SF State News {University Communications}

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Student documentary goes global

July 24, 2009 -- A documentary that began as a class project at SF State will be screened in Africa as part of an international program co-sponsored by the U.S. State Department.

A photo of prisoners in Oklahoma sitting at tables.

Incarcerated women featured in "Empowering the Yard."

"Empowering the Yard," a documentary by SF State cinema graduate student Erin Persley, and recent alums Emily Kirsch and Vincent Horner, chronicles an HIV prevention program in Oklahoma that helps incarcerated women use peer education as a means of empowerment. The documentary was chosen to be part of the American Documentary Showcase, which makes films available to U.S. embassies around the world for screenings. "Empowering the Yard" will be shown in Kenya and Uganda in August.
"These women who are incarcerated need something they can latch onto," Persley said. "This is an amazing program that's trying to make a difference in Oklahoma and hopefully throughout the nation."
The 13-minute documentary follows five women incarcerated in Taft, Okla., who are involved with the HIV Peer Education Program. The program teaches women to become educators about the dangers of HIV and AIDS. The newly trained educators then pass information to fellow inmates about HIV, drug use and addiction. The documentary also touches on issues of gender equity. Oklahoma incarcerates more women per capita than any other place in the U.S. and often imposes harsher sentences on women for drug and economic crimes.
"The program is women in prison teaching other women about these issues," Persley said. "It allows women to speak for themselves and gives a woman in prison a voice."

Persley said she was excited to present the film in Africa, where misinformation about HIV and AIDS is still commonplace. She said the fact that many women in the film are African Americans may help audiences in Africa connect with the film. While in Africa, Persley will also hold discussions at universities and meet with local filmmakers.

"I'm eager to see what people there think of the film," Persley said. "It will be great to go there and hopefully connect people in the global community who are dealing with AIDS, which is something we all need to deal with because it's not going away."

The documentary was a product of the Documentary for Health and Social Justice class, an interdisciplinary class that allows students to create documentaries with community-based organizations. The class is a partnership of the SF State Health Equality Initiative, National AIDS Fund, and Cinema and Health Education departments. 

For more information about "Empowering the Yard," visit www.documentaryforhealth.sfsu.efolioworld.com

-- Michael Bruntz


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