Producing the Doc: Curacao
Professor Maria Luskay, EdD, and Pace Academy’s Andrew Revkin discuss the importance of bonding abroad, sustainability, and making great documentaries.
Dyson Professor and Program Director for the MA in Media and Communication Arts (MCA) program Maria Luskay, EdD, has once again teamed up with The New York Times “Dot Earth” blogger and Pace Academy Senior Fellow for Environmental Understanding Andrew Revkin to take a new crop of MCA students through the process of producing a documentary.
Over the last several years, their Producing the Documentary course has taken Pace students—both grad and undergrad—to some of the coolest places on Earth. The course, which is production-based, allows students to see environmental issues through a different lens and gain the filmmaking and production experience they need to succeed after graduation. The anthology of work having come out of this MCA course has garnered students a bevy of awards, recognitions, and distinctions; not to mention, it gives them a real leg-up when it comes to entering the workforce after graduation.
This semester, the class is heading to Curaçao, the small island with a big conservation problem. While most faculty and students are enjoying spring break, Luskay and Revkin will be working diligently with students at the Carmabi Research Institute where marine scientists are monitoring the island's surrounding coral reefs and working with local communities to preserve this important ocean addition.
“We’ve built on the idea of focusing these film themes around sustainability and how humans can work with nature—not against it,” says Revkin of the body of work produced through the course. “It’s always been a component although each film is unique.”
For Revkin, he believes that it’s an invigorating experience because the class is not just students who are interested in environmental science or environmental studies—but rather, students who have an interest in storytelling and filmmaking. “The students are learning to make a film, but also learning about this bigger issue in a new way,” he says.
About 15 years ago, Luskay worked with then-Pace colleague and mentor Betty Torrance to develop the course, both the on-campus work and the logistical and planning aspects of taking students on an extended field trip. That feeling of mentorship has carried through to the students in a way that other classes don’t offer.
“For me, this course is a personal ‘pay it forward’ experience and we’ve holistically developed a whole mentoring atmosphere,” says Luskay. “The grad students help the undergrads and every once in a while you have an undergrad dive in and challenge the grad students. It’s really exciting to see and it really means that no one in the class has the option of just gliding along.”
Adding to that dynamic is the nature of the class itself—there’s a role for every student to explore their talents and overcome perceived weaknesses. In addition to just shooting and editing, there are also blogging and social media components that actively drive the students into participation. On location, the class is broken up in to filming teams for each day—no one student is a director, no one student the videographer, no one student the editor. It’s a true teamwork situation where they learn to film on the fly, adapt to unique logistical situations, and overcome the challenges one faces while shooting outside a controlled studio situation.
“Students have told me that this class changes their lives,” Luskay says. “I hope to hear that from all of my students and I don’t say that lightly. For the students in the class, the experience has opened their eyes to a field they love and want to work in. They make friends and contacts and it’s amazing to see the way friendships are made and connections are formed.”
In the years since beginning this course, Luskay and Revkin have brought a variety of environmental issues to the forefront for Pace students—including topics like sustainable shrimp farming, cork production, and sustainability and tourism. But the real magic, however, happens behind the scenes.
“I’ve had students from years back stay friends, get married, and become best friends. I also have students who’ve gone on to work at the same place after graduation,” says Luskay. “I think that’s the nature of the course—we all work very closely together and learn from one another. We’re entrenched with each other.”
This fifth installment of their award-winning environmental anthology will premiere on Tuesday, May 12 at the Jacob Burns Film Center in Pleasantville, New York. Stay tuned for more details.
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