Area residents have officially taken control of the WVIA-TV "Our Town: Jim Thorpe" documentary. The "Our Town" documentary series is driven primarily by the residents and business people of each featured small town.

"Consider yourselves, as of tonight, producers of this documentary," WVIA producer and host Lisa Mazzarella told the two dozen people attending the organizational meeting. She noted that these meetings are typically called whiteboard sessions because ideas would be written on a large whiteboard or drawing board.

"By the time this meeting is over, these pages will be filled with ideas. No one knows your town better than you do. We need your ideas to make this a great documentary."

The "Our Town" series is unique in that it is not filmed by professional videographers or narrated using professional voice-overs. The documentary is filmed by local amateur videographers and photographers, often the same residents who attend meetings to discuss the documentary's topics. These residents are also encouraged to submit old photographs and films to fully document the town's past, present, and future.

"We want to see the area in all different seasons, from the past to the present. If there is an artist's rendering of the town's future, we want to see that too," said Douglas Cook, WVIA vice president of marketing and special events, who led the whiteboard session.

"You are going to tell us what should be in this documentary, and what interests you. What do outsiders need to know about Jim Thorpe?" he asked, noting that it was important to dig deeper than the town's beauty and attraction to tourists.

"Every town has a fire company, for example, but what makes that fire company special?"

Residents agreed that a variety of historical and current topics made the town special, including the renaming of the town and its history with the Switchback Gravity Railroad, the first commercial railroad in Pennsylvania and the first roller coaster in the United States. They also discussed the history of the Molly Maguires, including their trials and executions held in Jim Thorpe and the jail handprint.

Topics that merged the past and present included the town's preserved architecture and historic buildings, including the Mauch Chunk Opera House and the Asa and Harry Packer mansions. They noted that because the owners of area coal mines and railroads lived in Jim Thorpe, the area became something of an economic and political powerhouse. Much of this history has been carefully preserved, both through documentation and by maintaining historic buildings.

"You didn't tear it down. You looked at it, repurposed it, and saved these beautiful buildings," said Cook, noting that it's not common to find towns with this sense of history.

Other topics mentioned including the town's current music and art scene, and the attractions of beautiful lakes, forests and hiking, biking, rafting and kayaking opportunities. Residents noted that some of the area's most beautiful attractions, including Mauch Chunk Lake Park, were created for practical reasons. Mauch Chunk Lake was created as a flood control project to save the town from persistent flooding problems, a practical solution that benefits thousands of visitors to the lake each year.

After the crowd had finished sharing topics for the documentary, Mazzarella began assigning topics to residents attending the meeting. These volunteers will have approximately one month to gather film and conduct interviews on each topic.

After all of these pieces are submitted, the documentary will be professionally edited by WVIA staff and aired on Dec. 4.

The "Our Town" series is debuted during a WVIA fundraising drive. It serves as a way to share our area's unique small towns with WVIA viewers while also raising awareness of the unique position that public broadcasting stations are in to share these types of stories. After the fundraising drive, the documentary will be turned over to Jim Thorpe to be used as a marketing or educational tool for the town.

"We have had businesses take part in the documentary and then use their video clips to refresh their website," said Mazzarella. "I've had people tell me that their business has doubled or tripled, just because they are able to tie a face and a story to their business."

Other towns have used their documentary to teach local history in the schools, or by area real estate agents to promote the town.

While the documentary's topics have been set, it's not too late to get involved in "Our Town: Jim Thorpe."

Local residents who are interested in joining topic teams should contact Mazzarella at (570) 602-1164 or lisamazzarella@wvia.org [1].