WWII in NY, Through the Eyes of Teens Past and Present

May 12th, 2008

Inside Thirteen blogger: Andrew Yamato, Outreach Producer, Life After Broadcast

There was an op-ed column in the New York Times a few weeks ago about a recent survey of American teenagers in which 20% didn’t know who the United States had fought against in World War II. One quarter couldn’t even identify Adolf Hitler.

Statistics like these are partly why Thirteen commissioned Brooklyn-based Reel Works Teen Filmmaking to produce a half-hour documentary about World War II as part of our outreach effort for Ken Burns’ THE WAR. The completed film, titled Over Here, had its premiere screening on Monday, May 5th at Thirteen.

For this project, Reel Works co-founders John and Stephanie Williams assembled local high school filmmakers Derek Garcia, Zachary Lennon-Simon, Rebecca Kaplan, Niaz Mosharraf, Isaac Shrem, and Melinda Tenenzapf to work under the supervision of filmmaker and Reel Works mentor Maria Gambale. This “Team Thirteen” met with Thirteen staff last August to brainstorm fresh approaches to the well-worn subject of World War II, eventually choosing to focus on the homefront as experienced by New Yorkers who had themselves been teenagers at the time.

Reel Works filmmaker Zachary Lennon-Simon and interviewee Corliss Fyfe Whitney

Team Thirteen then went on to conduct extensive interviews with over a dozen subjects, weaving their candid recollections into a refreshing portrait of a “greatest generation” as diverse and opinionated as their city itself. Punctuated with eclectic stock footage and poignantly scored by composer Barney McCall, Over Here stands not only as a document of what happened over sixty years ago, but as an inspiring example of the direct and vital connection that can still be made between the wartime generation and the young people inheriting the world they helped save.

That connection was movingly evident as both filmmakers and subjects spoke of each other with deep respect and affection during the Q&A panel discussion which followed Monday’s screening. For myself and the other Thirteen staff present, it was a great opportunity to see the impact of our outreach efforts on such a personal level, and we’re looking forward to future collaborations with Reel Works.

You can watch Over Here on Thirteen’s NEW YORK WAR STORIES website.

It will also soon be downloadable from iTunesU—Apple’s collection of free educational podcasts.