Film & Discussion - Brick By Brick: A Civil Rights Story w/ Director Bill Kavanagh

Sunday, January 21, 2018 - 1:30pm
Ceremonial Hall (4th Floor)

Presented by the film's director, Bill Kavanagh!

Brick by Brick: A Civil Rights Story is a one-hour television documentary about a contemporary American battle for civil rights.  It follows three families in Yonkers, New York, in the middle of a confrontation about the politics and law of racial discrimination in housing and schools that challenges and changes their hometown.

Brick by Brick describes how a ghetto was created through public policies.  The film initially paints a picture of isolation for many people of color in the city, most of whom are living in segregated neighborhoods served by failing schools.  The primary storytellers are local people from different backgrounds, who relate their personal encounters with housing and educational discrimination, as well as others who experience very different opportunities across town.

In education, the film details how local public school divisions grew up around a neighborhood overwhelmed with 7,000 units of public housing, further entrenching the city's color line.  Along with the harsh reality of this situation, viewers see the community react to the conditions in their children’s schools, fighting back to force Yonkers to change its ways.

Brick by Brick tracks the resulting federal US v Yonkers litigation, which challenged neighborhood and educational discrimination. Coming back out of the courtroom into the community, the story describes the bitter local confrontation about race and the very concept of community that follows.  From a first person perspective, characters weave a tale of years of work attempting to achieve justice, with a labyrinth of successes and setbacks that the struggle entails. 

At its close, Brick by Brick shows what has happened both to a community and to individual citizens, committed to their city.  It also illustrates the difference housing opportunity can make in a single family’s life. The story brings the fiery legal and political crucible of a contemporary city and its larger implications for our nation today onto the screen.

As a documentary maker, Bill Kavanagh has followed long-term projects that unearth social and political change in a historical perspective.  Currently, he is producing a work-in-progress that traces blue collar workers’ lives and employment over several decades in a former steel-town in Pennsylvania; the film sets their stories in a context of political and economic change in American history since the early 1970s.

He is also advising a team now producing a film on the David Dinkins Administration and the period in New York City when he became Mayor. 

Bill most recently produced/directed a documentary short, A Matter of Place, on housing discrimination and those who fight it. It still screens around the US, winning documentary and education honors, including 2 Telly Awards for educational and documentary films.  This film was produced in partnership with the Fair Housing Justice Center and has been distributed to fair housing organizations throughout the country for their organizing efforts as well.

Bill produced and directed the award-winning feature documentary, Brick by Brick: A Civil Rights Story, about housing segregation in post civil rights-era America. The film focuses on Yonkers, New York and a landmark federal anti-discrimination lawsuit, US v. Yonkers. The film depicts three families who broke barriers in their hometown. Brick by Brick first aired in 2007 on WNET, New York City's PBS station. It continues to be shown in universities, law schools, and by activists in civil rights work.

Bill Kavanagh was also Field Producer of Enemies of War, a feature documentary about human rights, war, peace, and murder in Central America that premiered on PBS's Independent Lens series in 2001.  He interviewed Salvadoran campesinos, rebel leaders, Salvadoran and US officials and many of the human rights activists who ended impunity in El Salvador after the war.

In corporate media, marketing, fashion, and communications, Bill’s production company, Kavanagh Productions Inc, also produces video and media in various genres internationally. Kavanagh Productions has been serving corporate and non-profit organizations for decades.