I first met Dienna Howard in 2008 when I was doing research for my first book. She had run the blog Golden Silence about street harassment for a few years and was outspoken on the issue so I knew she’s be a perfect person to interview. We’ve remained friends and activist allies ever since then, participating in marches, rallies, safety audits, and events together. Recently, she completed a documentary about street harassment and activism to stop it in the Washington, D.C. area. She has no background in making documentaries and learned how to do it in her spare time… and then did it. It was a huge under-taking and I’m so proud of her!!
Here is her documentary and below is an excerpt from her blog post about making the film.
“I became a member of Arlington Independent Media in late 2012. I’d known about it for years (and I attended a comedy screening there once), but I never thought to take advantage of it until then. (Más vale tarde que nunca!) This is an amazing organization that teaches its members how to create their own productions. I took the six-week field production class last spring, an Adobe Premiere Pro editing class last summer, and the six-week studio production class early last fall. Volunteering on a variety of different programs allowed me to develop my skills and do a 180 from “I don’t know what the hell I’m doing!” to “I am growing each day.” AIM’s staff is incredible and its members are wonderful.
After last year’s field production class, I wanted to produce my own show. Summer was on its way, and with summer comes an increase of street harassment, gender-based violence against women in public spaces. I am all too familiar with street harassment and I won’t use the space to get too deep into it here (I’ve talked about it enough), but being harassed on a regular basis is demeaning, frustrating, and humiliating, as well as dealing with the victim blaming responses that come from people who don’t understand it and don’t get it.
Doing a documentary on street harassment was a big challenge for someone who was still new to AIM at the time. I originally wanted to start off with something light. I love comedy, love all the old sitcoms, and wanted to do something humorous. But other than its timeliness, I wanted to do a piece on street harassment because I cannot count the number of documentaries on it that I’ve either been interviewed for or someone said they’d be working on, but they’d never come to fruition. I wanted to fill in that gap. I made a promise to myself to work on it from beginning to end and to get it done. (And as an AIM member, I’m required to get programming completed for them to air regardless!)
It was such a learning process working on this documentary. My confidence behind the camera developed, my ability to lead a team burgeoned, and my editing skills became smooth. I was getting the hang of this!
I don’t have all this fancy-schmancy technology at home, so I spent a lot of my weekends at AIM editing this project. (I know the weekend staff got tired of seeing me…HAHAHA!) Thankfully it’s cheap to rent AIM’s equipment and use of an editing suite, and using volunteer hours in lieu of part of the payment helped to reduce my costs.
I found it hard to give up most of my Saturdays during this time to edit. I’m an insomniac and I rarely sleep enough during the week, so to lose a day of my weekend was a sacrifice….
I never thought this project would end, and at times it was easy to see why others would cease working on similar things. I watched the same timeline footage each session, that I had it memorized by rote. I was beyond ready to move on.
I didn’t have a deadline for it, which was partly why the project seemed to never end….
So I put my foot down. It’s going to be done by the end of May, and I will make it happen.
Last month it was down to the wire. I was in that editing suite every Saturday, fine-tuning and finishing things. I’d been in contact with those who were involved in the program, doing things such as getting updates, getting photos, and verifying spelling and credits. I set a deadline with them too, because if I didn’t, I never would’ve gotten things done…
After what felt like an eternity, the video was completed and AIM saved a copy to their hard drive. I filled out the requisite forms, and was on my way. Nine is my favorite number, and 5/24/2014 – 5+2+4+2+0+1+4=18, 1+8=9. I spent another week nervous about whether the program was suitable to air. As long as the content wasn’t severely vulgar, it should be good to go, but there are scenes of a harasser using vulgar language against me, mentions of harassers masturbating, and cursing used when quoting the harassers. Would it fit their standards?
I got that e-mail from AIM stating that the program would air, starting June 5, 2014. 6+0+5+2+0+1+4=18, 1+8=9. Someone up there was on my side, rooting for me to achieve.
I don’t have a TV at home, but watched the live stream when it aired on the 5th. Though I had a saved copy of the video and that I would put on YouTube after it aired (AIM has a policy that nothing can be shared on other sites until it’s aired on their channel), I still watched it because I was finally watching this piece as a viewer, not as an interviewer or interview subject, not as a camera person, not as an editor, and not as a producer. I was watching it through new eyes. And as a viewer, I was proud of what I accomplished while wearing all of those other hats….
It’s been a few weeks since the program started airing on the station (three times a week!) and I finally got to put it on YouTube. The reception has been positive, which is a sigh of relief. I personally know most of the people that I interviewed for this documentary, and was worried they’d react with, “I don’t like how I was edited!” That would’ve been rough to hear. Years ago, when I was in college, I wrote an article about someone who was president of the student council. He got mad and said, “She misquoted me!” in front of me as if I weren’t even there. I didn’t want a repeat of that. Luckily everyone involved in the project has been very supportive…
I’ve finished this piece and am ready to move on, though I wouldn’t mind having a screening of it in the future. People have asked me what my next steps are. I’m currently helping a friend from my field production class co-produce a series of pieces and I’m looking forward to seeing how this project unfolds…
After everything’s said and done, I’m proud of myself for sticking with something, even when it seemed like no end was in sight. I’m looking forward to whatever else comes my way. Bring it on!”
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