In the United States, a family has long been considered a group of individuals living under one roof, usually under one head of household.
But times change. “The New American Family: Defining Commitment in a Changing Society,” a new documentary by Pacific Lutheran University’s award-winning Media-Lab, will examine the cultural characteristics of modern-day clans.
The film premieres at 2 p.m. May 1 at the Seattle Central Public Library, located at 1000 Fourth Ave. The film has been in production for nine months.
“It shows different forms of family and marriage we have in our changing society,” said Andriana Fletcher, a co-producer of the film.
Motivation for the documentary came from last fall’s debates over Referendum 71, a statewide measure approved by Washington voters last November that granted increased rights, responsibilities and obligations to domestic partnerships.
“We saw how much of an impact it had in the community,” said co-producer Melissa Campbell.
Referendum 71 is known as an “everything but marriage” measure. Federal marriage privileges are still denied to same sex couples in Washington state.
“There’s a lot of debate on what Referendum 71 has meant,” Fletcher said. “I think this will be a good teaching tool.”
Beginning in September 2009, Campbell and Fletcher, both senior Communication majors at PLU, traveled across the state to compile more than 30 hours of footage. The completed documentary will be about 45 minutes long.
The documentary features interviews with families of all types and individuals from assorted political and religious perspectives. Washington state lawmakers Ed Murray, a Democrat and openly gay senator from Seattle, and Rep. Brad Klippert, a Republican from Kennewick in Eastern Washington, were also interviewed.
Vignettes of multiple viewpoints are offered throughout the film.
“There’s a lot of varying opinions,” Fletcher said. “You’re looking at all the different sides.”
The project exposed the filmmakers to many new perspectives.
“It was one of our interviews that really pointed it out,” said Campbell. “Privileges gained in Referendum 71 don’t apply to all couples. For whatever reason, it discriminates against heterosexuals that don’t want to marry.”
But Campbell added that the film is intended to provoke thought beyond Referendum 71.
“The goal of the documentary is to open the dialogue of this issue and give people the opportunity to hear the other side, to hear the personal stories that they might not have heard before,” she said.
Although still in college, Campbell and Fletcher are both accomplished filmmakers. Campbell led production of the 2009 documentary “Illicit Exchanges: Canada, the U.S. and Crime,” which explored drug and gun trafficking by gangs across North America. The film received a 2009 collegiate Emmy award in the documentary category, among other national awards.
Fletcher was a lead producer for Media-Lab’s “Point of Entry: Migrating to North America,” which won a 2010 international Accolade Award and a national BEA Festival of Media Arts award.
As is the case with all of MediaLab’s work, Campbell said the goal of “New American Family” is to educate and inform.
“The whole point of the premiere is having people watch the documentary and learn something new from a new perspective,” Campbell said. “The documentary isn’t trying to force an agenda, but open dialogue.”
A moderator will lead a panel discussion following the film premiere. Members of the panel will include Pastor Joe Fuiten from Cedar Park Church in Bothell, Bob Struble representing the Knights of Columbus and Louise Chernin, executive director of the Greater Seattle Business Association.
Established in 2006, MediaLab is a student-run organization. Participants practice their communication skills in a variety of fields such as public relations, graphic design and journalism.
“MediaLab gives students the opportunity to participate in real work situations where various scenarios arise that you wouldn’t necessarily see in the classroom setting,” PLU senior and MediaLab general manager Kendra Steiner said. “It’s a great way for us to get the experience needed before entering into the job market.”
Stephen Odell is a freelance writer and a member of MediaLab at Pacific Lutheran University.