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award-winning filmmaker Chester Lampman, MFA Film & Digital Technology ’12

Chester Lampman and his wife Mary at the Pittsburgh Independent Film Festival
Chester Lampman and his wife Mary at the Pittsburgh Independent Film Festival

If you think of award-winning filmmakers, Chester Lampman, MFA Film and Digital Technologies ’14, may not be the first to come to mind, but make no mistake—he’s the real deal. His thesis documentary “The Marquee on Main Street” was accepted to six film festivals, and also won a Recognition Award for Short Documentary from the Hollywood International Independent Film Awards in May 2016.

“The Marquee on Main Street” is a short documentary centered on three small, independent theaters in and around Pittsburgh: the Strand in Zelienople, the Oaks in Oakmont, and the Hollywood in Dormont. Chester interviews the owners about the challenges they face keeping these small theaters afloat in this era of multiplexes that use digital platforms. “Hollywood is essentially forcing theaters to go digital,” he says. “It makes it so much harder for single-screen theaters to get movies.” View trailer here:

“These places are community treasures,” Chester continues. “Once they’re gone, they’re much more difficult to bring back, if they even can bring it back.” He cites the Oaks as an example. “The Oaks was closed and brought back as a performance art space. They still show some movies, but on a much rarer basis. They do what they have to do to survive, but the space is still there.”

“The Marquee on Main Street is an award-winning short documentary by independent filmmaker Chester Lampman that explores the historic single screen cinema experience. Weaving a story of rediscovery with profiles of several independent neighborhood movie theaters, the film celebrates their histories, examines their challenges, and highlights the people that keep them going. All in an effort to prove that these often overlooked community treasures still have much to offer the movie going public. After all, one screen is all you really need.” – Trailer for “The Marquee on Main Street”

When Chester first he came to Pittsburgh after attending University of Pittsburgh Bradford, he landed a job in independent video production. Then he joined the army, and after three years in active duty, returned to find how much the film industry had changed. “Everything was digital, everything was high definition,” he says. “The mental skill was still there, but my technical skills had become outdated. I would have had to start over in the industry at minimum wage, and I wasn’t about to do that.” Instead, he got a job outside the film industry.

Soon after that, he came to a friend’s graduation at Chatham. “I heard people graduating with an MFA in film, and thought maybe I should look into that.”

He liked what he saw. In 2012, Chester enrolled in the MFAFDT program. In order to take advantage of the GI Bill, he had to be enrolled full-time, and he also worked full time to support his family. “I took three classes each semester and did project stuff on the weekends,” he laughs. It took him two years to complete the program.

“People come into the program with all different levels of expertise,” he adds. “I knew some of the theoretical stuff, but needed the technical expertise. I’d never turned on a Mac before. I’m sitting there, trying to find the power button—everyone was supportive,” he says.

“I could have gone to to some workshops if all I had wanted was a skills upgrade,” Chester says. “But actually earning an MFA was a much better use of the time and money.”

Chester dates his interest in documentaries to his junior year in high school. “I took a specialized course on the Civil War, and the teacher showed the Ken Burns documentary,” he says. “I was fascinated by it. It was the first time I realized you could learn and be entertained at the same time, and that it was a function fo the images, the music—all the elements.”

Chester was also attracted to the do-more-with-less aspect of documentary making. “Filmmaking is a team sport,” he says. “When you’re making a documentary, you can use a much smaller team.” (In fact, Chester’s team was him and one other person—at most.)
“There are also avenues for documentaries,” he says. “It’s easier to get people to see your work. Ten or 15 years ago, we didn’t have that.”

“If I were talking to someone thinking about coming into the program, I’d say to prepare to take everything seriously. Don’t look at the project work just as project work—treat it as an example of your ability, and recognize that you’re building your portfolio from day one. If you take attitude from the start, you’ll be building your portfolio all along. That’s how I look at my film—it’s proof of my ability. Hopefully I can use it as a stepping stone for other films I want to make.”

“Will I ever make a Hollywood feature film? Hell no. It’s never going to happen,” he laughs. “Documentary is interesting to me because you get to pick something you have an interest in, research it, find a unique and interesting way to tell a story, and hopefully engage the audience. I like to learn when I make something.”

Chatham’s accelerated, one-year MFA in Film & Digital Technology program is one of the few accelerated MFA programs in the United States that includes both film and digital technology. Focused on advanced project work in a range of media production areas, principally film/video, interactivity, and the web, it is designed to extend and develop students’ experiences and knowledge in the field of media production and their understanding of creative and critical practice within the media industries.

 

 

NEW Leadership Pennsylvania promotes women in politics

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The Pennsylvania Center for Women and Politics (PCWP) at Chatham University reported that in the wake of the 2014-midterm elections, for the first time in U.S. history, 100 women are serving in the U.S. House of Representatives. However, none of these women represent the state of Pennsylvania.

To help combat this inequity—and to increase gender parity in politics overall—PCWP hosted the NEW Leadership Pennsylvania ™ summer institute—an intensive, non-partisan, six-day residential program that took place in June. NEW Leadership Pennsylvania™ is a part of a national network of NEW Leadership programs developed by the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) at Rutgers University.

The program was open to women college students from colleges and universities throughout Pennsylvania. Thirty-six students from 23 different colleges and universities participated, including five Chatham students.

Chaz
Participants with Chaz Kellam, Senior Director, Advocacy for Race & Gender Equity at YWCA Greater Pittsburgh

A major part of the program was a trip to the state capitol. “We met with elected officials, lobbyists, staffers—hitting on all aspects of what someone could do if they were interested in working in politics or policy. You got to see where you might fit in,” said participant Vanessa McCarthy-Johnson ’17, a policy studies major at Chatham. McCarthy-Johnson personally found this helpful: “Before the program, I didn’t know if I wanted to run for higher office (ed: VMJ sits on the Wilkinsburg Borough Council), or work in a campaign office. I realized how much I love working on policy, research papers, and things like that.”

“Students learn about the underrepresentation of women in politics by networking directly with women who are in those leadership roles. We spend time helping the students learn and develop professionalization skills like public speaking, networking, and leadership skills through workshops,” said Dana Brown, Ph.D., Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Center for Women and Politics.

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“Overall, the value in the program is the increased confidence we see in students at the end of the week. We know from alums of the program that this experience increases their knowledge of the political system, their overall confidence, and their ability to affect change.”

Throughout the program, participants heard panels and presentations from leaders at Chatham and across the state, including a Women in Public Leadership Keynote Address by Kate Michelman, who served as the President of NARAL Pro-Choice America for nearly 20 years.

Former Commissioner Barbara Cross ’75 acted as practitioner-in-residence. Commissioner Cross led and participated in informative, inspiring sessions on running for political office, advised students on their social action projects, and was available to advise students all week.

Back in Pittsburgh, participants worked on a “social action project” culminating in a mock hearing about the possibility of fracking on school district property. “We were assigned roles, including council members, school district members, environmental group members, concerned parents,” says McCarthy-Johnson. “We researched our positions, created plans, and listened to the public debate. There were even (fake) reporters there, throwing crazy questions at us that we couldn’t really prepare for. It was a real taste of what it’s like.”

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“The networking—with students, panelists, and guest speakers—was invaluable” says McCarthy-Johnson. “Coming in as an older students and a transfer student, I was never really well versed in that skill, and this program helped a lot.”

NEW Leadership 2016 was sponsored by the EQT Foundation and the Hillman Foundation.  “The EQT Foundation is proud to provide continuing support for Chatham’s National Education for Women’s Leadership Pennsylvania Program,” said Charlene Petrelli, President, EQT Foundation. “Supporting education initiatives in the areas where we operate is a priority for EQT and we believe in programs that develop the region’s future leaders. The EQT Foundation is honored to support Chatham University’s NEW Leadership Program to help build tomorrow’s team of skilled, empowered women leaders.”

After the summer institute, participants are encouraged to continue to develop public leadership skills and will be invited to return to PCWP for special events, workshops, and programs.

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McCarthy-Johnson laughed when asked what she’s say to others thinking about applying to the program. “Don’t even think about it. Just dive in and do it,” she said. “You don’t even have to know anything about politics. It’s just something everyone should do. The connections that were made with the women that were in the program were invaluable. We came in as thirty-some strangers, and left as one big family. We had some eye-opening sessions.”

About the Pennsylvania Center for Women and Politics at Chatham University
The Pennsylvania Center for Women and Politics (PCWP) at Chatham University is a non–partisan center devoted to fostering women’s public leadership through education, empowerment, and action. The first to focus on women’s political involvement in Pennsylvania, the PCWP integrates disciplinary knowledge, civic education, and coalition building while examining the intersection of women and public policy. The Center conducts candidate and advocacy trainings, offers educational programs in applied politics, and provides timely analysis on women’s issues. The Center is also home to the University’s membership in Project Pericles – a select group of liberal arts colleges and universities that have made institutional commitments to promoting participatory citizenship and social responsibility.