Webster University Alumnus Gets Larger Audience for Documentary

Movie focused on white flight in Spanish Lake is now online after being removed from St. Louis theaters

ST. LOUIS, October 22, 2014 – Ferguson, Mo. has captured news headlines across the nation as protestors have gathered to speak out against the shooting of an African American teenager by a St. Louis County police officer. 
Photo courtesy of Daniel BleckleyThis isn’t the first look at the racial unrest in the area.  The documentary “Spanish Lake” was released earlier this year and follows the racism and housing issues of Spanish Lake, Mo., less than 10 miles away from Ferguson.

Phillip Andrew Morton graduated from Webster University in 2002 and said his own personal connection to the area inspired the film.

“In 2007 I visited my childhood home in Spanish Lake and found it abandoned,” said Morton. “The experience was heartbreaking.  The whole area had experienced significant economic decline as a result of ‘white flight.’ I passionately began researching the root causes of this phenomenon in St. Louis and it became the film.”

“Spanish Lake” looks at the mass exodus of the white population from the North St. Louis County area in 1990s and studies the attitudes and politics that led to the population changes in the area.

The film was on the schedule to begin showings in September at a local Wehrenberg theater in St. Charles. However, the situation in Ferguson caused the theater chain’s head film buyer to cancel the showings.  One local news outlet referred to this move as “The Ferguson Effect.”

“I have mixed emotions on Wehrenberg’s decision to ban ‘Spanish Lake,’” said Morton. “It’s validating to know that the company felt the film was powerful enough to cause social revolt, but to have a film censored in 2014 is bewildering.”

Beginning on October 21, Morton’s film is available to a much larger audience.  The documentary is now available on iTunes, OnDemand and GooglePlay. Morton acknowledges that this can be hard for some to watch, but thinks it’s important for people to look at the history of the issues and be aware of what led up to the current situation.

“’Spanish Lake’ is a serious documentary and sometimes uncomfortable to sit through,” he said.  “However, there is also a lot of humor that offsets the intensity.  It's also a very poignant experience – the film makes most people cry at some point. Not many movies can promise you that.”

Morton said that despite the difficulty that people locally might have had in seeing the film, the response has been positive.

“The outpouring of emails from former residents of the area that I received after our first trailer hit YouTube was very special for me,” he said. “So many people were compelled to share their feelings and experiences as they felt they had an outlet that would accept them.”

Morton said that he would tell students to have a personal connection to their work.

“My best advice to students making films is to share your personal experiences in your work,” he said. “It’s a vulnerable risk to take, but audiences recognize authenticity when they see it.”

For more information on “Spanish Lake,” visit the film’s Facebook page

Photo courtesy of Daniel Bleckley

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