A Reckoning in Boston: Film Screening and Q&A with Director James Rutenbeck and Producer Kafi Dixon

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Russell Van Nest Black Lecture


James Rutenbeck: Producer/Director/Writer/Editor
James Rutenbeck's nonfiction films have screened at various forums including Cinema du Reel, Museum of Modern Art, National Gallery, and the Flaherty Film Seminar. Rutenbeck is a two-time recipient of the Alfred I. duPont–Columbia University Award for his work as producer of the PBS series Unnatural Causes, about health disparities in the U.S., and Class of '27, which he executive produced, directed and edited. Class of '27, about the lives of young children in rural America, is streaming as an Editor's Pick at The Atlantic. His film Scenes from a Parish aired on the PBS series Independent Lens in 2009. Rutenbeck has been awarded grants from Sundance Documentary Fund, LEF Moving Image Fund, Southern Humanities Media Fund, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. His broadcast editing credits include Zoot Suit Riots, Jimmy Carter, and Roberto Clemente for the PBS series American Experience. James studied filmmaking with Richard Leacock at MIT.

Kafi Dixon: Producer
Dixon has worked as a gravedigger, fishmonger, retail merchant, Boston bus driver, community organizer, and mother of three. She is certified as an urban farmer by the City of Boston. A former Clemente Course student, Kafi worked closely with the film's director James Rutenbeck for the last three years. She is currently lead organizer for the Common Good Cooperative, an urban farm and cooperative for poor and working-class women of color in Dorchester, Massachusetts. This is her first film.


In fall 2014, Kafi Dixon and Carl Chandler enrolled in a rigorous night course in the humanities at a community center in their Boston neighborhood of Dorchester. Dixon, 44, sharp, witty and restless, dropped out of school at 15. She had her first baby a year later and two more soon after. Chandler, 65, who lives on a small pension and disability payment in one of Boston's most dangerous neighborhoods, began the class with a keen interest in learning but little faith in educational institutions. White suburban filmmaker James Rutenbeck came to Dorchester to document the students' engagement with the Clemente Course in the Humanities. The Clemente Course is taught in 34 sites across the U.S. to those who have experienced homelessness, transitioned out of incarceration, or faced barriers to a college education. The Clemente mission is to foster critical thinking through deep engagement with history, literature, philosophy, and art history. Clemente students, its proponents assert, become fuller and freer citizens. But over time Rutenbeck is forced to come to terms with a flawed film premise and his own complicity in racist structures. As he spends time with Chandler and Dixon, he is awakened to the violence, racism, and gentrification that threaten their very place in the city.

Troubled by his failure to bring the film together, he spends more time listening than filming and eventually enlists Dixon and Chandler as collaborators/producers with a share in the film revenues. Five years on, despite many obstacles, Dixon and Chandler arrive at surprising new places in their lives, and following their lead, Rutenbeck does too.

Trailer: https://www.areckoninginboston.com/trailor-1

Please register for the lecture in advance. We will begin with an introduction of the filmmaker, Mr. Rutenbeck, and subject/producer, Ms. Dixon, via Zoom. You can register here. The lecture will then move to the film screening with the use of the Show&Tell website (also register here). After the screening, we will return to Zoom, using the same meeting link, for the Q&A. If you have any questions about the registrations, please contact crpinfo@cornell.edu.

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