Student’s film invited to Cannes

Their faces distorted by hatred, students at Montgomery High School yell at the first African American students being escorted inside by federal authorities as Alabama schools were integrated in 1963.
Their faces distorted by hatred, students at Montgomery High School yell at the first African American students being escorted inside by federal authorities as Alabama schools were integrated in 1963.

By Jess Scanlon

A documentary film by senior Patty Wittenburg will be shown at the internationally renowed Cannes Film Festival this summer.

“I found out three weeks ago and I was really excited,” Wittenburg said. “I leave the night of my graduation for France, which is exciting, but also a little nerve- wracking.”

The documentary is not competing for awards but will be previewed in the Short Film Corner among other films that received the prestigious invitation.

The subject of the documentary is Flip Schulke, a photojournalist who contibuted to Life, Ebony and other national magazines. He became a close personal friend of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and his images from the Civil Rights movement are among the best known. Access to major figures behind the scenes meant he captured family moments of joy and grief along with public confrontations in the streets.

Wittenburg produced Stills of the Movement: The Civil Rights Photojournalism of Flip Schulke as an independent study last fall. The documentary goes into Schulke’s background, his start as a photographer and his career — from his first camera to his fascinations with NASA and underwater photography.

Hosted by character actor John Amos (Roots, Good Times), the film features interviews with the Rev. C.T. Vivian, a civil rights icon; Hank Klibanoff, former managing editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and an authority on journalism in the South during the years of the Civil Rights movement; Matt Schudel, reporter for the Washington Post; Dr. Thomas Simonet, who teaches journalism at Rider; and Schulke’s widow, Donna.

Schulke himself lectured at Rider in 1999 and was awarded an honorary degree from the university in 2003.

That year, he left Rider a digital photo archive of his work, the Flip Schulke Education Through Photography Project. Some of these images were used in the documentary.

Co-producer of the documentary was Shawn Kildea, an instructor in the Department of Communication and Journalism.Dean of Students Anthony Campbell had been encouraging a film on Schulke for years. But because of a failed attempt to interview Schulke in Florida and Kildea’s own work on his Ph.D., the project “fell of the radar for while.”

It was not until 2008 that the potential of this project was to be realized. Because Wittenburg had produced a student documentary in Kildea’s class called “Life in Production” that impressed Kildea, he suggested the Schulke idea, among others, for her next film.

Although the independent study officially took place last semester, work began during spring 2008. Wittenburg had reached Schulke and was attempting to arrange an interview with him when the photographer died suddenly last May.

“When we found out he had just passed away we were discouraged for a while and considered not doing the documentary,” Wittenburg said. “But then we realized that there would be no better time to remember him and started production.”

Starting in May with the preproduction work and ending with completion of the documentary this academic year, this project has consumed much of Wittenburg’s last year at Rider.

“The scope of what Patty tried to accomplish made it unique,” said Dr. Barry Janes, professor of Communication and academic adviser to Wittenburg’s project. He is credited as executive producer of the film.

“She gained so much experience. It’ll be amazing to see a student’s film screened at Cannes,” said Janes, who will also attend the festival.

Wittenburg expects the experience will help her greatly as she will graduate on May 15. Her graduation falls on the first anniversary of Schulke’s death.

“She could step into a producer’s position at any network,” Janes said.

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