Professor teaches documentary video production

Lindsey Fine films cherubs Mattea Vecera (left) and Avani Kalra as part of her broadcast lab. Photo by Jenna Anderson

Cherub Camila Trimberger of Sheboygan, Wisconsin, has always found documentaries interesting.

“When I was growing up, my dad would always watch these sports documentaries on ESPN,” she said. “I always had documentaries on in the house. I love watching them.”

Trimberger got another taste of the medium when Professor Ava Greenwell presented her in-progress documentary “Mission Possible: the Chicago Free South Africa Movement” to all 83 cherubs. Trimberger said she’s glad Greenwell did.

“The topic was super interesting,” she said. “If in the future I want to pursue this side of broadcast, I know people that can help me with it.”

Greenwell’s documentary covers the anti-Apartheid protest in Chicago during the 1980s and 1990s. The work is in the “rough cut” phase, and Greenwell said she showed students about 20 minutes of footage that had not been finely edited. She added that she expects to finish the documentary, which will likely span an hour, in the spring of 2020.

Greenwell said she showed the students her work not just because cherub program Director Roger Boye asked her to, but because she wanted students to see some key tenets of the documentary process.

“This is a process that can be arduous but also very rewarding,” she said. “I wanted them to see the patience required.”

This tough aspect of the process was something Greenwell stressed in her lecture. She said fundraising is often the biggest challenge.

“The average cost of a film could be as high as $300,000,” she said. “That’s an amount that’s pretty scary for anybody. You could spend most of your time working on grant applications and not actually be working on the film.”

Greenwell’s warning didn’t make cherubs less interested. Emma Suttell of Anthem, Arizona, said the length of the documentary process could help her. Suttell said she plans to work this year on her own documentary about the behind-the-scenes processes of setting up show choir sets.

“Seeing her work told me that a documentary doesn’t need to be something that I set my heart on and finish in a month,” she said. “It can be something I’m working on, on the side while I’m also writing or broadcasting.”

The cherubs are just the third group to see any of Greenwell’s documentary. She said showing her work to the students felt important.

“Students should realize that you never stop learning and that you continue to practice the craft,” Greenwell said. “They want to see what have you done lately. I don’t think they trust you as much if you haven’t been in the field doing it recently.”

Suttell said this is a key aspect of the program.

“When you go to cherubs, you don’t realize how active in their fields some of these instructors are,” she said. “To me, it’s important to be able to lead a group while you’re also a part of it. From the instructors showing their own work, it shows me that it is possible as a journalist to take something under your own wing and also be mentoring others.”