Simone Leung was a 2016 summer intern with POV’s Community Engagement and Education department. She majors in Global Studies and English at Colby College, where she is a Sandy Maisel Fellow.
Over the past three months, I interned in the Community Engagement and Education (CEE) department at POV. I knew the power of POV films, as I had watched a number of them during my time at Colby in courses that ranged from Introduction to Anthropology to Environmental Justice and World Literature. I was impressed by how relevant the films were to my coursework across disciplines but, beyond the classroom, I also found myself personally affected. My often simplistic conclusions about social issues became complicated by these documentaries. I wanted to get involved, specifically by working at the intersection of media and social issues, so I applied for the internship in the Fall and was excited to hear back that I had gotten it later in the school year.
Entering the internship, I was intimidated. I quickly learned that many of the other interns had a background in film or cinema studies; some were in the process of shooting their own documentaries. I, on the other hand, felt I lacked technical knowledge about filmmaking and the “correct” language to speak about cinema. Even so, I knew I wanted to work with people who were as interested in these social issues as I was. Furthermore, I was excited to be surrounded by people who believed that documentary film had the power to engage audiences in ways that other mediums could not, playing an important role in inspiring conversation and action.
Because of that, being part of the CEE team turned out to be the best possible fit for me. In our department, we focused on finding partners whose work aligned with the social issues addressed by our documentaries. Then we offered screenings to their communities, which would often be paired with a facilitated discussion. By working on outreach and engagement campaigns that would maximize the social impact of POV films, we were supporting filmmakers whose focus was to make films and not necessarily push for social issue causes outside their art form. Through our work in CEE, I was able to marry my interest in film with my desire to tackle issues beyond film.
Because of my major in Global Studies and my interest in Asia, I asked my supervisors, Aubrey and Alice, if I could be assigned to work on films that dealt specifically with that region. The first outreach campaign I worked on was for The Look of Silence, which explores the Indonesian genocide of 1965 and the U.S. government’s role in it as they fought against the spread of communism around the world. It was a difficult first film to work on, as I quickly realized that many of the cultural and art organizations that I reached out to were hesitant to partner up on a film that could seem political or critical of the U.S. government. On the other end of the spectrum, human rights and justice organizations responded enthusiastically to the film. I think my greatest takeaway from the outreach campaign for The Look of Silence was that our work in the CEE department was more focused on opening minds and complicating ideas rather than pushing a political or activist agenda. By focusing on filtering our content into the right communities, we would be able to educate audiences about social issues in ways that mainstream media might not, which could then lead to a shift in public opinion and the beginning of action. In doing so, our work was much more of a bottom-up process.
As I near the end of my internship, I am most inspired by the power of documentary film to turn political issues into personal, moral ones. I am particularly encouraged by the fact that while the audience’s beliefs did not always align with the filmmakers’, the films gave people an opportunity to engage with different perspectives in a constructive way. On a more personal level, when I was frustrated with what was going on in the world, interning at POV gave me the opportunity to engage with and work on these issues in my own way.