East Lyme students win award for documentary on environment

Three East Lyme High School seniors recently won an award for a documentary that tries to bring the issue of preserving open space and the environment to the forefront.

Victoria Chong, Micael Guzman and Jack McDonald, students in Rose Ann Hardy's Contemporary Issues class, won second place in C-SPAN's StudentCam competition for their video, "Preserve Now for the Future."

Students entering the competition were asked to answer the question of "Your message to Washington: What is the most urgent issue for the new president and Congress to address in 2017?" in a seven-minute documentary, according to a news release.

Three East Lyme Middle School students, Jasper Wright, Sachi Vora and Cannon Dean, also earned honorable mention for a documentary called "Can We Put the Care Back in Healthcare?"

The high school students' documentary on the environment features local vistas of forests, beaches and the Niantic River, and interviews with local, state and federal representatives.

The students highlight the long-standing efforts at the local, state and federal levels and among different parties to preserve the Oswegatchie Hills along the Niantic River.

"We emphasized bipartisanship" towards preserving the environment, Chong said about the documentary.

"We focused heavily on how it's all a chain of command — it starts from the local level and goes to the state and then to the federal — and how it's vital for all of these to work together," Guzman added.

The students interviewed people in the multiple levels of government and tackled topics, including open space, environmental regulations, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

McDonald said the students didn't want to focus on a topic that everyone else would be making documentaries about. They decided to focus their documentary on the environment after a brainstorming session.

"We wanted to do something that was on the backburner, something people hadn't been tackling in the forefront," he said.

They also wanted a topic that reached from the local to the federal level, and decided upon the long-running fight over the Oswegatchie Hills in town.

In addition, Guzman said discussions about cuts to the EPA also inspired them to focus on the environment.

Appearing in the documentary were high school science teacher Laura Ashburn; Natural Resource Commission Chairman Arthur Carlson; U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District; state Sen. Paul Formica, R-East Lyme; Fred Grimsey, founder of Save The River-Save the Hills; Ed Jutila, the former state representative for East Lyme and Salem; East Lyme First Selectman Mark Nickerson, and Waterford First Selectman Daniel Steward.

Chong said that though some people disagreed on specific viewpoints, overall they realized that preserving the environment is a bipartisan effort.

The students produced the documentary in a little more than a month and spent weekends and Martin Luther King Day working on the documentary and ended up with more than 40 hours of footage, said Chong. The students scanned through all the interviews to pick out the interviewees' crucial points to produce the final documentary, which could be no more than 7 minutes long, she said. 

The students expressed gratitude to all the people who helped them, from the interviewees to Hardy and their technical adviser, Grant Place. They also credited classmate Shawn Anhalt for use of his drone.

Hardy, also a town selectwoman, said she appreciated the amazing amount of work the students put into the project and their outreach to the community.

"It's a public service," she added.

To view the video, visit https://www.viddler.com/v/ce856a58.

k.drelich@theday.com

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