After a career in corporate film-making, Visual Media and Arts Instructor Bob Nesson decided to pursue film opportunities that he truly cared about. He began teaching film-making at Emerson in a way that would help students learn not only film-making fundamentals, but also how to use their skills to help meet community needs. Two years ago, students from his “Documentary for Social Action” course inspired him in an unexpected way.
“My students did a film about Haley House’s Transitional Employment Program in Dudley Square. The goal of Haley House is to help people who have been in prison feel a sense of responsibility and empowerment when they rejoin this society,” Nesson said. The combination of the class’s service learning and the stories of individuals profiled in the short film raised questions for Nesson about the adversity former inmates face when rejoining society.
The film his service learning students made about re-entry was “stupendously good,” Nesson said, and prompted him to research the “really big problem” of prisoners’ reintegration into society upon their release.
Nesson contacted Future Hope, a nonprofit apprenticeship program in Dorchester, Massachusetts that mentors people formerly incarcerated by teaching them basic construction skills. Through his interactions with Future Hope’s Reverend Emanuel Hutcherson and Arthur Sutton, who runs the program, Nesson was moved to make a documentary of his own chronicling the efforts of Sutton and the organization. With the help of a $10,000 Artist Fellowship from The Massachusetts Cultural Council. Nesson has begun filming “Coping,” following Sutton and his mentees. The work explores the idea of negotiating the social contract (the mutual obligation of a society to its members and the members to the society) in the context of a person’s transition back to society after exile.
In pursuing another $10,000 grant from Mass Humanities for his film, Nesson was required to raise matching funds. He feels fortunate to have colleagues who offered their time and resources to help him reach his goal. Claudia Castañeda, a senior fellow in residence in Emerson’s Institute for Liberal Arts and Interdisciplinary Studies will serve as a humanities consultant on the project, as will Jack McDevitt, director for Northeastern University’s Institute on Race and Justice. “Bob’s concept for ‘Coping’ is striking in how unflinchingly it seeks to spotlight a severely underserved and misunderstood population in our society,” said Eric Asetta, executive director of Emerson’s Office of Research and Creative Scholarship. “‘Coping’ is the kind of project that perfectly echoes Emerson’s commitments to arts innovation and civic engagement.”