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A new film combats sexual violence on college campuses

Santa Clara University hosted a limited premiere in January of its film Can’t Thread a Moving Needle, a pioneering artistic creation to combat sexual violence in college settings. Financed by a $150,000 grant from the AVON Foundation for Women, the movie represents diverse points of view on the subject gathered across the country through interviews with victims, survivors, perpetrators, friends, counselors, professors, attorneys and activists. The premiere was followed by a Q&A period with the filmmakers -- producer, co-directors and screenwriter.

This project is the result of close collaboration between the Office of Student Life, faculty from the Communication Department, the Department of Theatre and Dance, and many organizations across campus. Can’t Thread a Moving Needle is the screen adaptation of the play by the same name written by Theatre Professor Barbara Means Fraser. “Santa Clara has been proactive in the area of sexual abuse education and prevention for a while. We had been doing the play every year for first-year students beginning in 2008, but producing it every year was labor-intensive and expensive. The film is intended to be a more efficient way of delivering the experience to the students,” said Professor Fraser.

Matthew Duncan, Associate Dean for Student Life at Santa Clara University and executive producer of the film, sees the movie as “the anchor point for something that lives, breathes and evolves over time.” A key element to this is the companion website that will host the film as a whole or in sections organized by theme to facilitate its discussion during first-year orientation and in any setting where the subject is appropriate. “Since faculty will be able to incorporate this new resource into their courses, our students may watch the movie, or parts of it, multiple times over their careers here. We need to own this issue, and we need to do a better job in discussing this subject in a safe and challenging way”, said Mr. Duncan. 

Shooting of the film occurred on the Santa Clara University campus during the summer of 2014. Twenty-one undergraduate students interned as the production crew for professionals working as Director of Photography, Sound, Lighting, Makeup, Producer and Directors. The actors were all professionals culled from an open audition, some of whom are Santa Clara University alumni from the Department of Theatre and Dance. Communication Associate Professor Michael Whalen, producer and co-director of the film, insisted that all hired professionals work hand-in-hand with undergraduates as a way to enhance student engagement and enrichment. Both the artistic and social justice aspects of the project were important parts of the educational experience for students. “Being part of a Jesuit university also means taking a stance on a difficult subject, identifying what is wrong, and then fixing it. I am proud of what Santa Clara is doing, and I hope that more colleges follow suit,” declared Associate Professor Whalen. 

Veronika Olah ’04, who majored in Theatre Arts and worked on stage production while at Santa Clara, was tapped by Professor Fraser to participate in the movie. "It was an incredible experience to come back to Santa Clara ten years later to play a college student. SCU played a huge role in opening my eyes to the world around me as well as the responsibility we have to use our passions to work for positive change. I love that as an alumna, I still feel such a part of the SCU community. When I found out about this film, I knew I just had to be a part of it," said Veronika, currently working in the Entertainment Department of Disneyland Resort, and as an actor with the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, SAG-AFTRA. 

Many universities and organizations across the nation have expressed interest in the film, including the national network of 27 Jesuit universities and the UCLA Health Center, which works directly with 20 state universities, and a network of colleges and universities in the state of South Dakota. All interested institutions will receive the film free of charge, as established by the terms of the grant. The film is slated for general release later this spring.