The first-ever Tri-Co Film Festival was held May 2 at the Bryn Mawr Film Institute. Short films made by students at Haverford, Bryn Mawr and Swarthmore were screened in two groups: a coursework program and a program of seven films made for senior projects. Independent film programmer Chi-hui Yang, who teaches film and video at Hunter College in New York, judged the submissions, and two films by Haverford students were selected as winners.
The senior thesis project of Jon Appel ’12, The Story of Frank, an animated movie adaptation of one of his own short stories, won the Best Senior Project award. And Discovering Albert, a 10-minute documentary that Carl Sigmond ’13, Gebby Keny ’14 and Vanessa Douglas ’12 made as their final project for Vicky Funari’s Documentary Film Production course at Haverford, was the winner of the Best Coursework Film award.
We spoke to Sigmond, a computer science major and Quaker studies minor, about making the film, winning the award and his plans to turn Discovering Albert into a feature-length movie.
Haverblog: Your movie is about your grandfather, Albert Schatz, who discovered streptomycin but was never recognized for it because his research adviser took the credit. What inspired you to tell his story?
Carl Sigmond: Yes, our film is about my grandfather, Albert Schatz, who discovered streptomycin, the first antibiotic effective against tuberculosis when he was just one year older than I am now. His discovery saved millions of lives and changed the course of history. As I was growing up, I knew my grandfather had made this discovery, and I was proud of him for that. At the same time, though, I saw how my mother, my grandparents, and my whole family were effected by the fact that my grandfather never got the recognition he deserved. I wanted to make this film to tell his story.
H: Was this your first ever filmmaking experience?
CS: I had prior experience working with video and producing documentaries before I took Prof. Funari’s class. Most notably, I co-produced Eating From Our Own Backyard: Local Food in Nevada County while I was attending the Woolman Semester in northern California during my senior year of high school. I also edited a documentary in middle school and have extensive experience recording and editing oral histories.
H: Given that your grandfather is no longer alive, was it challenging to represent him on film?
CS: Yes, that was one of the biggest challenges of the project. We used interviews, old photographs and other artifacts to try to show viewers who my grandfather was as a person, but it is always difficult to represent someone if they are not here.
H: You made the film with Gebby Keny and Vanessa Douglas, though it is your family’s story. Was it difficult to involve others in such a personal story?
CS: It is my family’s story, but it is everyone’s story. We made the film to share my grandfather’s story with a wider audience. It was great having Gebby and Vanessa on board, and they provided many insights that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. They were an integral part of the production process.
H: What’s next for the film?
CS: I will be spending this summer living at Haverford and working to make this into a longer documentary film that tells more of my grandfather’s story. I will take a trip up through New England, shooting interviews with more people who knew my grandfather, and return to campus to edit. I intend to release the longer film sometime this fall.
H: Did any particular faculty, staff or Center help you make this film or provide financial or technical support?
CS: Yes, [Visiting Instructor in Independent College Programs] Vicky Funari was essential to the success of this project. As I said during the filmmaker Q&A at the festival, her course really expanded my definition of documentary and enabled me to break many of the preconceived notions I had about what documentary was. This new freedom is evident in how we made our film. [Instructional Technology and Training Specialists] Corey Chao and Roger Hill and everyone at the Instructional Technology Center worked tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure that our class had access to the camera equipment and editing software we needed. I am grateful to James Weissinger, associate director of the John B. Hurford ’60 Center for the Arts and Humanities, to Tim McLean, program coordinator for the Marian E. Koshland Integrated Natural Sciences Center, and to Vicky Funari and Corey Chao for their continued advice and assistance as I embark on the next phase of this project.
H: Where can interested people learn more about your grandfather’s story?
CS: In 1989, Milton Wainwright, a professor of molecular biology at the University of Sheffield, England, published the first investigative article on Albert Schatz and the true story of the discovery of streptomycin. Since that time, other scholarly papers, book chapters and popular articles have been written on this subject. The first book that recounts this story in detail, Experiment Eleven, by investigative journalist Peter Pringle, was released on May 8, 2012. [Editor’s note: that book and Sigmond’s film are discussed in depth in a May 16th Philadelphia Inquirer feature. Read it here.] Discovering Albert, as well as the longer film I will produce this summer, brings my grandfather’s story to life.