Documentary Project Proves Political Conversations Can Happen


The number of political academics at the University of Virginia Center for Politics did not alter hearts or minds, but they did discover something more important: they can get along.

As interns, the group of students, whose personal convictions span the political spectrum, agreed to make a documentary with students of similar backgrounds to see if they could find common ground.

Common Grounds was born as a result of this. The Rotunda Dome Room hosted the debut of the 30-minute documentary on Nov. 11.


The film was created in the year 2020, during the height of the epidemic. The project was developed, written, and filmed by Hayes and his colleague’s student interns Miranda Hirts, Sean Piwowar, Victoria Spiotto, and Raed Gilliam.

Due to COVID-19, the department’s in-person activities, which were generally prepared by interns, had to be canceled.

The documentary’s substance was broadened out by their discussions.

Gilliam explained, “We went from a 10-minute item to three 10-minute things.” “We started with the door, but nothing about the door was included in the documentary.”

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“Not only did we have to communicate together to figure things out, but we also had to argue with one other and produce a movie together, so we had to agree on essential things,” said Piwowar, a conservative. “There were times when I felt I’d come up with a terrific question and Molly would respond, ‘No, that won’t work.’ I’d hear something and immediately think of a conservative who would be put off by it. We’d strive to reword our questions and statements. It wasn’t about appealing to everyone, but about making everyone feel welcome so they’d buy in.”

“We were all ideologically varied, so each had three or four people they reached out to,” Hayes remembered, identifying herself as a progressive to Bernie Saunders’ left. “We started with a couple of dozen pupils and cut it down to a dozen.”

They looked for students interested to engage in the research among opinion writers for the UVa student newspaper, The Cavalier Daily, school political groups, Twitter activists, and social media posters.

“These were folks who were not hesitant to voice their opinions and embrace divisive positions, yet no one cursed at, talked over, or even stopped the group discussion.” Instead, he added, “they all listened.” “While no one’s ideas were altered as a result of producing this film, we learned how to listen to one another, which offers us hope in this day of divided and hostile political discourse,” says the filmmaker.

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