The theater screen faded to black.
Afterward there was no scuffling of feet, no whispers or laughter. Instead, the audience remained relatively quiet as several panelists took their seat at a table on the stage. Elizabeth Miller waited until after Gwen’s Girls Executive Director and panel moderator Kathi R. Elliott introduced her before she leaned forward into her microphone and addressed the crowd in front of her.
“I want to begin by honoring the survivors in the room. We believe in you, we hear you,” she said. “I believe that one of the most important messages in this movie is giving people a voice, and that’s what you deserve.”
Miller — the chief of adolescent medicine and a professor of pediatrics at the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh — was one of four panelists to speak at Just Films’ opening screening for their second year.
Just Films — launched in September 2016 — is a film series that shows documentaries focusing on racial and sexual justice. Last year’s series consisted of 10 film screenings over 10 months. Filmmakers and social activists sent in movie ideas via email and over the phone throughout 2015. The Women’s Law Project, the Chatham University Women’s Institute, New Voices Pittsburgh and the Women and Girls Foundation collaboratively hosted the series.
This year, the series consists of five partners. New Voices Pittsburgh left because of other commitments, and Gwen’s Girls and YWCA were brought on as partners later in the first season.
According to Jessie Ramey, co-founder of the series and director of Chatham’s Women’s Institute, the second season will also consist of several independent documentaries focusing on social justice issues shown throughout the year.
“We realized last year that the films that were gender-focused and intersectional were very well-received, which is why we’re going with those again,” Ramey said. “Most will also be women-directed and fairly new, like last year. Some will be shown here for the first time.”
Just Films launched their second season Wednesday, Sept. 13, with “Audrie and Daisy,” a documentary in which sexual assault is one of the main themes. More than 70 people attended the film screening in the Eddy Theatre on Chatham’s campus Wednesday night.
Mary Utter, the assistant dean of students at Chatham, said she came to several of the films last year and was glad when she heard they were doing the event again.
“A lot of students I work with had great views of the event last year,” she said. “There’s a range of issues like Native American culture, immigration and others that the series covers that I think is great for college students to learn about.”
Heather Arnet — a Just Films co-founder and the CEO of the Women and Girls Foundation — said the point of the series is to launch discussions on the tough topics each film addresses and possibly make people consider different perspectives.
“I do think we can make it easier for audiences to engage in some form of social action before they leave the theater,” she said.
After the film ended, attention turned to the four panelists: Nathaniel Berry, a counselor at the Center for Victims, Jose Garth, a peer education specialist and Planned Parenthood of Western PA Violence Prevention Project lead, Megan Zurasky, an advocate at Pittsburgh Action Against Rape and Miller.
Panelists at the screening of “Audrie and Daisy” used the film — which follows the story lines of several young women who were sexually assaulted and exposed on social media — as a chance to talk about their work in areas such as victim counseling and sexual education. They urged the audience to consider how rape culture and gender discrimination affect daily life.
Zurasky offered up a personal example to describe this by speaking about how certain people in the film reminded her of people she worked with in her job.
“I’ve trained Pittsburgh Police officers on what’s the right thing to say to victims,” she said. “The sheriff in this movie blows my mind. I’ve seen it a few times and what he’s saying is definitely not right.”
Chaz Kellem, senior director of advocacy, race and gender equity at the Greater Pittsburgh YWCA, said the film series is an especially good event for students because much of what is conveyed in the films “can’t just be learned in a textbook.”
“Everyone is able to make a place for themselves when it comes to advocacy, and we want to advance leadership concerning these issues in the community,” he said. “Students are a good place to start when it comes to the people we want to reach out to. There’s so many benefits outside of the normal classroom curriculum that can come with attending this.”
Jaiya Corell-Greene, a first-year nursing major at Chatham University, said she definitely plans on coming to the next Just Films screening after watching “Audrie and Daisy.” She said she learned a lot about rape culture from watching the film and listening to the panelists discuss their work and experiences.
“You hear about these things and it’s kind of hard to believe, but then you see them on the screen here and you’re like wow,” she said. “It puts you in the action.”
Corell-Greene said the event has inspired her to see what she can do to help people affected by sexual assault.
“There was this group at the activities fair dedicated to helping women and girls affected by human trafficking,” she said. “I didn’t think that it was something that was a big deal before, but now I really want to go out for it.”