Friday, April 2, 2010


Well, we must be doing something right. 

At a recent Oakland Drive Winchell Neighborhood Association (ODWNA) Meeting, my crew and I were all set up to tape this highly anticipated public meeting with Bob Miller from WMU and Representative Robert Jones. It was the first public meeting to address the Colony Farm Orchard since the passage of House Bill 5207, legislation that gives WMU the green light to develop the property. It was also my first encounter with both Jones and Miller following the release of our first Orchard video, featuring both. Everyone expected it to be an interesting meeting.

But before the meeting even began, Bob Miller, upon entering the room and seeing our cameras, walked straight up to me and said, bristling, “you cannot tape this. You don’t have permission from Western.” 

It was quite a surprise since I’d received prior permission from Larry Ross, co-president of ODWNA. Turns out Larry never thought it would be an issue for WMU and therefore never ran it by them in advance. 

At that point, I took Miller for his word, assuming WMU had some jurisdiction or authority over the event. I sent half my crew home and was prepared to break down the set but started thinking it over. A few people came up to me and said he can’t do that. I quickly realized Miller didn’t have the authority to prohibit me from filming other people. It was a public meeting hosted by ODWNA. He can deny permission for me to use HIS image and/or voice, but not that of others. 

Realizing this, I decided to let the cameras roll and tape audience reactions and eventually questions, especially since I knew opposition would be very vocal. I explained to Miller that I would honor his request by not using any footage of him, but I would tape everyone else. He didn’t say anything. He did, however, cross the room and discuss the issue with Larry Ross. I later found out that Larry, feeling remiss for failing to check with Bob in advance, promised him that he would stop me from taping.

All this was transpiring unbeknownst to the audience. So, at the beginning of the meeting, when Larry had to tell me across the room to stop taping, ears perked up when I explained my intentions out-loud. Realizing what was going on, Benjamin Ayer, a WMU student and member of Students for a Sustainable Earth spoke up in favor of taping, as well as others. Sensing a slight rumbling in the audience, Larry decided to have the audience vote on the situation, a vote which I bet would have favored taping. But before it could proceed, Raoul Yochim, former attorney and ODWNA co-president, spoke up against the idea, claiming all the discussion and vote would take time away from addressing the matters at hand. His personal authority essentially killed the vote. Larry was persuaded and sided with Miller’s request and asked me to turn off the camera. As the host of the event, I decided it was only appropriate to honor his request.

It was a great loss. Miller’s censorship prevented me from capturing a handful of extremely passionate and articulate opponents to development of the Orchard. There was also one, perhaps two people who spoke in support of Western’s intentions.

Paula Davis of the Kalamazoo Gazette effectively captured the tone and tenor of the event in her Gazette article: Residents voice opposition to potential WMU development of Colony Farm Orchard.

To effectively censor those speakers on video is a strong-arm tactic by WMU, attempting to control the coverage of this highly controversial environmental issue. Inadvertently, this strengthens the case for our documentary, underscoring the importance of an independent media voice critiquing WMU’s land moves. 

So, we must be doing something right. But this makes our job even more challenging. HorsePower Pictures now has to track down each audience member who spoke out that night and conduct personal interviews reflecting back on the event. All this takes more time and money. And although we’re not deterred--in fact we rise to the challenge--we need your help. 

Please make a donation today to help us deliver the truth on the Orchard. Being a local, independent videographer affords me the flexibility and independence to cover these environmental issues, but it also requires the support of the community. 

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