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VCU documentary traces struggles of Bayview

Communications Arts & Design to screen video on impoverished Eastern Shore town

RICHMOND, Va. — Bayview, an Eastern Shore hamlet that has become a national symbol of rural poverty, is profiled in a new documentary produced by a group of Virginia Commonwealth University students. A free, public screening of "This Black Soil: A Story of Struggle and Change" will be shown Feb. 10 at 7 p.m. in VCU’s Grace Street Theater, 934 W. Grace St.

The one-hour documentary, which took two years to make, was produced by 12 students in an advanced video class in VCU’s Communication Arts and Design Department. The video traces the work of Bayview residents and the Bayview Citizens for Social Justice from their successful fight to block Virginia’s plans to build a maximum security prison in their front yards to their recent acquisition of land to remake Bayview into the rural village it once was – with retail stores, private homes, rental units and cottage industries.

The students filmed, edited and conducted research for the documentary. "By telling a story through video you can see it, hear it and feel it," said Elliana Brocato, a senior majoring in kinetic and digital imagery. "Video is a very powerful medium." 

More than half of Bayview’s 114 citizens live without running water, plumbing, efficient and safe heating, or transportation to the few jobs in the area. Many have lived in insufficient and unsafe housing for years. Along Bayview’s pockmarked dirt roads, outhouses overflow with waste after heavy rains, adding to what Northampton County and officials with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People have called inhumane conditions.

In the past three years, state and federal politicians have descended on Bayview with promises to assist in what state officials estimate will be an up to $7 million program to improve the town’s housing supply, water system and other amenities.

"After three years of struggle to obtain monies to help improve the quality of their daily lives, Bayview residents are now on the verge of fulfilling their vision of earning a living wage by building a sustainable economic base," said Teresa L. Konechne, M.F.A., the VCU assistant communication arts and design professor who directed the project. "This documentary could change how communities all over Virginia and the country demand our government to respond to the basic needs of people. It’s a compelling story."

Njeri Jackson, Ph.D., director of VCU’s African-American Studies Program, will deliver opening remarks at the screening. After the documentary is shown, Konechne, Bayview residents and students involved in the project will give a discussion.

The screening is co-sponsored by VCU’s Women’s Studies Program and Communication Arts and Design Department. The project received funding from the department and VCU’s Community Service Associates Program.

About VCU and VCU Medical Center

Virginia Commonwealth University is a major, urban public research university with national and international rankings in sponsored research. Located in downtown Richmond, VCU enrolls more than 31,000 students in 226 degree and certificate programs in the arts, sciences and humanities. Sixty-seven of the programs are unique in Virginia, many of them crossing the disciplines of VCU’s 13 schools and one college. MCV Hospitals and the health sciences schools of Virginia Commonwealth University comprise VCU Medical Center, one of the nation’s leading academic medical centers. For more, see www.vcu.edu.