Student committed to his craft, community
By Pete Rosenbery
For nearly two weeks late last summer, Fareed Alston was in the midst of what would become a national discussion -- the August 2014 shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.
Utilizing skills learned while a student in the cinema and photography program, Alston, 26, is working on a documentary he hopes will offer perspective from many different viewpoints -- residents and protestors, police and the media. The film is tentatively titled “Fareed in Ferguson,”
Alston, who is from nearby East St. Louis, completed a Bachelor of Arts degree with two majors, one in cinema and photography with a specialization in Cinema and the other in Africana Studies, in May 2014.
Alston was in the Metro East when the shooting occurred on Aug. 9, 2014. Over the next few weeks, he would shoot film and take photographs, uploading the images to his laptop. He caught a few hours of sleep in the homes of nearby residents. Alston has between 25 and 40 hours of raw footage, including a comprehensive view of the protests from the shooting through Aug. 25, when Brown, 18, was buried. He continued to film throughout the next year, including reactions after the grand jury decision and the one-year memorial of Brown’s death.
He credits his instructors with continuing to raise his interest in cinema and photography while on campus, where they “shaped my knowledge of filmmaking” and provided access to resources. Alston said he was “drawn in” after speaking with adviser Carol Westerman-Jones and taking a film course from Jyotsna Kapur, professor and department chair.
Alston “has a wonderful way of communicating and connecting with people,” Westerman-Jones said.
“He has a kindness and also a passion for being creative and expressive that was evident from our first meeting in 2008,” she said. “He went through some very difficult personal struggles while an undergraduate student, including the loss of his mother in the summer 2009. His life experiences have given him a unique perspective, which he carries into his filmmaking.”
Alston is enthusiastic about how the program is geared toward helping students become independent filmmakers. While at SIU, he worked with Angela Aguayo, an associate professor in cinema and photography, on a short documentary on one of the oldest cemeteries in Carbondale, Oakland Cemetery. As lead editor of “Death Work,” Alston “grew tremendously in terms of his ability to work under time constraints and deadlines that were internally imposed,” she said.
“One of the most remarkable things about Fareed is that upon immediate return to his hometown after graduation, the racial tension in Ferguson suddenly erupted. Taking all that he has learned about field production and community media, he joined the protesters in the streets of Ferguson for 11 days, documenting their struggles and stories often at the detriment to his own safety,” Aguayo said. “He is committed to using production to serve the underrepresented communities who lack a voice at the decision-making table. It is Fareed's commitment to craft, community and a better future that makes him an exceptional alum of our department.”
Alston said one of the key components in filmmaking he learned is to keep himself from being the narrator but to find the narration through the subjects in his film. He does place himself in his upcoming film; coughing from tear gas and running after shots are fired “as a window” of what those present, including the media, faced.
Alston hopes to finish production on a 9- to 12-minute documentary short by the end of the year and wants to show it at various festivals, including the university’s annual Big Muddy Film Festival. He also is pursuing other distribution and web-based opportunities for the project.
He is continuing to pursue his career through his independent company, illcityproductions.com, based out of St. Louis and Chicago.