A Coral Film Makes the Silver Screen



This was the moment we were all waiting for: the premiere of our documentary “Curaçao’ s Coral Challenge: Reviving the Rain Forests of the Sea” at the Jacob Burns Film Center.

The room was filled with family, friends, Pace University faculty and film center regulars who came to be the first to see what we had worked on for so long. After an introduction by Dr. Nira Herrmann, Dean of the Dyson College of Arts and Sciences, the lights dimmed and the opening montage and music began rolling.

As the film went on, we all had a feeling of mission accomplished. But after the credits rolled, there was more to be done. First came a Q&A led by Susan Todd, a prominent filmmaker.


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Photos by Andre Infante and Yumeng Ji

Then there were celebratory group photos. It was exciting to realize that the film center was hosting a simultaneous screening of “Antarctica 3D: On the Edge,” by the legendary environmental filmmaker Jon Bowermaster.

It was an unforgettable night.

And today, of course, there are a few final steps — the first being promoting the film to all of you and encouraging you to watch it on YouTube, read more on The New York Times blog Dot Earth and tell all your friends to watch and share the film, as well!

If you didn’t catch the premiere,  you can go to Dot Earth or Youtube to watch it now. And thank you for “keepin’ it coral” (some of us still wish that were the title)!

We are also sending out thank you notes to interviewees and others who helped with this amazing learning and creative process, as well as the staff at Jacob Burns.

Also, we can’t forget to thank Kayla Pacenka, the graduating high school senior who created all of the animations and graphics in our film. She’ll be studying graphic design at Marymount Manhattan College in the fall. They clearly have an eye for talent!

Continue reading

Our Coral Documentary is Ready for the Silver Screen


We are counting the hours until Tuesday, May 12th, when we premiere our film Curacao’s Coral Challenge: Reviving the Rain Forests of the Sea at Jacob Burns Film Center.

After spending many long nights in the editing room, the anticipation for everybody to see how the documentary looks on the big screen is huge. On Friday, we got a taste of it! We went to do a technical specification test at Jacob Burns to make sure everything is perfect for the big day.

We all watched carefully, paying close attention to every detail, from the sound to the colors. The goal was to catch anything we might not have noticed in the editing room. In the end, we were very excited and proud of what we’ve accomplished.

And we can’t for you to watch it, too! You can still purchase tickets at the Jacob Burns Film Center box office or at their website.

And then watch for the film on YouTube, this blog and Professor Revkin’s Dot Earth blog at The New York Times.

The Big Day is Almost Here

Long time, no see! We have been working intensively under a frenetic rhythm in the final stages of editing our film on coral reef conservation in Curaçao. This kept us away from the blog for a while. Here’s Cassie Pacenka putting Avid through its paces at 1 a.m. Wednesday.

Cassie Pacenka grinds through the details in our film.

Cassie Pacenka grinds through the details in our film.

Part of putting a documentary together includes late nights, especially toward the end of the process, to be sure every detail is perfect. Matching the music and making sure all the acts tell a cohesive story are just a two of the many tasks we are working on.

Overnight, we added the narration. Professor Katherine Fink  went into the booth to record the text that is going to help guide viewers throughout the story.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Everything comes down the hard work of a committed team lead by Dr.Luskay and Professor Revkin.

With the premiere at Jacob Burn Film Center only one week away,  we are pulling out all the stops.  And if that means sleeping on the floor, so be it!

Dalla Ripka sleeping on the floor of the editing room.

Dallas Ripka needed a well-deserved rest! Its is nap time

This is going to be a crazy week for us. Over the next few days, many hours will fly by as we scroll down the timeline to finish the film, and get it ready for a screen test Friday at Jacob Burns.  This is crucial before we reveal the film to the sold-out theater!

Thank you, by the way!

Screen Shot 2015-05-05 at 8.04.28 PM

In a week, we finally get to show our documentary – Curacao’s Coral Challenge:  Reviving the Rain Forests of the Sea. Hope to see you there, or on YouTube.

Attend Our Coral Film Premiere May 12!


We are so excited to invite all of you to the first screening of Curacao’s Coral Challenge: Reviving the Rain Forests of the Sea. The premiere will be at Pleasantville’s Jacob Burns Film Center on May 12th. The movie will be shown at 7:30pm, followed by a Q&A with us – the crew. You can see who we are here.

We cannot express how honored we are for Jacob Burns to be the premiere venue. This landmark is a nonprofit educational and cultural institution engaged with promoting the finest in independent, documentary and international cinema. Since 2001, more than 4,000 films from around the world have been shown here, and over 130,000 students participated in the center’s education programs – 50 percent from underprivileged communities.

Click here for limited complimentary tickets. Hurry because they are going fast! See you there!

Shaping a Film by Matching Songs and Scenes

Soundtracks can help shape the rhythm and mood surrounding the story in a film. How many times do you catch yourself remembering a film through its music? Take, for instance, Star Wars. Would the saga envisioned by George Lucas have the same grandeur without its John Williams orchestral theme?

Or Steven Spielberg’s daunting Jaws with that music anticipating that the huge and deadly shark was coming.

Music can be a vital part of captivating storytelling. And that is what we are trying to figure out. The entire class went on a scavenger hunt in order to find the perfect tune to match the opening of our film. As we went through the pages of transcribed interviews, and searched for footage, we had our headphones on, as well.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Continue reading

From Shooting to Storytelling – A Coral Film’s Second Act


We are starting to brainstorm about how our documentary is going to unfold. Tonight we start with a long blank sheet of unrolled paper marked, “Opening, Act 1, Act 2, Act 3, Closing….” By the end of class we will have taped snipped excerpts from transcripts of interviews into the empty areas, creating a rough guide. There’s still analog work in this digital age!

The clock is ticking. The film debuts at the Jacob Burns Film Center on May 12th. We are very excited to share every bit of this journey with you, but we have to do it in about 20 minutes of screen time, and in a way that both captures attention and captivates viewers in a media environment flooded with TMI – too much information.

It seems like ages since we returned from the beautiful, sunny island of Curaçao with gigabytes of video, including 13 interviews and background imagery– a.k.a., b-roll – of beaches, construction work, coral and more. After logging – categorizing what we have and organizing it all to make editing swifter – we have to start stitching everything together.  Continue reading

Preserving Cultural Heritage and Coral in Curaçao


On Wednesday, our Pace documentary team prowled ancient alleys reflecting Curaçao’s extraordinarily rich history, then got a closeup view of a remarkable effort to restore an endangered coral species, devastated by a mysterious disease, by growing it in tanks and then “planting” small corals back in the sea.

FullSizeRender_3(1)                   photo by Yumeng Ji

We spent the morning learning about the history of this amazing island, marked by big moments: the arrival in the early 1600s of the Dutch West India Company, which our tour guide Michael Newton referred to as the first “multinational” company, the oil industry’s arrival in 1915 and the urban revitalization that began at the end of 1980’s. Also, we learned Willemstad, the capital of Curaçao, is on the World Heritage list of UNESCO.

The oil generated a boom by creating jobs and modernizing the island after World War II when the population quintupled. But industrial development has positive and negative consequences: economic growth and pollution, respectively. On that subject, an article published in 2008 by the Christian Science Monitor provides a picture of the tarry consequences for wildlife and a lake.

In the afternoon, we returned to the core theme of our documentary: the fate of coral reefs. We went to the Curaçao Sea Aquarium where we spoke to researcher Valerie Chamberland about her successful efforts to grow coral from larvae in tanks and then transplant them into the sea.

Continue reading