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Alums chronicle Tuskegee Airmen as part of documentary

DU alumni Shane Carrick and Bobby Deline produced an award-winning documentary about James Harvey III, a member of the Tuskegee Airmen from Denver.

Shane Carrick and Bobby Deline became fast friends when they earned their bachelor’s degrees in communications from DU a couple years ago.

But after graduation they went their separate ways: Deline started a local production company and Carrick worked in television production before deciding to teach English to fifth-graders in Martinique.

“Although the beaches are great,” Carrick says. “It’s also amazing to be able to have a positive impact on the lives of kids in such an impoverished area.”

Despite the distance between them, Carrick (BA communication ’08) and Deline  (BA communication ’07) are back in contact through the unlikeliest of circumstances: their senior project has transcended the halls of DU and gotten international attention, even winning the best-historical-short award at the International Black Film Festival in Nashville, Tenn., in October and was an official selection at the San Diego Black Film Festival in January.

In 2007, Carrick and Deline were tasked with producing a documentary short for their film and video production class. A particularly challenging component to the assignment was that students had to pick their own topic and come up with the interview subjects.

Carrick and Deline’s first two ideas fell through, which left them scrambling.

“We heard that some old veterans would get together, just east of [Denver International Airport], and tell stories,” Carrick says. “We went there and filmed some of their stories. Then we met James Harvey, and his story was by far the strongest.”

Harvey was a member of the storied Tuskegee Airmen, a group of African-American fighter pilots during World War II. The Airmen are considered a milestone in African-American history, as up until that time no black man had served as a military aviator.

No account of the Tuskegee Airmen is complete without addressing the rampant racism the men encountered within and outside the Army, and in the documentary Carrick and Deline assembled — The Black Birdman — Harvey doesn’t mince words.

“They classified us in the category of the ape and baboon. We were nothing, we were nothing,” Harvey recalls against a backdrop of stock military footage from the era. “It was sport to go out on a weekend, pick up a black male — beat him, castrate him, hang him.”

Carrick and Deline say that although it wasn’t their original intention to focus on the backlash against the airmen in a segregated military, Harvey’s accounts were simply too compelling not to steer the narrative.

“It’s not like we went into this thinking we would make this huge statement about racism,” Deline says. “But it was hard to get away from that. You listen to James’ words, and that’s his story.”

Despite the harshness of Harvey’s words, Carrick and Deline engineered the documentary to focus on Harvey’s story, which is not simply about racism but about overcoming such circumstances.

“I’m showing you I can do anything you can do, or I should say, we, as a race of people, can do anything you can do, if not better,” Harvey says, addressing his past tormentors.

Carrick and Deline say they wanted the arc of The Black Birdman to show how transcending seemingly insurmountable circumstances can lead to impressive accomplishments.

“We were so drawn to his story because James Harvey was such a determined man; an inspirational man,” Deline says. “I think this is most about overcoming adversity and the will to succeed.”

The Black Birdman sat dormant for almost two years while, as Deline puts it, “life got in the way.”

However, he was prompted to complete the film when he found some new footage to help flesh it out. He added the new footage, cut the length and submitted it to the International Black Film Festival.

DU Professor Sheila Schroeder, co-teacher of the class in which The Black Birdman was born, says the documentary is not only conceptually interesting but also technically accomplished.

“They used black and white to create nostalgia, and they incorporated a great deal of found footage in the public domain to establish setting,” she says. “We’re storytellers who use technology to tell the story, and that’s something Shane and Bobby really understood.”

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