Documentary focuses on race relations, closure from horrendous crime
The theater was packed last Saturday night as local filmmaker Stephanie Calabrese held the Walton County premiere of her documentary movie, “UNSPOKEN.”
The movie — an examination of race relations, divisions and opportunities for reconciliation in Walton County, tracing the history of the battle for civil rights in the area from the Moore’s Ford lynching in 1946 to today — made the rounds of film festivals last year but had two sold-out showings over the weekend at On Stage Playhouse in Monroe.
“UNSPOKEN” was written, directed, produced and edited by Calabrese, who shot the film with an iPhone camera.
With an original musical score by Kwame Brandt-Pierce, Calabrese said the film strives to enable viewers to become better community members by working together to solve problems society still
“UNSPOKEN” won the Audience Choice Award for Documentary at the Macon Film Festival in August and the Documentary Features Special Jury Award at the Rome International Film Festival in November.
The film was also an Official Selection for the Morehouse College Human Rights Film Festival, Chagrin Documentary Film Festival and Portland Film Festival in 2022. In 2023, the film has already been named an official selection for the Cinema on the Bayou Festival in Louisiana and upcoming Reedy Reels Film Festival in South Carolina.
On Saturday, where the audience included notable citizens such as Monroe Mayor John Howard and Walton County Board of Commissioners member Kirklyn Dixon, the film was warmly received, and Calabrese spoke afterwards in a question and answer session led by rapper Fish Scales of hip hop group Nappy Roots.
“The first and foremost reason I made this film was for our community,” Calabrese said. “I struggled with it at first, because I didn’t want to admit Monroe was still segregated. But I didn’t know a lot about our history.”
Calabrese said she interviewed 40 people for the film, from writers and journalists to local politicians and amateur historians, as well as many of the people who lived through Walton County’s checkered
history of race relations, integration efforts and the overall struggle for equal rights.
“There were so many stories,” Calabrese said. “Each of those 40 interviews was around two hours long, so I had to really pick and choose the best parts to fit into my film.”
The 78-minute movie covers decades over its running time, with the Moore’s Ford lynching one of its central focal points, and the fight to unseal the grand jury testimony from that unsolved case was a major part of the film. As of today, federal courts have declined to release those records, but Calabrese
said there’s still hope to see those papers one day.
“There’s still a chance the federal Cold Case Commission could release the grand jury testimony,” Calabrese said. “They’re still in the early stages of coming together, but we hope they can help us reach some closure on this issue.”
While the Feb. 19 also sold out, Calabrese hopes to reach more people. Calabrese and Berry College Director of Diversity & Inclusion Haley Smith invites Walton County residents to register and attend a Feb. 25 Community Dialog Session from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Grace Monroe, located at 315 N Madison Ave. The session will offer a welcoming environment for participants to share personal stories and experiences while exchanging perspectives inspired by the film.
The session was created to allow residents to work together to improve race relations with an aim toward reconciliation and healing in the community.And Calabrese is still touring her movie to various festivals and appearances, with its next schedule showing at the University of Georgia on April 13. She said it’s vital to share the stories in her film to find common ground for future reconciliation.
“I focused my lens on the racial divide in my own hometown because I did not know and could not
find this history,” Calabrese said. “Understanding our past helps provide context for the issues we still face today to offer insight on ways to strengthen not just our community, but hometowns across the
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