The five-day intensive 'Salt: Intro to Podcasting' runs March 9–13, 2020. Register through MECA's Continuing Studies at MECA.edu/CS.Read More
On view from January 17 – March 1, 2020, with a public opening reception on Friday, January 17, 2020 from 5:00–7:00pm.Learn More
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January 22, 2020
January 10, 2020
Tell us a bit about Midnight Son: Midnight Son is a true story about an actor-turned-fugitive who claims he has a supernatural encounter on the Alaskan tundra while running from the law. It’s a mystery, an adventure story, a courtroom drama, a tragedy, and ultimately a battle between Alaska Native Folklore and the US Justice System.
It’s a project that we’ve been working on for over two years. We made it in collaboration with our good friend James Dommek, Jr. who is from Kotzebue, Alaska—he’s actually the one who first told us the story, and had the idea to make it into something. He said he thought it could be a great movie and we said, we don’t know how to make a movie but we do know how to make a podcast! We all pitched it to Audible and the rest is history.
How do you think about Midnight Son in relation to your other projects? What new territory did this crack open for you both, and what themes/preoccupations did it help you further explore? We’ve done several projects in Alaska, mostly focused on climate change and effects on rural, indigenous communities. While good storytelling has always been at the heart of all our reporting and producing work, this was our first venture into a longform narrative podcast and our first time doing a true crime story. We spent a lot of time thinking about plotting and narrative structure, as well as establishing a sonic tone and world that felt truly unique to James and to Arctic Alaska.
One thing we try to do in all our work is to make the listener feel transported and immersed in a place and environment. We wanted this to sound cold, unforgiving but beautiful, haunting—we hope that Midnight Son does this for its audience. It also pushed us to finally create a production company, Future Projects Media.
Can you talk a little bit about the process of collaboration on this project?
We co-wrote/co-produced Midnight Son with James so it was intensely collaborative the whole way through, which was a bit of a challenge because we were on the East Coast and James was in Alaska—a four-hour time difference! So, it involved many, many, many phone conversations and revisions to google docs. It was important to all three of us that this really sound like James, so we spent a lot of time on the phone just talking through the story and taking copious notes.
We also did a lot of on-the-ground reporting in Alaska—including a trek into the Kobuk Valley backcountry above the Arctic Circle in September. We chose to keep any mention of ourselves as producers out of the story itself, but we were there every step of the way (literally and figuratively!)
How can people learn more and listen to the podcast? It’s available exclusively on Audible; you can find it here. If you’re not an Audible subscriber, now’s a great time to sign up for a (free) 30-day trial!
Can you each share a bit about how Salt has influenced your storytelling— in this project and elsewhere? Salt was where everything started for us! We both owe our careers to our time at Salt. For the technical instruction, of course, but we also think that the idea of really taking the time to tell a story and tell a story the right way came from our experiences at Salt.
We also learned about the ethics of storytelling at Salt—Midnight Son touches on a lot of violent and tragic events, and we were really grateful that many people who were directly involved in the story chose to speak with us. We took great care to treat everyone who participated fairly.
Are there any stories/projects by Salt alums that you’ve been particularly excited to see out in the world? We’ve both just moved back to Portland after 10 years in New York City, and have been really excited to work a bit with Salt alum Galen Koch on her amazing storytelling project The First Coast.
But there are too many other great Salt Alum projects to list here! We’re constantly amazed by the output of the Salt network, and honored to be a part of it.
Courtesy of Isaac Kestenbaum (Salt ’08)
Learn more: Salt Graduate Certificate in Documentary Studies
Tell us a bit about your project, Shoulder Season: Shoulder Season is a project about an adult dodgeball league in Rockland, Maine. Before attending Salt Institute of Documentary Studies, I lived in the Midcoast and played in the league on a team called Hard Knox. I never got over how special it was that this rec league was able to pull so many people out of the woodwork, especially in the dreariest months of the year. At Salt I decided to do a community feature on the league for a photography assignment, and decided to keep going back every Wednesday to film.
I think the biggest challenge of this project was reminding myself that to be an 8-10 minute piece, the story had to be simplified. I was so wanting to have tons of characters, a foray into life outside the league, game coverage, team disputes – all the drama. But as I started editing and subsequently drowning in footage, I realized I needed to let go of some of the nuances in order to keep things clear and engaging. It’s hard to kill your darlings! I am very grateful to all people who watched (many) drafts and helped me let go of things.
I’m most excited about sharing this short with people in the Midcoast area, especially the people who played in the league. Dodgeball kind of united people in the area whose lives don’t usually converge, and I like the idea of coming together and celebrating a shared experience on screen.
How can people follow-up or learn more about this film, and your other projects? Shoulder Season premieres at the Camden International Film Festival in September, and afterwards it will be up on my website, along with a few other projects I’ve worked on! Stop by hallejohns.com.
What have been your biggest takeaways from your time at Salt? One of the takeaways I most appreciate from Salt is getting into the habit of examining who you are in relation to the story you’re trying to tell. It feels easy to get caught up in how best to get your story’s message (or argument, or theme or whatever it is) across, and sometimes we forget to consider how our life experience, biases, interests, or beliefs might be steering the story without us knowing. Becoming more acutely aware of this, and recognizing how this positionally might present both opportunities and constraints is a challenging, but illuminating practice.
Are there any stories/projects by Salt alums that you’ve been particularly excited to see out in the world? I’m looking forward to seeing what all of my Salt classmates have been working on. Brooke Saias started producing videos at EdWeek in DC, and I can’t wait to see what she makes because she has such creative intentionality and emotional thoughtfulness for every project she takes on. I know Zach St. Louis is working on a Spotify podcast about an independent artist making her first album. He has this uncanny ability to create a good rapport while maintaining his quick wit, so I have high expectations for it! Adreanna (Twiggy) Rodriguez is reporting for KALW Radio on the Winnemem Wintu tribe of Northern California as they raise awareness for the declining state of California’s waterways. Twiggy is incredibly compassionate and thorough in her reporting, so I know it’ll be a great final piece. They all have websites— check them out and support their good work!
Images courtesy of Halle Johns (Salt Fall ’19)
We were very excited to catch up with Nora Saks about her new podcast, ‘Richest Hill‘. A Salt Writing student back in the early teens, Nora has built a career in public radio and podcasting. Nora shared some of her reflections on her life as an audio storyteller and her experience at Salt.
Can you tell us a a bit about your new podcast project, Richest Hill?
Richest Hill is a new single season podcast and public radio show from Montana Public Radio exploring the past, present and future of one of America’s most notorious Superfund sites in Butte, Montana.
I never set out to do a podcast on Superfund – it tends to be opaque, technocratic, and a confusing tangle of science and politics. Superfund is the federal program run by the Environmental Protection Agency aimed at cleaning up the country’s worst contaminated, abandoned toxic sites.
But then I started reporting on Butte’s Superfund cleanup a couple of years ago for Montana Public Radio while I was still in graduate journalism school at the University of Montana.
I had heard that Butte, Montana’s most historic copper mining city, had been living with Superfund for 35+ years, and the cleanup was more or less stagnant. But when I started spending time on the ground in Butte, and it seemed the winds of change were blowing hard. Community activists were holding rallies, circulating petitions, calling for the cleanup to be done, and done right. Simultaneously, leaders in President Trump’s EPA were coming to town, claiming that Superfund was a priority for the administration, and that Butte was one of their top priority sites, one they were targeting for immediate attention. And that they were intent on helping Butte reach a final legal and financial Superfund cleanup deal, and finishing the job of cleaning up one of the biggest and most intractable Superfund sites in the nation.
Given the EPA’s agenda of environmental deregulation, naturally, this raised a lot of questions in my mind. I came to really care about Butte, about the real people being affected by these big and lasting decisions, and I was really curious about how this was all going to turn out. My curiosity and affection for Butte dovetailed with MTPR’s hunger for another podcast project. Our station had a great opportunity to shape the project at NPR’s Story Lab Workshop in May 2017, and Richest Hill was born.
I moved to Butte last year in order to embed in the community, and report on the trajectory of this cleanup deal in real time, and try to explain and explore out how we got here, what’s going on right now, and where Butte might be headed.
The major challenges have been living and working in a small town, trying to make a very complicated subject both entertaining and informative, and continuing to report on and tell a story about something without a clear outcome, and on the EPA’s constantly changing timeline.
Superfund is a tough thing for the general public to engage with – so my real hope is that this project will demystify the cleanup, and help locals, and a wider audience, find a way to connect with it.
The more time I spend in Butte, the more I find myself wrestling with the uneven costs and benefits of resource extraction. I wonder if it’s really possible to undo and heal some of the harm we’ve done to our land and water, and what “clean” means in this day and age. I hope our listeners will find themselves asking those hard questions too.
How can people follow-up or learn more about the podcast— and other stories you’ve worked on?
Our first episode dropped March 5. You can subscribe at buttepodcast.org, or wherever you get your podcasts.
Also, here’s a radio documentary I made for my master’s thesis called The Last First Mile, all about Butte’s fight to restore the first mile of Silver Bow Creek.
Has Salt had a positive influence on your career?
Salt has guided me in ways I would have never anticipated. I was a creative non-fiction writing student at Salt back in 2013, not radio. But Salt was my first real jump headfirst into storytelling, and I found myself naturally drawn to doing a feature on some activists in Downeast Maine hellbent on bringing back wild Atlantic salmon by any means possible. I realized I wanted to develop my reporting chops, and that semester at Salt gave me the confidence to apply to journalism school, and I ended up at one focused on environmental science and natural resource reporting in Montana.
When I got to Montana, I got involved with public radio. But my love of and appreciation for documentary never left, and I think I bring into that forward into the journalism that I do.
Professionally, a lot of great connections were forged too. Anne Bailey, my Salt multi-media instructor, now works at a new Media Lab at the University of Montana. And Michael May, a former Salt radio instructor, leads up NPR’s Story Lab, where we really shaped our podcast. So it all comes full circle, or keeps spiraling out.
What have been your biggest takeaways from your time as a student at Salt?
My biggest takeaways from Salt have been around approaching stories and characters with deference, and with an understanding of the complicated ethical relationship/bond forged between reporters/storytellers and their subjects.
Especially with this long form podcast project, I find myself leaning on a lot of things I learned at Salt – about having patience, playing the long game, and building trust with subjects. This is all magnified when you are embedded full-time in the community you’re reporting on, and a part of.
I also feel more permission to be playful, take risks, and step outside of the news box. I would have had less of a foundation/model for how to do that without Salt, and all the great work we were exposed to, and that our classmates produced.
Are there any stories/projects by Salt alums that you’ve been particularly excited to see out in the world?
MECA is thrilled to announce that Rebecca Richards ’20 and Violet Weiner ’20, both current Metalsmithing & Jewelry majors, were accepted into the Society of North American Goldsmith’s (SNAG) national juried student exhibition.
The exhibition is titled Coming Full Circle: Juried Student Exhibition. It will be held during SNAG’s annual conference in Chicago May 22nd—May 25, 2019.
In 1969, seven jewelry and metal artists formed the Society of North American Goldsmiths (SNAG) after a meeting held in Chicago in 1968. They were united by a belief in the value of strengthening the jewelry and metals field through professional conferences and quality exhibitions. SNAG has since become a large creative community of artists coming from diverse backgrounds, artist-designers, makers, collectors, curators, historians, patrons, and the metalsmithing-curious. SNAG members are united by their ability to see potential to create artwork in a wide range of materials and processes. Members share a desire to create and a strong commitment to their community.
Last December, we got to connect with photographer Tim Greenway (Salt ’03) when he documented graduation for our Salt class of Fall 2018. This February, Tim is opening a new exhibition of photographs in Biddeford. He was kind enough to take some time to talk to us about making these images and his memories of Salt.
Tell us a bit about your new show.
The exhibit Mackworth Island Transformed: Rocks Reimagined is a series of 19 photographs and video of the detailed rock formations near the pier on Mackworth Island in Falmouth. Over the past 5 years I have spent countless hours documenting the ecology of the shore near the island’s granite pier as a way to create for myself without the expectations of an editor or commercial client. The photography was very freeing.
The exhibition is on display in the Art Gallery at the Ketchum Library on the Biddeford Campus of the University of New England until April 15, 2019. There will be an opening reception Thursday, February 7, from 5:30–7:30pm. I would love to see some Salt folks. The gallery is free and open to the public, when school is in session, every day from 9:00AM to 7:00PM.
How can people follow-up or learn more about this work, and your other projects?If you can’t make it to the gallery and want to view the Mackworth Island photographs or my commercial/editorial work visit www.timgreenway.com
How has Salt positively influenced your career? What have been your biggest takeaways from your time at Salt?
Before attending Salt I had worked for various newspapers and magazines and I was able to create strong single images but I didn’t have a lot of experience with long-term photography stories. After Salt my ability and confidence as a storyteller was much stronger which helped grow my career as a professional photographer. I realized at Salt there is a relationship between the photographer and subject. If the person is comfortable and trusts me, the camera and the experience the final photographs tend to be much stronger. I try to develop a rapport with the people I photograph now even if we are together for a short amount of time. I also teach a digital photography course at UNE and I use the ethics and curriculum that I learned at Salt in the classroom.
Are there any stories/projects by Salt alums that you’ve been particularly excited to see out in the world?
I have always loved what Salt alum Ian Bannon has been doing with Figures of Speech Theatre in Freeport and his work with students with FOSSE (Figures Of Speech Student Ensemble). Check-out these amazing creative videos:
Making Migration Visible: Traces, Tracks & Pathways is a wide-ranging exhibition of a dynamic group of contemporary artists whose work engages the theme of migration. Organized by Erin Hutton ’98, Director of Exhibitions and Special Projects at the Institute for Contemporary Art at Maine College of Art, and co-curated by Julie Poitras Santos and Catherine Besteman, the exhibit runs through December 14, 2018.
Poitras Santos is Assistant Professor in the MFA program at MECA, as well as an artist and writer whose work is fueled by the relationship between site, story, and mobility, often as a means to create community. Besteman is Professor of Anthropology at Colby College who has conducted extensive fieldwork in South Africa, Somalia, and the U.S. Participating artists include Ahmed Alsoudani ’05, Caroline Bergvall, Edwige Charlot ’10, Jason De León with Michael Wells and Lucy Cahill, Eric Gottesman, Mohamad Hafez, Romuald Hazoumè, Ranu Mukherjee, Daniel Quintanilla with United Youth Empowerment Services (United Y.E.S), María Patricia Tinajero, and Yu-Wen Wu. This exhibition is accompanied by a wide range of events related to migration, immigration, and border crossing that are hosted by MECA and collaborating partner organizations throughout the state. Click here for more information about the exhibition.
Obviously this is a very timely exhibit. Why is this exhibition so important? The United Nations Population Fund estimates that 258 million people, 3.4 percent of the world’s population, lived outside of their country of origin in 2017. The U.N. calculated there were 10.3 million people displaced from Syria alone by the end of 2017. Worldwide, an estimated 65.6 million people are displaced from their homes. Whether migrants in search of better economic and social opportunities, climate refugees, or refugees fleeing violence or other inhumane conditions, millions of people are currently on the move, seeking refuge and setting up lives in entirely new and foreign locations. Making Migration Visible: Traces, Tracks & Pathways challenges the idea that migration is an exception, showing viewers that migration is now the norm, inscribed in our landscapes, memories, bodies, and imaginings.
Migration is such an enormous part of human history; how did the idea for this exhibit develop and evolve? Co-curator, Catherine, and I began talking about this project in late 2016. While I don’t recall the exact moment we began developing ideas for the exhibit, as we spoke about our respective experience and interests, it became clear that from within our different fields and shared concerns we could develop a project together based on the work of artists engaged with the topic of migration.
My work as an artist regards the relationship between site, story, and mobility; many of my projects use walking as a tool to navigate the relationship between site and individual story. My paternal grandparents crossed our northern border on foot in the 1930s looking for work and a transformed livelihood. They lived through some difficult and precarious years as they created their lives and eventually became Americans. So many of us are here because our ancestors migrated, whether brought by force, or coming on their own for reasons of economic need or political freedom. Catherine has spent the past decade interrogating borders, asking whose interests they serve and who they empower. Her work as an ethnographer in Somalia in the late ’80s, and with Somali immigrants in Maine, has provided her with a unique and very personal understanding of the challenges and triumphs experienced by contemporary refugees and local immigrants.
When we first talked about the project, many suggested we should bring this show to fruition immediately in order to address current issues surrounding immigration in this country. Since that time the global conversation surrounding migration has only intensified. We both felt strongly that the exhibition should address the long view, to regard global migration as well as local immigration, and that we should take time with the development of the project. We are addressing a transformation that is ongoing, as well as the human stories that are told from within that transformation. We seek to avoid the reactive response that signifies much of our contemporary news landscape. Rapid response action is critical, but the artists making these works have taken the time needed to draw out a story carefully. We wanted to honor that model of storytelling.
How does this exhibition go beyond a typical gallery experience? What kind of impact do you think this exhibit will have in the local community and beyond? Throughout our exhibition planning, we reached out to local individuals, institutions, and organizations to participate. There are over 70 other institutions planning parallel programming during the timeframe of the exhibit. Some of these individuals and groups are on the front lines of these conversations every day, while other institutions wished to participate by challenging stereotypes and assumptions about migrants through public outreach and programming.
The partner events and programming are really extraordinary. There are parallel exhibitions, artist talks, films, panel discussions, community dinners, community art projects, book releases and discussions, music, poetry – all looking at experiences and stories surrounding im/migration, as well as creating pathways for engagement and activism. The process of connecting with so many wonderful community members has been truly affirming. While the challenges of our current political climate are great, many people are envisioning and actively participating in making our communities more compassionate and welcoming on a daily basis.
How might this exhibit change people’s conception of the role contemporary artists play in our society? In addition to the exhibition and parallel programming, on November 2, we are holding Art+Politics, an all-day symposium (RSVP), which is free and open to the public. Leaders in the community will speak about the role of art in cultivating spaces for civic engagement on controversial topics and sparking social change. Our aim is to engage discussion regarding the potential of art to provide platforms for dialogue and learning about others’ experience. We hope to challenge stereotypes regarding refugee status and experience, immigrant lives, and migrants. The exhibition affirms the power of art to tell stories about who we are as human beings and urges us to engage challenging issues.
How did you and Catherine Besteman select these particular artists? Catherine and I looked at artists who engage their communities in their respective art practices and professional livelihoods. Artists included in this project share an interest in creating work that evokes stories about displacement, exile, mobility, identity, and community. In particular, we wanted to work with artists who focus on traces, tracks, and pathways, rather than on portrayals of people, to enable us to conduct a rich exploration of the landscapes, memory, and ephemera of movement in ways that confront in/visibility and disappearance.
Any particular story that stands out for you during this process? There are so many amazing stories! Daniel Quintanilla works with a local film collective, United YES, to share stories in virtual reality (VR) format and he has showed us how this technology can help us envision new and different worlds. United YES is a film collective started by four friends who grew up together in Lewiston after being transplanted from Southern Somalia through Kenyan refugee camps to Maine. Their love of multimedia production and firm commitment to helping their community is inspirational.
This groundbreaking exhibit and its many components wouldn’t have been possible without raising $80,000 in additional funding, including a leadership grant of $40,000 from the National Endowment of the Arts, a $10,000 Lunder Foundation Challenge Grant, a gift of $10,000 from Colby College, as well as valuable support from an anonymous donor, Coffee By Design, Alison D. Hildreth ’76 Hon. DFA ’17 , Candace Pilk Karu Hon. DFA ’13, the Maine Arts Commission (an independent state agency supported by the National Endowment for the Arts), and Jeremy Moser and Laura Kittle.
I felt that by going to MECA I would not only develop my work, but personal routines that would help me sustain a professional practice.
When did you graduate? Were you a full or low resident?
May 2018 and I was a full resident in the program.
Why did you decide to get your MFA at MECA?
I decided to get my MFA at MECA because of the trimester structure of the program and the institutional emphasis on artistic excellence. I felt that by going to MECA I would not only develop my work but personal routines that would help me sustain a professional practice.
Where do you live now and what are you doing after graduation?
I currently live in Fairmont, West Virginia. I’m teaching at Fairmont State University in Fairmont, WV.
What are you working on now?
I am working on large-scale prints, relief sculptures, and a sculptural installation for a solo show next year at Real Art Ways in Hartford, Connecticut. More info can be found here.
Do you keep in touch with your cohort?
Since graduation, I have kept in touch with my cohort at least weekly (usually more).
How has the MFA program impacted what you are doing today?
I feel that the program acted as an idea incubator of sorts. I was able to work both instinctively and critically, exploring ideas that I could refine post-graduation as well as some ideas that needed to get out to be done. Speaking to how it has impacted what I am doing today, I am beginning to develop a body of work with explorations that began within the program.
MECA’s MFA program is: “A metaphorical pressure-cooker.”
Portland is: “A special place that will rarely give you a bad meal.”
Juliet Werner (Salt ’06), a Senior Segment Producer at the Daily Show with Trevor Noah, took some time to discuss her new feature documentary film, The Laughter Life, and share some reflections on her life after Salt.
Can you tell us a bit about this new project, The Laughter Life?
This is my first time directing a documentary feature. I work full time as a producer for The Daily Show on Comedy Central, but was able to use our hiatuses to pursue this independent project. I had the help of family members. My dad edited. My brother wrote the score. And my cousin did the artwork. I am not Mormon, but was intrigued by the idea that Provo, Utah and specifically Brigham Young University, had produced this group of irreverent young people who were pursuing carers in something as unpredictable as television comedy. The synopsis below will help explain.
The Laughter Life follows a week in the life of the young comedians who write and star in Studio C, a popular sketch comedy television show that has garnered over 1 billion views on YouTube. But theirs is not your typical comedy success story, as the cast and crew behind the program are practicing Mormons living in the deeply observant community of Provo, Utah. And the network producing their show is BYUtv, a religiously-oriented network run by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Laughter Life introduces the viewer to a world few have visited and demonstrates the unifying power of comedy.
How can we see the film and keep up with your work?
Can you give us a taste of what you’ve been up to since Salt?
I studied nonfiction writing at Salt in Fall of ’06 and took the week-long multimedia course in the summer of ’14. I am now a senior segment producer on The Daily Show With Trevor Noah. Other comedy credits include The Daily Show With Jon Stewart, UCB Comedy, and The Onion. I’ve also done some writing since Salt, working as a reporter for The Queens Tribune. And I spent several years volunteering for Girls Write Now, a creative writing and mentoring organization that works with high school students in NYC.
What have been your biggest takeaways from your time at Salt?
Interviewing! How to prepare and order questions. How to be present. How to get into a comfortable groove with the person you’re talking to.
And structuring the story. What do my subjects want? What are the obstacles they face? Where should we leave them in the story?
And field work: how do I spend my time to ensure that I get a variety of scenes and see the subjects operating in a variety of settings?
Remember, too: your project will have many versions— many drafts or cuts. At Salt you learn how to stick with the process, and take notes from peers. This has really stayed with me.
Are there any stories by Salt alums that you’ve been particularly excited to see out in the world?
My classmate Maisie Crow just won an Emmy for her film Jackson!