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Friday Forum: I Pay for Your Story

  • Fenimore Art Museum 5798 State Highway 80 Cooperstown, NY, 13326 United States (map)
I pay for Your Story 2.jpg

Post-screening discussion

with producer Odile Allard

From a modest veranda, a neon sign blinks “I Pay for Your Story.” In Utica, where for some the American dream evaporated long ago, Lech Kowalski is paying local people twice the minimum wage just to record their stories on camera. Mostly African Americans, these volunteers are recounting their lives, seemingly showing two common denominators: a tenacious cycle of poverty-drugs-prison and a strong survival instinct with a fragile hope for a better future. Within their condensed narratives, they are also reaffirming their identity, dignity, and refusal to be stigmatized—very far from the cold and impersonal statistics normally tossed around. Avoiding excessive empathy or curiosity and utilizing a simple storytelling technique, the director powerfully restores the voices of these “voiceless” individuals. For Kowalski, who grew up in Utica decades ago, it’s also a portrait of a place and an era that he doesn’t recognize—and he slips in a tribute to his mother like a flickering ray of hope. (Lech Kowalski, 2017, 86 minutes)