UA professor's film celebrates collaboration, diversity

In 2016, Alabama professor Seth Panitch brought his artistic vision to life in the form of the film, “Service to Man”. The film, which has won awards from four different film festivals, has recently been released on several different platforms online for easier access to the public. What ultimately makes the film noteworthy would be its heartfelt story.

“Service to Man” tells the story of Eli Rosenberg, a young white student set to attend Meharry Medical College, a historically all-black university during the 1960s. While there, Rosenberg faces numerous challenges in learning to collaborate with individuals of completely different backgrounds and overcome the adversity demanded by the education. 

Jeanette Waterman, the costume designer for the film, discusses the process in finding costumes for the scenes at the University. 

“That was one thing I had to research, being what students wore to class in the time period,” Waterman said. “They would sometimes wear regular attire, but there were other classes, lab classes where they would wear lab coats, and they had scenes in hospitals, with scrubs on nurses and doctors. Their look has changed over the decades.”

The film is loosely based on the experience of Panitch’s father, one of the first white students to attend Meharry back in the 1960s.

“My father went down in there in the 60s, which was this incredibly tumultuous time,” Panitch said. “Obviously their real-life, ‘studying 12 hours a day’, is not an interesting film, so what I am doing is using that as a framework to talk about how these people were able to communicate under incredible pressure.”

Panitch also touched on the film’s message of collaborating in the face of adversity.

“These are people of quite different backgrounds, different cultures and different races who find their identity in the other person and in the way that each person came to the crisis of not only medical school but of the riots that happened in Nashville around the time of Martin Luther King’s assassination,” Panitch said.

Eric Marable Jr., an Alabama graduate who acted in the film, weighed in on the film’s message.

“For me, anyway, the film reminds me of ‘Remember the Titans’ but with doctors,” Marable said. “It is taking on that time period of abhorrent racism during the 60s, when things were more explosive. [Panitch] sort of flips the story on its head by having this guy from New York coming down to Tennessee to an all-black medical school.” 

The film’s portrayal of the racial tensions in the time period was also praised by Marable.

“I appreciated the way that [Panitch] balanced those two points of view, knowing that this dude is an outsider who is not wanted and is trying to find a space with people who also are not wanted,” Marable said.

Brittany Nelson, the location manager for “Service to Man”, discussed the film’s relevance both for its social commentary and for Meharry in general.

“I think, especially from being on set, being around everybody, getting to meet Seth’s dad and especially with everything that is going on in right now, that it was the perfect time to tell this story, just to see the ins and outs of Meharry Medical School,” Nelson said. “I know many people had not heard of that medical school before. 

Nelson highly encourages audiences to find a way to view the film.

“It is funny and heartwarming. It challenges you to think about society and how we relate as people,” Nelson said. “It is relatable, as far as relationships are concerned, schoolwork, and I think that each person will find something that hits home with them, and so I would definitely recommend it.” 

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