MEET: CATALINA PARRA, STUDENT FILMMAKER BEHIND LI’S SHORT VIDEO ON THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD
Catalina Parra, a fourth-year University of Chicago student, directed Landmarks Illinois’ recently released short video, “People Saving Places: The Underground Railroad in Illinois.” Parra is a Fundamentals Major at U of C, which is a cross-disciplinary program designed for the individual student to study fundamental works that speak to questions of human existence.
In addition to taking on this LI video project, Parra holds other internships and roles on and off campus. To name a few: She is an outreach intern at the University of Chicago Admissions office, posting video and photography on the university’s social media platforms to engage prospective students, is a program intern at the Center of Identity and Inclusion in Chicago and serves as Technology Director for the University of Chicago’s Fire Escape Film Committee.
Below, Parra tells us about her experience filming and directing LI’s new short video, what she learned about historic preservation, Illinois history and what her future plans are for her academic and professional life.
LANDMARKS ILLINOIS: What sparked your initial interest in this video project and why did you want to be a part of it?
CATALINA PARRA: As I was going into my last year of college, I knew I had to take advantage of Chicago and University resources for my future. I went online to see if I could find a job that had to do with my passion: filmmaking. When I saw the goals that Landmarks Illinois had in mind, it seemed like the perfect fit for me.
LI: Tell us about your experience traveling to the three Underground Railroad sites in Illinois included in the video. What did you enjoy and learn about seeing new parts of the state and visiting these historically significant sites?
CP: I attend the University of Chicago, in the comfortable neighborhood of Hyde Park, which makes it easy to stay close to home. I’ve never explored all of Chicago, much less all of the state. For this video, we went to three distinct regions of Illinois, exposing me to the widespread openness and history Illinois has. The state’s history travels back to important people and places making a difference despite the obstacles they faced. It felt surreal being in the same spaces that important abolitionists lived in and gathered. It led me to reflect deeply on how much our country has changed as well as how these spaces still influence us today.
LI: How did your personal understanding of historic preservation change throughout this project?
CP: Before making this video, I had very little knowledge of historic preservation. My father is an architect, so other than listening to him describe buildings in Chicago, I did not know what was involved in preserving a place. Quinn Chapel in Chicago was a site we visited for the video that is still undergoing restoration, and it was absolutely emotional walking into the large sanctuary, seeing the scratches on the pews and how they were numbered for ticketing, noticing the paint of on the unique tin ceiling start to peel off, and many more details that hold so much history.
LI: What was your favorite part of this video project?
CP: I love making videos, and it is what I want to do forever! So, it’s hard for me to choose which part is my favorite. I like interviews because I love asking questions. I also enjoy editing and piecing everything together. My favorite would be hanging out with interesting people and (project manager) Kaitlyn McAvoy!
LI: As the filmmaker, what do you hope viewers learn or take away from this video?
CP: This video demonstrates the power of the Underground Railroad: distinct people from different races came together to unite on the cause of freedom and anti-slavery. Despite Sheldon Peck and Owen Lovejoy’s pursuit to free slaves, our country’s history of slavery lives on through the countless injustices black people feel and experience today. I hope viewers understand the importance of history and historical spaces as they pursue their personal goals of equality.
LI: What is next for you?
CP: I will be traveling to Barcelona for the spring! I will edit a documentary about a feminist poet from Catalonia. I’m really excited to take what I learned from this video onto my next projects. I hope to either stay in Europe for a couple years and/or apply to filmmaking master programs.
*See more of Parra’s work by visiting her website and her Instagram page @cat_purrra.