Monday, September 5, 2016 / No comments

Interview with the directors of Concerned Student 1950

by Zoie Brown
    On March 20, at 12pm, I sat down with filmmakers Adam Dietrich, Varun Bajaj and Kellan Marvin at the University of Missouri’s Journalism School for an interview. All three are Juniors in the Documentary Journalism Program at Mizzou who decided to document the events of last semester. Their short film was premiered at True/False film festival where Spike Lee was in attendance.

Adam Dietrich

Their decision to document these events have made them revolutionaries and they recognize that this is a story that deserves to be told. I first asked them how they felt about Spike Lee.

Did you know Spike Lee was going to come to the screening?

Varun: We found out he was going to be in town, but never knew he was going to be at our screening. One of the original members tells us Spike Lee is in the audience and at that point I was already numb because public speaking was freaking me out and so I didn’t react. Seeing him there afterwards was one of the craziest moments of my life.
Kellan: And the fact that it turns out he was sitting really close to us! He then he walked over and, I made a total idiot of myself, because he shook all of our hands and said “good job” or “great work” yeah, he just congratulated us somehow and then I just go “Kellan Marvin!”
Varun: I knew he was sitting in the row behind us, so I wasn’t watching our movie I was watching Spike Lee watch our movie.
Adam: I kept turning around watching all of them behind us, watching the original 11 watch it.

What did his presence mean to you?

Kellan: It was really validating because for a lot of us, just in the program in general, we always have the title “student” tacked on before filmmaker, but having Spike Lee there made it really feel like it was not just student work, it made it feel like it was something legitimate.
Varun: I feel like the True/False experience as a whole definitely made us feel like one step out of that student filmmaker title what really meant a lot to me about Spike Lee being there was, Spike has done an amazing job showing images that change the way people think about race and our film, the goal of our film, was to see these students in a different light in the way you haven’t seen them before; and seeing those new images, what can break stereotypes. Having him watch our work was pretty special because he’s been doing work like this and perfecting it for decades.
Varun later added, “that’s just me fangirling out a little bit.”

Kellan Marvin

I know a lot of the times Concerned Student does not really like to be approached by any kind of media so, how were you able to make this film? What was that process like?

Adam: It was like a 24 hour, no sleep, digging around the internet, looking for some sort of contact that could lead me to a contact that could lead me to someone that could help, just finding out what your six degrees of separation from a person are, and being on the same campus, it can’t really be that big. I knew that I had to have known someone that had also known Jonathan Butler. It was a matter of getting him (Jonathan Butler) to hear our side of it. I think having someone document from the inside out was really appealing to them and maybe they hadn’t thought about it.

What was the importance of getting this film made? How important was it to get this film made and out to the public?

Kellan Marvin started out by answering from her perspective.
Kellan: There is this 90’s riot girl band called Sleater Kinney and they have a song called “White Girl”, it’s talking about how the feminist movement became a white women’s movement and at the end it says “white girl wanna change the world, but I can’t change anything until I change my racist self.” I’ve always been really aware of the fact that even though I’m disadvantaged as a woman, I’m still very privileged by the fact that I’m white. I saw that as a platform to help other friends of mine who consider themselves progressive to grapple with the ways we are still privileged. People consider themselves progressive but are still turning a blind eye to issues that don’t necessarily affect them directly. I think that was a big thing for me, proving that these issues still exist and white privilege still exists.
Adam: It’s a bigger spectrum for me. It was more about showing as many people as possible this is what privilege is and whether you can see it for yourself or not, here’s an example. Hopefully we can start a conversation out of that.
Varun: The dust started to settle, the stories were about Melissa Click and funding… one was asking why did Jonathan Butler feel like he needed to risk his life to make a change and why all of these students feel unsafe on campus. The importance of our film right now is to remind everybody that this wasn’t about Melissa Click or funding, this was about these students. We should be asking those questions.

Varun Bajaj

What kind of reactions were you getting afterwards? What did CS1950 say?

Kellan: Members of Concerned Student reacted a lot better than we could’ve hoped and they reacted exactly the way we wanted. We always knew we were going to get more of an emotional response from members of the original 11, that was awesome that we did but, it was cool hearing people I would’ve suspected would be skeptical and resistant saying that they were shaking during the film, saying that it was really powerful.
They said one of the best reactions they got was from a film critic on Twitter, Tim Grierson who said it was “enormously moving, immediate, and inspiring. Its anger is cathartic but clear-eyed.”
Varun: Someone from the movement tweeted “this is what it looks like when you tell a story without putting yourself at the center of it.” We worked really hard to make sure that this was their story and we were being granted permission to tell it.

Any last comments or words you would like to say to your audience?

Adam: I am really grateful for anybody that’s already seen the piece supported us, it is really humbling and I am really looking forward to the reactions of people who continue to see the piece.

So where is the movie headed now?

The film is scheduled to play all week at the IFC Center in New York City and DocYard in Boston with Field of Vision. The directors are also currently working on getting film to screen on campus for free for educational purposes.

To learn more about Field of Vision visit
Concerned Student 1950 is out now for free on

Photos: and Zoie Brown

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