The mission of Extending the Link, the student-run documentary film organization at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University, is to create projects that focus on under-told social justice issues both at home and abroad.
But for the group’s first full-length documentary since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in the spring of 2020, it selected a topic that bridges both.
“Born, Bred, Ga Dead” will be shown for the first time at 7 p.m. on Thursday, April 27, at SJU’s Stephen B. Humphrey Theater as part of Scholarship and Creativity Day 2023.
Those interested in attending are asked to RSVP.
The film focuses on the impact of climate change on The Bahamas and is told – at least in large part – through the experiences of the Bahamian student community at CSB and SJU.
It’s title is based on an old Bahamian saying, which means when one is from The Bahamas, it’s always their home no matter how far away they might travel.
“We haven’t released a documentary since the 2019-20 school year, before the start of the pandemic, so we were kind of all jumping into a whole new ballgame,” said CSB senior Mari Hermerding, ETL’s creative co-director.
“We were thinking about topics and one of our team members brought up the fact that we have a huge Bahamian population on campus. So why weren’t we using that network? Why weren’t we working with them to connect with people in The Bahamas? It seemed like a story that was just waiting to be told.”
The ETL team interviewed several Bahamian students, including SJU senior Durran Thompson, the current president of the SJU Student Senate, CSB senior Andrenique Rolle, the current president of the CSB Student Senate, and SJU junior Trent Thompson, who chairs the SJU Student Senate’s activities and allocations board.
“The story really centers around their voices,” Hermerding said. “What it’s like to be a Bahamian student on campus almost 2,000 miles away from home. It’s a pretty unique perspective. In the past, we’ve spoken with professors on campus who could speak to certain issues. But we’ve never really done interviews with current students. Hopefully that draws more people in. A lot of people know Durran and Andrenique. They see them on campus all the time. Or they know Trent and see him at The Reef eating. So these are voices they’re familiar with.
“The interviews we received hold a lot of ethos and a lot of really good content. I think it will really move the audience. I’m super-excited for people to see it.”
One topic that came up repeatedly was the impact of Hurricane Dorian, which devastated The Bahamas in the fall of 2019 when students like Thompson and Rolle had just arrived on campus.
“That had a big impact on me because I can remember being here as a new student on campus as well when that happened,” said SJU senior Peyton Reece, one of the project’s lead editors. “I was just focused on meeting my roommate and where my classes were. They were focused on those things, too, but they also had to be worried about their families because a Category 5 hurricane had just hit their homes.”
Several of the group’s members traveled to The Bahamas during the holiday break in January, shooting footage and connecting with the CSB and SJU students at home. They also interviewed local neem farmers, environmental specialists, government officials and CSB and SJU alums.
“Our goal is both to bring attention to the impact climate change is having on small island nations like The Bahamas, but also to show the strength and resilience of The Bahamian community on campus,” said CSB senior Isabelle Schmelzer, ETL’s co-director of research and relations. “Weathering the storms and coping with the impacts of climate change is one thing. But to do it from two thousand miles away from home is a whole different mater. Our hope with this documentary was to highlight their voices and share their stories.”
During the 2020-21 school year, because of COVID-related restrictions, ETL produced a podcast. A year ago, with travel still limited as a result of the spread of the Omicron variant, the group produced the film gallery “Diverse Bodies, Beautiful Minds: Voices of Disability Activism,” which received a Crystal Pillar award on March 31 at the Upper Midwest Chapter’s 2023 Student Production Awards.
That means Hermerding is the only member of the organization who worked on ETL’s last full documentary in 2019-20.
“We came into this feeling like we had to make a really good film,” she said. “Something that would stand out and live up to the legacy ETL has established over the years. So there was pressure for a while. But we have such a talented crew and, as the school year went along, I think we realized that whatever we created was going to be pretty impactful.
“I’m proud of everyone who put so much time and effort into this. Without their hard work, this project wouldn’t have been possible.”
Members of Extending the Link while shooting on location in The Bahamas last January. (Photo courtesy of Extending the Link)