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Film professor builds audience while building film

Sheila Schroeder, an associate professor in DU’s Department of Media, Film & Journalism Studies, has tackled the topics of activism and non-violence in her films before. Now she’s looking at the topic while sharing a moment of the University’s history.

“Woodstock West: Build Not Burn” will highlight the events of May 8, 1970, when about 1,500 DU students gathered on the Carnegie Green to publicly mourn students killed in the Kent State shootings and to protest President Nixon’s decision to extend the Vietnam War by bombing Cambodia.

They were also considering what action they would take. While some students responded with shouts to burn down the campus, reports say a lone voice was heard to say that the students should build not burn. Thus was born the idea for Woodstock West.

The students named the shanty town they built on the site where Penrose Library now stands after the 1969 Woodstock concert and promoted similar values of peace, freedom and love; and then West to better describe their geographical location.

Schroeder acquired film footage of the five-day event from the Colorado Historical Society along with clippings and photos from DU archives.

Schroeder says Woodstock West serves as a backdrop for her film as she explores how this event affected those who participated in it. While she’s still looking to hear from students, professors, Denver police officers and National Guardsmen who were eventually called on to campus, the stories she’s already heard intrigue her. She’s found students who supported both pro-war and anti-war perspectives.

“My film considers the full gamut of activism,” Schroeder says. “Since I was young and my mom sat us down in front of the TV to watch Richard Nixon’s resignation speech, I’ve always been fascinated with this period of time. The film allows me to look at an historical moment here at DU and then to consider larger social and political contexts and contemporary issues around activism.”

As Schroeder produces the film, she’s also trying to build an audience. She says it is the new model of filmmaking.

“What we’re doing is creating a filmmaking laboratory where we’re applying the most up-to-date strategies for how independent filmmakers like myself are finding audiences and supporters for our films,” she says.

Schroeder worked with the Open Media Foundation to create the film’s website, and with graduate research assistant Mariel Rodriguez-McGill to start a Facebook film page. Facebook is used for building a two-way rapport with a growing list of friends while utilizing interactivity and engagement.

Schroeder hopes the project gets people to share their stories and build excitement for the completed film. Her website, Woodstock West the Movie, provides a venue for people to share their memories of the time whether they attended the event or not.

“I want people to know their stories are valued,” she says.

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