Professor’s film tells multi-year tale of young black lives

By Amelia Garza, Campus Reporter

Margaret Bryne, adjunct professor in the Cinema Art + Science Department, shares the seven-year story of African-American men growing up in the rural south in documentary, “Raising Bertie.”

Margaret Byrne, adjunct professor in the Cinema Art + Science Department, spent seven years creating her recent documentary, “Raising Bertie,” which follows three young African-American men growing up in rural Bertie County, North Carolina.

Completed in March, the film recently finished a weeklong run Nov. 23 at the Gene Siskel Theatre. Byrne said she initially planned to film for one year starting in 2009, focusing on an alternative school in Bertie but switched her focus when the school closed shortly after production began.

“I didn’t set out to make a film that was seven years in the making,” Byrne said. “But, it’s been a very rewarding experience and definitely a far more complex and important story than I could’ve imagined setting out to tell.”

 “Raising Bertie” is about Reginald “Junior” Askew, David “Bud” Perry and Davonte “Dada” Harrell  and the successes and limitations young African-American men growing up in the rural south go through.

 Byrne said she wanted to capture the issues of mass incarceration, education and family these young men commonly face. She added that she hopes her work will spark important conversations, often overlooked in the media.

“The most powerful thing [is] when a film can impact the way people think and create change and be a catalyst for much bigger discussion,” Byrne said. “It’s more important now than ever, post-election, that we pay attention to our rural communities and we realize there are a diversity of stories that are not being told in mainstream media.”

“Raising Bertie” has been an official selection for numerous film festivals nationwide and won Best Director at the Atlanta Underground Film Festival and Best Documentary Feature at the 2016 Atlanta Docufest.

Ruth Leitman, an assistant professor in the Cinema Art + Science Department and documentary coordinator, said she saw many versions of the film throughout its stages of production.

“Every shot is beautifully crafted and used and stitched together to tell the story about a population so many people walk away from,” Leitman said.

Tim Horsburgh, director of communication and distribution for Kartemquin Films, “Raising Bertie’s” production company, said the documentary embodies everything Kartemquin stands for.

“This is a story about young people building their lives and doing it with difficulty, but with grace as well, and that’s an important story for people to embrace,” Horsbugh said. “Feature documentaries like this are really the only medium where that ever happens.”

The film will be heading back to Bertie County Dec. 10 for a public screening, Byrne said, adding that the film will also be available for digital download on iTunes in Spring 2017. Along with promoting her film, Byrne is also raising awareness and fundraising for underfunded rural public schools.

Throughout the film, the dedication and commitment to this community is undeniable, Leitman said, adding how that commitment continues with Byrne’s efforts in showing this film to audiences.

“As documentary filmmakers, we have an obligation to ourselves as artists, to our audience and the story we deliver to them, and most importantly, to our subjects,” Leitman said. “[Byrne] has served her subjects, and has honored them very well, warts and all. She honors their life, their struggle, their small successes and their hopes for greater prosperity in the future.”