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'Those People': Simply people

An audience of more than 500 people of diverse race, age and gender went to a premiere at the Garde Arts Center Thursday evening. Those people — many of them out at a post-pandemic public event for the first time — were present because on the big screen was "Those People": a documentary film about the origins and 10-year run of the New London Youth Talent Show.

Like all first-rate documentaries, "Those People" looks both back and forward, its storyline flowing from a point in time that paralyzed the city and dimmed the future for its young people. The Day Publishing Co. produced the film, which was directed by Peter Huoppi, the company's director of multimedia operations, and co-produced by Curtis Goodwin, a co-founder of the talent show and now a New London city councilor. Content included the work of other Day staff members, including reporting and photojournalism from the time of the tragic killing of Matthew Chew.

On Oct. 29, 2010, six teenagers and young men, each a person of color, accosted Matthew Chew as he left his shift at 2 Wives restaurant on Huntington Street. Chew, a 25-year-old white man, was stabbed repeatedly and left for a passerby to find. A chilling moment in the film plays audio from the stranger's 911 call. At the dispatcher's request for details, the mortally wounded young man can be heard saying that he was stabbed.

Shock gave way to anger, and some New Londoners began to refer to "those people," as if whole segments of the community stood on opposite sides of an uncrossable divide. In response, Goodwin and his collaborator, Frank Colmenares, determined to stage a talent show that would demonstrate how much more there was to the young people of New London than the term "those people" could encompass.

Both painfully and joyously honest, the documentary breaks the mold for journalism's traditional "objective" stance outside its subject matter. And yet it fits squarely within The Day's ownership model, which annually uses its profits to invest in projects that work for the wellbeing of the community.

The New London Youth Talent Show expanded in subsequent years to include performers from surrounding communities, in keeping with its commitment to change "those people" into simply people. Some performers say with brutal honesty that it saved their lives and their futures. The show continued every spring till 2020, when the pandemic shut it down. The founders hope to bring it back this fall. We hope they will. Proceeds from the premiere went to support of the show.

"Those People" was conceived for the big screen, and its story, though local, sends a message of warning about community divisions while it offers a way of reconciliation through art. That will resonate far beyond New London County.

The enthusiasm of those people at the premiere has spread, so the documentary team says it will pursue more opportunities for screening "Those People." On a community stage like the Garde's it can spark conversations that audiences in many places will want to have. 

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Erica Moser and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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