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September 14, 2005

Progressive Profiling: John Michalczyk

Bill Przylucki

      John Michalczyk is the chair of the Fine Arts Department at Boston College and the co-director of the Film Studies Program. He has made numerous independent documentary films focusing on human rights and social justice, with topics including the conflict in Northern Ireland, fighting the Mafia in Sicily, neo-Nazism, the Holocaust, and the disabled. He is also the director of The Jacques Salmanowitz Program for Moral Courage in Film.

      What are your passions?

      I think from my own background I developed a sense of social justice, a sense of helping the vulnerable. In the past ten years I've tried to educate others through film on important issues of social justice, such as anti-Semitism and the dangers of neo-Nazism. My passion for social justice is in my film, or cinema, and I focus on the history of topics, helping people to overcome the obstacles in developing a sense of social justice. I use my message and my own desire for social justice to educate others.

      How would you describe yourself in one word?

      In 2003 I won the Alumni Arts Award, and in my speech I said "If you scratch the surface of my being you will find an educator."

      You cover a wide range of topics in your films. How do you decide to pursue these topics?

      It's almost serendipity. My earliest films on Nazism and Jewish-Christian relations came about from somebody asking me to make films focusing on those topics. My second series on conflict resolution began when somebody asked me to participate in a project on Northern Ireland and that turned into a series of films focusing on peaceful solutions to the Mafia in Sicily and the conflict in Israel. My third series started with somebody asking me to do a film on Michael's Eagle Eyes (The title of the first film in the series), and a series on social justice for the disabled developed.

      How did you begin your work with The Jacques Salmanowitz Program for Moral Courage in Film?

      Four years ago we applied to the Salmanowitz family's fund to take over the grant from George Washington University. We picked it up and invested time and money into creating a program for faculty and students. Each film should reflect social justice, human rights, civil rights, and moral courage. Any student can apply for equipment and funding and editing space.

      What are the most stirring Social Justice activities taking place on campus?

      There are two trends. One trend is that we are getting students more aware of social issues. The second is that students are out there working on all levels; the local, like PULSE and 4 Boston; the national, like the SOA Watch and Appalachia; and the international, like the work in Nicaragua, Belize, and so on...

      Who are you inspired by?

      I'm inspired by students, and I hope that I too inspire with my passion for social justice. My passion is ever-growing, because students bring me new ideas, and this is all a collaborative effort to save one soul at a time. Also, Fr. Raymond Helmick, S.J. in the Theology Department was sort of my mentor, and I'm also inspired by Fr. David Hollenbach, S.J. of the Human Rights Center.

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