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Building America

On Tuesday morning, my alarm went off at 3:45 am, and after a few hits of the snooze button and a couple cups of coffee, our 16-person backpack journalism squad rolled out to a local hilltop neighborhood to film some sunrise b-roll. As the sun inched over two neighboring cities of the same name, a long and looming copper wall became more and more evident rising and falling with the dessert hills.

Over the past four days, we’ve spent equal amounts of time in loaded silence and hysterical laughter. Hearing stories that challenge our understandings of life in all its forms makes us forget how tired we are from dessert heat, emotional roller coasters, and 12+ hour days. During late nights and early mornings, I’ve had many opportunities to blog about how this experience has been so far, but I just haven’t been able to find the words.

Every interview, conversation, observation and reflection makes me more and more confused about the reality of migration. The Olivia Pope ‘fixer’ in me gets frustrated with every new piece of information, as it makes a realistic solution seem even further out of reach.

My fixer instinct was particularly defeated in seeing a train marked with “Union Pacific – Building America” cruising past downtown Nogales on the Mexican side, through a gate opening in the wall, and straight into the US. As this train is “Building America” by delivering cheaply produced goods from Mexican factories to American consumers, Mexican citizens wait in line for 20 years for the chance to be called American and treated as such.

This raises the question — how deeply rooted and systematically unjust is the relationship between the US and Mexico, and how does that relationship trickle down to affect individuals every day? Union Pacific, headquartered in downtown Omaha, employs dozens of Creighton students. Are they contributing? I love to eat avocado toast for breakfast, and “Avocados from Mexico” brand avocados are tasty and cheap. Is my avocado addiction to blame?

Father Peter Neeley, a Jesuit and the Assistant Director of Education at Kino Border Initiative, believes that the dehumanization of migrants comes down to American people valuing things over people. We care a lot about keeping the prices of our favorite goods and foods low, and as a result, economic dependence on cheap Mexican labor continues. Yet, criminalization and dehumanization of migrant populations stimulates a culture of fear despite economic dependency.

For me, comprehending all this comes down to a single quote: “to live fully, we must learn to use things and love people, and not love things and use people.” With this in mind alongside inspiration from the love and passion of the people that have dedicated their lives to working towards resolving this issue, it seems that hope and faith can be found in knowing that the sun will rise over the wall again tomorrow with a solution somewhere down the road.

On the road

So I’m a little behind on blog post…
I never get nervous. I love giving speeches. I use to dance in front of hundreds of people and never get nervous. I moved away from home when I was 16 and moved to Connecticut, but I never once was nervous. But the night before the trip to Arizona I am nothing but nerves.
I feel sick to my stomach, a sensation I’ve never really experienced in terms of anxiety before a trip. I’m not sure what exactly is the cause of my nerves. It is a mix of excitement and stress.
I want to make sure that this film is honest and that it tells a story. I don’t want to mess up filming, interviewing or to be the one who forgets to charge their camera battery (sorry nico).
I want to move outside my comfort zone and to do an interview and use the camera. I am hoping that after this trip I will be willing to take more risks. If I am able to do that I think it will have a profound impact on my quality of life.
As a type a person I can sometimes micromanage my life too much. My planner consists of:
7:00-wake up
7:05-get out of bed
7:10 make bed and pee
I wish I was joking. I need a constant schedule. I like how distracting schedules can be. But I get stuck in the constant motions and tend to not notice all the amazing things that are happening around me.
The good thing about these next two weeks is that I can’t micromanage my life. I like think that it’ll be a different type of schedule and structure that I’m not use to. The days will be long but it’ll be a new adventure and new task everyday.
Hopefully after his trip I will be able to input that idea into my everyday life and not get stuck in the motions.

Learning Art

I think one of the things that has most stood out to me through this past week of 8-hour-a-day coursework is the level of complexity and art involved in videography. It’s easy to narrow the process of capturing video as simply pointing and shooting footage, but so much more time, effort, and thought goes into each individual scene. This is something that has become more and more clear to me the more videos I watch this week. I appreciate scenes so much more and am constantly trying to imagine how videographers get some of their more artistic or well-angled shots. While I’m fascinated by the artistic freedom video allows, I’m also intimidated by the level of detail and attention it takes to make a good scene.

We’ve learned how to capture a variety of angles, how to work with color and light, and how to work with audio. We’ve also learned a variety of rules that should always be applied when doing video: the rule of thirds, holding the shot, making sure everything is focused, etc. One element of documentary making that is a lot more complicated than I thought it would be is shooting interviews versus shooting b-roll (all the footage that isn’t an interview). Setting up an interview involves just the right lighting, just the right angles, just the right background, and a lot of sound checks. The whole process ends up taking the 12 of us around 45 minutes before we even start the actual interview.

Interviewing itself is an intimidating aspect of the documentary making process. While I have some experience interviewing people for print, no interview I’ve ever done deals with an issue as complicated as immigration. There is a lot of pressure to interview these individuals in such a way that I am able to help them tell their story effectively. There is also a different art to documentary filming versus print interviewing: you have to encourage your subject to include the question in the answer, you have to be dead silent while interviewing (no encouraging laughs or “mhm”s which will be tough for me). Other than that, it’s just important to always be thinking of follow up based on their responses, to have a number of questions previously prepared, to note what kind of b-roll you might gather based on their answers, and to leave space after their answers for them to add additional thoughts.

I’ve learned so much in this short week and am completely overwhelmed and deliriously excited to begin to apply what I’ve learned so far. I can’t wait to see what else I learn as we begin the real journey!

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Analyzing effective and ineffective footage, as well as learning about various kinds of shots. 

Turning “What Ifs” into “So Whats”

Tomorrow is the day! We embark on our journey to Nogales, Arizona, right on the edge of the United States/Mexico border. I’m an absolute mix of emotions from “eep!” excitement to “Oh God, what have I gotten myself into” nerves.

I could probably write a lengthy narrative as to why I am excited for this experience, but I’ll keep it short and sweet for this blog post. Somewhere along my life path, I began to understand the beauty of humanity in combination with the beauty of photography. As an optimist, I have found I tend to look for the good in people, but the world in which we live today doesn’t always depict humanity this way.

This is where the nerves come in. How do I portray the migrants who pass through Nogales in a way that tells their story without losing their human element? How do I explain their hardships but maintain dignity and respect for each individual? Or other worries that have crossed my mind: What if I don’t ask the right questions? What if the camera or microphone malfunctions? What if we get back to Creighton and we don’t have enough b-roll?

While I am a worrier to my core, I won’t let the “what ifs” control my experience, but I’ll let the “so whats” take the reins. After understanding the experiences of migrants and immersing ourselves into the city of Nogales, we’ll ask ourselves, “so what do we do now?” The answer is our documentary, viewed through the lens of a Jesuit education, which will hopefully be a response to the “so what” of migration, but most certainly not the only answer.

Even though I’m going into this experience with a combination of nerves and excitement, I know this adventure will be both a challenge and an opportunity for growth. This is my first significant moment to utilize my journalism skills in the field and I’m extremely fortunate to be given this opportunity. I hope I can be a voice for the voiceless and tell the stories of migrants and people of Nogales to the best of my ability without losing their human dignity.

Arizona/Nogales Backpack Journalism Group
Here’s our film fam during our last day of pre-departure preparation, ready to film, interview, and bond. If you were ever wondering what an awkward family photo looked like if everyone met each other five days prior, here it is.

 

Long Days, Large Payoff

I remember a few years ago when I used to go to high school back in Texas. I remember having to wake up around 6:30 everyday just to get ready in the morning, then get to school an hour later and wait for class to start at 8. I would stay in that school the entire day until the very last class period at 4:30, go home to do my homework, and try to go to sleep at a reasonable time every weekday. It’s times like this week that make me think back to those high school days and think to myself: “How in the world did I manage to survive being in school all day everyday?!”

While waking up early and staying in a classroom all day has taken a toll on my spoiled, nap-riddled sleep schedule, I can still honestly say I’ve enjoyed every sleep deprived moment of this week. I’ve learned so much in the past few days, not about just film, editing, and videography as a whole from Nico Sandi, but also about feature writing from Carol Zuegner, as well as some ecclesiology lessons from Dr. John O’Keefe. It’s been a busy week jam packed with multiple lectures, lessons, and tutorials, and it’s been an incredible ride so far.

This week has been especially great for me in terms of learning new things, because I’ve always been curious about how exactly a camera works. I never knew what ISO was, or how shutter speeds and the aperture affects shots, and how to balance all of these factors to get the picture/video you want. But after this week, I’ve gotten the main gist of how all of these things work, and how to use them effectively in film. I’m actually pretty sure I even had a dream about it at one point; I just couldn’t get it out of my mind after learning about it and seeing it in action every day! Additionally, Nico helped all of us out by giving us cheat sheets with different shots, as well as hints and tips when it comes to shooting, which has been immensely helpful this past week.

Cheat Sheets
Nico’s Handy Dandy Cheat Sheets: The most useful pieces of paper this week

I’m very excited to put everything that I’ve learned this week so far into use while we’re all in Arizona and Mexico. Everyone in our group is very talented and have been doing some awesome stuff as far as shooting and editing videos go, so I’m even more excited to see how well we’ll all work together as a team!

Pixels and Bytes with a Purpose

Anticipating, waiting, preparing, hoping. Any synonymous verb is exactly what I am feeling as I, along with several students, a graduate student, and two professors get ready to embark on a journey to Nogales, which is a community split on the border between Arizona and Mexico. The Kino Border Initiative, which assists migrants coming to the United States, is an organization we’ll be working closely with during our time in Nogales.

We’re not only making a journey to this community, we’ll be creating a documentary on the journeys of migrants to the United States. Our program, titled Backpack Journalism, is five weeks long: two weeks being on-site and three weeks of learning videography and rough cutting the film.

We’ll be driving to the border, which mirrors, but pales in comparison to the journey migrants make to a new place. As the saying goes, the journey is half of the experience.

I am highly anticipating this trip as it meshes quite closely to what I would like to do as a career. I am a journalism major and my focus is on photojournalism, so my hope is to work for a nonprofit organization one day photographing the world in a way that brings about social, political, and economic change.

I will leave my readers with one of my favorite quotes to keep in mind as I and fellow students update our blog and continue our work creating our documentary in Nogales.

Aaron Siskind, an American photographer, once said, “Photography is a way of feeling, of touching, of loving. What you have caught on film is captured forever… It remembers little things, long after you have forgotten everything.” I truly hope that our time in Nogales can effectively encapsulate the story of the lives we encounter.

Caribbean
I spent several weeks in the Caribbean with family, so here is a photograph of me in the zone in Puerto Rico documenting the culture I encountered.

A New Dream

Thinking back on these last five weeks, I realized something today. When I first started I was excited for the experience I was going to get in Alaska and for getting to use my video skills on such a big project. I, however, did not expect the experience I got. The people I met there, the things I saw, the stories I heard, the relationships that grew stronger by the day were all part of a wonderful experience I don’t know how to explain.

When the class first started I have to admit I was a little nervous about spending five weeks with people I hardly knew. I had been in class with a couple of them before, but I wasn’t close with any of them. By the end of the first week (or as we all like to call it video bootcamp) I could tell it would be a great next couple of weeks. We all seemed to fit together. This is a great group of individuals and now the class is over and I won’t be seeing them everyday. I am a little sad about this and hope we all stay close and continue making memories.

This is what I want to do for the rest of my life. What we did in Alaska is what I want to work towards after I graduate. Before the trip I was very unsure of my future. When someone asked me what my dream job was, I would answer with “I don’t know. Something in the creative field like design or photography.” Now I can firmly say, “I want to make videos and share stories visually, and I want to travel the world doing it.”  I think that now that I have discovered this about myself I can work towards this new dream and goal. I have always been jealous of my brother (hey Nick! I am finally mentioning you in a blog like you asked me to) because he has known his dream for a while. He has done everything he can to achieve that dream, and now he is getting very close to his dream and I really hope he gets there. I aspire to be like him and do everything in my power to achieve this new dream of mine.

Learning through Doing

Yesterday, we all sat crowded around the projector in the Murphy media lab to watch a rough cut of what will eventually result in our final project.

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Just two weeks ago, we came to this same media lab with over 90 hours of footage, thousands of different story ideas, and with little to no video editing experience.

We have spent countless hours editing, writing, re-editing, and re-writing. Coffee, bagels, and Carol’s delicious cream cheese bars have powered us through as we attempted to develop a concrete story idea, but through it all, we have come up with a great film and learned journalism from an extraordinary perspective.

It is amazing that within the short span of two weeks, I now feel confident in trimming and marking video clips in final cut pro. I have learned how to create a storyboard as well as the importance of a concise narration. In addition, I discovered the tricks to Morgan Freeman’s narrating voice and the importance of reflection when creating a film.

I have learned more about journalism in this short 5-week period, than I have in my past two years of journalism classes and internships. I was able to witness and be a part of the entire process of making a documentary. From the interviewing, to the filming, to the editing and the writing, I have been able to see this project through and through.  The intense bursts of hard work were tiring, and sometimes seemed endless, but in the end I found it is what I love about the world of journalism.

From now on, I will never again watch a documentary in the same way. I will now analyze each shot that was used, looking for hints of foreshadowing and considering each word of narration.

Though the film still remains nameless and is nowhere near finished, I am confident that it will be a great and inspiring film!

The experience of a lifetime

At the beginning of the Alaska trip, I really had no idea what to expect.

We all had an idea of why we were going to Bethel and a vague series of expectations about all that this trip would bring. However, for me, the 15 days spent in Alaska far exceeded every expectation that I had.

I started out knowing nothing about videography or editing, and very little about interviewing. I ended this program with much more knowledge in all of those skills (well, mostly in editing and interviewing…yay C Team!).

Traveling with a group of people and living in constant close quarters with those same people definitely taught us all about tolerance and patience.

However, that was a highlight of this trip. Getting to know this group as well as I did really added to the experience. It was so great to hear everybody’s differing perspectives on just about everything. That highlight just reinforced the lesson I learned in Bethel, that there is not a one-size-fits-all perspective or philosophy. Each person and culture hold something that is inherently valuable because they are so different. This group, along with the Yup’ik people, collectively taught me that there are so many different fabrics and colors that make up the tapestry of life.

That definitely surprised me. While I was expecting to learn life lessons from the natives in Bethel, I was caught off guard by all that I learned from my peers.

My peers made the trip a happy one, despite the questionable living quarters and the insane amount of misadventures (and mosquitos).

The incredible ability of the Yup’ik people to respect the land resonated deeply with me. I think many people, including myself, take the Earth and all it offers for granted. That is what I am trying to put effort into changing in my daily life. Also, the Yup’ik spirit of giving. They are such a giving people, who truly practice the idea that whatever you give you will get back tenfold. Just another lesson that I can, with effort, apply to my daily life. And I intend to do so.

We have all learned so much, about the camera equipment, about ourselves, and about people.
Learning is exhausting, and I think we are all still mentally drained from our hard work in Bethel and more recently in the classroom. We are exhausted, but enthusiastic.

I can not wait to see the final results of our labors, none of which could be possible without Tim, Carol, or John. Each of which brought their own unique, important contributions to the team.

This has been the most rewarding experience of my life, and I will always be grateful for every single moment of this Backpack Journalism program.

 

 

C Team Forever!
C Team Forever!

 

QUYANA, everyone!