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Documentary examines arrival of Valparaiso’s first Black family

The film travels to 10 cities includes a March 6 stop in Gary as part of Indiana Humanities’ INseparable Film Tour

Five short documentaries exploring urban and rural identities in Indiana debuted Jan. 15 in Valparaiso, the setting for one film that explores the arrival of the city’s first African American family in 1969.

Filmmakers Pat Wisniewski and Tom Desch tell the story of the Cotton family, who moved to Valparaiso through the determination of their mother and with the help of a Valparaiso University professor as the family worked to find a way to leave Chicago’s Cabrini-Green housing project.

“From Sundown to Sunrise,” one of five films on Indiana Humanities’ INseparable Film Tour, is told through the eyes of one of the Cotton children, Robert, who in 2015 became the first African-American elected to the Valparaiso City Council.

“I want to compliment my city and encourage good souls to look at how empowering an act of authentic neighboring can be,” said Cotton, who sees his experience as a way to more broadly tackle racism, ignorance and poverty.

Wisniewski, who lives in Valparaiso, said the story shows what can happen when one human is willing to see the humanity in another.

“It changed the whole trajectory of ambition for the family, and the characterization of the town,” Wisniewski said.

Wisniewski’s film and four others were shown at 6:30 p.m. Jan. 15 at Duesenberg Recital Hall at the Center for the Arts in Valparaiso.

Funded by Indiana Humanities, the films build on the organization’s INseparable initiative, which encourages Hoosiers to explore real and perceived differences across urban, suburban and rural boundaries.

The tour will swing through 10 cities over three months. Other stops include Angola, Bloomington, Fort Wayne, Franklin, Gary, Indianapolis, Lebanon, Richmond and Rushville.

Among the films’ other subjects are a dance instructor in Gary dealing with disinvestment in arts education, a rural community newspaper in Wayne County filling the gap caused by media consolidation, and a southern Indiana composting business that hires ex-offenders to transform the land and their lives.

“We are excited to debut these films, made in Indiana by Hoosier filmmakers, which offer textured stories that complicate common ideas about who lives in Indiana and what they’re up to,” said Leah Nahmias, director of programs and community engagement at Indiana Humanities. “We hope these films spark meaningful conversations about the ways in which the futures of urban, rural and suburban Hoosiers are linked and what might be preventing us from working together.”

Other featured filmmakers are Gary-based Dan Rybicky and Richmond native Ryan Gleeson of Chicago’s Kartemquin Films, Bloomington-based duo Mitch Teplitsky and Gabriel Lantz, and Chad Perdue of Lebanon.

Wisniewski said it means a lot to documentary filmmakers to find funding for their projects.

“For Indiana Humanities to provide this kind of opportunity was just amazing to us because it meant that we got paid for something that normally just ends up being a labor of love,” she said. “It gives us the ability to keep going, and it helps find an audience for our films, which is huge.”

After the INseparable Film Tour, the films will be available to stream online. A trailer is now available to watch at https://youtu.be/JhdwTF5fmnQ.

The Gary stops on the INseparable Film Tour:

Friday, March 6 | 6:30 p.m. – Bergland Auditorium, IU Northwest, 3400 Broadway, Gary, register to attend for free at: https://inseparablefilmsgary.eventbrite.com.

Thursday, March 12 | 6:30 p.m. – Richmond Art Museum, 305 Hub Etchison Parkway, Richmond, register to attend for free at: https://inseparable filmtourrichmond.eventbrite.com.

A special family-friendly screening of “Larry from Gary” will be offered Saturday, March 7, at IU Northwest’s Bergland Auditorium, register to attend for free at: https://inseparablefilmsgary2.eventbrite.com.

The other films are:

“The Earthkeepers” by Mitch Teplitsky and Gabriel Lantz: Follows a southern Indiana couple who decide to leave academia to start a composting business — employing ex-offenders along the way. Now they’re on a mission to avert a looming waste crisis in Indiana, and beyond.

“Hometown Media” by Ryan Gleeson: Follows a week in the life of a small-town newspaper in Wayne County, Ind., for a look at how rural journalism is practiced today and why it matters.

“Larry from Gary” by Dan Rybicky: Chronicles the trials and triumphs of celebrated dance instructor Larry Brewer and his talented student performers at a nationally recognized arts school in Gary, which was recently closed as part of the restructuring of the city’s public schools.

“Raised in Contrast” by Chad Perdue: Looks at the experiences of mixed-race and non-white Hoosiers who live in rural and suburban communities.

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