April Martin and Paul Hill
Ironically, when the April 7, 2001, riots broke out I had called off “sick” from my job as production assistant at WCPO, the Cincinnati, Ohio, ABC affiliate. I was living a sheltered life in the wealthy, predominantly white village of Glendale, a north-lying suburb of Cincinnati. I had no inkling of the police brutality and racism that was happening just 20 minutes south. The day that Timothy Thomas was shot and killed while fleeing Police Officer Stephen Roach forever changed Cincinnati. And me. Once rioting and looting broke out, I was shocked by my co-workers’ cavalier attitudes about blacks’ outrage. I decided that despite not having formal training, I was going to make a documentary about the riots. Armed with a camera, I infiltrated city council meetings, protests and rallies. Seemingly overnight, I morphed from middle-class black slacker to a guerrilla filmmaker and activist.
In January 2006, after compiling more than 200 hours of footage, I applied and was accepted to the Wexner Center for the Arts Film/Video Studio Program that pairs filmmakers with a professional editor. Studio Manager Paul Hill didn’t know what hit him when I arrived. I wanted Hill to feel and understand the material he was editing. We began each work day with a “racial roundtable:” our bootleg version of “Meet the Press” 2.0. Hill bombarded me with questions everything from Black History Month to his own white privilege. Hill’s consciousness was awakened. He asked to become co-director of “Cincinnati Goddam.” Through the course of editing our story kept expanding and new information about the police in-custody death of Roger Owensby, Jr. came to light, requiring us to gather more footage and shoot new interviews with prominent people (scholar Manning Marable and Jill Nelson, (the editor of “Police Brutality: An Anthology”) and Michelle Alexander to couch the documentary in a national conversation. We decided to make an activist piece, a tool to educate communities. For several years we were cloistered in a windowless studio, logging tapes, editing, constantly shooting b-roll and sidestepping legal land mines to bring this film to fruition. My friendship with Paul Hill has grown beyond a mere working relationship to now embody the essence of the old-school civil rights movement: people from disparate backgrounds working closely for the greater good of a seemingly far-fetched ideal that is actually within reach. Justice starts not with one person but with two who are obsessed with it.