A Civic Act

Film professor Rob Cohen with student filmmakers

Film professor Rob Cohen with “The Fence Between Us” student filmmakers

Photo credit: Nora Lewis

In making the Holocaust remembrance film “The Fence Between Us,” its student filmmakers knew they were engaging in important work, but they did not anticipate their movie would be used in Rhode Island’s secondary school genocide education curriculum.

Students in a Harrington School of Communication and Media film production class created the 13-minute film as a class project in the spring of 2018. It will be shown at the annual Statewide Interfaith Commemoration of the Holocaust at Temple Emanu-El in Providence on May 1 at 7 p.m. to honor Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. The film is also part of a collection of resources for Rhode Island’s mandatory genocide education.

“The Fence Between Us” features Holocaust survivors’ stories and interviews with legislators framed by a fictional account of two girls in a narrative inspired by the major motion picture “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.”

The students managed every aspect of the movie’s making, from scriptwriting to location scouting, casting, interviewing, directing, producing, and editing. And the challenges that arose were theirs to manage, too, said the students’ instructor Rob Cohen, a professional filmmaker and adjunct professor.

Students are supported and encouraged to problem-solve, said Grace DeSanti ’21, the film’s producer. “The program focuses on student growth through trial and error,” she said. “Sometimes we’re rewarded for getting things right. I think we’re also rewarded for getting things wrong.”

Cohen commended his students not only for creating a unique film that straddles genres but also for its contribution to the historical record.

“The survivors are disappearing faster and faster,” said Griffin Alix ’20, who assisted in the writing of the film’s script as well as cinematography, editing, and designing the movie’s logo. “So the fact we were able to capture some of them on camera—telling their very real stories, and how sobering that is—is very important for anyone, whether a filmmaker or not.”

In preserving the past, Cohen said, the students are ensuring a future for the survivors’ stories.

“And in the creation of this film, the students are giving back to the students who will follow them,” Cohen noted. “It’s a civic act.”

Read more about “The Fence Between Us.”