June 6, 2016

An Emmy-winning documentary film created by UCF honors students began airing this week on more than 100 PBS television stations nationwide, telling the story of a Florida Legislature panel that tried to remove homosexual students and employees from state universities decades ago.

The film will be shown during the next few weeks from coast to coast. However, Central Floridians will have two opportunities to view “The Committee” locally: It will be broadcast 10 p.m. June 20 on WUCF TV, and the film will be shown on the big screen at 5:30 p.m. June 16 in the Visual Arts Building, Room 132. The campus screening is a thank you to the UCF community and all the people who helped support the film along the way.

Students in The Burnett Honors College advanced documentary class produced the film in 2011 and it won the 2014 Suncoast Regional Emmy for Best Historical Documentary awarded by the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. Because of legal rulings on same-sex marriage and other gay-rights issues since then, three extra minutes of footage have been added by UCF faculty to this now 27-minute broadcast edition.

“Because of the benchmark rulings and some new research, the narrative of the story changed so we decided to put some more work into the film and change the ending,” said Lisa Mills, an associate professor of film. Mills and Robert Cassanello, an associate professor of history, both in the College of Arts & Humanities, were co-advisors on the film. The film was edited by Aaron Hose, a video producer in UCF’s Center for Distributed Learning.

The film focused on the Johns Committee, an investigative panel of the Legislature from 1956 to 1964 directed by Sen. Charlie Johns. The investigation lead to the expulsion or firing of more than 200 university students and teachers. Interviewed in the film are one of the interrogators, two of the investigation’s victims, historians, school officials, and former governor and senator Bob Graham.

“He (Graham) was a student at the University of Florida during the Johns era,” Mills said. “He talks about how upset the students were that classmates and professors were being called out of classes and interrogated.”

The film also shows how the effects of the campaign are still felt today.

Preparing the film for nationwide broadcast took more than a year of work. About $10,000 was needed to obtain music and image copyright permissions and prepare the film for distribution. The money came from a crowdfunding campaign organized by the filmmakers, and contributions from UCF’s College of Arts & Humanities, Office of the President, Office of Undergraduate Research, and Office of Diversity and Inclusion.

“We thought it was worthwhile of our time and the learning experience it would bring to the classroom,” Mills said.

Cassanello concurred that the project was valuable to the class.

“Students were able to take a community-based research project and produce a documentary short that places the lives of everyday people into the context of state and national events,” he said.

In addition to winning the Emmy, “The Committee” has been shown at numerous film festivals locally, nationally and internationally. Among its awards have been Best Documentary at the Love Your Shorts Film Festival in Sanford and the Durban Gay & Lesbian Film Festival in South Africa.

The syndicated distribution of ‘The Committee’ also will provide national exposure for the university, The Burnett Honors College, and the College of Arts & Humanities “every time a local station airs the film from San Francisco to Chicago to the Carolinas,” Mills said.

Cassanello added: “This film and its premiere on public television demonstrates the success of collaboration across the entire campus family, students, faculty, administrators, and support personnel as well as parents and spouses who all chipped in to get us to this point. So many people helped along the way there are few segments of the UCF community who weren’t touched and participated in getting this film out to its broadest audience.”

To see a trailer for the documentary, who helped facilitate the making of the film, and other information, visit thecommitteedocumentary.org