WORLD PREMIERE: “TOWN DESTROYER”
MILL VALLEY FILM FESTIVAL, OCT. 8 – 8pm
For more info and additional screenings: www.MVFF.com
Produced and Directed by Alan Snitow and Deborah Kaufman
Edited by Gregory Scharpen Executive Producer: Peggy Berryhill (Muscogee)
TOWN DESTROYER explores how to look at art and history at a time of polarized national debate over the power of images, racism, trauma, and what should be taught in schools. A dispute erupts at a San Francisco high school over Depression-era murals about the life of George Washington: slaveowner, military leader, land speculator, President, and a man Native leaders called “Town Destroyer” after he ordered their villages destroyed during the Revolutionary War.
The 13 murals at George Washington High School were painted in 1936 by leftwing artist Victor Arnautoff, a student of Diego Rivera. The murals both praise Washington and–rare for the time—critically depict him overseeing his slaves and directing the bloody seizure of Native lands. Most controversial is a provocative image of a dead Indian–life-size, eye-level, at the center of the school.
Opponents of the murals–led by Native American parents–demand the School Board not just cover the murals, but paint them over so they can never be viewed again. For them, the murals’ graphic depictions of slavery and Native dispossession and genocide are not only racist, but also harm students and alienate them from school. Mural defenders warn of the dangers of censoring historic works of art. They question claims that the murals cause trauma for high school students and urge the Board instead to ‘teach the murals.’
Complex and nuanced discussion becomes impossible as heated debates spill into the community and make national headlines. The fight – taking place in the wake of battles over Confederate monuments across the U.S. – becomes a catalyst for national discussion about censorship, reparations, generational trauma, and the teaching of American history.
How should society deal with controversial works of art? Do the intentions of the artist matter? or the impact on viewers? Is education advanced by exposing students to difficult ideas and images or by protecting students from them? Is the language of traumas and triggers inhibiting freedom of speech or insuring a good learning environment? What does our country owe people who have been historically wronged?
On our journey we meet with art curators Rick West Jr. (Cheyenne) and Paul Chaat Smith (Comanche), artists Dewey Crumpler and Judith Lowry (Maidu-Pit River), UCLA Historian Robin D.G. Kelley, and others who provide insight, provocation, and inspiration.
Executive Producer for Town Destroyer is Peggy Berryhill (Muscogee).
Help us distribute this film:
Contributions of any size are welcome and will be acknowledged. Make checks payable to “Snitow-Kaufman Productions” and send to: Snitow-Kaufman Productions, P.O. Box 7402, Berkeley, CA 94707.