John Forrester spent the past five months filming and editing two terabytes of raw digital Occupy Boston footage, captured between late September and December 2011. The result is The Occupiers — a feature-length documentary of the rise and fall of Camp Dewey.
"It's sort of a love story, in that it shows people came together because they had these shared beliefs, and then the realities of that coming-together sort of hit them," says Forrester. "Ultimately, the relationship broke up when the camp died."
The film's trajectory traces the life cycle of an Occupy camp, from construction to eviction. Our protagonist is David Lehnert, an optimistic 18-year-old Occupier who spent days working as an intern on Beacon Hill and nights sleeping in a tent on Dewey Square.
Watching the Occupiers cope with police raids and shiesty resident junkies, we see the values of a global movement splinter into isolated community concerns. Protesters become consumed with maintaining Camp Dewey, redirecting their focus from society at large to the camp itself.
"Their primary concern shifted from what their political goals were, to just being able to make [Dewey] a somewhat halfass-decent place to live," says Forrester.
Scenes of Lehnert searching tents for needles are gut-wrenching. But moments of hope punctuate the film's emotional narrative — like clips of City Councilor Tito Jackson marching and chanting alongside protesters.
Forrester, 27, spent four years working for the Boston Globe and recently received a master's degree in print and multimedia journalism from Emerson College.
"My very last class of grad school was this documentary course," says Forrester. "I'd never done any kind of film work in the past."
After his co-director and friend, Joseph Leahy, was hired by an NPR station in St. Louis, Forrester was forced to learn filming and editing simultaneously. Throughout the process, he worked closely with Emerson documentary film professor Mimi Edmunds, a former producer for 60 Minutes and CBS News.
Forrester says he enjoyed the process of making the film, even if he wasn't always welcomed by his subjects.
"I was physically pushed by protester and police alike. . . . No one liked me. And [as a journalist] that's the best position I could have been in," he says. "Honestly, it was the first time that I felt engaged in journalistic work in years. Maybe the most ever."
The Occupiers debuts at a public screening at Emerson College on Thursday, March 1, at 10 am in the Bill Bordy Theatre, 261 Tremont Street.