Recently completed projects at BlueSpark:

Slavery in effect: What is the lifetime of mass incarceration?

bluespark-collaborative-slavery-in-effectPeople often talk about mass incarceration as if it’s just a continuation of American slavery. Historians know that’s not exactly right. Slavery was a legal system that allowed people and their descendants to be owned as chattel property forever.

That all ended with the Civil War and the 13th Amendment. But if that’s not obvious to everyone, what are they seeing that historians don’t see? What insights do we gain by viewing mass incarceration as the afterlife of slavery?

This 8 minute film was completed for Harvard University History Design Studio




American Denial

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At a time when police shootings, mass incarceration and the Black Lives Matter movement have rekindled a national dialogue on race-prejudice American Denial explores how unconscious biases shapes our understanding of race and class. Using Gunnar Myrdal’s 1944 investigation of Jim Crow racism as a springboard, the film examines how unrecognized, unconscious attitudes continue to dominate racial dynamics and shape American institutions and culture in powerful ways. The film was directed by Llewellyn Smith and produced by Vital Pictures, Boston.  

American Denial PBS




 An Unexpected History - The Story of Hennessy and African Americans 




BlueSpark created a documentary about the Moet Hennessy company and the history of their connection with the African American community going back 100 years, as part of the celebration of the brand's 250th anniversary in 2015.

The film centers on the lives of several remarkable individuals whose efforts have both inspired and reflected the company's striving for excellence. Executives at Hennessy supported W.E.B. DuBois to found the NAACP, worked to defend the Scotsboro Boys, and were among the first national advertisers to purchase ad copy in Jet and Ebony magazines. Interviews, archival footage, period dramatizations and an original jazz score by Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah ( bring these stories to life. 

Password: cognac


 Wounded Places: Confronting Childhood PTSD in America's Shell-Shocked Cities

bluespark-collaborative-Wounded-PlacesOur film looks at the experiences of families and young people of color who live in conditions of trauma and toxic stress in Philadelphia and Oakland, two of the nation's most violent cities.

We look both at how social and economic forces produce, isolate and exclude some families and communities, and how a trauma-informed approach to public health and safety represents a profound shift in paradigm that seeks to heal injury rather than blame or punish, asking "what happened to you?" instead of "what did you do?"  This project was commissioned by California Newsreel as a part of a major initiative that includes a PBS broadcast, 

The Raising of America—Early Childhood and the Future of Our Nation.


What they are saying about Wounded Places:

Thank you, Wounded Places, for uncovering the back story of the violence and trauma in our cities and the cumulative impact it has on our youth, their families, and communities. Now that we’ve seen it, we must mobilize and engage policymakers, community members, funders, and others to take immediate action. Our children deserve nothing less from us!Angela Glover Blackwell, Founder & CEO, PolicyLink
Wounded Places is a wake-up call. We talk a great deal about the violence in our cities, but not about the aftermath. Wounded Places does. Powerfully and thoughtfully. The film poses the question we must all ask: What happens to a generation of children who come to view the world as hostile and threatening?Alex Kotlowitz, author, “There Are No Children Here”
Will we let Wounded Places start the conversations we so desperately need? All children react to the world through their experiences. They have the capacities for trust, friendship, learning and love. Or they can become suspicious, fearful and overly aggressive. Wounded Places shows us that children can flourish and our nation becomes healthier, safer and better educated when we care for and invest in impoverished communities rather than neglect them.Benjamin Jealous, Partner, Kapor Capital & former president, NAACP
No one who sees Wounded Places will remain unmoved by the plight of children growing up in our nation’s high-poverty communities. These kids face - as one of the many experts interviewed in the film states - an "unrelenting adversity" that no child should have to face. With this film, California Newsreel again challenges us - when will we live up to our nation’s creed that all children should have an equal opportunity to thrive?Brian Smedley, Director, National Collaborative for Health Equity
Wounded Places is a riveting documentary on the severe psychological trauma children suffer living in violent communities. It’s an urgent plea to protect our children and help them heal from endemic victimization.Alvin F. Poussaint, MD, Professor of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School 


In development:


The Talk



Llew is one of four producers working on The Talk,  a 2-hour PBS special from WNET/Thirteen in New York scheduled for national broadcast in Jan 2017.  

The documentary project was inspired by stories of instruction that many African American families give their children on what to do when stopped by police,  and by videos of police shootings that have sparked an intense national dialogue on racial discrimination in law enforcement and police use of deadly force.

Llew’s segment examines what policing looks like from the point of view of instructors and and recruits at South Carolina Criminal Justice Academy (SCCJA).


Bound by Blood (w.t.)

Franzi-cam-DSC04086Bound By Blood looks at a massacre of African American sharecroppers in Elaine, Arkansas who were secretly trying to create a farmers’ union in 1919. Over a matter of days local white posses joined with the U.S. Army to murder as many as two hundred black man and women. Surviving families were run out of town.

Our story examines the contemporary social, economic, and psychological consequences of these events for white and black families whose ancestors were connected to the 1919 massacre through history to the present time— and how this history continues to reverberate in unexpected ways throughout the lives families generations later.

The narrative explores how trauma of the past may be shaping the present, taking hold of choices, behavior, identity and meaning. History becomes not simply a recollected legacy but a living intergenerational force. We received an initial leadership grant from the LEF foundation to begin filming and development funding from ITVS diversity fund. And in May 2016 we received an additional grant from LEF to continue production in the fall. 


 Searching for Justice in New Orleans (w.t.)

bluespark-collaborative-searching-for-social-justice-new-orleans'The most incarcerated city in the most incarcerated state in the most incarcerated country in the world.’ 

That's how New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu described New Orleans recently. This city so universally loved and celebrated for its extraordinary history and culture is also infamous for high incarceration of black men; poor policing, draconian sentencing; inhumane jails, a seriously underfunded public defenders office and a sometimes unholy alliance of bail bondsmen, sheriffs and judges. Important work is happening to transform the system. Leading the effort are lawyers, activists, formerly incarcerated men and women, artists and many others.  

Searching for Justice In New Orleans follows the stories of men and women as they commit their lives to making The Crescent City more just for its most disadvantaged and vulnerable citizens. As characters share their stories with us, their lives become a window into how social injustice and criminal injustice policies fuel each other and create a ‘war on the poor.' And we’ll see what can happen when dedicated people work together for reform and transformation. Our film will reference stories and events in other jurisdictions, to remind viewers that the failure of justice for ordinary citizens is an American problem, not just a New Orleans problem. 


 Javier's story (w.t.)

bluespark-collaborative-Javiers-StoryBlueSpark is developing a story about Javier Arango, a young man of Colombian descent who we got to know while filming Wounded Places. Javier was paralyzed when the car he was sitting in with friends was sprayed by gunfire. His friends were members of a gang known as Border Brothers. As they were the only ones who took care of Javier after he was shot, they became his family and eventually Javier became the gang leader, running their activities from his wheelchair.

Our film will tell the story of how Javier made his way out of gang life with the help of Catholic Charities of the East Bay and into his life now as a much loved counselor and support person for other young people paralyzed by gun violence in Oakland. The story is also about a special relationship between Javier and his friend Johnny Lopez who is reviving turf dance in Oakland, and Cindy, a family therapist who has forged a deep bond with Javier in their work with other young people in Oakland struggling with trauma, violence and injury. Their stories will be located in the socio-economic context of disenfranchisement and violence in East and West Oakland, with analysis and exploration of the political and social conditions that create dramatically contrasting neighborhoods in that city.



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