by Prof. John J. Michalczyk
Professor John Michalczyk teaches in the Fine Arts Department and is the Director of the Film Studies Program. Over the last two decades, he has produced numerous documentary films, dealing with historical events such as World War II and the Holocaust, as well as situations of conflict resolution. His most recent documentary, Who Takes Away the Sins: Witnesses to Clergy Abuse, was co-produced with his wife Susan and premiered this past spring at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. He joined the Boston College faculty in 1974.
Several years ago I received the Arts Alumni Award for my work in the arts. In my very brief remarks I suggested, “Scratch the surface and you will find in me an EDUCATOR. Over almost four
decades at BC [next year will be 40], I have tried to educate through my
teaching, writing, lecturing widely, and filming social justice documentaries.” Two highlights of this academic career stand
out. First is working closely with my wife Susan, Assistant Director of the A&S Honors Program, on my documentaries where she makes me look better than I am. With her razor-sharp intelligence
Susan can get to the heart of the matter and make our publication or documentary film achieve a higher quality, as she did with our recent collaboration on Who Takes Away the Sins: Witnesses to
Clergy Abuse. Secondly, the students in the Jacques Salmanowitz Program, which supports students in their social justice film work through grants, inspire me, as they serve as the next generation
who will leave their social imprint upon our planet.
The Jacques Salmanowitz Program began in 2001 with generous support from the Swiss firm Société Générale de Surveillance in Geneva, Switzerland, thanks to the vision of Madame Elisabeth Salina Amorini and Mr. Sy Rotter of Documentaries International. Since that time, students have travelled widely from the mining fields of Chile to the conflict-ridden area of Palestine, and from the poverty-stricken regions of Nicaragua to the Siberian Gulag. Each year students produce striking documentaries on moral courage, human rights, and social justice. What has been most rewarding for me has been the passion for social justice within each of the students who rise to the challenges of international travel and filming, whether it be in the back country of Peru or the under-developed villages of Sierra Leone. Having faced those challenges globally with my mentor Fr. Raymond Helmick, SJ, a conflict resolution specialist in the Theology Department, I am aware of the many stumbling blocks that the students must overcome in order to produce an honest documentary.
What has also been most gratifying is to see the students who have produced films for the Salmanowitz Program continue on in the pursuit of socially conscious films following graduation. David LaMattina (’03) was the pioneer in the program, traveling to South Africa to film a narrative about a haven for children living with their mothers suffering from AIDS. To view his film, Nkosi’s Legacy, premiere at the Brattle Theater in Cambridge with almost 200 people in attendance confirmed me in my optimism about what the program can do. Subsequently, the film helped David enter a graduate program in film and then to work at Blue Sky Productions. Most recently he completed a film about children in New York connected with others in Sierra Leone as penpals in Brownstones to Red Dirt.
A second student, Helen Ryan (‘05), filmed a documentary about the deaf children of Nicaragua as part of the program, went on to intern with a former student Michael Rossi at WGBH television, which led her into a career of documentary filmmaking. Since then she has been seriously involved in PBS productions such as God in America and documentaries dealing with Helen Keller and Henry Ford.
Students approach me with a seminal idea, coming from the Faith, Peace and Justice Program, Film Studies, or International Studies among other programs and disciplines, and I help refine them, using my diverse experiences from our global film production. With the financial support from the grant and assistance from the Film Studies faculty, the students involved have been able to have a profound consciousness-raising experience in their travels, for example, to a barrio in Peru or a devastated region of Palestine.
My reward over the years has been witnessing what a student with a passion for social justice equipped with a camera can bring in awareness to others.