Spotlight on Shelbyville may cast shadow on city

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Tuesday night the city of Shelbyville will be in the national spotlight when the film "Welcome to Shelbyville" is broadcast on the PBS series Independent Lens.

Since last fall, the documentary has been screened across the country, including Nashville last Saturday and has been shown by the U.S. State Department in other countries.

Said filmmaker Kim A. Snyder, "I was interested in something that would illustrate "the anatomy" of immigrant integration in one small town and how this was representative of demographic changes taking place across the U.S."

This was the premise the filmmaker explained to the Times-Gazette and the understanding T-G staff reporter Brian Mosely had while being interviewed about the articles published in the Times-Gazette regarding Somalis in Shelbyville.

The film version viewed in October contained a number of misrepresentations about the stories featured in the Times-Gazette, labeling them as "negative." The Times-Gazette stands by these stories.

The hour plus film we saw at the screening last October in Shelbyville took on a much expanded theme in the storytelling than the filmmaker's original stated mission.

Along the path of the film's development, Snyder said "...I found myself in a part of the country that had seen hard struggles in the civil rights movement, it felt necessary to look back at that history of integration and how it intersected with the current newcomers... ."

This is a noteworthy approach to presenting recent Hispanic and Somali immigration in smaller communities.

Other Shelbyvillians are featured in the film. They share viewpoints of past and present racial, faith and cultural insights. Their life experiences, feelings and emotions are not to be discounted and are stories that should be told.

Bringing difficult and controversial topics up for discussion and dialogue is applauded.

But ALL sides must be told. Plus, is dredging up racism from decades ago really what the film was supposed to be about?

Film and sound bites can be edited to tell a story. What is omitted is just as important as what is shown. What was the entire context of the person's statement?

The filmmakers omitted key events in the film, such as the Eid al Fitr/Labor Day controversy in 2008 and the federal immigration raid in 2001 - events that provide more context as to the feelings and comments of many local residents. Also, many of the "meetings" were scheduled expressly for the filming.

We believe viewers should watch with a critical eye -- not the individuals featured, but the narrative and editing of the subject matter.

With a filmmaker who drops in from New York City and believes Bedford County is named after Nathan Bedford Forrest (it is not), wording on the film's original Web site that Shelbyville is just a stone's throw from Pulaski, birthplace of the KKK and, in the screening we saw, shows in the early minutes of the film hooded KKK marching down a "Main Street" (not Shelbyville), an objective person must view the film Tuesday with skepticism.

An educated view of modern-day integration and assimilation both from native residents and the newcomers is tainted with a "southern racist" overlay.

This is disappointing and intellectually dishonest. Filmmaking is storytelling -- it's just what story you're wanting to tell.

We hope the final version of the film shown on PBS tells a better, balanced story.

Viewing: Tuesday, May 24, Channel 8, 9 p.m.

For more visit Brian Mosely's blog, www.t-g.com/blogs/brianmosely/

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