Post Classifieds

Class makes film about LGBT witch-hunt group

By Alexandra Schulze
On November 29, 2011

Imagine yourself in a society where even just associating with the "wrong" crowd could lead to serious consequences. Where people of that crowd are interrogated and accused because of their beliefs, and left with nothing.

In order to raise awareness about the treacherous acts toward these people, a class of students with assistant history professor Robert Cassanello and assistant professor Dr. Lisa Mills created a film.

Florida's Purge: The Johns Committee Witch-hunt is about the Florida Legislative Investigation Committee, also known as the Johns Committee, named after its head chairman, Charley Johns.

Johns, a former Florida senator and governor, led the witch hunt against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer students and teachers in public state universities. It was formed in the 1950s to go after African Americans and communists but shifted its attention to the uprising of homosexuals after the NAACP successfully ensnared it in legal quagmires and court cases.

With interrogation tactics, fear campaigns and threats of expulsion and termination, they purged American citizens from their educational and academic homes for nothing more than their relationship with the LGBTQ community.

"The Johns Committee was something I first head about while in graduate school in 1994," Cassanello said. "Their papers were released to the public, and scholars and journalists could see exactly what they did. It created a lot of buzz at the time."

Some of the effects of the committee's seditious behaviors are still felt today.

"Dr. Mills and I starting planning this over a year ago," Cassanello said. "We did some preliminary research and shooting but a majority of the film was done during the fall 2011 semester and will be completed by final exam week."

The class is an interdisciplinary honors course, and the students enrolled in it are the sole researchers, writers, shooters, editors and producers of this film.

The class as a whole was part of bringing attention to the topic. It was their semester-long project that was understood as part of the syllabus from the outset.

"All of us knew we would be working on this topic when we signed up for the class," said Logan Kriete, a senior film and television production major.

"Personally, I chose it because I think it's such a little-known black spot of Florida's history that no one ever focuses on and one that would benefit from more attention in the community," Kriete said. "I strongly support LGBTQ rights and wanted to do something tangible that would help advance them."

Everyone has a specific expertise that contributed to the film. No students are featured directly.

"It is made up entirely of B-roll our class shot, interviews with academic professors, historians, survivors of the Johns Committee and archival footage." Kriete said.

He's been working in the entertainment industry for years and wanted to produce narrative stories that entertain audiences.

"In particular, this documentary spoke to my passion for the LGBTQ community's rights and pushing forward for a more progressive culture," Kriete said.

"My goal is to make artistic choices that will help others understand the souls and settings in my films," Mills said. "I want my work to dramatize conscious and unconscious truths of the human experience."

This semester they have raised more than $1,000 for the film. About $500 came from an Office of Undergraduate Research grant awarded to them by UCF's undergraduate research department, and approximately $700 was pledged to them through their Kickstarter campaign, which is an online funding website.

"We'd like the audience to be emotionally impacted by the film, enough to be inspired to go out and do something proactive toward preventing something like this from happened again," Kriete said.

Cassanello said that he and his class hope to get audience members to think about the issues in the film and consider what may or may not have changed.

"We look back now at the Johns Committee and McCarthy Hearings and can say that these actions were not in accordance with the Constitution, but we would like people who view the film to wonder if the issues at the base of these events are still with us today," Cassanello said.

The free public screening of the film will be shown at the Morgridge International Reading Center Tuesday, Dec. 6 from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

"When we finally finish the film, we hope to be able to post it online for people to watch it anywhere, anytime," Kriete said.

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