At the end of October, the documentary Our Fires Still Burn by Audrey Geyer, MSW ’94, will be shown at the 2014 Council on Social Work Education Annual Program Meeting. Part of the CSWE Film Festival, Our Fires Still Burn explores the experiences of contemporary Native Americans through a compilation of frank, compelling first-person narratives.
Geyer’s passion for documenting the human condition has led to her dual roles as a social worker and filmmaker. She considered majoring in psychology as an undergraduate, but decided instead on documentary production because it allowed her to marry her psychosocial and filmmaking interests into cinematic vehicles for change. She received her BA in film and video studies from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor in 1988, and in 1992 started at the NYU Silver School of Social Work’s MSW program.
“I felt like social work was a really wonderful, diverse way to get a degree, so I decided to go that route instead of getting an MA in psychology,” she explained. “The field of social work allows people to be very diverse and creative in the settings in which they practice.”
After receiving her MSW, Geyer practiced clinically for 11 years—working in an outpatient mental health clinic in the Bronx, providing group facilitation for Gilda’s Club and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, and maintaining a private practice—all while making documentaries.
Geyer’s work as a social worker and documentarist mutualistically inform each other, resulting in fresh and eye-opening documentaries that highlight the stories and struggles of often-overlooked populations. Her social work training has proved to be an invaluable asset in filmmaking: “Learning to listen, be where the client is, and empathizing is very translatable to documentary work,” she explained. Her first documentary, Caring for the Caregivers, was inspired by her clinical work with Gilda’s Club, and focused on the biopsychosocial impacts of cancer on caregivers.
Geyer is also the founder and executive director of Visions, a Detroit-based non-profit video production company dedicated to championing the stories of communities who are underrepresented in the mainstream media. She relies on the experience she gained at NYU to guide her in her documentary work at Visions. She said, “Social work gives a great framework for how to think about, conceptualize, and analyze things.”
The stories shared in Our Fires Still Burn highlight the juxtaposition of a long history of suffering and trauma among Native Americans with an incredible resilience and a profound commitment to community, culture, and preservation of traditions. This resilience serves as a healing balm against centuries of systematic destruction of a people.
For this latest documentary, Geyer found inspiration through a formative high school course, The American Dream. The class focused on the mistreatment, trauma, and discrimination that Native Americans have faced. Geyer said, “In that class I realized how little I knew, and how my images had been so poorly formed, especially by the movies. It was one of those really significant classes in my life.”
She spent several years raising funds and reaching out to various tribes throughout Michigan and other Midwest states. Geyer relied heavily on the tactic of “meeting the clients where they are, and letting the subjects take the documentary in the direction it should go.” Her social work credentials helped grant her greater access into the often-private world of Native American reservations. By reaching out to social work colleagues who work with Native American populations, Geyer was able to connect with tribal members who were willing to share their stories with her because her identity as a social worker inspired trust.
Our Fires Still Burn will be shown at the 2014 Council of Social Work Education Film Festival, being held in Tampa on October 24-26. Learn more about the documentary, view a national list of screening dates, and purchase a copy on DVD.
By Penelope Yates, MSW ’15