Jon Barr had his film play at the 2010 Hearts and Minds Film Festival in Dover, Del. Unlike most of the filmmakers, he actually photographed his film on film, using Super 16mm to be exact. For most, because of the cost factor, digital video ruled the day, but Barr wanted the quality and experience of working on the original medium.
Barr, who's 40, is getting his MFA from Temple University. He directed the script written and produced by fellow Temple grad, Sam Holdren. Barr says he wants to be a teacher, so it's probably no surprise then that this project The Paradigm Shift centers on an elderly teacher named Arthur Collins.
Collins puts to the test the right of freedom of speech. When it comes to high school or any grade school, things are extremely limited as to what a teacher can or can't say, but not necessarily so in college or university.
Barr told me that he made this movie on location in the western suburbs of Philadelphia, on the Main Line campuses of Bryn Mawr College and Eastern University. I attended Cabrini College, which is just down the road from both those schools.
There's a lot that I don't remember from my college days, but I do remember my history and political science professor, Dr. James Hedtke. He was perhaps my favorite non-media-related professor. One day, Dr. Hedtke was lecturing on the history of Hawaii and its annexation to the United States, and I expressed displeasure with some actions by our country. Hedtke said, "I don't judge."
Hedtke was in many ways like a reporter. He just stated the facts. He didn't preach or offer his opinions about history or politics. I don't know why, but that always stuck with me that he said that. I think the fact that I now work at a news station with reporters is perhaps telling, but his comment at the time made me respect him more. I knew he was passionate about history but his objectivity was even more powerful.
Not all professors are like Hedtke, however. Some aren't objective. When I talked to Barr over the phone about The Paradigm Shift, he mentioned Ward Churchill who was a professor not known for his unbiased views. His comments, and specifically writing, post September 11, 2001, have been labeled offensive and highly partisan. Churchill's dispute back in 2005 really raised this issue of freedom of speech and what teachers can or cannot get away with saying and doing as educators.
Barr's fictitious professor isn't as offensive, but Professor Collins causes a bit of a stir when his assignment to his students is to plot the assassination of the president, President Bush to be exact. This comes from Collins' objection to the war in Iraq and his perception of apathy among his students. He feels his students or students in general should be protesting the Iraq war more.
H. Michael Walls stars as Professor Collns. Walls is a theater actor, having performed in 120 productions. As a member of SAG, he played a role in the film 12 Monkeys. Walls is a Delaware native and plays Collins with as much passion as he does frustration. Collins recalls a different time, specifically the Vietnam Era, where there was more youthful outrage and protests against war.
There are of course numerous reasons as to why protests or outrage isn't as great today as it was during Vietnam. There isn't a draft and the media portrayal of the Iraq war or even the war on terror isn't as devastating as the portrayal of Vietnam. One reason that Barr told me was the job market. Competition for good jobs or jobs in certain fields demand that college students focus on nothing but getting good grades and not involving themselves in political battles.
Devon Green represents such students in Barr's film. She's played sharply by Mary Sharples, but I think this film really spotlights young, Philadelphian actor Nicholas Wilder who plays T.K. Bell, the teacher's assistant to Collins, a passive and neutral gobetween for Green and Collins. Wilder shows real potential for great, mainstream acting work. Already proven himself on the Philadelphia stage and local, short film scene, Wilder is no doubt ready for Broadway or a feature film presence.
In the meantime, continuing to focus on projects such as Barr's would be advisable for Wilder. Barr says that some of his recent favorite films include The Savages (2007), Towelhead (2008), and The Messenger (2009). All of which are films that are very character-sensitive and are more personal and intimate stories.
Each film is also very socially conscious, dealing with issues from elderly care, racism, and even the handling of military deaths domestically. Barr said that Temple U. highly promotes socially conscious filmmaking. This almost by design forces filmmakers to be more character-driven than concept or special effects-driven.
Not that I want for him to pattern Churchill, but if that's truly Barr's personal paradigm, then I hope that he does become one of those un-objective teachers or professors who speaks his opinion to students.
Three Stars out of Five
Not Rated But Recommended for General Audiences
Running Time: 25 mins.
For more information, go to http://www.samholdren.com/ParadigmAbout.html