Disturbing School

: Documentary Feature
GENRE: Documentary
STATUS: Production


After two South Carolina teenage girls are arrested by a popular police officer in their high school classroom, controversial cell-phone videos of the incident go viral. Pandora's box bursts open as debates swirl around race, gender, and a mysterious law called “Disturbing Schools” which impacts thousands of kids every year. A life-changing ripple effect emerges from a single explosive day.


It was a Monday morning in Columbia, South Carolina, and a scene was about to unfold at Spring Valley High School which would shock the nation.

In the middle of math class, Deputy Ben Fields is called to remove 16-year-old Shakara Murphy from her desk. As the police officer walked in the door, 18-year-old Niya Kenny urged her classmates to take out their phones. The resulting videos, which quickly went viral, show the officer pulling the student from her seat and throwing her to the ground. While the rest of the class watched in stunned silence, Niya jumped out of her seat, yelling at the officer.

Both girls are handcuffed, arrested and charged with the crime of “Disturbing Schools,” a misdemeanor in South Carolina which outlaws acting in “an obnoxious manner” at school or disturbing students or teachers in any way. This brief incident was seen by millions on social media, dissected on CNN and The View, tweeted about by Hillary Clinton and others. Our story starts with that explosive classroom altercation, then dives much deeper into what happened before and after “the incident at Spring Valley.”

Niya Kenny becomes the lead plaintiff in an ACLU case (Kenny v. Wilson) to declare “Disturbing Schools” unconstitutional, and leaves her family and her hometown for an internship in New York City. Shakara withdraws from high school and struggles with ongoing legal and family issues back in South Carolina. Ben Fields is promptly fired from his position as a school resource officer, though his conduct is cleared by an extensive FBI investigation. 

Meanwhile, a determined activist named Vivian Anderson turns her life upside down and moves from New York to South Carolina a week after the incident to find the girls who were arrested. Out of an instinct to turn trauma into change, she works to protect every vulnerable child, tear down the "Disturbing Schools" law, and build something new and beautiful for the girls and maybe even herself. 

Through these personal journeys, we explore law enforcement in schools, the complex racial history of a southern city and the deep ripple effect of a searing national event.


The film uses a shocking viral video as a starting point to go deep into the larger cultural issues at hand, through the intimate and personal stories of those impacted. We travel forward and backward from this inciting experience to understand the factors behind the incident, interviewing all of the key participants connected to the story. 

Spring Valley revealed deep stress fractures in a system presumably established to protect children. At a time when legislators everywhere are proposing more police officers in schools, our film drills deeper to do what that short 45 second video could not - what no viral video can do – humanize and provide context. As our country becomes increasingly polarized, stoked by social media, this film investigates the roots of conflict between black students and law enforcement. And through complex human stories and context, a question emerges: how do people find healing and justice after laying bare the deepest fault lines of race, gender, class, and empathy?


Garrett Zevgetis - Director
Garrett Zevgetis is a Boston-based documentary filmmaker focusing on fascinating people and social change. His feature documentary BEST AND MOST BEAUTIFUL THINGS had its World Premiere at SXSW in 2016, was released theatrically by First Run Features and selected as a New York Times Critics’ Pick, and was broadcast by PBS’ Independent Lens and Netflix. Garrett grew up in Kissimmee, Florida, served in the U.S. Navy during Desert Storm, and earned an MFA in Media Art from Emerson College. He has directed several short films, including “A Mercenary Tale” which premiered at the Boston International Film Festival and was distributed worldwide by Ouat Media. Garrett has also worked at PBS’ FRONTLINE, at WGBH under acclaimed producer Judith Vecchione, and as a producer for the nationally syndicated public radio program, “Radio Open Source with Christopher Lydon.” He was named one of 10 Filmmakers To Watch by The Independent Magazine.

Ariana Garfinkel - Producer

Ariana Garfinkel is an independent film producer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Through her company Carriage House Pictures, Ariana Garfinkel produced the feature documentary BEST AND MOST BEAUTIFUL THINGS (SXSW 2016). She produced the feature docs I AM MARIS (distributed by ro*co films) and BOYS OF SUMMER (distributed by Tribeca Film, ESPN, and PBS' AfroPop). Ariana produced two narrative shorts directed by Lily Baldwin, SEA MEADOW (SXSW) and A JUICE BOX AFTERNOON (Lincoln Center). Other work includes the documentaries SYMPHONY OF THE SOIL, WRENCHED, and TRUMBO. Ariana has held positions at companies including Miramax Films, Tribeca Productions and Reno Productions. She graduated from Stanford University. 

Jeff Consiglio - Executive Producer

Jeff Consiglio has worked as a director, producer, editor and creative consultant on films for over 30 years. Jeff edited the Academy Award Winning documentary film INOCENTE (Best Documentary Short Subject, 2013), the Oscar-nominated and Emmy winning feature documentary WAR/DANCE and the HBO film LIFE ACCORDING TO SAM which won a 2014 Peabody Award. He was Producer and Editor on BEST AND MOST BEAUTIFUL THINGS, the documentary feature TWINSTERS which received the Special Jury Award for Editing at SXSW, the multiple award-winning documentary feature OUT OF STATE and the 2018 Best Feature Award winner at Big Sky Film Festival MY COUNTRY NO MORE.

Christopher Lewis Dawkins - Cinematographer

Christopher Lewis Dawkins is a visual artist and filmmaker from Rockaway Beach, NY. His love for people informs his lens as he delves into the complexities of human relationships and identity. He aims to shine a light on the beautiful things we often ignore. Christopher is based in New York City where he splits his time working on music videos, short films, photography and video art. He graduated from Emerson College in Film Production, and directed the short film LOVED LIKE THIS (Urbanworld Film Festival 2016, Young Filmmaker Award Finalist).  

Vanessa Carr - Cinematographer

Vanessa Carr has shot for Al Jazeera, Frontline, HBO, New York Times Op-Docs, Showtime, PBS, and many more. She has a master’s degree from UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism (2011) and a bachelor’s degree from Columbia University (2005). She was a 2014 Bay Area Video Coalition MediaMaker fellow for a short documentary on restorative justice in Oakland. 

Aisha Hallgren - Associate Producer / Sound Recordist

Aisha Hallgren has worked extensively as a field sound recordist on a wide range of documentaries, including productions for The New York Times Op-Docs, Field of Vision, filmmakers Dawn Porter, Ramona Diaz and Joe Berlinger. Recently, she traveled to South Korea covering the 2018 Olympics for NIKE, and has worked with Snapchat, Conde Nast, Novo Foundation, and many others. Some favorite subjects have included the Women’s March on Washington, Sarah Jones podcast, Vernon Jordan, Gavin Grimm, and Halima Aden. This film is the first time she has joined a documentary producing team. Based in New York City, Aisha is a member of the filmmaking collective Brown Girls Doc Mafia.

Alexandre Naufel - Cinematographer

Alexandre Naufel's cinematography work includes the narrative feature IZZY GETS THE FUCK ACROSS TOWN starring Mackenzie Davis and Carrie Coon which premiered at the LA Film Festival in 2017, the narrative feature A MARINE STORY, Grand Jury Prize winner, Colorado Film Festival in 2010, the documentary feature SAND AND SORROW, and the music video PRETTY POLLY.

Laura Kisssel - Cinematographer

Laura Kissel is the Director of University of South Carolina's School of Visual Art and Design, and she is also an Emmy nominated documentary filmmaker. She was South Carolina Arts Commission’s Media Arts Fellow and has received numerous fellowships and grants for her work, including a Fulbright Award, a MacDowell Fellowship, funding from the South Carolina Humanities Council and the Fledgling Fund. She directed Cotton Road, a feature documentary about a global supply chain, and short documentaries including tan mian hua and Window Cleaning in Shanghai.


Connect With The Filmmakers:


IFP Fiscal Sponsorship Program 2019
LEF Moving Image Fund Pre-Production Grant 2017
LEF Moving Image Fund Production Grant 2018


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