Students Debut Documentary Films on Campus

Three student-produced documentaries premiered at the James M. Stewart ’32 Theater Jan. 17. The films were produced as part of a course on documentary filmmaking taught by Emily Abt, an award-winning filmmaker named by Variety as one of its “top 10 directors to watch.”

“Most of the students came in with no prior filmmaking experience, but they all really stepped up,” Abt said.

Students taking the course had to learn the basics of filming, cinematography, and editing within a few weeks. They also had to deal with challenges specific to working with film. “You either get the scene or you don’t, you get the shot or you don’t, so there’s no faking it.” Abt said. “There’s a very sharp learning curve in the class. These guys all know how to shoot and edit and conduct interviews now; there are a lot of skills that are quickly acquired.” 

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A scene from “In the Plaid,” a documentary about the Princeton University Band, produced by students in a fall “Documentary Filmmaking” course at the Lewis Center. (Image from the film courtesy of the Lewis Center for the Arts)

The documentaries, produced by small teams of students over the fall semester, cover a range of topics. 

In the Plaid,” directed by Angeline Jacques ’16, filmed the Princeton University Band on the day of the Princeton-Yale football game. For Jacques, a prospective architecture major, the most surprising aspect of creating the documentary was the sheer amount of time required. 

“The time commitment involved was definitely a big factor,” Jacques said. “With film you kind of need to have your heart in it the whole time.” Jacques also noted that during filming, the biggest challenge that her team faced had much to do with it’s featured subject, “a large group of people that basically doesn’t stop moving for nine hours on football days.”

Natalie Gasparowicz ’16, the film’s editor, noted the need for effective teamwork. “There’s something magical about filmmaking, how you cooperate and compromise about certain things, and it’s a lesson in itself,” she said. 

Hey Jude,” directed and produced by Margaret Craycraft ‘15, profiled Brian and Megan Taxeras and the recent adoption of their second child, Jude. The film, created by interviewing the Taxeras family over four consecutive weekends, took on a special resonance for its subjects, all of whom were present for the screening.

“The team did a fantastic job,” said Brian Taxeras, holding Jude as he spoke on stage. “We’re so happy that now we have something on screen to kind of explain to him one day what the process was like, what we had gone through.”

The third film, “Ellipses,” directed and produced by Jack Thornton ’15, profiled Princeton’s slam poetry group of the same name. The documentary includes interviews with Ellipses members and examples of their work.

Below, view the full version of “In the Plaid.”

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