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The Imagination Project: The Silence of War

by Aimee Mepham, Program Coordinator, WFU Humanities Institute

The Imagination Project: The Silence of War
Project Directors: Cara Pilson and Cindy Hill, Documentary Film

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Cindy Hill

Work on the third installment of The Imagination Project began this fall and will continue into the spring with the course DOC780/COM370: The Imagination Project: The Silence of War. The course will be taught by Documentary Film Program (DFP) co-directors Cindy Hill and Cara Pilson and Sharon Raynor, Associate Professor of English at Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, NC, a former Visiting Associate Professor of English at WFU (2013-2014). The course will also feature contributions and classroom visits from WFU Faculty as well as visiting faculty from other universities, including Anthony Parent, Professor of History and American Ethnic Studies, WFU; Michael Hughes, Professor of History, WFU; Joseph Bathandi, Professor of Creative Writing, Appalachian State University and former North Carolina Poet Laureate, and Benjamin Fleury-Steiner, Associate Professor of Sociology and Criminal Justice, University of Delaware.

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Cara Pilson

The project began with Mary Foskett, Humanities Institute Director and Kahle Professor of Religion, introducing Hill, Pilson, and DFP Professor Sandy Dickson to the work of Sharon Raynor. Raynor has worked extensively with Vietnam veterans in North Carolina and has directed two ongoing oral history projects initially sponsored by the North Carolina Humanities Council: “Breaking the Silence: The Unspoken Brotherhood of Vietnam Veterans” and “Soldier-to-Soldier: Men and Women Share Their Legacy of War.” In the fall of 2013, Raynor taught a first-year writing course called “When Writing Goes to War” at WFU.  The course allowed students the opportunity to the letters, diaries, and journals of veterans and to meet a group of Vietnam Veterans in person. The veterans were also invited to campus to participate in a public panel with the students from the writing course. It was at this event that Foskett introduced Raynor to the DFP team.

While everyone involved was not initially sure about what shape the project would take, they knew they wanted to work together in some way with the veterans and their complex, moving stories. After discussing the possibilities with Raynor, who approved of moving forward with a collaboration, Hill and Pilson met with the group of veterans again on campus to talk with them about their stories, individual and as a group, and what the best way to tell it would be.

Pilson says about the group of men, “Their concern was that what they had been able to do by speaking to the students, by speaking to other groups was to share their story and to have others learn from their experience, and their question was, what can this [collaboration] do to continue that?”

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Sharon Raynor’s WFU writing class, fall 2013.

Pilson and Hill agree that after this conversation, the Imagination Project seemed to be a natural fit for the type of material the men were interested in producing as a way to communicate their experiences. Short films combined with e-books would be useful educational materials that could easily be shared with schools, church groups, and other veterans groups. These materials will communicate how this particular group of veterans have banded together through their experiences with the war, post-traumatic stress syndrome, and their mission to educate the current generation of soldiers and students about war and its aftermath.

Pilson and Hill are currently shooting footage with the veterans and will continue to do so for the next six weeks. This material will then be presented to the students in the spring semester class for the production of short films and enhanced e-books. The students will also have a chance to meet and talk with the group of veterans to hear some of their stories in-person. The class will be made up of undergraduate students from across the disciplines and MFA students from the Documentary Film Program.

The Humanities Institute has funded two previous Imagination Projects: one on the Artists of the Holocaust (Spring 2013) and the second on Filipino Street Art (Spring 2014). One of the student short films created for Artists of the Holocaust has been chosen to be part of a year-long international exhibit on children of the Holocaust. Before traveling internationally, the exhibit will remain on display at the Yad Vashem Museum and Memorial campus in Jerusalem for 2015. The Filipino Street Art Project (FSAP) has been invited by Google’s Cultural Institute in Paris to be a featured exhibition in the launch of a global Street Art Project, an online database of more than 5,000 graffiti images from around the world.