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Review: A wider audience will have a hard time caring about ‘The Unmaking of a College’

A woman stands with her hands in her front pockets with young men and women standing behind her.
Hampshire College President Miriam “Mim” Nelson in the 2022 documentary “The Unmaking of a College.”
(Span Productions)
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The students of Hampshire College took direct action in 2019 when newly appointed President Miriam “Mim” Nelson threatened the long-standing independence of the small liberal arts college. They staged the nation’s longest student sit-in, a 75-day-long affair. In “The Unmaking of a College,” director and former Hampshire student Amy Goldstein uses interview footage alongside in situ documentation provided by students who took part in the protest.

Nelson emerges as the clear villain in this narrative of Hampshire, a college known for its experimental curriculum and history of student activism. But what is perhaps more notable is the collectivity of the Hampshire community members as they organize to thwart Nelson’s nescient attempts to subsume Hampshire’s identity to that of a potential massive public college partner.

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Students, faculty and alumni are shown standing strong in their outrage at Nelson’s attempts to sell out not only Hampshire College’s community but its notable educational philosophy. Where “The Unmaking of a College” succeeds is in its direct approach to documenting the people — it is their passion and on-the-ground urgency that propels the film forward.

Unfortunately, a heavy-handed approach to editing marks Goldstein’s straightforward style of documentary filmmaking. There are more than a few moments when the rolling narrative of the protest is punctured by scenes of students waxing poetic about their experiences at Hampshire. In these moments, it feels more akin to watching a recruitment video for the college, rather than an urgent and prescient call to arms.

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While “The Unmaking of a College” stands as an important document of Hampshire history, it lacks the practical skills and vision needed to allure outside audiences.

'The Unmaking of a College'

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 24 minutes

Playing: Starts Feb. 18, Laemmle Monica and Playhouse 7.

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