Local partnership brings Documentary Storymaking to life

This past month, students from the Lehigh Valley Association of Independent Colleges (LVAIC), who are pursuing a Documentary Storymaking minor, can be found in editing bays and in professional studios at PBS39, the community-owned public television station in Lehigh Valley.

This unique learning experience includes collaboration between three of the region’s local colleges: Lafayette College in Easton, Lehigh University in Bethlehem, and Muhlenberg College in Allentown. As part of this capstone course, students have been writing, filming and editing their own documentaries with guidance from PBS39’s Yoni Greenbaum, Chief Content Officer, Javier Diez, Director of Production, and Lehigh University Professor Michael Kramp, Director of the Film Studies Minor, with advisors from all three schools assisting students in the process.

In addition to developing the students’ individual capacities for creative and artistic expression, the course is also deeply community-based and provides an opportunity to connect students’ learning to the issues, concerns, and stories of broader community life within the Lehigh Valley.

“These kids are coming into our classroom, our editing bays and our world. This is an invaluable opportunity for hands on learning and real-world experience, which ultimately results in a portfolio piece students can use in pursuing their careers,” said Yoni Greenbaum, Chief Content Officer of Lehigh Valley Public Media (home of PBS39).

One project, from Lafayette student Jordie Werner, Lights up: Behind the scenes with Freedom High School Theatre Company will showcase the Company’s history and excellence as the cast and crew prepare for the upcoming spring production. The goal is to offer a unique perspective to a local tradition as well as to serve as a case study for the value of supporting the arts in city schools.

“As a student from the Bethlehem Area School District, I’ve always been in awe at the continuing success of this program, and it is through this project that I hope to shed light on their creative community as well as the importance of arts programs within public high schools,” said Werner.

Another project, When the Woman Screams, involves a long-form documentary podcast investigating the evolution of the primal scream in horror films and exploring the cultural underpinnings that explain these shifts. Elizabeth Erwin of Summerville, SC, wanted to explore the correlation between these screams and the major cultural factors that may have affected their style through various decades.

“I am especially interested in highlighting voices that have been traditionally silenced in the culture. Podcasting feels like a perfect vehicle for this mission because so many free or inexpensive recording and editing options makes this type of media creation available to almost anyone,” said Erwin.

Once students complete this semesters’ course, PBS39 will host a screening party for students to showcase their finished documentaries.

About the course: The Capstone in Documentary Storymaking guides students through the design, planning, field research, production, and completion of a substantial documentary media project that results in a public presentation of their most advanced work. Production is informed and enhanced by interactive class discussions of selected readings, screenings, relevant theories and practices in documentary. Learn more.