Resistant History: A Project of Passion

Professor and Students Unite for a special project Designed to engage the viewer in the urban environment


The very definition of resistant is a sort of dichotomy.

The duality is worth mentioning – first there is the act or power to oppose and second, the ability or capacity to withstand something. With the developing project Resistant History, cinema studies professor Caitlin Horsmon expects both definitions to apply. She is facilitating the project in hopes to look at culture in all its forms. Part of the project is a local activity where students and she collect stories of progressive change in the Kansas City area and making them available via the web to educators, citizens and artists. Resistant History will map sites of change in the history of the region through the creation of a group of films, a collection of documentation, and a series of neighborhood “tours” that engage the viewer in the urban environment. Topics include Civil Rights, agriculture and food policy, water and waterways and neighborhoods.

PassionHorsmon received a Rocket Grant that has helped with some funding. Rocket Grants help fund projects that “exist outside of established art venues, occur outside of traditional forms of support, challenge traditional methods of production or presentation, add energy and diversity to the field of arts activity in our area, and provide opportunities for the creative growth of those involved.” Funding comes from the Andy Warhol

Foundation for Visual Arts, and is implemented through a collaboration between the Charlotte Street Foundation and the Spencer Museum of Art.

Her initial project combines working on her own documentary and aiding the documentary film students at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. She’s working on a documentary on activist teacher Corinthian Nutter, the Merriam Kansas Walker school boycott and the resulting integration of the Kansas schools in 1948, five years before the landmark Brown v. Board of Education (Supreme Court) case.

This change in the Merriam education system happened through the activism of a group of black parents and teachers in response to the local school district building a new elementary school for whites only. In protest, the parents of black students filed a lawsuit against the school district and organized a walkout, in collaboration with the teachers at the school who continued to instruct the students in local homes. The case resulting from the lawsuit eventually was heard by the Kansas Supreme Court. Teacher Corinthian Nutter testified before the court and later said: “I felt it was the right thing to do and that is what I did.” The final outcome was a ruling in favor of the students’ right to attend the new modern school. The boycott lasted an entire school year.

“It’s interesting to find these stories. They weren’t part of the national story, but definitely part of our metropolitan history,” she says. “The Call newspaper wrote about it, but for the most part, the stories are oral histories.” Horsmon is an artist with a wide range of interests – her research centers on non-commercial and world cinema, with a focus on the social history of experimental forms. Her animation, film and video works have been awarded widely nationally and internationally including a screening at the prestigious Cinémathèque Française.

Horsmon is essentially serving as a facilitator and collector. Her small documentary filmmaking class at UMKC is creating a series of short documentaries that tell the stories of how progressive change was, or is, accomplished locally. The website becomes a single gathering point as well. Horsmon and the students will also create a series of “video tours” of areas of the city with histories of activism, made for mobile devices so that they can be easily downloaded and immerse participants in the landscape of history.

Using Google Maps, they will create an interactive map of the city populated with links to the sites of activist history. “The impetus for the project started because many of my students felt dislocated from being able to make or bring about change. So often, we look at the news and see change happening in Washington, not here. Documentaries allow us all to tell our stories and map that history around here,” she says. “We are capturing how regular people exercise their own concerns and make changes in their own backyard.”

The website also includes a place where people can offer their stories. “We are seeking memories of the area. We know there should be people willing to talk about the riots that occurred here in the 1960s. We also want to find neighborhood organizations. We are hoping people might have some home movies.”

Horsmon says the Resistant History is one significant experiment. Originally from San Diego County, Calif., she says another bonus is her chance to learn about the area’s history. “Truly any place you go, you can find people doing amazing things. We are presenting how our schools work or what is changing in our environment. These are important stories. Not many people are in the know about the area’s involvement in race. There are people who are really courageous in these defining moments of ‘separate, but equal.’ We want to show the Midwestern stories.”

She’s been a professor at UMKC for seven years. Engaging her students is equally as important as collecting the stories to populate the website. “Students and local filmmakers will find a home for their documentaries with Resistant History website. It’s a gathering place to find interesting work. So often, documentaries don’t have large showings, but the site will provide that chance to have all stages of the production live. As an example, being a student filmmaker can be tough. Your docs may be seen at film festivals, but not many other places. The site will be a repository.”

Film is a powerful medium, she says. “Film allows us to tell complex stories. It’s an engaging medium.” Horsmon hopes to complete her film, The Right Thing to Do: The Walker School Boycott, in the spring. “Resistant History is an ongoing event. I suspect all of 2013 will be a chance to collect stories. However, as issues relate to the city, we will be taking cameras around, and finding out about its relationships. It’s simply thrilling.”

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