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Dennis Perkins

Dennis Perkins is a freelance writer who lives on the West End with his lovely wife Emily, where they watch all the movies ever made. When not digging up stories about the Maine film scene, he can be found writing for the AV Club and elsewhere. The rest of the time, he's worrying about the Red Sox.

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Posted: July 3, 2017

Wanted for film: People with opinions about gun control

Written by: Dennis Perkins
Maine filmmaker Vickie Morgan plans to put the gun control debate on camera. Photo courtesy of Vickie Morgan

Maine filmmaker Vickie Morgan plans to put the gun control debate on camera.
Photo courtesy of Vickie Morgan

Two words: Gun control.

Angry yet?

In a nation where public discourse has become only more heated and entrenched, there aren’t many topics as likely to make people on either side get their backs up and dig in for a fight as guns. Even though most people do agree that far too many people get shot every day in America, those same people are often equally convinced that they — and only they — know what the solution is. It’s a seemingly unresolvable debate.

So, filmmaker Vickie Morgan is inviting people on both sides of the gun control divide to do something unheard of: talk to each other.

“What’s so hard is that everyone has polar opposite opinions, but everyone also thinks they have the right opinion,” said Morgan, who is directing an as-yet-untitled documentary where a group of both pro- and anti-gun individuals will hash out their differences under the guidance of Hallowell-based psychologist Dr. Kevin Polk. “Going into it, I thought, at first, ‘Nobody’s ever going to agree to this,’ ” Morgan said, laughing. “People have these impressions of those on the other end of the spectrum. You don’t want to engage in stereotypes, but there are extreme opinions. But I’ve found that most people are somewhere in the middle, that most are reasonable people.”

Morgan, whose mental health and child sex abuse prevention program “Ounce of Prevention” airs on Portland’s CTN (ctn5.org) and 25 other public access stations around the country, came to know Polk’s “mindfulness” therapy methods through her work facilitating abuse prevention workshops in Maine. For her project, she’s pinning her hopes of success not only on Polk and his techniques of mindful awareness of your reactions, but on her faith that the current polarized political dialogue doesn’t truly represent who we are in our day-to-day lives.

Speaking of Polk’s methods (that he’s dubbed with the grandiose-sounding moniker “The Matrix”), Morgan explains that what people in the film will be doing is actually pretty basic, though it runs counter to the Twitter-style knee-jerk discourse that’s become the norm. “Dr. Polk’s technique is something I’ve seen work. There’s a physical change; your shoulders go down, your breathing gets slower. We’re not trying to convince people they’re wrong, but just to get them into a more psychologically flexible place where they can see that we’re all human beings, with more in common than not.”

For Morgan, this project — brought to her by behavioral therapist Tim Folley, who’s seen Polk’s effectiveness in working with people with autism — is part of her ongoing dedication to utilizing her own talents to help others. The film, which Morgan plans to submit to film festivals once completed, will also follow her “Ounce of Prevention” series onto pubic access, with an eye toward reaching people who may need it. “The thing about public access is, you know it reaches people. You can do anything on public access as long as you’re not selling something, and you can use that for good.”

The filming process will consist of three separate, two-hour sessions during the month of July. Morgan, who is still seeking participants, plans for two groups of seven to 12 people, each representing either side of the gun debate. It’s a recipe for tension, which Morgan hopes will find release through Polk’s mediating influence and the fact that we’re all more closely connected than the “us vs. them” mindset would lead us to believe, she said. “I thought I knew where I stood,” said Morgan, “but, in talking to people for this film, you hear about people like your dad or your cousin, people who you love who feel a different way.”

The filming, which will be fully catered (“no low blood sugar situation,” Morgan joked) and held in a nice, calming location (“preferably with a view of the ocean”), will be a test, not only of the efficacy of Polk’s methods, but of our collective ability to, as Morgan put it, “find the common ground that is the key to progress.”

“We’re not looking to prove anyone wrong,” she said. “At the root, I’ve found that people on both sides want safety. This process will give people with strong opinions the opportunity to voice those opinions, learn a technique and maybe come away with both greater understanding of each other and a tool that they can use going forward.”

Vickie Morgan will be filming this much-needed experiment in understanding on July 11, 18 and 25. Participants on both sides of the gun debate will receive a stipend if they stick it out through the whole process. If you’re interested in getting in on this idealistic film project aimed at healing America’s fractured dialogue, contact Morgan through her Facebook page at Survivor Mama Productions (facebook.com/SurvivorMamaProductions).

This story was updated on Monday, July 3 at 12:38 p.m. to correct the dates of filming.


COMING TO LOCAL SCREENS

PORTLAND PUBLIC LIBRARY
6:30 p.m. Thursday: “Presenting Princess Shaw.” The library’s Summer Documentary Series kicks off with this inspiring story of an aspiring musician whose YouTube videos prompted a collaboration with internationally famous composer and artist Ophir “Kutiman” Kutiel. As always, screenings are free to the public.

BAYSIDE BOWL
Wednesday, July 12: “What We Do In The Shadows.” This horror comedy faux documentary is easily one of the funniest, weirdest movies in years. Directed by New Zealand’s Taika Waititi (“Hunt for the Wilderpeople”), the film chronicles the daily struggles of a group of vampire pals attempting to make their way through the modern world. Shown for free as part of the Bayside Bowl Summer Rooftop Film Series.

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