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Award-winning filmmaker invites UC law student to work on civil rights film project

When University of Cincinnati College of Law alumnae Katie Gaines (`18) began law school, she had no idea she would end up working in California for the Sundance-winning, Emmy-nominated, documentary filmmaker Dawn Porter.

Porter is best known for films primarily centered on civil rights. Her most notable work includes:

  • Trapped, a documentary about the current laws restricting women’s reproductive health rights.

  • Gideon’s Army, a documentary which tells the story of the historic Supreme Court case, Gideon vs. Wainwright. The case ruled that states must provide legal counsel if the defendant cannot afford one.

  • Bobby Kennedy for President, a Netflix series which explores the personal and public life of the late politician. 

Gaines worked on the U.S. Senator Robert Kennedy series during the summer of 2017, as well as a few other projects that haven’t been released yet.

How did she happen upon this unique experience? Gaines recalls that she was personally invited by Porter for a summer internship. Cincinnati Law’s Center for Race, Gender, and Social Justice invited Porter to screen her film Trapped for the legal community, and Gaines was Porter’s host for the day. The two started discussing summer plans, and just like that, Porter invited Gaines to join her for the summer in San Francisco.

It was an “awesome experience,” she says. She stayed in a hostel and worked at the corner of Chinatown and Little Italy. San Francisco was an exciting place to live, and perfect for filmmakers looking for inspiration.

In only four weeks, Gaines was exposed to almost every element of the filmmaking process. Her tasks included researching, cataloging, and working with different types of film. For the Senator Kennedy series, Gaines was responsible for transcribing the videos. She explains that the experience “strengthened my ability to really listen to what people are saying.”

The most exciting experience, however, happened during her final week in California. Gaines was given the opportunity to join Porter in Los Angeles to do some filming. They interviewed Paul Schrade, one of Kennedy’s aides and close friend. Schrade was shot in the head by one of the bullets in the assassination of Senator Kennedy. He survived.

Schrade is also known for his activism for the man convicted of Senator Kennedy’s murder, Sirhan Sirhan. He argues that Sirhan was not given a fair trial and that there was more than one shooter.

The team also interviewed Dolores Huerta, one of the leaders of the United Farm Worker’s union. Huerta was with Senator Kennedy on the speaker’s platform as he delivered a victory speech at the Ambassador Hotel for winning the California Democratic nomination. Moments later, Senator Kennedy was assassinated. Gaines notes that it was amazing to meet the “people who planted seeds” in such an important social movement.

“Getting to meet Paul and Dolores,” she explains, “was the most pivotal, eye-opening moment of my life at that point. They’ve been in the fight for so long.”

Gaines still dabbles in filmmaking and has been working on a project of her own for the organization Safe and Supported, which is a branch of Lighthouse Youth and Family Services. She’s producing a marketing piece for the organization and plans to donate her work to the organization.

Now graduated and working for a law firm in Cincinnati, Gaines reflects on her two years of experience with the Center for Race, Gender, and Social Justice. Her time with the center helped shape her law school experience and says she is grateful for her growth.