Living in the digital age with various methods of mass communication can create an almost too close for comfort level of intimacy. One student, Sara Gruber, has chosen to make the school’s form of mass communication – the Forum – the topic of her thesis in the form of a film, “The Forum Movie.”
“For a couple years, I didn’t even check the Forum,” Gruber, a Humanities AOC, said. “There was a big chunk of the research phase that was reading a lot of the Forum that I had never seen before or been exposed to. It was cool to see what had been going on.”
When Gruber spent a semester abroad in New York, she turned to the Forum as a means of keeping up with what was going on while she was away.
“While it was fun, there were also times when I realized the narrative I had in my head of what New College was, and what it meant to me, isn’t the one that was told on the Forum,” Gruber said. “I don’t think there is one narrative that is told on the Forum, and that is what the movie is supposed to show.”
The film is described on its website as an “adaptation of a social network that is itself a simulacra of a community, the university, a world devoted to a care of information.”
The film also plans on implementing aspects of Social Cinema. Gruber drew inspiration from works such as the 2010 film, “The Social Network.” She has implemented a program that will allow individuals to “live text” while viewing the film. Students can send a message to an SMS provider and have their message projected alongside the screen for the rest of the audience to see.
“A big part of it is the incorporation of the text-to-screen function and letting people participate in it,” Gruber said. “Whereas, “The Social Network” […] was a movie about Facebook, what I tried to do with this was a film adaptation of the experience of the Forum. And a big part of what the Forum is, theoretically, is an open forum for students at New College. And what that means is that anyone can participate, anyone can contribute to the discussion. So a film adaptation of that experience would be one in which people can participate too.”
Making the film required hundreds of hours of editing and research. Additionally, Gruber enlisted the help of fellow classmates to look through Forum archives and assist in the filming process. The film used more than 50,000 threads from the Forum as well as audio recording of these emails, and what the website describes as “candid footage” taken on campus.
This introduces a legal concern over whether or not Gruber is allowed to record and use footage of student activities without the written consent of the subjects.
Gruber said that according to the Sunshine Law, emails of any sort of organization are available to the public for three years. For Forum posts that were older than three years, Gruber obtained permission from the original posters of the emails. The photos used in the film were posted to the film’s Facebook page where students were aware that these photos would be used for the project. Gruber described the legality surrounding the footage as “rocky” but stated that students should not be worried.
“I understand students’ concerns,” Gruber said. “I don’t think this is going to be seen by anyone that doesn’t go here, and the people who go here see you outside every day. I think when you tell people that there’s candid footage in something, it’s totally reasonable for them to be worried that I have footage of them doing something that they might not want to be seen. But I think people will be surprised by how tame it is. A lot of it is also stylized to the point where you can’t tell who is in it.”
Gruber also points out that students signed consent forms at the beginning of the year, allowing pictures of them to be added to the school’s website.
“I understand people being upset,” Gruber continued. “If I wasn’t making this movie, I would probably have my own concerns. But I would also wait until the screening to say something. […] I think if you’re worried, that says more about you than me.”
According to Florida law, all participants in any type of confidential communication must give permission to be recorded. However, under statute 934.03(2) d., consent is not required when a person “does not have a reasonable expectation of privacy” during this type of communication. Some of the candid footage was filmed at Walls, and it is difficult to ascertain how much privacy an individual can expect.
“[Walls] do qualify as campus events and they do receive SAC [Student Allocations Committee] funding frequently,” thesis student McAlister Grant said. Grant maintains that he is not someone with professional legal authority. He has, however, served as both Vice President of Student Affairs and Supervisor of Elections and he has had ample experience with student government. “Events can be reserved as either being open to the public, meaning any person who feels like showing up […] or private, meaning open only to New College students and their guests.”
“Even if Walls are legally private, Sara [Gruber] is legally a guest,” McAlister continued. “So [while] it’s entirely possible that Wall-goers have a legal expectation of privacy from persons not invited to the Wall, they might not have a legal expectation of privacy from [other students].”
Despite this controversy, Gruber is hopeful that others will leave the film screening satisfied with its portrayal of the school.
“This is a love letter to New College on all accounts,” Gruber said. “And I hope that it is taken that way.”
A public screening of The Forum Movie was planned to occur on Thursday, April 30 from 7:00 to 9:30 p.m. in Hamilton Center Classroom (HCL) 7. This event was initially postponed, and then later cancelled, by Gruber due to technical difficulties.
Information from this article taken from rcfp.org and theforumovie.com