Graduate uses poetry and film to report news

By Beth Ann Conahan
February 1, 2001

Joe Holden

Beth Conahan
A&E editor

There is an alternative journalism out there, one that seeks the truth and puts itself in dangerous situations to find it. Mary Jane Sullivan, a Cabrini alumna, has followed a path and made a journey that led her to this search.

On Thursday, January 25, Sullivan came to Cabrini to speak with English/communications majors about what it is to be an alternative journalist.

Sullivan takes a strong interest in politics, oppression and war and notices a void left by traditional journalists. “There’s always a reporter telling the story and not the people,” said Sullivan of traditional journalism.

Sullivan has dedicated herself to telling their stories.

Through poetry and documentaries, she shows the side of the news not seen on traditional news programs. She takes you to the guerilla camp in El Salvador led by a woman in her documentary called “Maria’s Story,” she sneaks across the border into Sarajevo and goes to Northern Ireland with a handheld camera when no cameras were allowed on the streets.

In every one of these instances, Sullivan is aware of the danger she was in but that was where her path had taken her.

A pilgrimage with Buddhist monks led her to Bosnia, though their pilgrimage never passed that point. Starting at Alshwich and planning to end at Hiroshima, Sullivan joined a walking tour of everything in between.

On the pilgrimage, she came across a group headed to Bosnia. “It was the craziest thing I’ve ever done,” said Sullivan of her time in Sarajevo.

There, she came close to death. The group arrived just after midnight and Sullivan was left behind and fell in a deep trench.

She describes shells flying overhead while she lay, injured in the trench. In the morning a couple of soldiers out for a walk found her and picked her up. She made it back with her companions that next day.

She was arrested in Northern Ireland. In the early 80s, no one was permitted to shoot cameras on the streets.

Sullivan kept a handheld camera in her pocket and made the documentary “What’s the Difference Between a Country and a House?”

It’s not easy to find the funds for these kinds of projects. Sullivan takes jobs at night until she has enough money to do one of her projects. Then she leaves for several months to work on it, and when she returns she sometimes has a job waiting.

Her documentaries and poetry are important to her, with deep roots in political issues she feels strongly about. She has a “passionate devotion to peace,” said Dr. Jerome Zurek, of Sullivan.

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Beth Ann Conahan

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