New film class focuses on people

Posted: Sunday, September 05, 2010

A new class at the University of Alaska Southeast will give students the chance to tell their stories, and those of others, through a cinematic setting.

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Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

Beginning this week, UAS is offering a course in documentary filmmaking Wednesday evenings, which assistant professor of communication Jenifer Vernon said is a brand new thing for the university.

"It's an introduction to documentaries. They'll learn how to make these and about nonfiction videos," she said, adding, "This is the first time the communication department has been taught like this."

That instruction will come from Tyree Pini, who has a history in both education and theatrical arts. He said he holds a particular fondness for documentaries and has a special view for the class.

"There are real human needs that need to be addressed," he said to explain the need for documentaries in society.

Pini explained there are two things that make documentaries invaluable. "Documentaries to me give a voice to the voiceless," he said, Everyone, either in the shadows or famous, has something to tell that is not being heard, he said.

The other is "They represent a journey, not a destination," meaning the filmmaking process and learning about the subjects while doing so are what make this a pure media format, he said. He said students should experience this journey of learning as much as their audiences.

He said he wants to balance production with studying. Pini said he hopes this combination will give them an appreciation for the process. At the same time, he said it is important each student learn the technical tools and actually film their own stories and make quality products.

Pini has a bachelor's degree in theater and media arts from Brigham Young University, where he also worked with film and even had a short documentary, "Redemption for 5 Cents," in a film festival. He's worked as a video consultant at the instructional media center there, working in both editing and DVD authoring.

He currently teaches music at Thunder Mountain High School.

After exposure to documentaries in other learning institutions, Vernon said she recognized the need in Juneau and pursued the addition to her department.

Before coming to UAS, Vernon was a lecturer on digital storytelling at the University of California, San Diego, where she observed documentary video was a widespread part of the communication department.

"I thought documentaries would be a great chance for students to do hands-on work," she said. "There are some great opportunities in this city to learn from."

Pini agrees Juneau is a great city for this type of communication.

"There's definitely a curiosity about film here. The inspiration for great works is all around here," he said.

Vernon said once the class was approved, she applied for funding, which was used to purchase an Apple computer and top-of-the-line software for the different aspects of putting a film together.

Media services manger Jim Gage then prepared the new computer with the appropriate video editing and disc authoring tools, including Final Cut Pro, Final Cut Express and Toast Titanium. The screenwriting software, Final Draft, is also available for class use.

Pini said there's been a lot of enthusiasm for this class by those enrolled in it. He's encouraged by this as well as anticipating seeing what ideas and film experience they've already had.

Pini and Vernon said they both have big plans for the class and for bringing filmmaking to the Juneau student community in general. Both hope to see the class available in future semesters and grow in size.

Also, Pini said he would like to see the class submit their works and get involved in the Juneau Underground Motion Picture Society. Vernon said there's also a media club in the works.

For more information, call the UAS School of Arts and Sciences at 796-6518.

• Contact Jonathan Grass at 523-2276 or

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