant now 

The documentary “is relevant to this exact time in our national discourse,” Hassan Pitts, the College of Mass Communication and Media Arts’ technology coordinator and festival director, said. 

“Many people ask ‘why do you/they march’ and the answers most people give link back to the issues, struggles and progressions that occurred during the time the film centers on,” Pitts said. “The documentary does an excellent job of detailing how everything came together, exploring the strands that would come together and bind but also diverge.  

“The voice of the movement speaks simultaneously while individuals express their own personal experiences and sentiments looking back.  ‘Left on Pearl’ allows a solid line of communication and viewer introspection between history in hindsight and the present as we move forward.” 

Rivo’s hope for audiences who view the film 

Rivo will be unable to make the festival but said the documentary’s themes are applicable in 2018. The women’s liberation movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s was a part of a “broader mass movement against the Vietnam War, for civil rights, labor and housing rights.” 

“It emerged from a radical ferment. Although progress has been made, there is still a long way to go and we are currently in a moment of extreme backlash with an administration that wants to reverse gains for women, people of color, immigrants, workers, poor people, and accelerate the destruction of the planet so a few people can reap enormous financial gains,” Rivo said. “But as the film shows, ordinary people have more power than they realize, if they come together to fight back.” 

John Michael Award competition  

The competition honors the late John Michaels, a cinema student in the 1980s who earned his master of fine arts degree at SIU Carbondale and who was involved in community organizing and activism before he died of brain cancer. 

The category honors all genres of films that “create inspiring stories about the struggles for social justice, local and throughout the world.” A jury of local residents viewed 22 films submitted this year with six of those films nominated. 

The submissions covered a variety of topics including environmental racism, police brutality, institutional racism, industrial toxins and struggles for democratic representation. 

Two films earn honorable mention 

The quality of submissions was evident again this year, with two films earning honorable mention. They are:

  • “Evidence of the Evidence,” directed by Alexander Johnston about the 1971 Attica prison uprising.
  • “The Valley Rebels,” directed by Spencer Wolff. The film depicts the life of a French farmer who supports and houses African refugees, and it explores the ways in which he aids these refugees, even at his own expense. 

More to see and do at the 40th Big Muddy Film Festival

The opening reception is from 6 to 8 p.m., Feb. 19, in Morris Library’s Guyon Auditorium. The festival's 40th birthday party is from 6 to 9 p.m., Feb. 24, also in Guyon Auditorium. The ‘Best of the Fest Showcase’ will be at 5 p.m., Feb. 25, at the Longbranch Café & Bakery. 

Susie Rivo and Iftach Shavit

John Michaels Film Award winners – Filmmaker Susie Rivo, left, and Iftach Shavit, editor, of the John Michaels Film Award recipient  “Left On Pearl.” The film is among 73 that will be screened at the 40th annual Big Muddy Film Festival, Feb. 19-25. (Photo provided)