This summer I have been given the opportunity to work on the VCAM Summer DocuLab program. This project consists of a team of four fellows, a production coordinator, a production manager, two artists from Greenhouse Media, and a Faculty Lead. This year’s DocuLab is focused on creating a documentary and multimedia piece that examines how individuals in Philadelphia remember the historic July Fourth celebration of 1976— the Philadelphia Bicentennial. Our film draws from archival images and documents, personal accounts of the event, and the political atmosphere of the city in 1976. The Bicentennial may not seem to be of great importance to many: it happened over 40 years ago, what is its significance today? Yet this subject is more important now than ever in our current political climate where ‘the United States’ is a hard term to define. Our documentary will hopefully help us—the viewers—better understand Philadelphia and the state of America in the 70s. You may be surprised to hear that the Fourth of July celebration of 1976 was not an all-together joyous event. For a large number of people, it was seen as a waste, and our film attempts to explore these perspectives and give room to the voices that may have been left out. Several themes and figures—Frank Rizzo (the mayor at the time) and counter-protest groups, for instance—relate to the tensions surrounding the Bicentennial.
What attracted me to this project was that it intersected with my areas of interest. As a Growth and Structures of Cities major and Film Studies minor, I wanted to learn more about Philadelphia and also delve into thinking about how to convey the city and its history through the digital screen. DocuLab has also given me the opportunity to learn more about using camera and sound equipment. It has also taught me the meticulous tasks that go on in the post-production room such as creating proxies, and keeping files organized and consistent on all hard drives. Patience is a virtue, especially in the editing room. We spend time transcribing interviews, researching potential interviewees, finding more archive materials, drafting emails, or scheduling future events in the VCAM editing lab. Sometimes new tasks show up out of the blue, and I have learned how to swiftly shift gears whenever needed. In addition to working in the editing lab, we have traveled to various areas in Philadelphia to interview subjects or film B-roll footage. During our shoots, we alternate our roles so that we all get a chance to perform diverse duties such as holding the boom microphone, setting up the lights, or framing the subject within the camera viewfinder.
Of course, we have faced many obstacles throughout the past weeks. Sometimes communicating with people doesn’t always go as planned, or an issue with the footage occurs. Yet these instances have only made me more patient and understanding of the whole filmmaking process.
Despite traveling to various parts of the city and collecting a plethora of footage already, there is still more to do in the final few weeks! We have about three more interviews left to shoot, and we will soon be filming a marching band that will perform in front of the Independence Hall. I look forward to all these upcoming events, and I just hope that we might receive some cooler weather along the way. I appreciate being given the opportunity to use the professional equipment that VCAM has provided us with, and the lifelong memories I have gained throughout these weeks!
Written by Grace Sue BMC ’20, growth & structure of cities major, film studies minor
Edited by Emily Dombrovskaya ’19