Visionaries Documentary Premiere!

Though my official role for our school’s newspaper, the Springfield Student, is copy editor, this week I did some writing, and I’ve got an article in this issue! I’ve posted the article (slightly different than the printed version) here, but check out their website here: SpringfieldStudent. I’ve also tried to give some photos that haven’t been previously uploaded! Enjoy :)

The Visionaries crew and I finally released our death grips on the plane’s armrests as we safely landed at Tegucigalpa Airport, which has been listed among the most dangerous airport sites. In mid-September, we arrived in Honduras to film a documentary over a four day period on the University of Zamorano, a non-profit agricultural university celebrating its 70th year.

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On Tuesday evening, a little over two months after the trip, director/producer and Springfield College Assistant Professor of Communication Jody Santos, cinematographer Bruce Lundeen, composer Chris Barrett, editor Xandra deGonzalez, and I, the project’s production assistant, gathered in the Townhouse Conference Room in front of an audience of about sixty to premiere the documentary and discuss our experiences. Jody began the event proudly introducing the Visionaries as a documentary series which airs on PBS, chronicling stories of non-profit organizations doing good around the world. She continued to explain how their documentaries are different from other news, as the Visionaries produces feel-good films which profile people making positive impacts in their communities.

I first met Jody in the spring of 2011 when I declared my minor in Social Justice, though I was well into my majors of English and Education. In her Special Topics Communication course, I worked with my film partner, Josh Ernst (‘12), to write, film, and produce our own 25-minute documentary on the Gray House, a Springfield, Mass. non-profit. Our film followed the format of a Visionaries documentary, allowing the Gray House interviewees to tell the uplifting story of their organization and the differences they make in the local community.

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My first-time experience working in documentary production was exciting, and I learned to love the art of storytelling through film. Though that was my first and only class with Jody and involving film, I continued to stay in contact with her in the semesters that followed, always interested in her international, social-justice-themed film travels. In the fall semester of 2012, my junior year, I studied abroad at the University of Limerick in Ireland and traveled throughout Europe. I believe it was a combination of this international travel history, past documentary experience, and my related minor that led Jody over the summer to invite me on the Visionaries’ trip to Honduras earlier this semester. Needless to say, I was thrilled about another international travel opportunity and even more excited to be a part of the first-hand filming experience.

From the moment our plane hit the narrow airport runway in Tegucigalpa, the core crew consisting of Jody, Bruce, audio technician Lit Turner, and I went straight to work. It felt as if Bruce’s cameras were always rolling with Lit monitoring audio, Jody was interviewing and brainstorming storylines, and I was continually sprinting after them trying to keep pace with their seemingly choreographed ways. As we filmed, Jody began to envision the documentary’s story coming together, highlighting Zamorano’s history and positive impact on the community and environment, two top-of-the-class students attending from indigenous Central American villages on scholarships, and the first Women’s Conference taking place on campus.

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Long, hot days of filming started at 3:30 or 4 a.m. and carried well after sundown, sometimes until after midnight. I quickly realized that while Josh and I had half of a semester to film our Gray House documentary, shooting for four days in Honduras put us on a very different time schedule. Though Honduras can be a dangerous country, especially for American travelers, we felt safe on Zamorano’s beautiful and friendly campus. During our stay, we got to know the school structure and history very well. The crew and I were impressed by Zamorano’s faculty and their passionate students learning how to better provide for their families and communities. The students we met were all extremely grateful for their priceless education the University of Zamorano offers, and their passion for their school was contagious. It was also amazing to learn the university’s role in the surrounding community, including projects such as implementing safer stoves in homes, working to provide clean water, and protecting the environment especially in the Uyuca biological reserve.

This was my first time visiting Central America and my first time in any developing country. It was an eye-opening experience driving through the capital city’s poverty on the way to Zamorano’s campus while beautiful mountains of green trees surrounded us. I thoroughly enjoyed working and spending time with the Visionaries’ crew while soaking up everything I could about the professional documentary-filming process, practicing my Spanish, and learning about the university’s inspirational work.
At Tuesday’s premiere, the entire experience came together full circle: Jody, Bruce, and I fondly reminisced about the trip, I got to meet Xandra, the editor and Chris, the composer for the film’s music, we got to see the full cut of the documentary, shared our reflections, and answered questions from the audience. It was surreal watching the edited version of the Visionaries’ film on the University of Zamorano, knowing that the crew and I were there filming those scenes and interviews only two months ago. Ironically, I was happily transported back in time to the moment of gripping fear before our plane’s landing and the whirlwind of memories from the four days that followed.

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THANK YOU to everybody for their support, and a special thanks to Mom and Shannon, my friends, and professors who made the effort to come to our premiere! :-)

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