Film Shown to Highlight Struggles of Roma People


This flag is the flag of the Romani people.

Brad Britvich, Staff Writer

Carla Anderton, former California University of Pennsylvania student, organized a showing of a film called “Our School” that deals with the issues facing Romani people in their homeland and their struggle to get a quality education.

The California Town Hall was packed Thursday night with people coming to view the film and get a better understanding of the Roma people.

“Our School” is a documentary filmed in 2006 by filmmakers Mona Nicoara and Miruna Coca-Cozma that focused on a European Union initiative in the town of Targus Lapus, Romania. The European Union started a program that would see towns in Romania integrate their schools with Roma children. Traditionally these children had been segregated and kept in inferior schools.

The film follows three Roma children as they change schools and face uncaring or prejudiced teachers and Romanian children. They also struggle to get to a school that is almost three miles away without any provided transportation.

“When I came here from Memphis, Tennessee, to go to school I didn’t know anybody,” Anderton said before the film. “I was a stranger in, what was to me, a strange land. But as I met people in this town I began to feel at home. Now we have new neighbors and there are some concerns and after watching what was basically a campaign of misinformation I wanted to get to the bottom of things.”

In doing so, Anderton reached out to George Eli, a filmmaker, activist and founder of the Roma Media Initiative, an organization that aims to help raise awareness of problems facing Romani people by using entertainment and popular culture.

At the end of the film, the children are forced to go to a school for students with special disabilities despite their affection for the other Romanian kids in their previous school. This is a practice that is still used in parts of Europe to keep Roma children out of public schools, according to Eli.

“Government policy doesn’t change people’s minds but the power of entertainment media often does,” Eli said. “Film, media, art. These are the things that make differences. That’s why I thought it would be good to show this film here.”

After the film was shown, Eli moderated discussion with Christiana Grigore, a research scholar at Columbia University and Romani immigrant, and Jud Nirenberg, a consultant at the European Roma Rights Center, and those in attendance.

The conversation quickly turned to the Roma population that has recently relocated in California and Eli, Grigore and Nirenberg attempted to expel any fears and explain the reasons behind issues and rumors regarding the Romani people.

“I’m not here to make excuses for people not taking advantage of the opportunity they have been given, but they just moved to somewhere different and are probably scared,” Nirenberg said. “It takes a lot to do what they have done. That being said, the things you hear about, the trash in the yards and unpaid rent, these things are not part of Romani culture. None of the things they are doing are traditions.”

Those involved with showing the film hoped that by watching the struggles faced by the Roma people in their own countries, people would understand their desire to relocate, Grigore said.

She also offered advice on how to make the Roma people feel welcome in their new home.

“Help with the small things,” Grigore said. “Smile. Say hello. Try to offer understand because these things stay with you and make you comfortable and this will come to redefine how things are with these people.”