Women Who Tell Our Stories: Christiana Botic and Lauren Santucci
As students pursuing their master’s degrees from the School of Visual Communication (VisCom) in 2021, Christiana Botic and Lauren Santucci had an assignment to create a short documentary film. Little did they know that the emotion and power of their final product would lead to it being published on Al Jazeera.
The film’s subject is Tracy Tate, a mother in Columbus, Ohio, who lost her son to gun violence. In the film, Botic and Santucci follow Tate as she mourns her loss and connects to a group of mothers with similar experiences who have formed an anti-violence advocacy group.
Botic, MA ’21, and Santucci, MA ’21, went into the project wanting to showcase how violence impacts families and communities over time.
“We wanted to look at it with a lot more nuance and depth and spending time, like what happens after a moment of violence that’s reported on – who is left to grieve, who is left to pick up the pieces?” Botic said.
The two connected with Tate through the group Mothers of Murdered Columbus Children, which was founded by Malissa Thomas-St. Clair.
Due to the pandemic, Botic and Santucci knew they would have to approach the project differently to ensure everyone’s safety, so they held several Zoom meetings with mothers in the group before connecting with Tate.
The two set out to document Tate’s life for a year, covering her holding memorials for her son, Jaleel, who was 25 when he died. During filming, Botic and Santucci also learned that he had a girlfriend who was pregnant and due to give birth within the documentary’s time frame.
In April of 2021, the two submitted a six-minute story and graduated from OHIO. They stayed in touch with Tate, who experienced a second tragedy that summer, when her only other child was also killed.
“Lauren and I were both doing internships in different cities and we flew back to Columbus. We decided the story was not done yet. We had to continue working with her,” Botic recalled. “We knew that we had to continue on with the story as long as Tracy was willing to be open with us.”
The two documented Tate’s journey mourning her second son and growing more involved with the Mothers of Murdered Columbus Children group.
While the documentary started as a class project, the two producers knew what they had covered was something special that needed to be shared with a wider audience. Tate and Thomas-St. Clair were also supportive in wanting the documentary to be seen, which fueled Botic and Santucci to get it published.
“[This story] added a lot of nuance and depth to an issue that we hear a lot about in the news and in our daily lives sometimes, which is gun violence. The reality is, gun violence spiked a lot during the pandemic and in cities all across the country,” Santucci said. “Tracy’s story illuminates how one mother deals with that over the course of a year and the different challenges that she faces, but also the small strings of hope as well.”
The two, who both have backgrounds in photography, shifted to pitching the updated short 10-minute film to video-focused publications. They decided that Al Jazeera would be a good fit due to its focus on character-driven stories, and their pitch was quickly accepted by the media company.
“Our professors at OHIO were in touch with us after we graduated too, and we could ask them questions about publication and pitching,” Botic said. “We got to update them with the news of publication and they were all really excited for us.”
The story, while important, was emotional and hard to cover at times. But the two recent graduates led with empathy first and worked with Tate throughout the process.
“My approach is always just to lead with empathy and understanding,” Santucci said. “We were always in conversation with [Tracy] about what she felt was possible and how involved she wanted us to be.”
The two producers also leaned on each other.
“We always say that we couldn’t have done this on our own,” Botic said. “In terms of the subject matter and the emotional and psychological impacts of it, it was essential that we were working as a team. I just don’t know if we could have done the project to the extent that we did if we weren’t working as a team.”
The OHIO community, from the faculty to fellow students, built a strong network for both Botic and Santucci to lean on, they noted, despite the fact that they completed their degrees during the pandemic.
“I didn’t get, you know, the normal experience, but OU completely changed my life really,” Santucci said. “It gave me a lot of the opportunities, the knowledge and the skills I have.”
“One of the things about OU that was great, and somehow preserved through the pandemic, was the collaborative element, especially for grad students in the VisCom program,” Botic added.
You can watch US Mothers Fighting Against Gun Violence online.
March is Women’s History Month. This year, the theme is “Celebrating Women Who Tell Our Stories.” Stay tuned to learn more about Scripps alumnae who have shaped their respective fields with communication this month by visiting www.ohio.edu/scripps-college/women-who-tell-our-stories.