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Producing the Past: Co-Director of the film The Five Demands Details Her Process

By Kymani Barrett

Photo by Alex Gibson-Daley

At a recent press conference, Greta Schiller, a City College professor and City College alum, offered insight into her recently released film, The Five Demands.

The documentary tells the story of a strike held by Black and Puerto Rican students at CCNY in 1969 to protest unequal treatment of people of color in higher education. The takeover resulted in open admissions which allowed every high ​schooler in the city, regardless of race, a guaranteed spot in CUNY.

During the press conference, Schiller detailed the process behind creating the film that she co-directed with Andrea Weiss. Though the movie was released earlier this year, the Michigan native revealed that production started in 2014 and totaled around $650,000. She emphasized that scouring archives for realistic moving and still images of Harlem helped add authenticity to the film. “It was so important to us that we represent the Harlem community,” Schiller shared.

Prior to the making of the film, no book, movie, or feature article had focused on this important turning point in the history of higher education. Schiller and her colleagues used interviews with Henry Arce, Francee Covington, Dorothy Randall Gray, ​Charles Powell and other alumni who took part in the takeover to flesh out the untold story. “It was all pretty fresh,” said Schiller. “It really helped the interviews because no one had asked them these questions in 50 years.”

Ironically enough, the documentary was released just a few months before the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to remove affirmative action on June 29th, permanently ending race-conscious admissions in higher education. As the country bears witness to decades of hard work and fights for equity being undone, Schiller stressed the importance of stories like The Five Demands. “I want you guys to be inspired that there has been social change done by people just like you,” Schiller remarked. “Young people like you.”


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