The Digital Media Production major marries the technical and aesthetic concerns of filmmaking with a Liberal Arts focus on research, creative problem solving and storytelling. Digital Filmmaking, the major’s capstone course, asks students to create two high-quality finished projects, a short narrative or music video and a documentary, which form the foundation of students’ professional portfolios.
For their documentary project, students Jenna Ely, Dino Davaros and Brendan O’Keefe set out to make a film that showcased farmers’ lives and the Hudson Valley’s autumnal beauty. In the process, they found an inspiring story about reinvention and the pursuit of one’s passion that showcased their strengths as filmmakers.
Passion Fruit features Italian-born farmer, Fabio Chizzola, owner of the 32-acre Westwind Orchard in Accord, NY. Chizzola purchased an overgrown apple orchard in 2002 and transformed it into an organic farm producing apples, squash, berries, pumpkins, honey, eggs, and other specialty items. But the farmer’s story has a twist: Chizzola is also a New York City fashion photographer with a history of reinventing himself in bold, unexpected ways.
In the course of their studies in Digital Media Production, the students learned to use equipment and editing software, write teleplays and commercials. Core courses in Audio, TV Studio, as well as field work gave them valuable, hands-on experience in the field.
Ely drew from her experience in Broadcast Journalism (she’d previously conducted on-air interviews for the Woodstock Film Festival), in researching and interviewing Chizzola and his family. She served as the film’s producer, and shared co-director duties with Davaros, whose love of cameras and composition made him a perfect fit for director of photography. O’Keefe served as audio engineer, operating microphones, recording interviews and fine-tuning sound quality in post-production. The trio collaborated on the film’s final edit.
The students conducted interviews with Chizzola and his family, and shot footage at the farm and in New York City. Ely poured through interview transcriptions, and highlighted sections that formed a cohesive narrative. “I was pretty much in charge of how we wanted to show the story and Jenna was in charge of how we wanted to tell the story,” said Davaros. “She really put the skeleton of the project together and I kind of colored it in.”
The students mined quality material from their subjects, including Chizzola’s revealing discovery of negatives from the 1930s which had belonged to the farm’s previous owner, Chester Kohn. Chizzola felt an immediate kinship with photographer and farmer Kohn, and the connection made for a compelling narrative twist.
“It’s a credit to Dino, Jenna and Brendan that they were able to get Fabio so comfortable to talk about all the elements of his life,” said Assistant Professor Gregory Bray. “They put their noses to the grindstone and created this really beautiful film.”
The documentary’s story resonated with the young filmmakers, who are still discovering what it means to follow one’s passion.
When his parents gave him a video camera at age 13, Davaros recorded commercials and news parodies, and came to New Paltz believing he would pursue Media Management. After taking a course in Digital Storytelling, Davaros was encouraged by Lecturer Joe Vlachos to showcase his artistic vision as a storyteller. He works as a director of videography at Radio Woodstock while finishing up his undergraduate degree. He will enter the MBA program this fall.
Ely, who graduates this spring, is interning two days a week with ABC’s The Chew and two days a week with ABC’s 20/20, both in New York City. She enjoys looking for stories that are unique and capture the viewer’s interest. “A good story is one that sticks with you. It is something that makes you think afterwards,” she said.
The students already have a moving documentary on their resume, and now they can add an award from the Broadcast Education Association Festival of Media Arts. In February, Bray announced that Davaros, Ely and O’Keefe earned third place for the music video for Elijah and The Moon’s song, “Stompin,” which they completed as part of the Digital Filmmaking course.
The students join a host of other Digital Media Production students who have used their capstone projects to launch professional careers, win awards and scholarships. “It’s really nice to me that there are a number of projects where students were not only able to say, ‘I’m a filmmaker, here’s a sample of my work,’ but ‘I’m an award winning filmmaker, here’s an example of my work,’” said Bray.