Young filmmakers take on policing, surveillance, and technology at Block Cinema [Video]

On June 18, 2020, Sepehr Vakil, Assistant Professor of Learning Sciences, School of Education and Social Policy, Northwestern University welcomed an online audience to an unique Block Cinema program shaped by a partnership between Northwestern and Evanston Township High School. “To say that these films are deeply and acutely relevant is to state the obvious…For me, the power of education is in the values, perspectives and identities that we make possible in learning environments,” noted Vakil. “Learning is about knowledge and skills, but it is also about developing a sense of self, a sensibility of compassion and care, and an informed awareness of power and injustice.”

The evening’s program, Policing Surveillance was one of the first public events from Young People’s Race, Power, and Technology (YPRPT) a project of Northwestern’s TREE (Technology, Race, Ethics, and Equity in Education) Lab. Housed within the School of Education and Social Policy, TREE is an NSF-funded initiative that brings together NU undergraduate students with youth and community members to jointly investigate ethical, social, and racialized dimensions of new technologies. Co-directed by SESP Assistant Professor Sepehr Vakil and McCormick Computer Science Assistant Professor of Instruction Sarah Van Wart, the TREE lab is fundamentally committed to reimagining the possibilities of technology learning.

YPRPT, the flagship project of TREE Lab, is an after-school program developed in partnership with community including Evanston Township High School, Family Matters, Endangered Peace Productions, and the Lucy Parsons Labs. The program brings together Northwestern undergraduate students with youth and community members to jointly investigate the ethical and social dimensions of specific law enforcement technologies such as facial recognition and gang databases. YPRPT aims to contribute to a reimagining of what “technology learning” is and could be in an era of ubiquitous computing.

Learning is about knowledge and skills, but it is also about developing a sense of self and an informed awareness of power and injustice.

– Sepehr Vakil, Assistant Professor of Learning Science,
Co-Founder of Northwestern’s TREE Labs

Watch the Program

The evening’s program included an introduction by Sepehr Vakil, three student films, and a remarkable Q&A moderated by Jessica Marshall (PhD student in Learning Sciences at Northwestern University School of Education and Social Policy). The zoom discussion included student filmmakers Eliana Chandra and Jazminé Morrow (Melting Ice); Yuzuka Komiyama-Kasai and Gregory Voelkel (Racial Recognition); as well as David Lewis, Jessica Rodriguez, and Izadorius Tortuga (Targeted) along with YPRPT mentors Raphael Nash and Sepehr Vakil. Watch all three elements of the online event in the showcase below

Part 1: Introduction

Part 2: Policing Surveillance Trilogy

Part 3: Student Post Screening Q&A

Films and Filmmakers


Filmmakers: David Lewis, Jessica Rodriguez, Izadorius Tortuga

The documentary depicts how the gang database targets black and brown young men by labeling them as gang members in a database, which they can never get out of. This label causes irreparable damage to black and brown communities since being in the gang database can lead to eviction, not finding employment, and loss of scholarships. Because the police department does not notify individuals upon their placement into the database, this documentary also explores the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) as a means of self-empowerment. We hope that this film causes awareness of a detrimental tool used against black and brown communities.

Racial Recognition

Filmmakers: Yuzuka Komiyama-Kasai, Gregory Voelkel

In the last 25 years, Facial Recognition Technology transformed from a sci-fi movie gimmick to a go-to instrument used by police, governments and corporations alike. Now, Facial Recognition is present in our everyday lives; yet the technology is flawed, posing an immediate threat to marginalized communities and, on a broader scale, our collective civil liberties. Racial Recognition hopes to raise awareness and promote change within the world of Facial Recognition.

Melting Ice

Filmmakers: Eliana Chandra, Jazminé Morrow

The topic of immigration has become more prevalent over the past few years. It is crucial to understand the role of ICE. They use technology such as social media to aid in their efforts of deportation and family separation. On the flip side, communities have taken up their own defenses and use technology to protect themselves from ICE. Melting Ice serves to expose ICE’s practices while uplifting and informing communities.

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