Reckoning in Boston poster

Film summary

In fall 2014, Kafi Dixon and Carl Chandler enrolled in a rigorous night course in the humanities at a community center in their Boston neighborhood of Dorchester. Dixon, 44, sharp, witty and restless, dropped out of school at 15. She had her first baby a year later and two more soon after. Chandler, 65, who lives on a small pension and disability payment in one of Boston's most dangerous neighborhoods, began the class with a keen interest in learning but little faith in educational institutions. White suburban filmmaker James Rutenbeck came to Dorchester to document the students' engagement with the Clemente Course in the Humanities. The Clemente Course is taught in 34 sites across the U.S. to those who have experienced homelessness, transitioned out of incarceration, or faced barriers to a college education. The Clemente mission is to foster critical thinking through deep engagement with history, literature, philosophy, and art history. Clemente students, its proponents assert, become fuller and freer citizens. But over time Rutenbeck is forced to come to terms with a flawed film premise and his own complicity in racist structures. As he spends time with Chandler and Dixon, he is awakened to the violence, racism, and gentrification that threaten their very place in the city.

Troubled by his failure to bring the film together, he spends more time listening than filming and eventually enlists Dixon and Chandler as collaborators/producers with a share in the film revenues. Five years on, despite many obstacles, Dixon and Chandler arrive at surprising new places in their lives, and following their lead, Rutenbeck does too.

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Friday, April 23, 2021


Session 4: Film screening: A Reckoning in Boston


Session 5: Open Discussion on film: A Reckoning in Boston

Moderator: Margaret Wilder, Urban Affairs Association

Discussants: James Rutenbeck, Film Director/Brandeis University | Kafi Dixon, Film Producer/Commongood | Russ Lopez, Boston University | Richard L. O'Bryant, Northeastern University | Fernando Ona, Tufts University