Embattled UF Film Students Bring Haiti Documentary to FLIFF | New Times Broward-Palm Beach

Broward News

Embattled UF Film Students Bring Haiti Documentary to FLIFF

Jon Bougher and Roman Safiullin with the subject of their film.
Two University of Florida graduate students who almost didn't get to graduate are now bringing their controversial film to the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival. And there will be no disclaimers.

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: