Harvard Student Films Supervised by Joanna Lipper

These twelve short student films were selected from the many made over the years by undergraduates enrolled in Joanna Lipper's course "Using Film For Social Change" in the Department of African and African-American Studies at Harvard University. The Course was cross-listed with two additional departments: Women, Gender and Sexuality and Visual and Environmental Studies. Most of these students had never taken a filmmaking class before and had little or no prior filmmaking experience. They had one semester (15 weeks) during which time they had to shoot and complete these projects, attend classes, screenings and technical sections, and write a fifteen-page paper related to their ethnographic research as well as weekly response papers to films screened for the class. Lipper's course was part of the Social Engagement Initiative and was distinguished by the university's committee on diversity and inclusion for excellence in its curriculum in these areas. By focusing on specific issues (such as poverty, educational disparities, healthcare, employment opportunities, immigration, diasporic culture and identity, gender roles, incarceration, rehabilitation and re-entry to society), Social Engagement courses seek to wed academic study with practical experience and activity-based learning. Through coordinated interdisciplinary coursework and qualitative and quantitative research, students explore and reflect using visual anthropological and ethnographic approaches and methodologies both within and beyond the university environment, working ethically and collaboratively with human subjects.

Losing Sight, Gaining A Vision

a film by Gloria Hong

Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at the Girls Impact the World Film Festival, Gloria Hong's film profiles Sara Minkara, a blind Muslim activist and social entrepreneur from Lebanon, enrolled at Harvard Kennedy School. profiles Sara Minkara, a blind Muslim activist and social entrepreneur enrolled at Harvard Kennedy School (M.P.P. ’14). Disabled as a child due to macular degeneration, Minkara has dedicated her life to providing a voice for blind youth, a community that has long been unheard. Her work with disabled children through her nonprofit organization, Empowerment Through Integration (ETI), began in 2009 as a one-month summer camp for 39 sighted and visually impaired children in Tripoli, Lebanon. Its initial goal was to combat the social stigma against blindness, but Minkara quickly realized the lack of support sight-impaired youths received in their communities, schools, and families, and was motivated to do more, “One-seventh of the world’s population is disabled, but it’s an invisible community,” said Minkara. “Every person in your society should have the right to be integrated and should have the infrastructure to be integrated. There is that huge potential that’s being lost, and there needs to be something done about that.”

Gloria Hong’s early life experiences left her very familiar with the challenges of integration and adaptation. She left Korea as a small child and immigrated to Los Angeles with her parents and sibling. She recalls, “The place we were to call ‘home’ was a single bedroom that could barely fit a bed - leaving me and my sister the closet to sleep in. Hello, America!”

When asked to describe her student Gloria Hong’s creative process and particular strengths working within the parameters of a filmmaking course at Harvard, Joanna Lipper explains, “Gloria approached each of her film projects armed with a global health framework and sociological context as well as her own perspective as an artist and filmmaker. She had great empathy for the disabilities of the target populations she was working with and a highly sophisticated and nuanced understanding of the implications of cultural differences. Throughout the filmmaking process, Gloria learned first hand about the emotional cost of being disabled as well as about discrimination – and she discovered – as the audience does while watching her film - how one highly motivated individual with tremendous support from her family was able to confront and make the best of these challenges with strength, integrity and resilience. Gloria is mature for her age, modest, and deeply respectful of others. I wasn’t surprised when after completing the film, she was appointed to serve on the board of Sara Minkara’s organization, Empowerment Through Integration. Gloria’s experiences as an ETI board member have enabled her to learn a great deal about the blind community across the globe in places like Nicaragua and Lebanon where resources and support are far from adequate particularly when it comes to youth populations who often face severe restrictions on their movement and access to information and integrated learning opportunities.”

Capping off a stellar year of accomplishments, Gloria Hong has also been awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to go to Barbados to make a film and to teach filmmaking to local blind youth.