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Premiere showing of Berkeley Institute film

In the spotlight: this file photograph shows local film-makers Lucinda Spurling, Karli Powell and Kara Smith interviewing Dame Jennifer Smith for a documentary on Berkeley Institute. They are hoping to bring the film to an international audience

A film documenting the history of the Berkeley Institute has held its premiere.

The Berkeley Institute Class of ’63 was gave the first screening last Saturday of its film Respice Finem: The History of the Berkeley Institute one year after its initial deadline.

Local filmmakers Lucinda Spurling, Karli Powell and Kara Smith are now hoping to bring the film to an international audience.

Commissioned as part of the 50th anniversary of their class, the film project was chosen to make a positive and lasting contribution to the school.

What began as an assignment to collect the stories of individual “Berkeleyites”, the finished product shows the early progress of blacks in education in Bermuda and how the mission of the school’s founding fathers came to fruition upon the opening of the school on September 6, 1897.

It was the Island’s first multiracial school at now demolished Samaritan’s Hall on Court Street.

Co-director Lucinda Spurling described the class of ‘63 as “a class of high achievers”.

She singled out committee members Phil Butterfield, CEO of HSBC Bermuda, former education minister and CEO of Argus, Gerald Simons, and Conchita Ming who was awarded an OBE for organising the 400th anniversary celebrations in Bermuda.

Ms Spurling said: “When they were in school black people were not expected to go into professional careers, so it’s amazing what they’ve all done. It’s because they were not only given the education but also given the belief in themselves.

“There’s a great quote in the film from Dame Jennifer Smith and she said: ‘Furbert was not training up the next generation of road sweepers, but if you were going to be a road sweeper, you had to be the best road sweeper.’

“That was instilled in all of them. And look at the results. A whole generation of politicians and business leaders and doctors, lawyers, professionals.”

Frederick Shirley (FS) Furbert was the principal for 27 years.

The group originally asked filmmakers to propose a 30-minute documentary, but Ms Spurling said she suspected the material would command a much longer film.

She told The Royal Gazette: “I knew that would probably be unlikely but at the time I didn’t know enough about the story to make projections.”

She said: “It was a lot more complex because the education system and how it evolved in Bermuda is not straightforward.

“You have vested schools, you have aided schools, you have government schools and then you have integration.

“It’s a lot more complicated than I realised and for so long there was no real provision for education.”

The three then proposed a feature story. The extended budget and timeline took them to November 2015, adding just under another year onto the production.

After conducting close to 40 interviews, four hours of documentation and a 1,000-page script, the material was compressed into an 80-minute feature film.

“It took us a long time to get through the material and there wasn’t a single interview that you could hang the story around,” Ms Spurling said.

“The closest we came to that was Joseph Christopher who wrote a book about education. That really gave us the philosophical points we needed.

“His book informed our perspective and then we wove anecdotes through the film.”

She describes the project as a “living history”, heavy in Mr Furbert’s era because of the class that enabled it.

Weeks before the deadline, Ms Spurling was forced to move the entire editing suite after her home was struck by lightning during Hurricane Joaquin.

The bolt travelled through her internet line, blowing her internet and drove through the Ethernet cable, destroying the CPU of her computer.

The new one had to be custom built by apple in Shanghai, adding another three week delay to the film’s production.

“Someone was mad about the Berkeley film,” she said, laughing.

Ms Spurling drew parallels to the theme of the movie and the obstacles presented by the storm.

She said: “Some people questioned and might still question why three people that didn’t go to Berkeley made the film.

“The people you interview give you a needle point pattern and you weave it. I really think documentary film makers, we’re like weavers. We take all this material and we make something that you can stand back and look at and make sense of. that’s what our job is.

“And it’s to Karli’s credit as an editor that we were able to get to our deadline.

“We’re now at the end of that process, but we want the film to have more of a life. We want it to travel to film festivals and possibly find a distributor or a broadcast. We want to start that process now, but we don’t have a budget for that, so we would like to solicit funds from potential supporters who’d like to see the film play outside of Bermuda.”

Speaking on behalf of the committee, Ms Ming said: “The founders’ hopes and dreams have been realised in myriad ways.

“Through the years, the school became synonymous with the highest standards of education available in Bermuda.

It has produced many political, religious, educational and business leaders. In fact, Berkeleyites have become leaders and decision-makers in just about every facet of Bermuda life.

“The film, which will be shown publicly in the near future, is not just a story about the founding of a school in the 19th century. It is also a story about the development of education in Bermuda within an ever changing social, political and economic environment. The film has an overriding theme of cultural legacy.

“The Berkeley Class of ’63 was committed to ensuring that the film would be a comprehensive account of the courage and perseverance of the founders in establishing the school and the adaptability and creativity of successive principals and staffs in responding to changing times.

“It is expected to inspire not only current and future generations of Berkeleyites, but the entire Bermuda community also.”

Sisters Ms Powell and Ms Smith attended the Reykjavik International Film Festival in October.

Ms Powell said: “No one cares about the film you bring there, they all want to know about what you’re working on next.

“Everyone wanted to know about the Berkeley project.

“The real story is about how Berkeley ushered in the desegregation of education in Bermuda and three separate people asked us, ‘What’s desegregation?’

“They had absolutely no concept of what racial segregation was like.

“Obviously, Iceland is a very white and isolated country and when we explained it to them they were so intrigued.

“They said, this sounds like an amazing story. They couldn’t even imagine it.”

“I think it’s a story that really needs to be told and I think a global audience would really be able to appreciate it,” she said.