CCS students earn awards for immigration documentary

Contributed Cooperstown Central School students won two awards for their documentary film, “Utica: A Town That Loves Refugees.” In front, from left, are Quinn Lytel; Selma Jasencic, ONA Community Navigator; and Ellie Pink. Back row, from left, are Rainer Gardner-Olesen; Eric Kukenberger; Peter Weil; Sam Lytel; Shelly Callahan, executive director of Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees; Lola Thompson and Kara Gildea.

Cooperstown Central School students won two awards for their documentary film about immigration.

The students, who were members of the school’s Lit Mag and Media Team clubs, won a gold medal in the 2018 Robert F. Kennedy Speak Truth to Power Video Contest. They also won a Best Documentary award in the 2018 Rod Serling Film Festival for student films.

English teacher Chalya Pudlewski is the sponsor of Lit Mag. Teaching assistant JoAnn Gardner took over as sponsor for Media Team last fall, and said she did so with an eye on making documentaries. She said the two clubs have most of the the same students, and served as partners for the project, which the Lit Mag researched and the Media Team produced.

“It was fantastic,” Gardner said. “I couldn’t have been happier with them.”

The group of juniors working on the film, “Utica: A Town That Loves Refugees,” were: Kara Gildea, Rainer Gardner-Olesen, Eric Kukenberger, Sam Lytel, Ellie Pink, Lola Thompson and Peter Weil.

Gardner-Olesen also won a Serling award for Best SciFi/Fantasy film with “The Code,” which he produced, himself.

The students decided to look into local viewpoints on immigration and found a willing narrator in Shelly Callahan, the executive director of the Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees. Callahan invited the students to follow her for a day during the winter, including taking them to a Citizenship Ceremony conducted by Judge David Hurd in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York.

The film got a bit of serendipity when the students told Callahan they needed to feature a quote from Kennedy, the former attorney general, for the contest which his daughter, Kerry Kennedy, runs.

Hurd, Callahan told them, uses a Kennedy quote at his ceremonies: “Of the GNP (gross national product), if we should judge America by that. It neither measures our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country. It measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. It tells us everything about America except why we are so proud to be Americans.”

The gold medal award was the second level of honorees, Gardner said.

“They had the top three winners and we were in the next group of winners,” she said. “It was a very respectable showing considering there were more than 100 films.”

The Serling awards will be presented Saturday, Oct. 5 at The Forum Theatre in Binghamton. And with the entire team returning to CCS in the fall, Gardner said she is excited to see what the students do next year.

“It kind of fell into my lap,” she said. “So now I am sort of encouraged to see what else we can do with it.”

Go to to see “Utica: A Town That Loves Refugees” or to see “The Code.”

Greg Klein, staff writer, can be reached at of 607-441-7211.

Recommended for you