August 1, 2014

A documentary by University of Central Florida students and professors won the International Jury Award for Best Documentary at the Durban Gay & Lesbian Film Festival in South Africa.

Florida’s Purge: The Johns Committee Witch Hunt is the product of a 2011 UCF honors class taught by Lisa Mills of the School of Visual Arts & Design and Robert Cassanello of the History Department.

“The students who made this film were a very special group,” says Mills. “Their dedication to the project has led to its success and to their own individual successes as they work in film production, cinematography, journalism, and other professions beyond graduation.”

Referred to as The Committee, the documentary tells a shocking story: in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Florida college students and teachers were pulled out of class and questioned for hours—not about their politics but about their private lives, as part of an effort to drive homosexuals from state universities.

The film was first screened at UCF’s Morgridge International Reading Room. It has gone on to receive numerous awards including “Best of Competition” at the Broadcast Educators Association Festival of Media Arts and “Best Documentary” at the Love Your Shorts Film Festival in Sanford. The film has gained international recognition with its latest accolade.

“It is extremely gratifying that an audience on the other side of the world recognizes the importance of the story that this film reveals,” says Mills

Jose Fernandez, Dean of the UCF College of Arts & Humanities, adds, “This international award along with other awards are indicative of the quality of faculty and students in our college.”

According to Robert Cassanello, “The Committee gives us a glimpse into a time at Florida’s public universities when discrimination and civil rights were treated with little regard by state legislators, civic officers and university officials.”

Byron Clercx, Director of the UCF School of Visual Arts & Design, points to a famous cautionary statement made more poignant by this parcel of Florida history:

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” – The Life of Reason, George Santayana

The Committee will be screen at the Orlando Museum of Art on August 7, 6-9pm as part of the museum’s “Art in Equality” First Thursday event.

For more information about the project, visit The Committee website.