Members of the WVIA TV "Our Town" documentary production team visited Jim Thorpe last week to lay the groundwork for "Our Town: Jim Thorpe." More than a dozen members of the community attended this first organization meeting to learn more about the project.
WVIA is a public broadcasting station (PBS) that serves northeastern Pennsylvania and the central Susquehanna valley. The station reaches more than 20 counties within Pennsylvania.
The "Our Town" series is unique in that it is not filmed by professional videographers or narrated using captions or professional voice-overs. The entire documentary will be filmed by local amateur videographers and photographers who live or work in Jim Thorpe.
Work will be divided among many residents to ensure that each person commits less than an hour of their time actively filming, and instructions will be provided on how best to capture the town on film. To get involved, residents will need a home video camera or a newer cell phone with high-quality video capability.
"The story of a community is a powerful story. I've come to believe that some of the most interesting people live in small towns," said Lisa Mazzarella, a producer and host for WVIA. She was first attracted to the idea of a Jim Thorpe documentary after hearing about the diversity of the area. This will be the first 'Our Town' feature in Carbon County.
"Jim Thorpe was a natural fit for 'Our Town,'" she said. "It has heart, and it has a presence. I've heard so much about the Bach and Handel Chorale, and the beautiful opera house. You really do have a stunning area. Because you see it every day you sort of take it for granted. But if you're seeing it for the first time, it truly takes your breath away."
She noted that while tourism plays an obvious role in Jim Thorpe, "there is more to your story. Tourism is a big part of your story, but there are other big parts that we don't know about yet."
"I've seen the shops and the restaurants. Today I got to see the homes and the residential hub of Jim Thorpe. I know there is so much more to see," added Ron Prislupski, WVIA's director of corporate underwriting, who is currently visiting the area to find business sponsors for the project.
"When was the last time that a television studio came to your town to talk only about the good things in your town?" he asked. "This is an opportunity. If you care about your town, you will want to be involved."
While Mazzarella will play a strong role in guiding the documentary's progress and editing the raw footage, she will have little say in its overall content. The content of the documentary will be determined by the residents of Jim Thorpe who attend the final organization meeting later this month. Because each documentary's focus is controlled by the town's residents, no two documentaries are alike.
"Some stories have been warm and really tugged at your heart. Others focus on local art or other really great aspects that the town has to offer. There are so many angles to take."
She noted that it doesn't matter how long the person has been a resident of Jim Thorpe. Each story is equally important.
"Lots of people in this area have deep roots. They like to tell their stories about the history of the area. Others are newcomers, and they have a slightly different perspective. There are many different takes on Jim Thorpe," she said. "Don't let the stories that make Jim Thorpe colorful fall through the cracks. This won't take a big commitment. It's a commitment of 45 minutes to 1 hour."
Residents are asked to bring their ideas for the documentary, and what makes Jim Thorpe great, to the final organizational meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 26 at 6:30 p.m. at Jim Thorpe Memorial Hall. Once the film's topics have been decided, residents will break into small teams to assign camera people to each topic. They will then have about one month to complete these assignments and turn in the unedited film. Residents can also contribute old still photographs to be used in the project. All photographs will be returned.
Residents who turn in a video will also be asked to take part in a short interview with Mazzarella. The film from these interviews will be used to narrate the documentary.
To date, WVIA TV has completed 10 "Our Town" documentaries. The most recent documentary, "Our Town: Muncy" will premier this Wednesday, Sept. 19 at 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. on WVIA TV (PBS).
"The premier is a fun culmination of everyone's efforts," said Mazzarella, who aired footage of past premiers during the meeting. "Our Town" premiers are typically aired during a WVIA telethon. Residents of the highlighted town are invited to the WVIA station to speak during the telethon, answer phones for viewers calling in pledges, and celebrate the launch of their town's documentary.
Once a documentary airs, WVIA owns the rights to the film for three months. The documentary is then turned over in its entirety to the town to be used as the town sees fit. Past "Our Town" recipients have used their film in the classroom to teach local history, on business websites to promote the town or individual businesses, and as a tool for real estate agents looking to sell the town to visitors.
To learn more about "Our Town: Jim Thorpe" or to get involved in the documentary, plan to attend the final organizational meeting or contact Mazzarella at (570) 602-1164 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
"Those who weren't able to attend the first meeting are encouraged to attend the white board meeting," said Mazzarella.