March 28, 2016

A team of UCF students has been nominated for an Emmy for their documentary film about the challenges to academic freedom nearly 90 years ago at Florida State College for Women.

The film, Filthy Dreamers, is about state lawmakers and religious activists who tried to ban certain textbooks and the teaching of evolution in 1928 at the school that became Florida State University. The critics accused professors and administrators at the college of “corrupting young women’s minds” and labeled them “filthy dreamers,” but ultimately the college prevailed.

The students from The Burnett Honors College said they made the film to educate and inform viewers about the long history of censorship in classrooms, libraries and campuses because nearly 100 years later, public figures and activists are still trying to control curriculum.

“This film is about academic freedom and why it was important in 1928 as well as 2016,” said history associate professor Robert Cassanello. “It should be a cautionary tale for lawmakers and activists who demand academic content conform to a majority or even minority opinion.”

Cassanello and Lisa Mills, an associate professor of film in the School of Visual Arts & Design, were faculty advisors for the film, which is one of three finalists in the Television Academy Foundation’s documentary category. This is the first time a UCF film has been nominated for a college Emmy.

“What is so gratifying is the way students worked together to visualize a very complicated part of Florida’s history, and make it relevant to what is still happening today,” Mills said. “The film’s strength lies in showing audiences what can happen when higher education becomes politicized. These two documentary classes wanted to show us when students, faculty, and administrators stand together, they can bring important changes and make the system better for all.”

This was the third documentary produced by honors students after honors college Dean Alvin Wang sought a collaborative effort with the College of Arts & Humanities in 2010. The film was started by the honors advanced documentary workshop class in Fall 2013 and then the Fall 2015 class finished it in December. The film will also receive an honorable mention at the Broadcast Educators Association Festival of Media Arts in April.

The 2013 students involved were Will Chorvat, Jason Clarke, Carter Howard, Beverly Nwokoye, Amber Pietrowski and Orlando Porro. The 2015 students were Ernesto Calderon, Louis-Christophe Fortier, Kristin Keefer, Ramsey Khawaja, Derek Loucks, Carmen Malca, Shannon Specie and Antony Zeng. Loucks and Keefer are scheduled to travel to Los Angeles in May, when the winners will be announced.

The film was narrated by history associate professor Connie Lester, and voice-over acting included theatre associated professor Christopher Niess and journalism associate professor Steve Collins.

The film also featured retired Sen. Bob Graham, whose mother was among the so-called “filthy dreamers” in the 1920s.

“I think one of the things we tied to do with the film is give the student perspective because we often have discussions of academic freedom in regards to the teacher, the professors and the administrators. But what about the students? Students themselves have a stake in academic freedom as well,” Cassanello said. “The classroom should be and students should expect it to be an environment for the free exchange of ideas.”

Student Emmy winners are invited to participate in a summit at the Television Academy, where they are exposed to industry professionals and participate in development workshops. Students also become part of the Television Academy Foundation alumni network, which provides access to year-round networking opportunities and events.

“Dr. Cassanello and I congratulate all of the students who worked on Filthy Dreamers. Producing a good historical documentary is not an easy task,” Mills said. “Just getting a nomination for this award is a huge honor.”

To see the trailer for Filthy Dreamers, go to vimeo.