Film classes document women’s history

The Independent Film Production class is filming a promotional trailer on the Academic Quad this Sunday for a series about American women in history. The series, “Half the History,” was created in collaboration with Five Sisters Production Company and the Tufts Department of Drama and Dance.

“There is a growing realization that ?in order to really understand our history fully and know all of the things that women have been doing [throughout] history, we need to look at other kinds of stories and look at history in a different way,” Professor of Filmmaking and Film Studies Jennifer Burton said.

“Half the History” will tell the narrative of Jane Franklin, Benjamin Franklin’s sister, according to Burton. Because the film does not have an end date, future classes will also work on the project.

“The point is to be able to give a teaser for what is to come later and to show that there are lots of women who did amazing things, and we don’t even know what their names are,” Maya Zeigler, a sophomore in Burton’s class, said.

While the first episode will be completed after the end of the semester, Burton said she hopes the trailer will be finished and released in May.

Burton got the idea for the first episode from Jill Lepore’s “Book of Ages,” which describes the life and opinions of Jane Franklin, according to Natasha Lee, a sophomore working on the project in the advanced film class.

Franklin’s story provides an example of how gender has shaped people’s lives throughout history, Burton explained.

“[The story] is really about how [Jane Franklin] spends a lot of time being pregnant and taking care of her kids as opposed to Ben Franklin who is out there working on his career, so it is a nice comparison,” Lee said. “At the same time, the book doesn’t present Jane as a victim — she is her own person.”

The male-focused narrative of history has left out stories, including Jane Franklin’s, which are representative of how America became the country it is today, according to Lee.

“There are a lot of people like Jane Franklin who are being forgotten,” she said. “Her story is extraordinary in her own way … even though she might not have made significant political contributions like her brother did, her story is still part of history because this is how an ordinary woman lived, and that is important, too.”

Looking for someone to play the role of Jane Franklin in the trailer, the production team is in its second round of auditions, according to Zeigler, one of the project’s casting directors.

Tufts students, as well as union actors and actresses from around New England are auditioning for parts in the production, which will include 70 women, Zeigler said. In addition, historical re-enactors from the Minute Man National Park in Concord, Mass. and the Freedom Trail Foundation may help with the trailer and first films.

As well as working with national parks and historic sites, the production team is working with the National Collaborative for Women’s History Sites, which is aligned with the “Half the History” mission and provided information for the script, Zeigler said.

Once the film is finished, the class will give back to the partner organizations by sharing the film, which they can then show to others for educational purposes, Zeigler explained. She hopes the film will help people realize that the current version of history is incomplete.

“I think the fact that we are working on a project that is run by students, students are acting in it and what it is about — which is telling the stories of people who haven’t been able to tell them over the course of time … I believe that it makes people think,” Zeigler said. “It makes people realize that there is so much more than just what is put in front of you.”

Burton agreed that the lack of female perspectives in current history textbooks is problematic.

“Simply having stories where there are female characters that have character development in the story is something that gives viewers a sense of the complexity of female human experience, and that is something that has been missing in a lot of our media,” she said.

In addition to providing viewers with a unique perspective on the experience of women throughout history, “Half the History” provides students in the advanced filmmaking class a great opportunity to develop film production skills, according to Burton.

“Having the ability to have classes where you are able to have the time … to think about what kinds of things we want to put out in the world, what kinds of things we want to spend our energy making, and then having these amazing new tools to be able to make those things, is just an incredible opportunity,” she said.