NORWALK, Conn. – The new Center for Survivorship in Fairfield, which changes lives by offering fitness programs for cancer survivors, also changed the lives of three Norwalk teenagers who produced a documentary film about the center.
Jenna Thomas, Julie Mammoliti and Sophia Kiriakides produced a 22-minute documentary as part of a high school film class, History In The Making, taught by Kyle Seaburg. Thomas and Mammoliti, both sophomores, and Kiriakides, a senior, found the project eye-opening.
They were inspired by the courage and dedication of the cancer survivors they met at the center, which is run by the Connecticut Challenge. They also learned that film-making is a long, hard process.
The girls began their project in October. They researched, conducted interviews, recorded scenes and edited nearly 10 hours of interviews. They presented their final project at the school’s film festival last month.
“We originally wanted to do a documentary about cancer,’’ said Thomas, who edited the film and was the director of photography. “But no one talks too much about survivors. We got into contact with people at the center, and they were all very helpful.”
The girls approached other facilities but found resistance. At the Center for Survivorship, the girls found people willing to share their stories and help with their film. They interviewed Chief Executive Officer Jeff Keith and Chief Operating Officer Bob Mazzone, along with survivors. Norwalk High teacher Lauren Carlson was among the survivors who discussed her story in the film.
“They were understanding and opened the door for us,’’ Mammoliti said. “They helped us out so much. And it was really inspirational. Jeff’s story alone is amazing, how he lost his leg at such a young age from cancer and yet is still very active. It just shows you can do anything if you want it badly enough.”
The girls were new to interviewing and said they needed to focus on listening, asking the right questions and listening to the responses.
“It taught me a lot about communication,’’ Kiriakides said. “I’ve done such much texting instead of actually talking to people that it actually made me focus on how to talk to people. I feel like the class has opened up a lot of doors for us.”
The project started with a “honeymoon phase” in which the girls determined their roles. Mammoliti served as production designer, and Kiriakides was executive producer. They made several trips to the center to shoot, including a five-hour session in late December.
Thomas and Mammoliti spent 10 hours near the holidays editing the footage. “It was a very stressful process,’’ Thomas said. Mammoliti added: “We just sat at the computer and put it together. It was very important to get those first five minutes perfect.”
The trailer to the documentary is on YouTube. The students and staff at Norwalk were impressed with the final result.
“As they were working on focusing their topic it was apparent to me that they caught the bug,’’ Seaburg said. “They had discovered the power of researching and digging into a topic and finding the personal stories that make this issue so powerful. The final product is one in which I am very proud. These young women understood that they had a responsibility to present the stories in a manner that would honor those people who were willing to share their lives with them.”