Senior Fellow for Environmental Understanding Andrew Revkin wrote about his experience co-teaching the Producing the Documentary course with communications professor Maria Luskay.This year, the students in the course traveled to Portugal to film the story of cork.
From the NY Times.com:
For the second year, I’ve co-taught a documentary production course at Pace University in which a team of graduate and undergraduate communication students travels on spring break not to lounge on a beach, but to shoot a short film with an environmental theme. Last year’s film focused on an American woman working for decades in Belize to farm shrimp with limited environmental impacts.
This year, the destination was Portugal and the subject was cork.
For centuries, this versatile material — harvested by stripping the bark from a certain oak species once every decade or so — was the only choice for sealing wine bottles. At its peak, the trade supported thousands of workers, from bark-stripping crews in the rural communities around the forests to the factory workers in towns like Coruche, in southern Portugal.
But in recent years, wine producers, concerned about quality control and cost, started shifting to plastic stoppers and plastic-lined aluminum screw caps, which ended up capturing about a third of the billion-dollar wine-closure business. The competition prompted the cork industry, led by the company Amorim, to improve its operations, develop new lines of products and push back with an offbeat online marketing campaign centered on the comic actor Rob Schneider.
The public relations tussle alone is quite the story, including dueling YouTube videos (“Sniff the Cork” and “Vive le Screwcap” are two contestants) and a mock “funeral for the cork” staged in 2002 in a dining room at Grand Central Terminal by Randall Grahm, the screw-cap-favoring owner of the Bonny Doon Vineyard in northern California.
The students traveled the length of Portugal, from the vineyards draped on the steep slopes of the extraordinary Douro Valley in the north to the cork forests of the south. Then came weeks of video and sound editing under the direction of Pace Professor Maria Luskay, who invented this course more than a decade ago. In 15 short minutes they tell a layered story that follows the largely unappreciated journey of cork, from quiet forests through bustling factories and jangling bottling plants to your table or restaurant. [May 8, 1:24 p.m. | Update | Click here for a note on the project’s neutrality and financial independence.]
They created an engaging blog charting their path and also chronicled the process on YouTube, from Lou Guarneri strumming for the soundtrack to the actor Kurt Rhoads using his Shakespeare-honed skills to catch just the right tone on the opening word, “Cork.”
There’s something important under way in such projects, in which communication and journalism students can attack stories that might otherwise be missed as traditional news media both shrink and tend to focus their cameras on bad apples instead of best practices. We need both.
With appropriate guidance, students can not only develop story-and idea-sharing skills that mesh written and audiovisual output, but put those skills to use even as they learn, potentially playing a role in fostering progress on a finite planet. It’s one thing to learn how to write a script or operate a camera; it’s another to learn how to make a difference.
The journalism program at the University of British Columbia has been doing fine work, with a recent package on environmental and labor problems related to shrimp farming in Southeast Asia (essentially the flip side of what the Pace team found in Belize) and now — accompanying a print article in The New York Times — a a video report on the impact of Brazil’s latest wave of dam construction on indigenous tribes in the Amazon River basin.
View the full article with video clip here: