As the theater dimmed, the screen brightened and words appeared across the screen followed by images of chains and crime surveillance video.
“If one of us is chained, then none of us are free,” it said.
For the next 13 minutes audience members watched a powerful short titled “The Cure to Violence: The Prometheus Project.”
Former USF student body president, Cesar Hernandez and his wife, USF alumna Bianca Hernandez, sat among the audience watching his self-directed, edited and produced film on Friday at Muvico Ybor for the Gasparilla International Film Festival (GIFF).
His hope is that the film will raise awareness about issues of cyclical poverty and violence in the area just outside of USF’s perimeter, a part of unincorporated Hillsborough County.
“If you ever drive around the university area, you get a sense of despair,” Hernandez said. “A really strong sense of depression, like you can’t really be free there. It’s like you’re chained down. I lived there for six months and I saw what these people went through and that’s the feeling I got.”
Hernandez made the film in effort to show what’s plaguing the community along with a possible solution for the issue.
Hernandez aimed to make the film as short as possible and while still getting the message across. Because it wasn’t a major production, he said he knew people would lose interest very quickly. He said he knew he needed to get people’s attention within the first minute.
“I don’t think anyone could watch the film and be confused,” Hernandez said. “Sometimes what I see is a problem or an issue and then it’s like ‘Now what?’ So I wanted this to be a call to action.”
Though Hernandez, who now works for Tampa City Council, graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biomedical sciences with plans to become a doctor, he changed his plans after attending a partnership dinner for non-profits where he was invited to speak.
When he spoke at the dinner, the director of community outreach for the University Area Community Development Center (UACDC) was impressed by his speech and asked what his plans were after graduation. Post-graduation he was called and offered a position with UACDC. His decision to start a career there made his life plan take a sharp turn that led him to this film presentation.
“I wanted to become a doctor because I wanted to help people, but now I’m a community organizer and I’m not just helping one person at a time, but a whole community,” Hernandez said. “If I can affect people now as opposed to later – why wait?”
Because the University Area is unincorporated Hillsborough County there was no data on the issues taking place. The preliminary steps were to find out what was actually holding down the community with data to back it up.
He started by using community engagement interns from USF, working with the college of public health for analysis and data. Eventually he started to see the numbers.
In the data he found that 79 percent of all crime that happens in unincorporated Hillsborough County occurs within the university area community.
“We knew violence was the issue,” Hernandez said. “Rather than reinventing the wheel we started vetting programs around the nation that were research based models with very conducive results.”
Of the programs researched, the Cure Violence Model stood out the most because it had outstanding results over and over again. After observing the model in Chicago, Hernandez decided to move forward with it and featured it as the solution offered in the documentary.
Hernandez said he hoped the film would bring a voice to the voiceless – voice for the children who can fall into the violence cycle because they don’t have another option, for the minority woman who wants to help her community, for the Mayan man who couldn’t share his feeling because he didn’t speak English.
“I felt that it was my responsibility to give them a venue to be heard,” Hernandez said. “That was the motivating factor behind the film. I didn’t know exactly where the film was going to go.”
Hernandez said he was surprised that GIFF accepted and screened
“When I submitted it I really didn’t expected anything, but when they accepted it I was just really grateful,” Hernandez said. “To have my film played at an international film festival was very humbling. Especially just to see it on a big screen was amazing. I would have never thought that would happen. It’s inspired me to do more films.”
Hernandez has other short films he plans to promote including, “Brooklyn to Africa: Hope and Kalongo” and “Undocumentary Trendsetter.”
“I’m not a filmmaker,” Hernandez said. “But I want to use what I have to give a voice to the voiceless.”