Award Winning Filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker to Deliver Oct. 29 Lecture

By Despina Williams Parker

D.A. Pennebaker, the acclaimed filmmaker behind such documentaries as Don’t Look Back (1967), Inside the War Room (1993), and Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1973), will present a special lecture on Wednesday, Oct. 29 at 6 p.m. in Lecture Center 100.

D.A. Pennebaker

D.A. Pennebaker

Known as one of the founders of the cinéma vérité movement, Pennebaker earned the Academy’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 2013 for his over 60-year career chronicling such cultural milestones as Bob Dylan’s 1965 electric tour of England, Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential bid and David Bowie’s final performance as Ziggy Stardust.

The lecture, entitled “D.A. Pennebaker: An Evening with a Legend,” will also include a six-minute video retrospective of Pennebaker’s career and a question and answer period.

Thomas Cznarty, a lecturer in the Department of Digital Media and Journalism, reached out to Pennebaker after teaching several of his films in his Digital Media Production and Documentary Filmmaking courses. He credits Pennebaker’s 1953 documentary, Daybreak Express, with reshaping his notion of what great documentaries can be.

Daybreak Express was filmed on New York City’s 3rd Avenue elevated subway train (discontinued in 1955) and set to a jazz composition by Duke Ellington. The documentary is non-linear, with no narration and captures a unique moment in the city’s history.

Cznarty, himself an award-winning documentary filmmaker, said Pennebaker’s early film taught him that “visuals can tell the whole story.” He is excited for his students to meet a living legend.

The lecture is sponsored by the Department of Digital Media and Journalism, with additional support from the Provost’s Office, College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, College of Fine & Performing Arts, Department of Communication, Department of History and Department of Sociology.

The lecture is free and open to the public.

Seymour Hersh Biography Named Best in U.S.

SUNY New Paltz Journalism Professor Robert Miraldi’s biography of a famous American investigative reporter has been named the best journalism biography in the United States in 2013.

The announcement of the Ann Sperber Biography Award came out recently from Fordham Scoop ArtistUniversity which administers the prestigious prize. Dr. Miraldi, a professor at New Paltz since 1982, will receive his award on Nov. 19 at Fordham’s Manhattan campus.

Professor Brian Rose, acting director of the Sperber Awards for 2014, praised the book as “a probing and provocative investigation of this country’s premier investigative journalist.”

Miraldi’s book, Seymour Hersh: Scoop Artist, chronicles the work of a journalist who many consider to be America’s greatest investigative reporter. Hersh won the Pulitzer Prize for his exposé of the massacre of hundreds of civilians in the village of My Lai in Vietnam in 1968. He then, in 2004, revealed the story of the torture of Iraqis in a prison at Abu Ghraib. Hersh is the author of eight controversial and best-selling books and has won virtually every major award in journalism.

Miraldi joins a distinguished list of biographers who have won the Sperber Award for books on subjects ranging from Walter Cronkite to William Randolph Hearst to Henry Luce, all major figures in American journalism.

“I worked on this Hersh biography for nearly a decade,” Miraldi commented. “So it is gratifying to receive this award and see my Hersh work in with some wonderful other biographies. Hersh is perhaps America’s greatest investigative reporter, and his work deserves this recognition.”

Miraldi added, “The book has a dimension beyond Hersh’s work. He is an iconic figure — irreverent, brash, indefatigable, headstrong, arrogant, and passionate. He is really a great American character.”

The 445-page book, which was published by Potomac Books/University of Nebraska Press, came out last fall and was named one of the 10 best investigative books in the U.S. by Harvard University’s Nieman Reports. The History News Network called it “refreshingly readable and very impressive.”

Miraldi came to New Paltz in 1982 after a career as a reporter. He teaches courses on freedom of speech, press history and news reporting. He has won many awards for his writing and research and was named one of America’s top journalism teachers by the Poynter Institute in 1989.

In 2004, his biography, The Pen Is Mightier (Palgrave/Macmillan Books), was named the best book in the country in media and journalism. That book told the life story of a famous turn-of-the-twentieth century investigative reporter, Charles Edward Russell, who was the most prolific of the so-called “muckraking” journalists.

Dr. Miraldi, who has a PhD in American Studies and a master’s degree in journalism, thanked SUNY New Paltz for its support of this book with a sabbatic leave, reduced teaching time to write, and various grants to fund research.

Miraldi lives in Stone Ridge, N.Y, with his wife, Mary Beth Pfeiffer, a reporter. He has two children and two grandchildren.



The Making of an ASL Song

By Maria Gillin, President, SUNY New Paltz American Sign Language Club

Every semester begins the same, we introduce ourselves and say what we do. Then we see what the members of our club are interested in. We learn the most about each other when we pick what song we want to translate and learn how to sign. Our members always get to choose – we ask them for song ideas, narrow them down based on level of difficulty, and put it to a vote. Then the fun begins. It usually takes 3 or 4 days to translate a song and then from there it takes about 4 meetings to teach everyone and be comfortable enough that we can perform the song, or record ourselves.

This past year we had the awesome experience of performing twice, once at Relay for Life and again at the Sexy Pitches final spring performance. Our debut at Relay for Life was bigger and better than we ever imagined. Everyone stopped what they were doing to watch when we took the stage. Afterwards we spent over a half hour with people asking about how they could join and be a part of something so awesome.

Here is the ASL Club performing “Let It Go” from the movie Frozen:

The ASL Club meets on Mondays at 8pm in the Commuter Lounge, SUB100S. Please join us, or get in touch-


Twitter: @NewPaltzASLClub

Instagram: @newpaltzaslclub

President Maria Gillin –

Vice President Sarah Broughton –


Somerstein Examines ‘Selective Memory’ of 9/11 Iconography



By Despina Williams Parker

On the thirteenth anniversary of 9/11, Guernica: A Journal of Art and Politics published a provocative article by Rachel Somerstein, a New Paltz assistant professor of digital media and journalism, which examines the New York Times’s “partial, simplified, whitewashed, masculinized” anniversary coverage of the terrorist attacks.

Somerstein’s article, entitled “The Selective Memory of 9/11 Iconography,” compares the New York Times’s 2001 coverage of the attacks to the newspaper’s anniversary coverage from 2002-2011. Somerstein found that over time the photographs used to illustrate the anniversary reporting told a “much narrower” story.

Somerstein examined the “Portraits of Grief,” brief obituaries about 9/11 victims that ran for months after the attacks, and which earned the Times a Pulitzer in Public Service. She found that the “Portraits,” which once “effectively reflected the financial, professional, and ethnic diversity of the people who died,” had become “more and more homogeneous” in the updated, anniversary coverage published in 2006 and 2011. In the subsequent printings, the obituaries and accompanying photos overwhelmingly represented men, whites, and firefighters or financial-services workers.

Somerstein compared what she observed in the Times to demographic statistics published by the Department of Justice and the Centers for Disease Control. From these sources, which included the Special Master Report for the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, Somerstein found that a quarter of the 9/11 victims were women; a quarter were people of color; and though firefighters and financial-services workers suffered large losses, they were overrepresented in the paper’s anniversary coverage.

Pictures of the World Trade Center also far outweighed images of the Pentagon or Shanksville in the newspaper’s anniversary coverage, and the photos tended to depict buildings (the Twin Towers, the memorial at Ground Zero, the New York skyline) rather than people. Somerstein found this photographic focus notable “because 9/11 was about the body,” and the 3,000 people who died.

“Body images may be too grisly to show – or perhaps they were at the time, before this era of widely-circulated decapitation videos,” Somerstein wrote. “Still, it is worth noting that our photographic anniversary coverage of such a watershed event is all metaphor.”

Though she questioned whether journalism should function as history, Somerstein acknowledged the people whose “stories don’t fit the [9/11] mythology.”

“These were people with complex inner lives. Some heroic, some not. All human. And we can honor them, and the past, by resisting the media’s narrowed narrative of loss.”

Guernica is published twice monthly, and features nonfiction, fiction, interviews, and photography “dedicated to exploring the intersections between and conversations surrounding art and politics.” Contributors range from former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich to contemporary novelists to reporters based around the world.

Somerstein teaches courses in news writing and feature writing. Her research interests are collective memory and visual culture, especially news photography and documentary film.

Read Somerstein’s complete article here.

Deaf Awareness Week Film Presented in Sign Language and Closed Captioned for the Hearing

In celebration of Deaf Awareness Week, students are invited to attend a screening of the film Versa Effect on Monday, Sept. 22 from 6:30-8:30 in LC 100. The PG movie is presented in Sign Language and is closed captioned for the hearing!

From their childhood years to working at a Deaf school in Texas, Jackie and Seth have Versa Effectalways loved to…HATE each other. To make matters worse, their bodies have been switched. What follows is a series of laugh-a-minute hijinks as Jackie and Seth struggle to get back to their own bodies before they are stuck forever. Versa Effect is filmed in the vein of Freaky Friday and is sure to be enjoyed by all.

The film screening is sponsored by the Mid-Hudson Deaf Awareness Group, Department of Communication Disorders, Sociology Concentration in Human Services, Taconic Resources for Independence, Inc. and Campus Auxiliary Services.

The screening is free.  For more information, email

High-Tech Listening: iPhone App for Hearing Aids

Hearing aids are better than ever; they’re slim, customized, discrete and technologically advanced. They are no longer the devices of the past that your grandparents kept in a drawer only to wear for an occasional outing. They are digital and brimming with connectivity. Hearing aids can connect to any device that is Bluetooth compatible, such as a computer, television, cell phone, land line phone, music device, car system and more. If the target device is not Bluetooth, then an adaptor can be utilized.

Collage of hearing aids throughout history

Hearing aids throughout history

Recently a variety of hearing aid companies have introduced another advancement: iPhone compatibility. Apple’s “Made for iPhone Hearing Aid” program allows the iPhone to act as a remote control for hearing aids. When moving from one sound environment to another, such as entering a noisy restaurant, adjusting the volume or switching the hearing aid’s pre-programmed environment settings is easily done with the iPhone app. In addition, the app can be used to select an input source, such as cell phone, TV or music, so that sound is delivered from the source directly to the hearing aid.

If you would like to find out more about hearing aids, please contact the SUNY New Paltz Speech Language and Hearing Center at (845) 257-3600.



Documentary on Voodoo and Christianity Wins Telly Award


“Uneasy Sisters: Voodoo and Christianity in New Orleans” features Voodoo and Yoruba priestess Ava Kay Jones, who is also a devoted Catholic.

By Despina Williams Parker

A documentary showcasing the unlikely union between Voodoo and Christianity in New Orleans’ culture has earned digital media and journalism lecturer Thomas Cznarty a Telly Award.


Thomas Cznarty

“Uneasy Sisters: Voodoo and Christianity in New Orleans,” which Cznarty co-directed with executive producer Casey Grayson, earned the bronze Telly in the online video category. The Telly Awards were founded in 1978 to honor excellence in local, regional and cable television commercials, and has since expanded to include television programs and non-broadcast productions.

“The Telly Awards are very important because the award is given out by industry professionals, and that recognition for the film might help it possibly get broadcast,” said Cznarty, who is shopping the film to a New Orleans PBS affiliate, with hopes for a broadcasting deal.

The documentary debuted at New Paltz on April 24, 2014, as a featured selection of the annual Communication and Media Week. The screening was followed by a question and answer session with the documentary’s star, Ava Kay Jones, one of New Orleans’ most prominent Voodoo and Yoruba priestesses.

Like other Africa-descended residents of New Orleans, Jones has synthesized elements of Catholicism, Voodoo and Yoruba into a creole spiritual practice. In the documentary, she hoped to dispel the myth that Voodoo, which was brought to America by African slaves, is a dark religion incompatible with the teachings of the Old and New Testaments.

Jones agreed to star in the film without compensation, and provided a glimpse into a religion that is closely guarded by practitioners. “She felt that Voodoo had been marginalized in the media and in Hollywood for decades. She wanted to show that Voodoo could be for good. To have her in our documentary really lent it credibility,” said Cznarty.

Cznarty will follow up his award-winning work with two new documentaries slated to begin filming this summer: an examination of homelessness in Ulster and Orange Counties and a short film on the Gardiner distillery, Tuthilltown Spirits.


Uneasy Sisters Trailer from Casey Grayson on Vimeo.

Alumni, Students Comprise Film Crew of “Liner Notes”

SUNY New Paltz communication and media professor Gregory Bray ’00 (Communication and Media) has assembled a team of fellow alumni for the production of “Liner Notes,” a film based on a stage play written by his brother, John Patrick Bray ’00 (Theater).

Greg Bray

Gregory Bray

Bray said that after numerous productions and readings of “Liner Notes” were performed nationwide, he and his brother John, a playwriting and screenwriting professor at the University of Georgia, decided to collaborate on bringing the play to the big screen.

“I saw two readings in New York City, and after talking with John about the work, we came to the conclusion that it would make a terrific film,” said Bray. “It’s a dramatic comedy, or perhaps a comedic drama.”

“Liner Notes” tells the story of Alice, a young woman from Rochester, N.Y., who learns of the suicide of her estranged father, Jake, a lead singer of a popular CBGBs-era rock band in the 1970s. She drives to Georgia to reconnect with Jake’s former guitarist, George, who she convinces to come with her on a road trip to visit her father’s grave in Montreal.

“This is the major portion of the film – their road trip, their interactions, their visit to an open mic bar in New Paltz, N.Y.,” said Bray. “Alice is one of my favorite characters I’ve encountered in any medium. It takes a particular level of determination to drive from Rochester, N.Y., to northern Georgia, only to turn around and drive all the way to Montreal to visit a headstone.”

Bray said the story is “ultimately a meditation on what it means to be a rock star, and what kind of damage does celebrity culture create? At the same time it’s a story of two very different people taking a journey together, and learning about themselves through each other.”

“Liner Notes” also serves as “a love letter to music,” Bray said. “There’s something immediately nostalgic about music. It can serve as our own autobiographies. We hear a song on the radio, and suddenly it’s that summer day from 20 years ago we wish we could revisit. Or a first dance.”

The film is being shot in and around New Paltz, with a crew entirely made up of New Paltz digital media production alumni: Jason Latorre ’11, first assistant director/editor; Tara Latorre ’11, social media director, Matt Brunner ’14, swing crew/grip; Vincent Carnevale ’13, director of photography; Brenna Landerkin ’13, art director; Ian Todaro ’14, camera crew; Carol Lee ’06, post production; and communication and media lecturer Joseph Vlachos ’04.

Bray said he is also in the process of enlisting several current students who have indicated interest in serving as production assistants, and that final audio mixing will also be done at SUNY New Paltz with the help of student assistants.

For more information about “Liner Notes,” check out the film’s Facebook page at, or on Twitter (@linernotesmovie) or follow the conversation via the hashtag #rememberjake. Bray also plans to launch a contest for #rememberjake videos on video sharing social network Vine, with a prize to be presented for the best user-created video.

Digital Media Lecturer’s Basketball Documentary an Official Selection at Hoboken International Film Festival

Ray Williams Knicks 1reduced

Ray Williams achieved fame as a New York Knicks point guard, but ended up bankrupt and homeless. He is one of the subjects of Thomas Cznarty’s documentary, “After the Sweat Dries.”

By Despina Williams Parker

There are hoop dreams, and there are harsh realities.

“After the Sweat Dries,” Thomas Cznarty’s cautionary tale about the often cruel aftermath of athletic success, was an Official Selection at the Hoboken International Film Festival, held May 30-June 5 in Middletown, NY.

In the documentary, Cznarty, a New Paltz Digital Media instructor, sought to explore a topic that he believes has not garnered adequate media attention. “We wanted to inform athletes, sports enthusiasts and the layperson that after the stadium lights dim low and the cheering crowds go home, professional athletes need to have goals beyond sports, because their window of success is fleeting.”

The film profiles the lives of former New York Knicks point guard Ray Williams and Seton Hall University basketball assistant coach Shaheen Holloway. Both men experienced admirable success in the game, but their lives outside the stadium took very different turns.

Williams, who played 10 years in the NBA, found his career suddenly over after a contract dispute with the New York Nets. Once accustomed to a salary of $4-5 million a year, Williams could not sustain his former lifestyle. Within a decade, he had blown through his NBA pension, was homeless and living in his car.

Ray Williams

Williams was photographed living in his car by a Boston Globe photographer.

Holloway, a Queens native, was a standout guard for Seton Hall from 1996-2000. After leading his team to the NCAA Tournament, his college career ended when he broke his ankle in three places during a game at Syracuse.

Holloway would go on to play in the European basketball league, but returned home to help raise his daughter, who was struggling academically. He has experienced great success as a Seton Hall coach, and gives back to his community by hosting summer basketball camps for youth. His daughter is now a Seton Hall undergraduate student.

Cznarty sought to highlight the differences in the two men’s responses to adversity. While Holloway was able to bounce back from disappointment and pursue positive career and personal changes, Williams proved completely unprepared for life after the NBA. “Ray didn’t have a back-up plan,” Cznarty said.

Just as Williams’s life seemed to briefly take a turn for the better – a profile in the Boston Globe led to a job with the Mount Vernon recreation department, and he reunited with and married a former girlfriend – Williams developed cancer. In less than a year after Cznarty visited him at his home, Williams passed away without ever seeing the finished documentary.

At the June 2 screening at the Hoboken Film Festival, held in the Paramount Theater, the film received a positive response from attendees. “After the screening, everyone applauded loudly. It made an impact on the audience, so that was very rewarding,” said Cznarty.

Cznarty returned two nights later to attend the screening of the short film, “Choices,” by his student and Digital Storytelling standout Catherine Kaczor. Cznarty called the fictional film, about a young, disillusioned woman, “beautifully rendered.”

Tom Cznarty

Thomas Cznarty

This year, the Hoboken International Film Festival had over 1,500 film submissions, and a jury of industry insiders accepted less than 10 percent. Only a handful were documentaries.

Cznarty said festival success is crucial, as numerous distribution company representatives attend the screenings and broker deals with filmmakers. “The goal is to sell the film and get it broadcast and get a distribution deal,” he said.

In June, “After the Sweat Dries” won the Accolade Competition’s Award of Merit in the short documentary category. Accolade is a juried, international awards competition, and the Award of Merit recognizes “notable artistic and technical productions.”

Cznarty has also submitted the film to the Sundance, South by Southwest and American Film Institute festivals, and hopes to showcase his work in these venues in the fall and winter.

– Despina Williams

Digital Media Alumni Win Top Honor at SUNYWide Film Festival

Jogger John

“Jogger John” is the subject of an award winning documentary by 2013 Digital Media alumni Kaleigh Griffin, Claudia Gallo, Lindsay Nimphius and Keri Sheheen.

By Despina Williams Parker

The Digital Media and Journalism Department is pleased to announce New Paltz alumni’s grand prize win at the SUNYWide Film Festival, held in April at the SUNY Fredonia campus.

The documentary, “First Name: Jogger, Last Name: John,” by Kaleigh Griffin, Claudia Gallo, Lindsay Nimphius and Keri Sheheen, all 2013 graduates, earned Best in Festival.

The 15-minute film, which was directed, written and produced by Griffin, tells the story of “Jogger John,” a homeless man and former drug addict who became a Woodstock, NY treasure. Gallo served as cinematographer and co-edited the film with Sheeheen. Nimphius scored the film.

The festival was founded in 2009 as an opportunity to showcase the cinematic excellence of students and faculty from the SUNY system.

The young filmmakers were thrilled to receive the award.

“I wasn’t expecting it at all and it came as such a wonderful surprise,” said Griffin. “I can’t wait to tell Jogger John. He’s always so happy when I tell him about another accomplishment the film makes.”

The project was created as part of the Seminar in Digital Filmmaking capstone course last spring. The documentary premiered at the Woodstock Film Festival and earned the Second Place Documentary award at the annual international Broadcast Education Association Festival of Media Arts in the spring.

View the trailer for the documentary here.