Understanding What We See

Posted by Liam Otten July 14, 2016

The camera pans across a dozen crumbling facades. "We did this," says a voice, shaking with emotion. "We did this."

The words are at once elegy, indictment and call to action. The voice belongs to Bob Hansman, a longtime community activist and associate professor of architecture in the Sam Fox School. Over the years, Hansman has introduced thousands of students to the struggling neighborhoods of north St. Louis—and to the racial, social, and urban histories that have shaped them.

In Bob's Tour—Understanding What We See, Jun Bae, a 2016 Bachelor of Design graduate of the Sam Fox School, offers a striking portrait of both Hansman and the city he loves. At 7p Monday, July 18, Cinema St. Louis will present the feature-length documentary as part of its annual Whitaker St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase.

"Bob was the first professor I met at Washington University," said Bae, who was born and raised in Tokyo. But as a freshman, "I couldn't contextualize the things he was talking about. I didn't know anything about St. Louis."

That changed two years later, in August 2014, as protests roiled in nearby Ferguson. "I experienced teargas for the first time," Bae said. "I was completely shocked. I'd been blind to the city's racial divide." Photography and filmmaking allowed him "to react and respond to the injustice and energy."

Bob's Tour began last fall as a class project in Tale of Two Cities: Documenting Our Divides, a seminar led by Denise Ward-Brown, associate professor of art. Bae spent months filming as Hansman spoke with groups of students, faculty, and other community members; and months more editing the footage. He completed post-production in May, shortly before graduation.

"It's the story of the 'divided city' of St. Louis but it's also a biography of Bob," Bae said. "His life is a testament to the problems we face to this day.

"A lot of the things Bob talks about are things you'll never learn from a textbook." 

St. Louis Filmmakers

The Whitaker Showcase runs July 17-21 in the Tivoli Theatre, 6350 Delmar Blvd. In all, it will feature more than 400 works, ranging from full-length features to compilations of shorter works, spread across 12 film programs.

A panel discussion with Bae, Hansman, and Hansman's son, Jovan, will immediately follow the July 18 screening of Bob's Tour. In addition, Bae's short, Exodus, will be screened July 17, as part of a program of short documentaries.

Other works by Sam Fox School alumni include two shorts by lecturer Zlatko Cosic (MFA11): the documentary St. Louis Spin (Trumpo Mix) July 17; and the dramatic A Murmuration July 19.

Also on the bill are My Identity by Yasmin Mistry (BFA/BSBA01) and A Period Piece by Julie Wilhelm (BFA95/MBA02), both screening July 17; Me N' the Devil Blues by William Morris (BFA85) July 19; and Snottington University by Zak Zych (BFA87) July 20.

Tickets are $13, or $10 for students, and are available at the Tivoli box office and online. For more information, visit www.cinemastlouis.org.