Palmyra Area High School recent graduates Ashley Weber, Gunther Gillespie and Cameron Wehr dove into seniors’ memories of Campbelltown in their documentary The Voices of Campbelltown, released online June 14.
The project covers the history of the Campbelltown area, yes, but it centers the voices of Campbelltown seniors and their memories of growing up in the area.
The documentary weaves together narration recounting historical details of Campbelltown locations, panned shots of high-res archival photos, and interviews with elderly Campbelltown community members. Together, this paints a picture of the small community these folks grew up in.
“It wasn’t necessarily the informational standpoint — that’s what the narration was, just kinda background information — but I think it was just to honor those people’s memories and to remind people how important that small town is to some of the elderly in the area,” said Wehr.
The subjects of the documentary include Esther Jencks, Pat Brandt, Dottie Brandt-Black, and Richard Brandt, all of whom are in their 80s. Historian Don Rhoads, Jr. is also consulted, and offers insight about Campbelltown’s history and culture.
“Our main goal was to honor the people who grew up in Campbelltown and who love the town,” said Wehr.
June 15, the students and the teacher adviser of the project, Susan Stroh, showed the film at Campbelltown senior living facility Traditions of Hershey, where the film’s subjects got to see it for the first time.
“Behind the scenes it can be super stressful to do something like this, but to see everyone’s reaction and how happy they were, and everyone thanking us at the end, was definitely the best part for me,” explained Wehr. “It showed that all of our work was worth it and it showed that all the time we put into it definitely paid off.”
The Voices of Campbelltown project has been in the works since the fall of 2019. That school year, the trio gathered interviews and footage for the project, but production was halted for almost a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We didn’t know what was happening at that point — I mean no one knew what was happening,” said Wehr. “I feel like we were on a roll, we were all into it, we were all ready to get it done, and then it just kinda stopped.”
Once they were back to school in-person, the group was able to resume work on the project, and it was completed April of this year.
“To watch back and re-jog our memory was difficult, but I think it was also a good thing because we could look at things from a different perspective and see what we liked about what our plan was before and see what we could change,” explained Wehr about resuming the project after such a long hiatus. “It was definitely difficult, but I think at the end we were happy with the final product.”
Throughout the project, Wehr, Weber and Gillespie spent a significant amount of time outside of school working on the film. In addition to filming interviews and b-roll, the three students met after school every two weeks or so to familiarize themselves with their current tasks and compile their parts.
“I feel like those classes I learned more than any academic class just because I was out and about so much through my day,” said Wehr.
Wehr focused on script-writing and narration, whereas Weber and Gillespie worked more with video production. Producing the video was a challenge for the group, as they were used to 30-to-60-second clips for their broadcast journalism class. This was a 30-minute film, for which they collected over four hours of footage.
“It was definitely a long time [to produce] compared to what the segments we usually do in class are,” said Wehr.
All three students hope to pursue journalism beyond high school, whether at their respective colleges or professionally.
“I think that journalism is just such a great field to go into just because you learn to talk to people — older people, younger people — so I think this was a good learning experience because me, Ashley and Gunther are so involved in journalism and want to pursue that in the future,” said Wehr. “We learned a lot about our town and we also learned a lot about ourselves and what we can do with journalism in the future.”
Reporting on Campbelltown also left the three with additional knowledge of and attachment to their community.
“I think that communities are really growing in this area — houses are going up everywhere — and it’s important for people to remember that we’re still a small town and you have to look out for your neighbors,” said Wehr. “The elderly people we interviewed had such fond memories of their childhood and where they grew up. I think that’s important because they never forgot about those, even 30 years later they hadn’t forgotten about those memories.
“I think that people need to remember that keeping that small-town feel, people will have those memories for the rest of their lives.”
Watch the documentary below
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