WCU film students raise awareness on mountain poverty

Recently, four students from the Western Carolina University Film and Television Production (FTP) program made a documentary-style video for the nonprofit organization Mountain Youth Charities of Cashiers.  

According to Jack Sholder, director of the FTP program, the video significantly added to the success of Mountain Youth Charities’ fundraiser. Of the total $200,000 raised, more than $43,000 was donated at the gala dinner right after the video was screened.

The four-minute video, “Mountain Youth Charities: Building Great Programs for Kids,” highlighted the economic disparity in Cashiers and the need for youth programs and initiatives.

According to the Mountain Youth Charities website, “About one-third of the children in southern Jackson County live below the poverty level, and over 50 percent of the students here are at risk of not graduating from high school.”

As noted in the video, many people who visit Cashiers have second or third homes and do not know the level of poverty in such a beautiful community.

Primarily, the video features interviews of local children and even tennis star Andy Roddick, who supported Mountain Youth Charities and participated in a summer exhibition match with fellow tennis star Jim Courier.

The four students spent three months and went through 12 cuts before screening the final product.  Recent graduate Tim Rudisill and Sylva native Jason Ledford, who also served as cinematographer, co-directed the video. Senior Emily Maesar wrote the script, and senior Murphy Dillow worked as the production manager.

Ledford remarked, “The project was at times difficult, but in the end I believe we produced a quality piece that helped raise much needed money and awareness for the Cashiers, Glenville and Highlands communities.

“When I say difficult,” Ledford added, “what I mean is that we had to straddle a fine line of not portraying anything or anyone in a negative light.  It’s a reality that is no one’s fault.  Some people have a little more means than other people. But hopefully through this project, we can help with those opportunities for the less fortunate.”

Several faculty members helped create the video, as well. Associate Professor of Cinematography Arledge Armenaki served as the video’s producer, and Bruce Frazier, WCU’s Carol Grotnes Belk Distinguished Professor of Commercial and Electronic Music, composed all the music. Sholder was a consultant for the project.

According to Sholder, the required documentary class in the FTP program does documentary-style videos every year, usually for local charities. Each class generally produces four or five of these videos.

Some previous documentaries have been made about animal shelters, domestic abuse and the struggles of local handmade craft businesses.

“We want our students to be engaged,” said Sholder, “and working in the community is a great way to do that.”

If you would like to watch “Mountain Youth Charities: Building Great Programs for Kids,” you can find the video at http://vimeo.com/70937827.

To learn more about the Film and TV Production Program, visit http://www.wcu.edu/2360.asp. You can also contact Sholder at 828-227-2324 or jsholder@email.wcu.edu.