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A film, and a filmmaker, transformed in ‘A Reckoning in Boston’

A scene from "A Reckoning in Boston."Lost Nation Pictures

The Clemente Course in the Humanities gives low-income adults a chance to learn about literature, history, and philosophy for free. In 2014, filmmaker James Rutenbeck began filming a documentary about the Dorchester location of the national organization and the transformative power of the humanities. But in the process, as he began to focus his story on two students, he started to feel his distance from the subject of his own movie as a white man from a privileged background.

His project evolved. Those two students, Kafi Dixon and Carl Chandler, became producers of the resulting documentary, called “A Reckoning in Boston,” as well as co-narrators. On Monday at 10 p.m. on GBH 2, the film will have its PBS premiere as part of the “Independent Lens” series.


When it appeared in last year’s Independent Film Festival Boston, then Globe film critic Ty Burr called it “a superb examination of our city’s inbred racial inequities that tackles the subject on both the systemic/structural level and the deeply personal.”

Rutenbeck, in a release, explains what happened while he was making the film: “I realized ever-present structural racism was something I could no longer ignore, and with the help of my subjects, co-producers and friends Kafi and Carl, we transformed the film. Our collaboration led to an honest and raw exploration of economic and racial inequality, in a city with a glaringly wide racial wealth divide. I hadn’t really understood the lives of low-income people of color, and had failed to recognize my own complicity in the structures that were holding them back.”

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at matthew.gilbert@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.