September 12, 2005

Africana Center Hosts Panel

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A documentary on a troubled inner-city family inspired a symposium held last Friday at the Africana Studies and Research Center on clinical and social policy issues in America.

The 2002 documentary, Love and Diane, chronicles “five years in the life of Diane Hazzard, a recovering crack addict; her troubled young daughter, Love, an unwed mother; and Love’s attempts to reunite with her HIV-positive son,” according to the Cornell news service.

The film “stimulated a lot of conversation, but among a limited circle. [We’re] expanding the conversation to include a larger set of constituencies, people like the people in Love and Diane,” said Amy Villarejo, director of Cornell’s Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies, the symposium’s primary sponsor.

Film producers, local psychotherapists and academic professors converged on Friday for three roundtable discussions: “Psychoanalysis Hits the Streets,” “Families and Children: Changing Theory and Practice” and “Politics of Documenting.”

The focus was on the “-issues of [clinical] treatment and the approaches to getting psychoanalysis out of the office and into the streets,” Villarejo said.

In “Politics of Documenting,” panelists delved into the purpose and impact of documentaries, with a focus on Love and Diane.

With Villarejo as moderator, the roundtable discussion featured Dworkin; Monika Treut, a visiting filmmaker at Cornell; Michele Wallace, a visiting professor of English, Women’s Studies and Film Studies from CUNY Graduate Center and the City College of New York; and Prof. Patricia Zimmerman, cinema and photography, Ithaca College.

The panelists praised Dworkin’s documentary for highlighting critical problems in America’s social policy.

“I learned that in this country, there’s so much money out there-[but] the more institutions there are, the less problems get solved,” Treut said.

A German filmmaker, Treut produced a comparable documentary about children living in the impoverished slums of Brazil.

“No one comes in who does anything,” she said about the situation in Brazil.

She went on to voice her sadness over the similar situation depicted in Love and Diane: “with all its intellectual resources, America is not capable of dealing with the problem.”

Prior to the roundtable discussion, Villarejo raised similar concerns, pointing out the “need for addressing diminishing social service programs, [which have been] privatized, de-legislated” and the “need for money and training in order to keep healthy families together.”

Unemployment, drug addiction and social services are portrayed in many contexts in the documentary, as Dworkin follows the family to their talks with social workers, lawyers and other service workers.

“The quality that makes the film interesting for professionals is that you get to see what happens, what [patients] say and think when they’re not in your office,” she told The Sun.

Dworkin continued by observing that after making the documentary, she became “more aware of the ways that children are harmed by social welfare.”

Although Americans know a great deal about how children form attachments, “all of the knowledge is ignored in the child welfare system,” she said.

One “heart-wrenching” scene in the film, Treut mentioned to The Sun, is when “the little baby who was taken away from his biological mother, Love, and handed over to a foster mother finally – comes back.”

“The baby boy sees the foster and biological [mother], not knowing where to belong,” she said. “Already the damage is done.”

The panelists went on to praise the documentary itself.

Zimmerman called Love and Diane a “critical ethnographic film-[with] whole bodies and full events.”

She noted that Dworkin tries “to be transparent, a fly on the wall,” and uses “this style to tell the story that is not told.”

Wallace described the documentary as a therapeutic film “we need to see, which makes us feel in ways we need to experience.”

There is “rarely any adult behavior in the society we live in,” said Wallace. She contrasted the “childlike behavior or … narcissism” of most of the world with the “many adults in the film – Diane, Love, the lawyer, social worker [and] most importantly the filmmaker herself.”

Audience members enjoyed the symposium’s emphasis on inter-disciplinary collaboration.

Local psychotherapist Joan Lovejoy said, “Individuals [and] some groups are thinking about and trying to develop programs where people in welfare system can get help from the therapeutic community.”

In addition, she said that she hopes for exchanges between welfare workers and therapists so that “people who work with families have some place to talk.”

The symposium was also sponsored by the Cornell Law School, the Institute for Social Sciences’ Evolving Family Project, the Africana Center, Family Life Development Center, Gender and Global Change Program, the Society for the Humanities, the departments of government, human development, philosophy and theatre, film and dance, and the Ithaca Therapists Association.

Archived article by Xiaowei Cathy Tang
Sun Senior Editor