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Locally produced film highlights Charlotte’s woes

By Marty Minchin
Correspondent
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/10/16/11/45/9bOhb.Em.138.jpeg|210
    - COURTESY OF SILENT IMAGES
    David Johnson, left, and a Silent Images photographer film Antonia "Neet" Childs for "Get Off Your Donkey," a new film and curriculum series that illustrates seven areas of need in Charlotte and shows people how they can help. Childs, who escaped from human trafficking, started her bakery Neet's Sweets in Charlotte in 2008.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/10/16/11/45/1oUiga.Em.138.jpeg|473
    - COURTESY OF SILENT IMAGES
    Photographer David Johnson founded Silent Images seven years ago to use photography and film to bring attention to suffering, poverty and oppression around the world and in Charlotte.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/10/16/11/45/ffoy.Em.138.jpeg|210
    - COURTESY OF SILENT IMAGES
    Filmmakers from Silent Images, a Matthews-based non-profit, interview a human trafficking survivor in Charlotte for a segment for "Get Off Your Donkey."

More Information

  • Trailer: 'Get Off Your Donkey'
  • Learn more:

    For information about the Donkey Project or to download the curriculum and documentary, visit http://silentimages.org.

    The premiere of “Get Off Your Donkey” at Carmel Baptist Church, 1145 Pineville-Matthews Road in Matthews, is sold out, but space may be available in an overflow area. The 5 p.m. Oct. 20 showing is free and open to the community.

    Parts of the documentary also will be shown 8 p.m. Oct. 30 at the Student Union Movie Theatre at UNC Charlotte.



The walls of Silent Images’ studio in downtown Matthews are filled with photographs of faces of people from all over the world.

The work of Silent Images has been featured on outlets from CNN to ESPN. The nonprofit, founded seven years ago by former Providence Day School English teacher David Johnson, provides high-quality video and photography for charities to inspire people to action.

In 2012, Silent Images decided to turn its attention to Charlotte.

“We wanted to take a year and focus on how to tell the story of our city and give a practical tool to churches,” Johnson said.

The result is “Get Off Our Donkey,” a curriculum and movie that give a local slant to seven areas of need, including human trafficking, abortion, the elderly and high-school dropouts.

The series already is being used in churches and schools throughout Charlotte to highlight local needs and show how people can help. The film will premiere Oct. 20 at Carmel Baptist Church and will be shown again Oct. 30 at UNC Charlotte.

More than 1,300 people have registered for the Carmel Baptist showing.

“We kept hearing from a lot of churches that they were struggling with how to engage their congregation in local justice because it seems so daunting,” Johnson said. “Charities were saying nobody knows what’s going on in the city.”

“Get Off Our Donkey” provides practical suggestions for giving help and contact information for local charities that deal with each issue.

“What I like most about the ‘Get Off Our Donkey’ series is that it not only shines a light on seven injustices that affect our city but it also inspires us to band together as a community to help,” A Child’s Place Executive Director Annabelle Suddreth wrote in a email.

“So often, we read or hear about these issues but feel they are too big for one person or one group’s efforts to matter. Through the ‘Get Off Our Donkey’ initiative, we can… make a difference and to say together, ‘Not in our city!’”

Advocating for the underdog

Silent Images and “Get Off Your Donkey” are built around the idea that sharing people’s stories can move others to action.

Johnson, who grew up in Charlotte and graduated from Charlotte Catholic High School and UNC Chapel Hill, said he always has been an advocate for people who are underdogs or are forgotten. As a writer, he said, he loves listening to and telling stories.

At Silent Images, stories are told through photography and video to raise awareness of worldwide issues. The nonprofit, which has three full-time and two part-time employees, provides its work to charities at a low or no cost.

“We want to tell stories with excellence, and we want people’s hearts to be softened and engaged,” Johnson said.

The organization is funded by individual donors, grants, foundations and churches. Johnson and his wife, Andrea, do wedding photography on the side to supplement their income. Other Silent Images employees also do corporate photography.

“Get Off Our Donkey” is funded by a donor from the Charlotte area, Johnson said.

In seven years, Silent Images has worked with more than 200 charities in 20 countries, including Ethiopia, Guatemala, Cambodia and Sudan.

Silent Images has worked with many organizations locally, including the Charlotte Pregnancy Center, Urban Restoration and N.C. Stop Human Trafficking.

The Good Samaritan

The term “Get Off Our Donkey” comes from the biblical story of the Good Samaritan.

Jesus told the story about a man from Samaria riding his donkey coming upon a man who had been beaten and robbed.

Two other passers-by, including a priest, ignored the victim. The Samaritan got off his donkey to treat the man’s wounds before putting the man on the donkey and taking him to help.

The seven segments in the Donkey Project feature interviews with local people affected by the highlighted issues. The Silent Images staff chose issues that either were frequently overlooked or so complicated that many didn’t know how to approach them.

In a segment about the elderly, Dale Harlen, executive director of Love Inc., implores viewers to remember the elderly. Many elderly, Harlen says, “are living and dying in loneliness.”

“Just because these folks are older, we do not need to forget them,” he said.

The segment features statistics about the elderly and interviews with several local older residents, including a 99-year-old Pearl Harbor survivor. The residents discuss how their generation has contributed to society and how important visits and kindness are to them.

The corresponding curriculum provides discussion questions, such as “What do we lose by limiting intergenerational contact,” Bible references and links to Charlotte-area organizations.

The movie and curriculum booklet are available free from Silent Images. The program is appropriate for churches, schools, book clubs, small groups and many other types of gatherings.

Johnson said he hopes the Donkey Project unifies people in Charlotte to fight injustice.

“I would love to see, in a year from now, that we as a city have made great strides in meeting these needs so that these charities are overwhelmed with volunteers and charities are funded to meet those needs,” Johnson said.

Marty Minchin is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Marty? Email her at martyminchin@gmail.com.

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