UF students' Haiti documentary gets its premiere

Published: Saturday, May 1, 2010 at 5:49 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, May 1, 2010 at 5:49 p.m.

University of Florida students Jon Bougher and Roman Safiullin on Friday finally debuted "Bound by Haiti," a film that gained national attention after a controversy over whether the students could use footage shot after the country's massive earthquake.

Friday night at the Reitz Union on the UF campus was the UF Documentary Institute's last screening of student films, as the program was eliminated during budget cuts last spring and is moving to Wake Forest University.

Although Saffiullin admitted some of the post-quake scenes, which depicted dozens of dead bodies lining the streets and heaped into macabre piles, were gruesome, he said he didn't think they were exploitive, as the university suggested they might be when it initially told the students they couldn't use the footage.

UF Provost Joe Glover told The Sun he believed the students went back to the country after the quake in order to get "juicy footage." UF later backed down and allowed the students to include the material.

The two students were required to include a disclaimer at the beginning of the film, however, which states that UF neither funded nor approved the scenes. Many in the audience of over 200 people laughed Friday when the statement appeared on the screen.

After the showing, the filmmakers thanked their lawyer and those who helped fund the return trip to Haiti.

Bougher said he thought their fight with the university would make administrators think twice about infringing on the academic freedom of students in the future.

But Saffiullin said he was a little more skeptical.

"I wanna say I'm hopeful that they've changed their thinking," he said. "On the other hand, they're investigating our professor," Saffiullin said, referring to UF's investigation of Churchill Roberts, director of the institute.

The students said they plan to shop their documentary, which follows leaders of the aid organization Planting Peace, around to film festivals and hope for a TV broadcast of it at some point.

Roberts, who will be staying on at UF, said he'll miss the students and his colleagues, but said the four films shown Friday were some of the strongest ever and that the community will be missing out when the institute is gone.

"Hopefully one day we'll have a more enlightened administration," he said, lamenting the decision to cut the program.

Most, if not all, of the program's nine students will continue their education at the new Wake Forest program and said they welcomed Friday's screening as a chance to gather input from the audience to continue fine-tuning their films for the festival circuit.

The three other films told the stories of Florida civil rights activists in the 1960s, local homeless advocate Pat Fitzpatrick and Nigerian rappers.

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