Grève to En Toma Capturing The Global Tuition Struggle

by Princess Distress

Emma on the move.
Emma Francis-Snyder and Sara Beth Curtis are first-time filmmakers capturing the tuition struggle, and student response in cities like Montreal, Santiago (Chile), and Mexico City. They're currently raising funds and collecting footage for their debut documentary, entitled Grève to En Toma.

Emma and Sara met this year in a Women's Studies class, and became good friends while participating in Occupy Wall Street. Their work as student activists and Student Union members at C.U.N.Y's Brooklyn College in New York bonded them further.

While addressing the tuition hikes, and other issues on their campus the two were inspired by successful student mobilizations around the world. The friends decided to grab their cameras "and document radical student history in the making." Examples from C.U.N.Y's past - successful protests and occupations which achieved access for minority students and created ethnic studies at the university - also motivated them produce an honest documentation of the present movement.

Who is involved with this project?
Sara Beth Curtis and Emma Francis-Snyder are the Directors and Producers. We are both first time filmmakers and have been the primary cinematographers. Chris Warner and Sara Beth edited the Kickstarter video-- he has also helped us a lot with providing materials and advice. Brenda Davis, our mentor, and an amazing self-taught filmmaker has been incredibly generous with knowledge and advice when it comes to making a documentary. We also have an amazing group of friends who have been super supportive, such as Isabelle Nastasia who has helped us find grant funding and been our social media guru.

What are some possible solutions to the tuition crisis you've heard?
This is a really big question-- very complicated and definitely depends on certain schools, but because we organize and are most familiar with the CUNY system, we will respond in regards to it. First and foremost we believe education should be free. Education is a human right and not a commodity.

If it's not going to be free, we believe that those deciding how and when to implement things like tuition hikes and other decisions regarding students, faculty, and staff should be decided by those directly affected by it. There needs to be a democratically elected, not appointed, board (Board of Trustees) that are in touch with the reality of the students, professors (full time and adjunct), and workers.

If this democratically elected board existed, it probably would have chosen to make up for tuition costs by cutting, and most likely not renewing, securitization of our campus, by cutting and not increasing the already inflated salaries of the chancellor, presidents, and deans. (On top of a $250,000 salary, which is set to increase in the fall, most presidents have free housing, a private driver, and an exorbitant allowance).

How likely do you think a resolution is to this specific problem?
It is going to take people in the United States to realize they're being screwed and feel empowered enough to fight back. This is the first step to getting power back in the people's hands. We understand that sounds very simplistic, but we’ve come to see that this is the hardest part. It’s not just about bodies in the streets, but hearts and minds fully dedicated to the struggle.

Do you think the tuition problem fit into a larger global economic crisis?
Yes, you can’t have capitalism without exploitation, privatization, and securitization. The students and their ‘tuition problem’ are just one small piece of this much larger global economic catastrophe.

Capitalism (where profit is the priority) as an economic model requires the exploitation of the young (students), poor, people of color, women, Queer folk, and the exploitation of any body that doesn’t fit into the mythical norm.

By privatizing public entities, like CUNY, the option for poorer folks and racialized people is non-existent, these spaces no longer belong to the people, and this is enforced by securitization (CUNY approves $1.5 million dollars for security forces every five years).

How can, and how are students effecting change in their education?
Protesting, walking out of class, striking, and occupying, together. Racialized people didn't have access to CUNY until they took over the president's office and DEMANDED open admissions. Students in Montreal have been on strike for 21 weeks, the longest strike in Quebec history. Their movement has now enveloped whole communities, similar to that in Chile, and it is seen as not just a student issue but an issue for the whole population. By doing this, they make it impossible for the state to ignore their concerns.

Where are tuition increases the most dramatic?
Comparatively, tuition increases are more severe in NYC and the United States as opposed to Montreal which has the cheapest tuition costs in all of North America. However, we frame the conversation, within a larger context, not just about which tuition increase is more, but that tuition is being increased at all, when affordable education is already so inaccessible.

For example in Chile, their whole educational system (including primary and secondary) has been massively privatized since the dictatorship of Pinochet and the implementation of radical neoliberal capitalism (with the help of the Chicago boys). There is also a much larger socio-economic gap in Chile, so it’s a different situation. The issue is not so much tuition increases but lack of affordable and decent education for those who are not wealthy, as there is very limited if any social mobility.

Where will you be submitting the documentary?
We are both first time filmmakers and very new to the game. We will be seeking film festivals to submit our documentary to. But mostly this is a film made for and by students, our most important audience are the students, so we will be looking for venues by which to create open access to what we have created.

Students and protesters, MayDay 2012

What are your roots in social reform?/When did you first become interested?
EMMA: I grew up in a very “liberal” town outside of New York City with parents who have been involved in social reform my whole life, regarding issues ranging from women’s rights to environmental justice. When I was 20 years (2008) I moved to Louisiana to rebuild houses for those that had lost theirs in Hurricane Katrina. It became very apparent to me, at that time, that our government was classist and racist. Our government was and is too bureaucratic and large to incite any real change. I realized then, and still believe now that to effect any real change it must be done at the local level.

SARA: I was privileged growing up, surrounded by books and days dedicated to reading newspapers, so my mind became critical at an early age. But my body didn’t become active until high school when we staged a walkout during the start of the Afghanistan War. Following, I became active in the anti-war movement, flirted with the I.S.O, rallying around issues of immigrant rights, police brutality, and racism. From there I became more involved in anarcho-collectivism on a personal and community basis.

What is your area of expertise?
EMMA: I am very interested in anthropology and more recently documentary film. I took some time off after community college and most recently applied to Journalism studies at CUNY Brooklyn College, although that isn’t my declared major. I am interested in combining Anthropology (through a more radical lense, as opposed to the traditional “objectivity” which I don’t believe exists), journalism, and documentary filmmaking. Creating an interdisciplinary major which looks at all aspects of people’s lives to better understand them and their spatial placement within history.

SARA: I have been studying Sociology but am now seeking an interdisplenary degree which ties together Sociology and Documentary Film. I’ve become more and more interested in the 3rd wave cinema which I would like to study more. I had been working as a Post-Production Coordinator at a small film house in Brooklyn, where I learned more hands on experience in regards to the making of film. The work that I did there was always commercialized and for-profit which I am not interested in on a personal level.

What's your biggest passion?
EMMA: My biggest passion is people. I love talking with people, hearing about their personal and cultural history to get a better understanding of who they are.

SARA: People, their self-actualization, as well as mine own.

What has been a highlight of working on this project?
EMMA: One of the most exciting parts of this project, for me, has been the filming aspect. Although I am very new to this medium, I have always dreamed of documenting the conversations I have with people while traveling, and I am now turning that into a reality. I’m having these really nuanced and complex conversations with people that feel similarly about the economic state in which their country and others are in all over the world. It’s so amazing.

SARA: The people which I have been blessed to have met. To hear and document the stories of others, and seeing the commonality of personal and public struggles which an individual can share with someone on the other side of the world has been incredible. There are hubs of resistance happening everywhere and to see the link of these through a narrative of common struggle is awe inspiring.

What's the hardest part?
EMMA:The hardest part of this project is definitely that we’re not totally sure of what we’re doing... JOKES. But seriously, we don’t have much previous technical training so we are learning as we go. We have been lucky enough to have amazing friends and mentors who have been so generous with their time, knowledge, and skills to help us make this project a reality. Also, the people we’ve met in Chile have been so welcoming and are really excited for our film!

SARA: Not knowing what we’re doing, haha. No seriously, we’re first time filmmakers with no real training in camera work, editing, or many other facets of being a two person team making a film. We are constantly making mistakes, but we’re learning to not be so hard on ourselves and to turn frustration into productive growth.

What are your hopes for the project?
EMMA: I’m interested in helping people in the United States feel more empowered to take back what is theirs. From my experience in organizing around tuition increases and access to Public Higher Education a lot of people don’t feel empowered to fight back. There is a sense of fear and the general sentiment of “this is the way things are.” This isn’t the way things should be. Coming together and refusing to stand down are how civil rights, women’s equality, and gay rights have been won, that is not to say true equality exists, women still get paid less than men and trans folk are treated horrifically.I believe that the first step to true equality is a good (radical) education; knowledge and understanding are the key to the actualization of freedom. Documenting these simultaneous movements on either side of The United States is my way of contributing by way of seeing and understanding how a movement is started and what it takes to keep the fire burning. To quote Audre Lorde, “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.”

SARA: To help incite a radical student movement in the United States. There are so many dedicated individuals who have been working tirelessly for many years, attempting to organize and mobilize the student population. While I attempt to do that as a student at my own college, this project is a creative offering to that struggle. Also as importantly, to connect the commonality of the student struggle, while there are many historical, cultural and socio-economic differences between the students who we are meeting; they are all mostly saying the same thing, that education is a human right and should not be treated as a commodity available only to those privileged enough by the capitalistic system to be able to afford it. The student struggle is a global struggle, we must begin to think without borders, for the capitalists know none.

For more information on Grève to En Toma, please visit and like the Facebook page, and visit their Kickstarter!

1 comment:

Gia Shakur said...