December 8, 2015

5 Questions for Drew Williams '17.5

by Niki Sanders, Storyteller for Good

Drew first became interested in filmmaking at an end of the year party at his kindergarten graduation, glued to the screen watching Star Wars while his friends ran around the yard screaming. His love of political science was ignited by his high school constitutional law class and exposure to Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, all of which provided average citizens access to a better understanding of the impact of the law.

Now Drew is a junior at Brown, bringing together his interests by double concentrating in Political Science and Modern Culture and Media. He brings his passion for filmmaking and accessibility of policies outside of the classroom by making films with Brown Motion Pictures and working as the head University News editor for The Brown Daily Herald. Next semester, however, Drew is taking the spring off to work at the U.S. Embassy in Dublin, Ireland, where he’ll be working in the consulate, handling public affairs issues, and hopefully creating multimedia projects while being in charge of their website.

Niki: How are you hoping to combine your two concentrations in the future?

Drew: I definitely want to get into film, and I think documentary-making is a really good access point to do so. As a documentarian, you have to pick one subject to follow above all the other problems. You have to convince the audience as to why the problem you selected is important and why they should care. Documentaries usually have clear agendas - it’s almost impossible to make a neutral film. You’re going to have some convictions about your subject and you’re going to include some information and omit other information in efforts to push people toward what you believe.

How are you pursuing your love of documentary studies at Brown?

I’m taking a PoliSci class called “Film and Social Change.” There are two parts to it actually: a professor from the Watson Institute teaches the government side - we have readings every week that focus on a different policy problem and its potential solutions - and a film professor assigns two documentaries every week that are related to the policy topic. We watch them and talk about how the policy nuances are displayed in the documentaries. At the end of class, we take all the skills and put them together and make our own documentary about a topic we’re generally interested in.

What’s your documentary about?

I’m interested in the relationship between poverty and the law, and my documentary centers around the Lifeline Group. Lifeline consists of two parts: it’s half a community center where resources are provided and people can meet, and the other one is a free legal clinic. They do work for people who are really sick and they’re currently running a campaign against National Grid, which is the electric company for all of Rhode Island. Legally, if you’re medically exempt, National Grid can’t shut your electricity off if you can’t pay - but they still have been. So Lifeline is making a class-action suit against them and against the government for not enforcing it.

Which narratives of the people involved with the lawsuit have been most powerful?

There was a rally this fall down by the water, and I got to talk to a lot of the relatives of the people who are directly affected by National Grid.

One man’s mother has Alzheimers and epilepsy and was hooked up to a respirator. Individuals from National Grid came into their house, and he was trying to explain that she needed the electricity, but the workers just unplugged it and left and his mother ended up having a seizure right then and there. One man needed electricity for his oxygen, and he would spend all day in McDonalds and laundry mats, anywhere he could find an outlet.

Rhode Island also has a very big homeless population in proportion to the general population, and some of the people we’ve spoken to would have somewhere to live except for the fact that they can’t pay their utilities. And utilities are one of the rare commodities that aren’t dependent on income at all. The wealthiest person and the poorest person are going to be paying relatively the same amount for utilities. And the National Grid owns a monopoly, so you can’t avoid them if you want to have electricity. They’re the only ones you can go through, this is a product you need, and yet, they have the power to just cut off people who are very vulnerable.

Has this class affected how you’ve approached any other projects?

I recently worked for a nonprofit that runs a school in Haiti. My boss and I have been putting a presentation together about the importance of working in collaboration with the people who live in Haiti and not imposing work on them. For example, what happened in Haiti after the earthquake is that hundreds of NGOs came, and they would do things that they thought they were supposed to do. Like, they brought a ridiculous amount of bottled water and shirts and free clothing, but what they don’t realize is that Haiti was already a really poor country before the earthquake and by doing that, they’re shutting out the entire local economy and it’s hurting Haiti for the future.

When you’re an NGO, you need to do things that the public can get behind and donators want to give money to things that are going to show progress immediately. Like if you say, “We’re going to build houses for people whose homes were destroyed by the earthquake,” people will give money to that, but they won’t give money to create programs to develop the Haitian economy so that 20 years down the line, it will be running better. The result — a temporary housing community in the desert has turned into the newest “city” in Haiti, with millions now dependent on shelter, food, and clothing from NGOs, because these NGOs located them in a place miles away from any of those things.

We’ve been putting together a PowerPoint presentation, but I kind of feel like a short film would be the easiest way to show this. It’s complicated to show narrative on a PowerPoint, no matter how succinct and super focused it is, but I think it would click really easily visually.


Related Stories

  • December 16, 2015

    Ria is a 2015 Social Innovation Fellow and co-founder of No Country for Women (NCFW), an internationally-recognized gender education initiative that aims to combat systemic gender-based discrimination in India. Ria and her co-founder, Shreena Thakore ’16, who grew up in India, were awarded the Projects for Peace fellowship and used this grant to launch the project in May of 2014. NCFW was set up to educate the people in India on gender, rape culture, and misogyny through a series of workshops and initiate informed discussions about social change.

    I was inspired by Ria’s story because she was determined to start a conversation about an issue in a country that fights hard to keep such issues silent and hidden. We reflected on Ria’s experiences, her interactions with young people, most of whom had never thought about this obvious form of discrimination before, and her moments of self-doubt and extreme conviction. 

    Nitya Amalean '16, Storyteller for Good
  • December 2, 2015

    “Time is a social construct,” Anastasiya laughs. From where I stand, I can’t imagine she has any.

    It was a miracle that she agreed to sit and chat with me — between two meetings, of course. First off, Anastasiya is the co-editor-in-chief at bluestockings Magazine, an online feminist publication committed to a gender-aware, anti-oppressive framework. She is a facilitator for the Gender, Power, Sexuality (GPS) workshop (formerly known as FemSex), which is a student-led sexuality workshop held every semester. She is on Brown’s Title IX Oversight and Advisory Board, which reviews and makes recommendations concerning the University’s handling of sexual assault and gender-based violence on campus. Oh, and she also works remotely for Know Your IX, a national organization that empowers students to stop sexual violence and support survivors, by educating about student rights under Title IX. See what I mean? A miracle.

    Anastasiya and I sat on a blanket on the main green, reflecting on her time spent within these communities at Brown: communities that advocate for social change, and also provide a supportive space for their members to share their own experiences and vulnerabilities with one another.

    Isabelle White '17.5, Storyteller for Good
  • November 10, 2015

    Professor Sarah Besky is alternately described as a “goddess” (by her students), as “a thorn in corporations’ sides” (by herself) and as an anthropologist (by the rest of the world). 

    She is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology and the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown and author of The Darjeeling Distinction, an ethnographic study of the lives of tea plantation workers in India. Here is an anthropological look at her journey from coastal Connecticut to lush Nepal and back to Providence.

    Saanya Jain '19, Storyteller for Good
  • November 3, 2015

    Olivia’s commitment to Swearer runs deep. She helps lead and coordinate Rhode Island Urban Debate League (RIUDL), which empowers local high school students to project their voices through debate, and increases their college readiness and academic success (see her wonderful story on RIDUL here).

    Recently, she has been grappling with how to make the Swearer Center more inclusive of students of color. It’s a crucial conversation for all public service centers - and universities in general - and I wanted to know her process.

    Isabel DeBre '18, Storyteller for Good
  • October 29, 2015

    Sierra Ed '18, Kara Roanhorse '18, and Phoebe Young '17 organized the Indigenous People’s Demonstration on Columbus Day, a protest centered around a petition to have Brown change the name of the holiday, currently known as Fall Weekend, to Indigenous People’s Day. They also held a “die-in” on the Friday before Columbus Day, in which students lay down silently for 52 minutes and 30 seconds to represent the 523 years of indigenous oppression since 1492. 

    Sierra and Kara are Navajo and Phoebe is Ojibwe. They spoke with me about their motivation for the protest, their transitions to college, and their identities as Native Americans.

    Jack Brook '19, Storyteller for Good
  • September 11, 2015
    Five BRYTE Campers Tell Their Stories
    Isabel DeBre '18, Storyteller for Good