Backpack Journalism at Creighton University is a collaboration between the Theology Department and the Journalism, Media, & Computing Department. It came about because of a theologian interested in social justice and filmmaking and a journalist and an artist interested in filmmaking and social justice.
Each summer, a small group of students travels to a community in search of a story. Led by professors Dr. John O’Keefe, Tim Guthrie, and Carol Zuegner, the students immerse themselves in the communities, interviewing, filming, recording, and writing. When they return to Creighton, they take the stories they have collected and develop them into a short documentary film. The Backpack Journalism documentaries have been accepted at several film festivals, including the Omaha Film Festival. The class has traveled to such far-flung places as the Dominican Republic and Uganda, Bethel Alaska and Nogales Arizona/Sonora. The next project is tentatively planned for Northern Uganda in 2018.
In Bethel, a small group of us went out on the tundra to catch the sunset for the last two nights. We would leave around 10:30 p.m. to watch the sun “set” around 11:30 p.m. And when I say “set,” it would never really go away, just dip below the horizon only to reappear a few hours later.
Some took shots for a time-lapse, others filmed more material for the mockumentary, or some just took a photo with their minds (and iPhones). When we were out on the tundra we talked and joked around or we were silent, just trying to take in the moment with every breath.
With my new appreciation of sunsets, we had arrived to our next destination, Seward, Alaska, just in time for the summer solstice. This part of Alaska was much different than Bethel. There were mountains, trees, and roads!
A small group of us set out again to watch the sun go down on the longest day of the year.
This time we didn’t actually get to see the sun because of the clouds and the mountains, but we watched a show of our own. As we settled on the rocks at the edge of the water, a sea otter came up and ate a long meal right in front of us. We sat there for quite a while.
There is something about sitting in silence with your friends before a perfectly serene scene of the blue water, cute wildlife, gigantic mountains, and low clouds. It’s where peace and love for the land is found.
It was transcendent—a moment I’ll want to remember forever.
Fishing puns aside, ((Brad Dice, I hope you’re reading this) Actually they use nets up here, not hooks), my experience in the YK Delta of Alaska has further affirmed my choice to pursue journalism as my career choice.
Author’s note: I usually put a lot of thought into my blogs, thinking hard on structure and creativity. This one is more of rambling thoughts, quickly putting my thoughts into words for my own sake. Thus, the title. And as a music enthusiast I must pay my respects to those who rambled before me:
Additionally, it’s an excuse to use my SUPER AWESOME FISHING PUN.
Anyway, I always liked the idea of working a job where I simply had conversations with people, thought about it for a while, and wrote a story. Up until now, my experience with this has largely been confined to what’s known as the “Creighton bubble”. I enjoyed working on stories about my own community, but I craved interaction with people and places different from me.
Well, this trip has more than satisfied that craving.
The people of the YK Delta more than welcomed us. They embraced us.
From visiting fish camps:
to tasting an amalgam of native foods at the parish potluck:
I was afforded an opportunity to peak into peoples’ lives, and that’s a big deal. There is a fine line between observing respectfully and invading rudely. Yet another fine line sits between a story as a vessel of truth and as an objectifying window. The people we have met with, interviewed, and filmed ran the risk of invasion and objectification, yet they trusted us to observe and narrate truthfully.
I really think this team can fulfill that trust.
Our team has been stellar on this project. Each person has prioritized the documentary above all else, including personal comfort (lack of sleep, limited showers, zillions of mosquitos, dirty clothes, the list goes on…). No one complained. Rather, we embraced it. I honestly think that commitment will shine through in the final cut.
Alas, we leave Bethel tomorrow. I have been witness to so many cool/badass/transcendent people and experiences, I need some time to process it all. It’s all jumbled up at the moment. But two experiences in tandem provided a clear bookend for my Bethel experience.
Last night, our crew gathered in the church for a reflection. John encouraged us to sit in silence for a while, practicing the Ignatian spiritual practice called the Examine. Sitting there in communal silence, we each went into our memories to center ourselves and our thoughts. After a while, Carol spoke aloud, expressing her feelings and thoughts on the experience. Every person eventually shared something they were thinking about. Often there were several minutes of silence between speakers. I remember sitting there with my eyes closed, hoping that John wouldn’t call an end to the reflection, simply so that I might spend more time in communion with the people I had worked with, slept with, dined with, played with, and learned with. I went in with a heavy heart and lots on my mind. I came out with the weight off of my chest. At peace.
But the night wasn’t over.
We realized that the clouds had cleared, so Nico suggested that we go to the Tundra to get a time lapse of the sunset. A few of us piled into the truck and went out there. We set up the cameras and sat down to watch:
Nico, Hayley, Hannah, Tony, Catherine, and I sat until nearly two in the morning in a cloud of mosquitos, just talking, looking, and listening.