Jon Bougher, originally from New Hampshire, and Roman Safiullin of Fort Lauderdale presented their graduate thesis -- a documentary about two men trying to heal Haiti one orphan at a time, and their experience in the horrific earthquake in January of this year -- but school administrators claimed the student reporting violated UF's travel ban.
The school asked the students to remove any post-earthquake footage from their film, but Safiullin and Bougher -- who raised funds for the film themselves -- refused to edit their work for university bureaucrats.
The battle played out over a few weeks, with a cast that included a provost, an adviser, several school officials, several attorneys, a growing digital network of free speech and academic freedom supporters, and of course the two filmmakers themselves.
Eventually, the students agreed to include a brief disclaimer at the start of the film, stating that the post-quake footage was not "sanctioned, sponsored, or approved" by the university, and the school relented on graduation.
"At our first screening, a good part of the audience laughed at the disclaimer," says Bougher. "And the provost eventually wrote a letter to the American Association of University Professors restating their position, but it definitely seemed like a back-track."
Though the two have graduated, they're hoping their film can change some minds at the school too. "They have a new policy in place that limits university to travel outside of Port-au-Prince, which only extends a fear-based notion that the city is somehow dangerous. I still feel that the policy misrepresents the Haitian people, and one of the goals of our film was to provide a much more positive impression of resiliency in the face of the earthquake."
The movie, Bound by Haiti, will show November 5 at Cinema Paradiso. Here's a trailer: