A Tale of Two Towns, in Black and White
Jane Gillooly was working on a film in 2012 when she visited her hometown of Ferguson, Missouri, and drove into the neighboring town of Kinloch while location scouting, remembering some mid-century modern housing she wanted to film.
She was shocked to see that the vibrant community she remembered from her youth was disappearing—in places, it was simply gone. “Most of the town had been torn down,” she recalled. “I thought, What happened here? Where is Kinloch?”
That question would lead Gillooly, professor of the practice and chair of the Media Arts Department at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts, on a five-year “process of discovering” the two towns’ histories. She shares what she found in Where the Pavement Ends, an experimental nonfiction film she directed in collaboration with Khary Jones, a professor of the practice in the Department of Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies.
The film screens October 21 at Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art; the program will include a conversation with the filmmakers moderated by Abigail Satinsky, curator of exhibitions and programs at the SMFA.
Gillooly and Jones describe the film as “a micro-history of race relations in America,” a perspective framed by the relationship between Ferguson, formerly a whites-only town, and the neighboring all-black town of Kinloch, now semi-abandoned.
Two key events are evocative focal points: the 1968 protest over a road blockade between the two towns, and the 2014 fatal shooting of Michael Brown. The death of Brown, an unarmed African-American eighteen year old killed by a white police officer, ignited protests that made national and global headlines.
By pairing Michael Brown’s death with the little-known protest over the road blockade, the film provides powerful reference points that can lead audiences to conversations about racism, politics, and justice, said Jones. “The film is a great starting point for individuals to reflect on what happened,” he said, “and, we hope, raise awareness that for change to happen, you need action.”
Gillooly grew up in Ferguson, but left for college and her career on the East Coast. At the time she went away, the population of Kinloch was approximately 8,000. In the 1980s, though, the city of St. Louis began property buy-outs there as part of a proposed expansion of nearby St. Louis Lambert International Airport, which in the end never happened.
Kinloch dwindled and declined, exacerbating decades-long tensions between its residents and those of Ferguson. Kinloch’s population today is approximately 80 people.
For years, the towns had been kept apart by so-called sundown laws. Those laws required black people from Kinloch who worked in Ferguson to be back across the town line by sunset. “A sundown town purposefully prevented people of color from entering a town after the sun goes down,” said Gillooly.
In 1968, a visible reminder of that division remained—a barrier on the border between the two towns blocked Suburban Avenue, which connected Ferguson and Kinloch. It effectively forced Kinloch residents to drive a few miles out of the way to reach St. Louis, and Kinloch residents, frustrated and fed up, protested. The blockade was eventually removed.
“I remember the street and the march,” said Gillooly. “My mother brought me and some of my siblings on the march. My memory of that experience fueled my initial ideas for the film.”
After Michael Brown was killed, Gillooly knew she needed to widen her lens beyond an isolated incident that happened in the sixties, she said. “I wanted to find a way to link the two together, and that was a challenge.”
Enter Jones. The two met when Gillooly hosted a get-together for faculty from the School of Arts and Sciences and the SMFA. Gillooly, already two years into filming, appreciated Jones’ editing sensibility, she said, and the two teamed up on the film’s writing and structure. “I didn’t want the film to become nostalgic or personally focused,” said Gillooly. “He understood the broader scope.”
Gillooly’s narrative approach is best described as a collage or blending of source material; she weaves together images, audio, and archival findings to put a contemporary frame around the past, as she did in her 2015 documentary Suitcase of Love and Shame, which chronicles an adulterous affair in the 1960s using reel-to-reel audiotape discovered in a suitcase purchased on eBay.
Jones kept that approach in mind as they worked together to craft a film that avoids an easy causality between the two events. “It is not a traditional linear story that aims to establish a direct relationship between these two events—that A plus B equals C,” said Jones. “It was important in our approach to the storytelling to not allow the material to be driven solely by our intentions, but to really get in there and listen to what the material was saying.”
“What we were trying to do with this film is create associations—moments when fragments collided,” added Gillooly. “The film is highly structured, although it is presented in a way that viewers are left having made connections that are formed by their own experience with racism.”
Gillooly prefers the narrative to “be restrained,” she said. “It strengthens the material. As filmmakers, we want to shape the viewers’ experience to appreciate the nuances in the film.”
Where the Pavement Ends will screen at Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art on October 21 at 3 p.m. The film, which has won a Cinema St. Louis Award, will also be screened at the St. Louis Film Festival at the Tivoli Theater on November 3 at 2:30 p.m.
Laura Ferguson can be reached at email@example.com.