Britton Bagwell already knew she was out of her comfort zone. She's not a film person, she says -- doesn't even much like watching them. But here she was, walking down an Augusta alley with a cameraman to interview a rough-looking guy and his friends.
She wanted to leave, but trudged on. Once she got over the fear, and past the guy's street-tough image, she was stunned to find out his secret passion: ballroom dancing.
He was glad to bust a move for her, in the grandest tradition of Arthur Murray.
It confirmed one of the young activist's hypotheses going into her documentary The Augusta Commons : that, as she found out hundreds of times by just asking people on the street, there are lots of things people wouldn't know just by looking at you.
Bagwell, 21, was moved to produce the 50-minute series of interviews in the spirit of breaking down the barriers that separate us -- economic, racial, geographic and more. She figures if we do nothing, we're part of the problem -- simply by tolerating and perpetuating the long-simmering hatred and resentments and divisions we seem to hand down to each new generation.
She screened the documentary last Saturday at her "The Ties That Bind" festival downtown -- a parting gift to the community she's called home most of her life, as she's headed away to school to study socially conscious theater.
The biggest gift may be what she learned: that behind the various walls we put up, people have dimensions, talents, interests -- and, unfortunately, unwarranted animosities -- unseen.
The lesson she took away is clear: Those divisions can be broken down and common ground can be found, but it takes everyone working together to do it. She proved it not only on camera, but behind it -- by eventually attracting hundreds of helpers from diverse backgrounds on the project.
So what can one person do?
"You do everything you can," Bagwell says. "That's what you do."
One hopeful, energetic young lady has shown the way.
It's just past your comfort zone.