In the vein of Inspire Media’s goal to engage and inform audiences about social issues around the globe, Language of the Unheard strives to bring to surface the rich culture of the underrepresented residents of the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. The student-produced film will premiere on Saturday as part of Inspire Media’s fourth annual Inspire Symposium. Inspire Media will bring leading figures of socially conscious media to campus to stimulate conversation and interact with like-minded students. Additionally, other recipients of Inspire Media grants will premiere their works.
Filmmaker Robert Kenner, director of Food, Inc., will host this year’s keynote address. “We were looking to bring in a really high-profile keynote speaker, and this is an Oscar-nominated film,” said Andrew Glor, a Communication senior and a co-president of Inspire Media.
“He is someone who people can look up to, someone who has really effectively channeled an issue through the media,” added fellow co-president and Communication senior Sky Dylan-Robbins. “Today, more than ever, society’s obsession with food is rampant. We wanted to let the community know more about issues that [Kenner] talks about.”
The symposium itself will be very hands-on. In addition to the opportunity for students “to come together and interact with people who are already experienced in the field and bounce ideas off of each other,” explained Dylan-Robbins, there will also be master classes taught by other professionals in the field.
One will be led by Wendy Cohen, the director of Digital Campaigns & Community for TakePart, the social action division of Participant Media, the outlet that produced Food, Inc. and other notable documentaries. The master class will focus on distribution and scoping out partners.
“This is exactly what students who are interested in Inspire need,” Glor said. “You make the media, then there’s this hanging question: did you really make any change? The answer is no. The way you make change is through distributing it and getting it out there.”
The other master class will be led by Jessica Hopper, a music and culture critic whose work has been featured in SPIN, the Chicago Reader, and the Chicago Tribune. The workshop will focus on music criticism, “looking at deeper societal meanings on what’s popular out there,” Glor explained.
In addition to interacting with industry professionals, the symposium will also feature premieres of the recipients of Open Media Grants and the Annual Film Grant. “The idea behind the Open Media Grants is for someone to tackle any social issue through any creative medium,” Glor explained. “Just encouraging these smaller projects for people to tackle, things they care about, through media.”
The projects of this year’s seven recipients range from a film collection that captures nonverbal reactions from strangers in Chicago to a series of monologues looking at football’s future in America, to a sequence of vignettes of young individuals in marginalized communities around the world.
“We chose the ones that we did because they came to us with a clear mission and a clear outline of what they wanted to accomplish and why they wanted to accomplish it,” Dylan-Robbins said.
In addition to the Open Media Grants, the recipients of this year’s Annual Film Grant, Communication seniors Matthew Litwiller and Jacqueline Reyno, will premiere their documentary, Language of the Unheard, and hold a Q&A panel after the screening.
Unlike the smaller scope of the Open Media Grant projects, the Annual Film Grant is a larger grant that goes specifically to the film medium. “The Annual Film Grant is a year-long project these people make, very serious, kind of with top-talent looks on it,” Glor said. “They’re trying to actually make something that’s going to be sent to festivals where they’re trying to make a real impact in the world.”
Language of the Unheard focuses on the individuals of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Reyno, director of the film, commented that the team approached the documentary as “observers to get to know one person at a time and hear their story.” Reyno was inspired to make the documentary after getting to know the Pine Ridge Reservation, which is near her hometown, as part of her job researching at a hospital. “It was the first time I really paid attention to something that was so close to where I live,” she said. “I felt like if I didn’t know very much about it, I don’t think people who live farther away would be really aware of the situation.”
Co-directors Litwiller and Reyno pitched the project to Inspire last spring and have since made five trips to South Dakota. The team is also looking to submit the documentary to film festivals around the country.
“It’s not that this documentary would necessarily teach people all about Native issues, but it’s giving you a reason to want to learn more, to open up discussion,” says Reyno.
Indeed, opening up discussion is Inspire Media’s ultimate goal. “What’s the point of being here on earth if we’re not contributing to some sort of cause and helping in some way?” asked Dylan-Robbins. “For the people involved with Inspire, we’re passionate about using the media to let people know about certain things and help and contribute to the world, as trite as that may sound. It’s worked. It’s working.”