Documentary Storymaking Capstone Reflection by Dr. Andy Smith

The Spring 2019 Capstone course in Documentary Storymaking saw five students from three Lehigh Valley institutions (Lafayette College, Lehigh University, Muhlenberg College) completing and on May 10, 2019 screening five original documentary films. During the semester students studied and made documentaries, with each student identifying a compelling documentary story, then researching, shooting, editing, scoring and publicly screening their work. Each presented an original contribution to their local communities and to their educational institutions, and every student played important collaborative roles in the projects of their peers. The students grew as documentary researchers and storytellers, deepened their skills with digital media and as members of collaborative teams, and practiced ethical engagement with diverse populations in the Lehigh Valley and beyond.

As a collective effort, the five original films are broadly linked by the theme of change: THE HOUSE ALWAYS WINS (Delaney McCaffrey, Lehigh University, 12 min.) explores the impact of predatory gambling as a casino opens in post-industrial Bethlehem; WHY (Kaitlin McNamara, Lafayette College, 17 min.) examines the driving motivations behind recent environmental activism in Easton; FREE TO BE US: THE KASLER AND WILKIE STORY (Ali Ruchman, Muhlenberg College, 17 min.) traces the journey of two Allentown-based student composers and LGBTQ activists as they begin to step onto the professional stage of the musical theatre world; VOICE OF THE STREETS (Tracey Robinson, Lafayette College, 15 min.) tells the story of how the inner-city community of Philadelphia is pushing forward in hopes of healing past trauma by creating new forms of expressions—starting with rap; and ONTOLOGY (Donterrius Walker, Lehigh University, 20 min.) merges community voices with a Bethlehem college student’s journey to understand the importance of disappearing for the chance of self-discovery.

The immediate impact of the films was evident in the May 10 screening and discussion with over 100 community members in attendance at the Landis Cinema, Buck Hall at Lafayette College in Easton. Since the public event, the films are already beginning to enjoy a life and use beyond their initial screenings, whether as entrants to film festivals or as a resource for the individuals and organizations depicted in the films. Each student delivered a piece of high-quality media that matters to a community audience, and the capstone film projects was collectively successful in achieving the desired outcomes via documentary storymaking: advancing an important discussion, raising consciousness, advocating for change, telling stories with diverse voices, addressing social justice issues, and chronicling important lesser-known stories connected to the places and peoples of the Valley and beyond.

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