NYTimes.com Dot Earth: From Bark to Bottle – a Cork Story

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.

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.

It also sustained ecosystems that, while heavily shaped and exploited by humans, have long been a haven for wildlife, from the critically endangered Iberian lynx to the imperial eagle.

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:

From Bark to Bottle – a Cork Story – NYTimes.com.

NEWS RELEASE: Premiere of “Battle Behind the Bottle: A Documentary on the Cork Question”

The premiere screening of Batttle Behind the Bottle: A Documentary on the Cork Question” will be Wednesday, May 2 at 7:30pm, Pace University, 861 Bedford Rd., Pleasantville, entrance 1, Willcox Hall auditorium. The student filmmakers and their professor Maria Luskay will hold a panel discussion on the making of the film.

PREMIERE OF “BATTLE BEHIND THE BOTTLE: A DOCUMENTARY ON THE CORK QUESTION”

Meet student filmmakers at the public premiere Wednesday, May 2 at 7:30pm, Pace University, 861 Bedford Rd., Pleasantville, entrance 1, Willcox Hall auditorium

PLEASANTVILLE, NY, April 27, 2012 – In a new documentary, “Battle Behind the Bottle: A Documentary on the Cork Question, ” a team of Pace University student filmmakers explores “the connection between the bottle of wine on your table and the fate of faraway forests.”

The premiere screening will be Wednesday, May 2 at 7:30pm, Pace University, 861 Bedford Rd., Pleasantville, entrance 1, Willcox Hall auditorium. The student filmmakers and their professor Maria Luskay will hold a panel discussion on the making of the film. New York Times Dot Earth blogger Andrew Revkin, Senior Fellow for Environmental Understanding at the Pace Academy for Applied Environmental Studies, who co-taught the course, will join by videoconference. The event is free and open to the public. Media admission by press pass.

In the film students in the award-winning Pace course “Producing the Documentary” highlight the unseen issues within the cork industry in Portugal. The film makes the connection between cork harvested for wine bottles, a source of livelihood for 100,000 people, and the forests that are repositories for wildlife across Southern Europe and parts of North Africa. The students wrote, filmed and produced the entire project, traveling to Porto, Coruche and Lisbon to research and film.

In the documentary course, created nine years ago by Pace communications professor Maria Luskay, Ph.D., Program Chair of the Master of Arts in Media and Communication Arts, a mix of graduate and undergraduate students produce a short film each spring, spending January and February reporting and planning the shoot – which consumes much of their March spring “break” — and then editing and producing the final product. In past years Luskay has taken students to the Netherlands, Nassau, Brazil, Costa Rica, and Tuscany, and elsewhere to produce films.

“Each of these documentary projects presents unique challenges, said Luskay speaking of past film projects. “We think we know what we’re going to shoot and the direction that the film is going to take, but what actually happens once we get there can be entirely different. Agility is needed to stay true to the original theme but remain open to what the reality is. This gives the students real-world experience in documentary film-making that will serve them well in their careers.”

For interviews with the student filmmakers, Luskay or Revkin, contact Cara Cea in the Pace office of public information, ccea@pace.edu, (914) 906-9680. The making of the film is detailed on the students’ blog. Follow the students on Twitter @PaceCork and on Facebook.

Previous documentaries the course has produced and corresponding awards and links:

The Pace Master Plan for Pleasantville

Linda Thornton: Seeking Sustainability, One Shrimp at a Time, 2011, Best Shorts Competition for Best Short Documentary Award of Merit.

The Life of an American Ambassador, 2009 – recipient of Best in Category Award Winner for the “Documentary” category of the 2010 Indie Short Film Competition

Social Media:  Redefining Communication, 2008

Mugello: One Step Closer to Sustainability, 2007

Mugello, Italy’s Untapped Gem, 2007

The Constitution Comes Alive, a documentary for Constitution Day, 2007

Ecotourism: The Double Edged Sword, 2006

The March of Time, the History of Pace University, 2006, North Castle Community Television, Best Documentary Winner

For more information visit the Pace media and communications department web site at www.pace.edu/dyson/mediacomm.

About Pace University

For 105 years, Pace University has educated thinking professionals by providing high quality education for the professions on a firm base of liberal learning amid the advantages of the New York metropolitan area. A private university, Pace has campuses in New York City and Westchester County, New York, enrolling nearly 13,000 students in bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral programs in its Lubin School of Business, Dyson College of Arts and Sciences, College of Health Professions, School of Education, School of Law, and Seidenberg School of Computer Science and Information Systems. www.pace.edu

Contact: Cara Cea, ccea@pace.edu, 914-906-9680

NEWS RELEASE: Students from Award-Winning Course “Producing the Documentary” to Screen New Film About Sustainable Shrimp Farming in Belize

A new documentary, “Linda Thornton: Seeking Sustainability, One Shrimp at a Time,” filmed by a team of Pace University students explores the life of a resilient, pioneering aquaculture entrepreneur as she pushes the frontiers of sustainable shrimp farming in Belize. The 17 minute film is being released on several web sites this week. The premiere screening is set for Thursday, May 19 at 3:00pm, Pace University, 861 Bedford Rd., Pleasantville, entrance two, Lienhard Lecture Hall, 3rd floor. Andrew Revkin, New York Times Dot Earth blogger and Senior Fellow for Environmental Understanding at the Pace Academy for Applied Environmental Studies, will speak about the making of the film and his role in it. The student filmmakers and their professor will be on hand as well. The event is free and open to the public.

From seafood markets and plush restaurants of Manhattan to the ponds and breeding tanks of Belize’s shrimp farms, “Linda Thornton: Seeking Sustainability, One Shrimp at a Time” explores efforts to farm shrimp with the environment in mind

Meet student filmmakers at the public premiere Thursday, May 19 at 3:00pm, Pace University, Pleasantville, entrance 2, Lienhard Lecture Hall; New York Times Dot Earth blogger and Senior Fellow for Environmental Understanding at Pace, Andrew Revkin to speak

PLEASANTVILLE, NY, May 12, 2011 – In a new documentary, “Linda Thornton: Seeking Sustainability, One Shrimp at a Time,” a team of Pace University student filmmakers explores the life of a resilient, pioneering aquaculture entrepreneur as she pushes the frontiers of sustainable shrimp farming in Belize.

The 17-minute film is being released on several web sites this week. The premiere screening is set for Thursday, May 19 at 3:00pm, Pace University, 861 Bedford Rd., Pleasantville, entrance two, Lienhard Lecture Hall, 3rd floor. Andrew Revkin, New York Times Dot Earth blogger and Senior Fellow for Environmental Understanding at the Pace Academy for Applied Environmental Studies, will speak about the making of the film and his role in it. The student filmmakers and their professor will be on hand as well. The event is free and open to the public. Media admission by press pass.

Linda Thornton is the quintessential innovator, but with a deep green streak — overcoming daunting personal and technical challenges to fulfill a lifelong dream of farming a staple of the global middle class diet, shrimp, while cutting environmental impacts.

In the film students in the award-winning Pace University course “Producing the Documentary” tell Thornton’s story, which over three decades takes her from early experiments with urban indoor shrimp farming in Chicago to hard-won success in Belize, a country aiming to build its economy without harming its extraordinary natural assets – particularly its coastal mangrove forests and coral reefs.

Undaunted by a boating accident that in 1994 took the lives of her husband and two other men and left her partially paralyzed, Thornton rebuilt her body and her early Belizean farming business.

After initial confrontations with environmental groups fighting a wave of shrimp farm development that was damaging coastal ecosystems from Asia to the Americas, Thornton, together with Tim Smith, a biologist working for the World Wildlife Fund, refined methods for controlling feed and water that dramatically cut pollution.

Their collaboration is part of a move within the shrimp aquaculture industry toward standards that could soon give shoppers the option of buying shrimp that are certified as sustainably raised.

Thornton, still in pain from her injuries long ago, now works at three different shrimp farms in Belize, one of which is her own Cardelli Farms, named for her father. She has also been a leader in improving labor practices in the industry.

In the film, Smith describes Thornton as gritty and creative and a natural bridge builder between the aquaculture industry and conservationists.

“She is one of the toughest and most competent people I have met,” Smith says. “Just a person that’s barely able to walk some mornings and she gets up and … runs a thousand acres of shrimp farms and then comes home and then runs her own farm. That’s not a trivial thing. There are hulls of businesses that were not able to do that all around her, all around Belize.”

The project highlights a shift in the ever-growing $10 billion industry toward raising shrimp with minimal impact on the environment.  The film takes viewers from the seafood markets and plush restaurants of Manhattan to the sprawling ponds of Belize’s shrimp farms and even into the breeding tanks where huge Pacific white shrimp mingle and mate to start the cycle of production.

In the documentary course, created nine years ago by Pace communications professor Maria Luskay, PhD, a mix of graduate and undergraduate students produce a short film each spring, spending January and February reporting and planning the shoot – which consumes much of their March spring “break” — and then editing and producing the final product.

Students in last year’s course won “Best in Category for Documentary” in the Indie Short Film Competition for their 2010 film, “The Life of An American Ambassador: The Netherlands.” For more information visit the Pace media and communications department web site at www.pace.edu/dyson/mediacomm. In past years Luskay has taken students to Nassau, Brazil, Costa Rica, and Tuscany, to produce films.

“This is a tale of endurance and creativity,” said Luskay, director of the Pace graduate program in media and communication arts.

The new film involved partnerships with schools of journalism and communication at the University of Colorado and The George Washington University, which shot interviews with experts in Boulder and Washington, D.C.

The film can be viewed here. The making of the film is detailed on the students’ blog. Follow the students on Twitter @got_shrimp and on Facebook.

For interviews with the student filmmakers, Luskay or Revkin, contact Cara Cea in the Pace University office of public information. ccea@pace.edu, (914) 906-9680.

About Pace University

For 105 years, Pace University has educated thinking professionals by providing high quality education for the professions on a firm base of liberal learning amid the advantages of the New York metropolitan area. A private university, Pace has campuses in New York City and Westchester County, New York, enrolling nearly 13,000 students in bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral programs in its Lubin School of Business, Dyson College of Arts and Sciences, College of Health Professions, School of Education, School of Law, and Seidenberg School of Computer Science and Information Systems. www.pace.edu