We live in a world of millions of cell phones snapping infinite numbers of pictures and videotaping trillions of images. Each day more cameras capture events from the mundane to the extraordinary, from Facebook to BBC World News, from microbes to distant galaxies. We accept that we have the right to film our lives and public events without permission. Only in totalitarian societies do governments get away with denying freedom of speech, verbal and visual.
I received my Masters of Visual Science from MIT in Cambridge, a city known for its unique counter culture mentality. I taught experimental film classes that were a precursor to my “AIDS Attacks.” Under the famous documentary filmmaker Richard Leacock, I specialized in taking teams of camera people to attack a public event from many different perspectives.
Never did we self-censor our work. Perhaps we were inspired by “60 Minutes” investigative reporting except we were young and loved art and music performances. Later I moved to more serious subjects and saw that film could be a perfect tool to educate and inspire youth. I worked at Raytheon doing cutting edge videodisc technology for defense projects needing innovative visual education. Then my attention was captured by Harvard professors involved with “Sesame Street” so I entered the doctoral program (before my shift to AIDS education). Capturing the world to educate youth has been ingrained in me.
So you can imagine my surprise when Virginia’s largest city told me on May 31 that we had no constitutional right to videotape the testing of consenting older teens on public property. We were ordered to put our small digital camera and cell phones away — and request a city permit that might or might not be permitted; that might or might not cost money.
Yet on April 7, we had been allowed to film HIV tests in Virginia Beach’s main park with thousands of passersby filming their kids at play, taking prom pictures, birthday parties, kite flying — and our public testing.
No signs are posted anywhere that says it is illegal to use a camera. And you can imagine the ruckus it would cause if a municipality banned you or your friends from taking pictures in public.
WVEC TV rushed to film the live test but for some inexplicable reason did not broadcast the free speech act of civil disobedience. Less than forty feet away, skateboarders were videotaping their friends of all ages for posting on YouTube without permits, fees or restrictions.
Don’t cities have better things to do than police the non-commercial filming of consenting older teens for educational purposes? The world is changing with cell phones in every hand and old laws will go the way of the dinosaurs. We film our tests to show youth that they have nothing to fear from taking the HIV tests — and everything to gain if it encourages youth to take precautions and avoid high risk behaviors.
Take out your hand held devices and film everything!