the end of his sophomore year, David LaMattina '03 was sitting at
his computer, wrapping up his work in preparation for the summer
vacation, when he saw a notice on BC's Web site. "Do You Have an
Idea for a Documentary Film on Moral Courage?" the notice asked.
Just as he was wishing that he did, a news ticker appeared on the
screen. It read: "12-Year-Old AIDS Icon Near Death." Less than a
year later LaMattina, a film studies minor, was behind a camera
in South Africa, shooting Nkosi's Legacy, his first documentary
film. The film chronicles life at Nkosi's Haven, a home and school
in South Africa for mothers and their children with HIV and AIDS
that was founded by the now deceased child AIDS activist Nkosi Johnson.
Nkosi's Legacy, in the parlance of low-budget filmmaking,
was made possible by a grant from the Jacques Salmanowitz Program
for Moral Courage in Documentary Film, based in the Fine Arts Department
at Boston College. The program was conceived to give students the
money, advice, and loans of equipment needed to produce films dealing
with the theme of moral courage. Any student may submit a proposal
(one current participant is a post-doctoral student at Harvard).
Named for a Swiss businessman who helped rescue Jewish refugees
during World War II, the Salmanowitz Program is now in its second
year at BC. Funding comes from a $31,000 yearly grant to the University
from the Foundation for Moral Courage, in Washington, D.C., supported
by Societe Generale de Surveillance, a corporation in Geneva.
The Salmanowitz Program began its life at George Washington University
in 1999, but moved to Boston College last year. According to Professor
John Michalczyk--the chairman of BC's Fine Arts Department and the
director of the program--George Washington and the foundation had
begun "moving in separate directions." The foundation's officers
"wanted to move in a more social justice way," says Michalczyk,
who realized that as a Jesuit school with a deep-rooted tradition
of volunteerism and social justice, Boston College might be a perfect
match. With the help of film major Daniel Yager '01, he put together
a proposal to house the program at BC and included a clip of a documentary
the two had filmed recently in Kosovo. In March 2001, Sy Rotter,
the director of the foundation, presented the University with its
first check in a ceremony at Devlin Hall.
"With that first check," says Yager, whom the department hired soon
thereafter to be the program's student assistant director, "we were
able to buy two digital cameras, editing software, digital tape--all
equipment that made it possible for students to execute some really
One of those ideas was Yager's own, and led to The Whitest Rose--the
first of nine films produced under the program at BC. Yager's film
recounts the story of Franz Mueller, the only surviving member of
White Rose, a German student resistance movement whose members were
caught and guillotined by the Nazis in 1943. A clip from the film
can be viewed at the Salmanowitz Program's Web site, www.bc.edu/moralcourage.
Yager now works at a postproduction facility in Watertown, Massachusetts.
Since moving to BC, of course, the Salmanowitz Program is no longer
only about moral courage; its mission has expanded to encompass
the theme of social justice as well. The fruits of this expansion
were apparent at a ceremony held in March in Devlin Hall to celebrate
the second installment of the Foundation for Moral Courage's grant.
Before settling in to watch clips of several student works-in-progress,
Robyn Hayes '02 showed off a stack of black-and-white photographs
she had taken recently while on a trip to the Pine Ridge reservation,
in South Dakota. Hayes, along with Vincent Jacques '02, Sarah Beston
'02, and Ronald Marsh, a documentary filmmaker who works at O'Neill
Library, spent the spring 2002 break on the reservation, shooting
footage at Red Cloud, a Jesuit school for Native Americans. "Most
people who go to Pine Ridge concentrate on the poverty and the alcoholism--the
negatives," says Jacques, a theology major and film studies minor.
"Our purpose was to record the strengths of the Lakota culture,
and to show how the Jesuit philosophy is helping to foster a strong
community in one of the poorest regions in the U.S."
Jacques was in South Dakota producing his own film, as well--a documentary
about Lakota spirituality titled Mitukuye Oyasin, a Lakota
saying that means "all my relations." For months he had
tried without luck to find residents of Pine Ridge willing to cooperate
with his project. He suspects that many expected yet another expose
about the underside of reservation life. He was on the verge of
giving up when Michalczyk invited him to join the Red Cloud film
crew, whose path had been smoothed by the Jesuit connection.
Margaret Oellrich '02, who succeeded Yager this year as student
assistant director, says the film department at BC is well positioned
for such connections: "BC has a great social justice network, with
tons of domestic and international volunteer organizations. We're
really trying to coordinate that with the film program." The more
the Salmanowitz Program is able to do so, she suggests, the more
ambitious the student projects can be. Though ambition, it should
be noted, is one quality that is not lacking in the program. Sitting
in a coffee shop talking about Nkosi's Legacy, which he hopes
to distribute nationwide (with all proceeds going to the South African
facility), David LaMattina put his hands on the table and looked
up confidently. "This will always be the most important thing I've
ever done," he said, and then added, "It's my Schindler's List."
Daniel B. Smith
B. Smith is a Boston-based freelance writer. His article on the
Boston College Citizens Seminar appeared in BCM Winter 2002.
Photo: In the lobby of West Newton Cinema, standing, from left to
right: Vincent Jacques '02, Courtney Chapman '02, Susan Legere '02,
David LaMattina '03, Robyn Hayes '02, and professor of fine arts
John Michalczyk. Seated, left to right: library staff member Ronald
Marsh, Daniel Yager '02, and Margaret Oellrich '02.