Film explores class introducing UVA students, juvenile offenders

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) -- What do University of Virginia students and juvenile offenders in a correctional center have in common?

That's at the heart of local filmmaker Chris Farina's new documentary, "Seats at the Table," screening this weekend as part of the Virginia Film Festival.

The film explores UVA Professor Andrew Kaufman's Books Behind Bars course, a Russian literature course he has taught to classes of UVA students and juvenile offenders at a juvenile correctional center in Beaumont, Virginia.

"We use literature as an opportunity to talk about life issues that are relevant to all of us, that are universal," Kaufman said in the film's trailer.

Farina says when he learned about Kaufman's unique class, he was immediately intrigued.

"I met with him and observed the class for the first time, and was so moved by what I saw that I realized I need to make a film about this," he said.

Farina says while Russian literature might seem like an unexpected topic for such a class, the subject matter serves as a particularly powerful icebreaker.

"It has a real ability to get people to think about the bigger pictures of life," he said. "The purpose of life, what their hopes are. To really understand society around them."

In the film's trailer, students from both UVA and the correctional center share the power of the experience.

"When I walked into that building every Tuesday afternoon, it's like I wasn't locked up. It's like for the next three hours I can live. I can do me. I can be myself. I can open up," said the student, one of the juvenile offenders.

A UVA student also shares his feelings.

"It's not often that you spend 90 minutes talking about the things that your'e the most scared about, or the people that you love the most," he says. "Or, you know, like what you want to do with you life and what you've done wrong with your life."

Farina hopes the film will inspire other educators to launch similar programs.

"It's a transformative educational experience that Andrew Kaufman has created," he said. "And it's something that really inspires you with what education can produce in our youth."

"Seats at the Table" screens Sunday at Newcomb Hall theater at 2 p.m. A panel discussion featuring Farina, Kaufman and students from the class takes place after the film.

Another film by Farina, West Main Street, is also screening at the Virginia Film Festival. Filmed in the 1980s and '90s, it features residents of West Main Street during that time period.

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