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Teen Produced Documentary Inspires Action

In honor of National Get Outside (GO) Day on Saturday, June 8th, I’d like to introduce you to a group of talented high school students who have created a beautiful documentary film about Shenandoah National Park: Preserving Our Future. I am very impressed by these young people who are learning the art of film making at Light House Studio in Charlottesville, Virginia. They are using the power of film to explore the beauty of the park through all of it's changing seasons, and raise awareness about four important environmental threats facing the park today. Watch this thoughtful and informative documentary to learn more about the issues.

Light House Studio is a Charlottesville-based nonprofit that teaches middle and high school students how to make films. They provide students the opportunity to learn the pervasive language of motion pictures and sound. The studio’s philosophy is to empower young people to become thoughtful consumers - and producers - of media.

We challenge our students to be active participants in the media, and not simply passive recipients of the millions of images they see everyday,” shares Deanna Gould, Executive Director. “At Light House, we believe in collaboration and community. We use a mentor-based approach to teaching students a range of filmmaking techniques including directing, animation, music video, experimental film, and documentaries- all based on their personal interests.  Many of our student films have received numerous awards and have aired on CNN, PBS, and other media outlets."

The Shenandoah National Park Trust and Light House Studio partnered with seven students who visited the Park over several weeks to create the film. The students focused the film on the areas about the park that interested them most - invasive plants and animals as well as endangered species.

Through interviews and personal explorations they identified four areas to raise awareness:

  • Invasive plants such as the oriental bittersweet vine from Asia and the cost of eradication
  • Poaching of plants and animals such as Bear Gall and Ginseng
  • Climate Change and how high ozone levels and heat impact trees and wildlife
  • Shenandoah Salamander - a rare endangered species that is only found on the tops of 3 peaks in the park.

Laura Bissett, a senior who recently graduated from St. Anne’s-Belfield, was one of the students working on the documentary and will be pursuing a college degree in television, film making and editing.  I had the opportunity to talk with her about making the film and about what she learned about the park.

Bissett explained, “When I was little, I hiked all over Shenandoah National Park and I thought I knew so much about it.  But when we started doing the documentary, I discovered so much more.  I realized how much we take the park for granted.  You think it will always be there and be the same forever.  But when you go and talk to the people who work there, you realize how much effort goes into protecting it and trying to keep it the way it has always been.”

Bissett was especially surprised to learn about poaching in Virginia.  “It’s hard to believe that people go out and try to poach bears for their organs and steal ginseng root.  Did you know that the park’s number one effort is to protect the ginseng?”  Ms. Bissett has grown up exploring the Shenandoah Mountains and she believes they are the most beautiful mountain ranges she’s ever seen. “I’m glad to have worked on a film that might make a difference in the future.”

Echoing what Karen Beck-Herzog, Management Assistant for Shenandoah National Park says in the film – National Parks connect people to nature.  “Come to a national park and sit on a rock wall and look at the view that has been here for millions of years.  Take the time out of your busy schedule to watch an insect go across a rock and connect with friends and family while you enjoy nature." 

So this Saturday and all through the summer, I hope this film inspires you to visit a National or State park and take action to keep these unique and beautiful environments healthy and strong for millions of years to come.

Article by Debbie Mickle, Science Matters Project Manager

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