From the 40 Acres to East Austin

UT students use East Austin Stories to explore community life

East Austin is changing, and armed with video cameras and questions, Radio, Television, and Film students at the University of Texas are bearing witness to this change through the East Austin Stories program.

"12th and Chicon," one of the shorts filmed as part of UT Austin's East Austin Stories program

Professor Andrew Garrison began teaching the class to focus on themes of community. It involves taking students on guided tours of Austin, then he welcomes speakers from the community to the classroom, and it culminates with screenings of documentaries directed by the students themselves.

Garrison said he was inspired to start the course when he moved to Austin from Louisville, and found himself in an environment that he didn’t quite recognize. “I expected to see a kind of South that I was more familiar with,” he said. “I was very surprised to land on campus and see very few people of color. I was a newly minted professor and I thought it would benefit my students to do a class where they were forced to get off the campus, and make a documentary, and find stories locally.”

Some students have found that, despite the fact that they’re Austin originals, they’ve come to a deeper understanding about the city they’ve lived in all of their lives. Thea Robinson focused her film on the residents of Primrose at Shadow Creek, an affordable living complex for seniors. She found that many of the seniors, despite being in their sixties, were still advocating for their community. She said even though she had understood what gentrification was before, she didn’t understand it’s full impact until she got to talk to these retirees.

“You can always go into a film thinking that it will be one way and it is never what you’ll expect,” Robinson said. “The most important stories should connect with humanity and there are so many ways to achieve that, but creating these narratives has to come from a genuine place.”

Summer Rizzo was initially hoping to capture a vignette of residents of East Austin relaxing on their porches. She instead found a couple who have been married for 57 years, the Castillos. Not only were they madly in love with one another, they were also community advocates. She decided to focus her film on the struggles the Castillos have faced and the comfort they found in one another.

“Learning English was just a huge priority because there was just so much discrimination,” Rizzo said. “They would get judged based on speaking it in public or speaking it in schools. It's something that held true even when they had their own children. They didn't teach their children Spanish because they didn't want their kids to have a hard time socially or getting jobs.”

Despite the fact that these projects are tied to a grade, the students taking Garrison’s class feel a genuine draw to the art of documentary as a way to tell the stories of people who might be forgotten in the chaos of rebranding Austin. Rebecca Stewart, whose film “Portraits Behind the Paint” spotlights mural artist Chris Rogers (see "12th and Chicon Mural to be Repainted," May 19, 2017), found her subject by happenstance when she was driving through the East side. She said, “I think of documentary as a way to help other people tell their story no matter what they may be.”

For more on the East Austin Stories program, including an archive of the student films, visit www.rtf.utexas.edu/east-austin-stories.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 36 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More East Austin Stories
Imagining the Real
Imagining the Real
UT's East Austin Stories documents evolving landscape

Sean L. Malin, May 6, 2016

More by Mae Hamilton
Documentary Uses Virtual Reality to Explore East Austin Gentrification
Documentary Uses Virtual Reality to Explore East Austin Gentrification
Technology and social justice come together in Latinitas' film

May 25, 2018

Unglue Your Kids From the TV for These Family-Friendly Summer Activities
Unglue Your Kids From the TV for These Family-Friendly Summer Activities
Ten things to see and do around Austin, no screens required

May 18, 2018

KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

East Austin Stories, UT RTF, Student Films, Andrew Garrison

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
AC Daily, Events and Promotions, Luvdoc Answers

Breaking news, recommended events, and more

Official Chronicle events, promotions, and giveaways

Updates for SXSW 2018

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle