Lights, Camera, History

MANCHESTER - In the basement of Burr and Burton Academy and out in the community, stories are being told. Students in Bill Muench's cinematography class are listening to what community members have to say about their lives, all while capturing these moments on film.

This project got its start when the class received a Local Heritage grant from The Champlain Valley National Heritage Partnership. Cheryl Young, who found and applied for the grant, said this is a program that supports youth discovering their heritage in creative ways.

"I knew Bill had been doing wonderful things with his students...[and] it turns out he has a community film class, it was perfect," she said. And a partnership was born. Young took over the reins as grant coordinator, filling out the paperwork and keeping the deadlines straight, while Muench helped his students refine their cinematography skills, as well as encouraging them and helping them find new stories to tell.

The work the students have produced can be seen on the website for the project, There, anyone can watch their interviews, with all sorts of community members, from 104 year-old Mildred "Midge" Forrest Beattie to Andrew Weill, a local glass blower, who owns Manchester Hot Glass.

For the students, this is a way to go out and use the skills they learn in Muench class, but also work on skills not generally used in a classroom. "The kids do the interviews, the kids do all their own editing, their own B roll," Muench said. " They are very well trained and professional in what they do."

Muench said they usually go out in the community in small groups and work together to capture the films. In some cases, the students have gone to shoot on location even when school is out. He specifically mentioned a family that uses horses to carry sap to their sugar house.

"We got that call that the horses were running," he said. "And we had to go ... you don't know if that's going to happen next year."

All the students agreed this project has given them a different perspective on their community. Sam McChesney got to interview his grandmother, Mimi "The Pawlet Potter." He said even though he sees her all the time, he still learned something he didn't know before.

Junior Mary Snietkowski said she looks at people differently now.

"You learn everyone's interesting, you just have to ask the right questions," she said. So far, there are six films up on the website, but the students are always working on new ones. They have documented lambing in Vermont, maple sugaring and other local businesses. While they are learning about their community, they are also learning life skills. Muench mentioned he has one quiet student that is a brilliant cinematographer. What this project does is force him to call people up, take part in interviews and push him out of his comfort zone a little.

Senior David Reese said making these project and the cinematography classes in general are different because the students learn how to find their own ways to get things done.

"There's no limitations in who you can connect with, no limitations to how far you can really go," he said. "It's about finding a way to connect with people ... it builds a lot of confidence to find your own way to get things done."

Senior Nicholas Parenti agreed.

"It's learning to do things on your own," he said. "Bill [Muench] doesn't always have the answers for us."


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