Toll Gate graduate’s film tests veracity of news reports
“How can a person make an informed decision when partisan media outlets distort the truth with opinions and verbal conflicts?”
That’s the question Gene Pina poses in his short documentary, “MEDIACARE,” which will be featured in the 2013 Rhode Island International Film Festival, the largest film festival in New England. The 17th annual event kicked off today and runs through Sunday.
While the festival takes place at various venues across the state, Pina’s documentary will screen Saturday at 6 p.m. at the Bell Street Chapel Theatre in Providence. At least 5,200 films were submitted from around the world, but according to Pina, a 1999 Toll Gate graduate who grew up in Warwick and lives in New York City, only about 260 will be featured.
“It’s a great honor,” he said, pointing out that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences recognizes the event as a qualifying festival in the Short Films category for the Annual Academy Awards. With more than 7,000 film festivals worldwide, just 75 have this recognition.
“It’s very exciting,” he said.
As noted, Pina’s 13-minute documentary focuses on the politics of media manipulation in the 21st century. He said it highlights his belief that objective standards in journalism seem nonexistent.
“I don’t feel the media is objective at all,” Pina said. “My question started off as, ‘How can somebody be an informed citizen when everybody is clouding the facts?’ The media is more focused on ratings and spectacle, rather than actual newsgathering. To be an informed source, you have to get opinions from multiple sources, but most people don’t do that at all. They just go to their one favorite.”
Pina filmed his mother, Debbie Butts, sharing her views on politics to showcase his point. He feels that she has been affected by media manipulation, as she watches a particular channel 80 percent of the time, with 20 percent going toward two others. This, he said, is typical, because people tend to tune into outlets that feature newscasters who agree with the way they see the world.
“She had these skewed views of what the reality was,” Pina said. “I hoped my mom would learn from it and I think she learned a little towards the end.”
And if people aren’t getting information from the media, he said, they’re reading about it on social media. He cited Facebook as an example.
“It’s crazy,” Pina said.
Also featured in the documentary are his grandmother, Loraine Lima, as well as his uncle, Bobby Lima. His nephew, Jayden Pina, 7, also makes an appearance.
Pina’s original idea for the film was more broad; he planned on doing a piece on local peoples’ thoughts, how they get information, and how they determine if it is accurate or not.
But during the last election, he noticed a change in his mother. This, he said, is the main reason he decided to incorporate his family.
“My mother never cared about economic issues and she started saying things like, ‘sequester,’ and ‘fiscal cliff,’” Pina said. “I was like, ‘Where is this coming from?’”
Aside from family, he filmed testimony from Dean Nicholas Lehmann of the Columbia School of Journalism, as well as Prof. Robert Schapiro, who teaches Political Science at Columbia, where Pina is studying.
Pina earned a Bachelor’s degree in Music Production and Technology from the University of Hartford in 2005. Following college, he was hired as a recording engineer at ESPN. In time, his job switched to video editing, a position he filled for seven years. Along the way, he picked up screenwriting and started doing well in screenwriting competitions, which led him into filmmaking.
Recently, he took a class in Lab and Non-fiction Filmmaking at Columbia. Creating a short film was the final project, and “MEDIACARE” was born. He started working on it during the beginning of January, and wrapped up mid-May. This is his first film, and he hopes it encourages people to be independent thinkers.
“I’m a very independent thinker,” said Pina. “I like to think for myself.”
For more information about his film, visit http://riff.festivalgenius.com/2013/films/mediacare_genepina_riff2013. To purchase tickets, as well as view a program guide, visit Film-Festival.org.