Yorktown Native To Screen Documentary At Burns

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Sean Gallagher will be at the Jacob Burns Tuesday to screen a documentary he directed.
Sean Gallagher will be at the Jacob Burns Tuesday to screen a documentary he directed. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Sean Gallagher

PLEASANTVILLE, N.Y. -- The Jacob Burns Film Center in Pleasantville will be screening a documentary about an incident that shook the town of Oneonta and still resonates today.

The Burns will be showing "Brothers of the Black List" on Tuesday at 7 p.m., directed by Yorktown native Sean Gallagher and presented by Oscar-winning filmmaker Jonathan Demme. Gallagher and Demme will be on hand for a Q-n-A.

In September 1992, an elderly woman reported an attempted rape by a young black man who cut his hand during the altercation. During their investigation, police contacted officials at SUNY Oneonta and administrators gave them the names and residents of 125 black male students.

For the next several days, the students were tracked down and interrogated by various police departments under a presumption of guilty until proven innocent, leading to the longest civil rights lawsuit of all time, Gallagher said.

Gallagher, who attended SUNY Oneonta, first heard about the case when he was a student taking a documentary film class. After interviewing a guidance counselor, he knew he had to tell the whole story.

"It's really a case study of poor police work," Gallagher said. "There was an insensitivity on the part of the administration."

Gallagher said neither the police nor school officials cooperated with the film.

"Their silence says just as much," Gallagher said.

Putting together a 74-minute documentary was a daunting task, but Gallagher had the help of Demme in editing the film.

"It's really an awesome thing to have an Academy Award filmmaker give you advice on your movie," Gallagher said. "He told me what he liked about it and what needed to be stronger."

Gallagher, who edited his film at the Burns, said it was an environment that helped with editing his film. 

"It's friends helping each other out," Gallagher said. "They give me brutally honest feedback. They really helped shape the film."

The film has received a positive reception at screenings and has helped started a dialogue.

"A lot of young people don't find what the police did to be that shocking," Gallagher said. "To them it's stop and frisk." 

The perpetrator was never caught.

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