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The Mighty Humble Blueberry: A documentary

4/16/2007 —
In acknowledgment of Women’s History month, documentary filmmaker Nancy O’Mallon and Dr. Kathleen Taylor Brown, Assistant Professor of Communications, presented a discussion about storyboarding related to writing, research, interviewing, producing, and editing a documentary, entitled "The Intersection between Producers and Researchers- Cellophane View: The Remarkable Life of Elizabeth Coleman White."

To begin the discussion, students enjoyed a private screening of The Mighty Humble Blueberry, about Miss Elizabeth White life’s work (the trailer can be viewed on You Tube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S13Mlr78fYU). This unique documentary presents for the first time, the history of the cultivation of blueberries as a commercial crop in the United States. The forty-five minute documentary was screened in a multimedia classroom on the campus where students and faculty enjoyed a pictorial interpretation of Elizabeth’s industrious life, including some photographs taken by Miss White herself. The Mighty Humble Blueberry is a compelling story of the life of a 19th Century, American woman whose life became a crucible from which this entire industry was forged. The film brings out the distinctiveness of this important, American, agricultural history. Integrated into the film is an exposition of the social fabric intertwining the lives of both the privileged class of property owners and the dirt-poor immigrant laborers who worked for them in the cranberry bogs in the southern New Jersey Pine Barrens where the industry was born.

Some images featured in the documentary were formal family portraits; however, there were other photographs of relaxed family members plainly enjoying life. Also included is a rare, formal image from the turn of the last century. In the portrait, Elizabeth is seen standing behind and beside her father at a cranberry board meeting. The image accurately emphasizes just how far ahead of the time’s Elizabeth was; as she is the only woman present in the group of otherwise very serious looking men. The documentary project encompassed an enormous amount of research, writing, and editing and was a life commitment by Nancy O’Mallon.

The project took over 8 years from conception, development and perfection of this endeavor. Dr. Brown’s work contributes to the project through research related to the period from 1850- forward and the oral histories of significant women in agriculture (i.e., Carson, Chase and Amber). Brown’s scholarly research documents Rachel McMasters Miller Hunt's [Hunt Institute] and her collection of art, history, science and literature as they related to the communications, oral history, discourse and rhetoric during this significant period. Housed at Carnegie Mellon University, The Hunt Institute is a private book collection well known for scholarship and collection related artworks, portraits and manuscripts significant in the history of women in botany. Brown’s research efforts, focused on publications and manuscripts from 1850 to 1950, a period of intense intellectual productivity from dedicated and committed women who forged new industries.

As a communications professor, Dr. Brown felt that it was important to show her students how collaborative scholarly research, producing, and directing a documentary can be achieved through community civic engagement. In addition to visiting the campus, Nancy O’Mallon is also participating in an interactive blog and video podcasting with journalism and communication students, as part of the Public Relations Media Methods capstone course. Dr. Brown’s dedication to oral history, coupled with Nancy O’Mallon’s documentary film, resulted in valuable insights and personal interactions with The Pennsylvania State University, Greater Allegheny students. This collaborative endeavor has provided valuable learning experiences for the students in pursuit of their careers in Journalism, Communications, and Media Arts.

The Mighty Humble Blueberry is an official selection for the ReelHeART International Film Festival in Toronto, Canada. The festival runs from June 18-23, 2007.
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