Tag Archive | "Justin Szlasa"

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Interview with the Co-Directors of 759: Boy Scouts of Harlem (Part 2)

Posted on 22 January 2009 by admin

This is the second part (read part one here) of the interview with the Co-Directors of 759: Boy Scouts of Harlem conducted by Joshua R. Godinez. This is Joshua’s first, but hopefully not last, article on Scouting News, his website BoyandGirlScouts.com provides News, Opinion, Advice with the tagline, “Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts under one roof… with proper supervision, of course.”

759: Boy Scouts of Harlem Interview – Part Two (Read Part One Here)
By Joshua R. Godinez
For ScoutingNews.org

Boy Scouts typically joke around a lot with each other and film sets are notorious for having things not turn out they way they were first planned. What were the unexpected and funny moments you can recall while making this film?

JAKE: After the first few weeks of shooting Justin and I realized pretty much nothing was going as we had planned or expected. So we threw out the plan and went along for the ride–which made it very true and very unexpected. But we’re not going to tell you about it–you’ll have to watch the film.

Who are you hoping sees this film?

JUSTIN: I hope a lot of people see the film–active Scouts, alumni, and especially people who don’t have first-hand experience in Scouting and may not understand what it is all about. It is a good chance to get a view into a real live Troop.

Do you hope your film will generate interest and participation in the Boy Scouts of America?

JUSTIN: I hope so. I like what Will Rogers had to say: “There’s only one thing wrong with the Boy Scouts, there aren’t enough of ‘em.”

Documentaries can have different styles of storytelling. What is the style you use and how does that help the way the movie is received?

JAKE: Most of the film is shot using methods of cinema verite (or direct cinema). We hoped to have the camera have as little effect as possible on our subjects. We wanted the boys to come off naturally – not say what they though we wanted to hear or act in a way appropriate for the camera. We did shoot interviews with our subjects – and use clips from these interviews occasionally. But most of the film is made up of scenes capturing the reality of scouting in Harlem and at Camp Keowa. By getting to know our subjects well and spending a lot of time with them they were comfortable when we were shooting. Thus we were able to capture some unexpected, surprising moments on camera.

When will people have an opportunity to see the film?

JUSTIN: Good question! We are trying to work out a way to show the film in New York. It is especially important for us to show the film in Harlem and we expect to have a “community premiere” there in mid-March. We have also been approached by several Councils about setting up community screenings. The concept is that the local Council would be responsible for finding a venue, promoting the event and handling logistics; we’d provide a copy of the film and fly out to do Q&A. Any Council interested in this kind of thing can just give me a ring. We are also in the process of figuring out a way for Troops to get a copy of the film so they can build an event around it (e.g. a recruiting event). Of course we hope to get in to some film festivals and get it on TV. We expect to have DVDs available for order on our website this spring. Anybody interested in what is happening can sign up for our emailing list on our website (http://harlemscouts.com)and we will keep you posted.

How long did it take to make the film?

JAKE: We started planning and doing some initial work on the film in March 2007–so about two years of on-and-off work.

What was the process that made it take that amount of time?

JUSTIN: First, getting our subjects comfortable around two strangers with cameras took awhile. We spent weekend after weekend with Troop 759–at meetings, camping, at their homes around the neighborhood. Sometimes the camera was on; most of the time it was off. Over time we built up a good relationship with the Troop and everyone could just be themselves around us and the camera. But it is a slow process–that trust is something you have to earn.

Next, all that shooting meant there was a lot of footage to edit–over 180 hours. Turning that into a seventy minute film is no small task–and takes a lot of time in the edit room.

Music can strongly impact the way a film is perceived. How did your soundtrack influence your film?

JUSTIN: We lucked out. Ms. Ann Dozier and Joy Willis (Keith’s Mom) sing in a gospel choir in Harlem. We recorded them as part of our soundtrack. Joy also did some solo work for us for the film–including a beautiful version of the Scout Grace that you may remember singing before meals up at summer camp.

Patrick Byers, whose son KC is in Troop 759, is a classical composer and KC’s Mom, Jennifer Byers is a cellist. They put together the film’s theme song based on the tune of the Scout Grace which is an old Protestant hymn. Several other musicians from Harlem are part of the film–including Nik Munson, a gifted guitarist and Master Drummer Charli Persip who played for Dizzy Gillespie and happens to live in Jake’s building in Harlem. So it is a community thing.

Thank you for taking the time to answer these questions!

As a Scouter I’m incredibly excited that Justin and Jake have made this documentary. The opportunity to see a positive film about Boy Scouts, in just about any form, is great. I look forward to having the film shown in my area and I hope Scouters around the country do the same.

Learn more about 759: Boy Scouts of Harlem by visiting http://harlemscouts.com. Be sure to sign up for the email list to receive up to date information about the film.

This was a guest post by Joshua R. Godinez of BoyandGirlScouts.com.

Check out Harlem Interview Deleted Scenes over on Joshua’s website to read his commentary on conducting the interview, some additional questions and answers, and how the film is about a Troop, and not an overarching social cause.

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Interview with the Co-Directors of 759: Boy Scouts of Harlem (Part 1)

Posted on 21 January 2009 by admin

This is part one of a two-part interview with the Co-Directors of 759: Boy Scouts of Harlem conducted by Joshua R. Godinez. This is Joshua’s first, but hopefully not last, article on Scouting News, his website BoyandGirlScouts.com provides News, Opinion, Advice with the tagline, “Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts under one roof… with proper supervision, of course.”

759: Boy Scouts of Harlem Interview – Part One
By Joshua R. Godinez
For ScoutingNews.org

This interview is being conducted with Justin Szlasa who directed, produced, and edited 759: Boy Scouts of Harlem, and with Jake Boritt who also directed and was the cinematographer for the film.

Justin Szlasa, what is your background with the Boy Scouts of America and how did that influence your decision to make 759: Boy Scouts of Harlem?

JUSTIN: I grew up with Scouting–first as a Cub Scout then as a Boy Scout with Troop 42 in upstate New York. I earned Eagle like my father and brother–so it is a family thing. Scouting taught me a lot–how to lead, how to follow, the value of service to my community and country, an appreciation for the outdoors and a whole range of practical skills–from personal finance to first aid to how to cook–that I put to use every day. With this film I wanted to put the spotlight on Scouting. I don’t think it gets enough attention.

Does making this movie have anything to do with the Eagle Scout oath to make your influence count strongly for better Scouting?

JUSTIN: I can’t say I was conscious of the oath when I set out to make this film. Until one of the guys in Troop 759 made Eagle I hadn’t actually recited it in over a decade. I was motivated by a very basic idea: to try to give back to an organization that gave something to you.

Troop 42 in Big Flats, New York is a pretty far distance from Harlem both literally and figuratively. Why did you choose to do an inner city Boy Scout movie rather than one that probably matches the suburban, white Boy Scout image that most people have?

JUSTIN: My hometown was small and rural. My Troop matched the stereotype–white, from families with two parents around with plenty of Dads ready to volunteer their time. I wanted to see how Scouting operated in a big city, how it could deal with urban challenges and work in a place that was more diverse. What I didn’t realize until I started this project is that Baden-Powell created Scouting as a program for city kids, not country kids. Originally Scouting was a way for kids to escape the city–to go hiking, to build fires, to learn how to swim, to appreciate and understand the environment. It makes sense that Ten Mile River, the Scout camp that serves New York City is the largest Council-owned property in the country. FDR, who secured the land for TMR, was a huge booster for urban Scouting. Scouting may be more common in our suburbs but I’d argue it has always been more relevant in our cities.

Jake Boritt, I was very impressed by your previous work and your ability to engagingly tell your father’s story with your movie “Budapest to Gettysburg”. Your father was honored by President Bush with a National Humanities Medal and your work has received praise from world-renowned documentarian Ken Burns. You’re also taking on the story of Barack Obama’s election as the first African-American President. In light of those accomplishments and goals, a story about a kid going to summer camp seems like a strange departure from a very weighty series of films. Why did you decide to do this movie?

JAKE: Several years ago I moved to Harlem and fell in love the neighborhood. Living in the Village of Harlem – as locals call it – is a very rich experience. As a filmmaker I began contemplating possible angles to explore in a documentary.

Justin Szlasa and I had met a couple years earlier via a mutual friend of ours from John Hopkins. Justin was transitioning from the business world and was interested in getting into documentaries. While I made the Budapest to Gettysburg film (www.boritt.com) Justin backpacked around the world with his wife. When he returned I was finishing my film and Justin was looking to start a new film. We discussed several possibilities. Justin wanted to do a film about Scouts in New York City. I wanted to do a film about Harlem. On a Saturday morning in the spring of 2007 we walked into the basement of the Church of the Master in Harlem and we found our subject: Okpoti Sowah’s Troop 759.

What association or background have you had with the Boy Scouts of America?

JAKE: I knew very little about Scouts before beginning work on “759.” We spent so much time with the troop it was almost like we were part of the troop. We played football, went camping, hiking and it was almost like I was a teenage boy running around. Especially for kids living in the city it is a truly amazing experience.

How did you become associated with Troop 759?

JUSTIN: We knew we wanted to follow a Troop in New York City and we had some very practical considerations. First, it was easiest for us to travel in Manhattan so we ruled out the outer boroughs. Next, a smaller unit would be easier for us to film and get to know than a large one–so we ruled out the big Troops like 150 in Chinatown, STN and 718 in Washington Heights, and Troop 1 in midtown. But at the end of the day it was the warm welcome we received from Troop 759 when we dropped in at one of their meetings to pitch them on the project. It also helped that 759 met at a church around the corner from Jake’s apartment–which made it easy for us to lug our gear to Saturday meetings.

Who is the primary character in your film and how are you hoping the audience engages with his story?

JUSTIN: In some ways the primary character is Troop 759 itself–which is an entity made up of six different personalities–four Scouts and two leaders. But we do spend the most time with the Troop’s newest Scout–Keith Dozier–who is taking his first trip to summer camp. I think a lot of people will relate to his experience at camp.

Do you continue to have a relationship with the troop or leaders or individuals from Troop 759?

JUSTIN: You bet. Mr. Sowah, the Scoutmaster, and Ms. Ann, the Assistant Scoutmaster, have become kind of personal heroes to both me and Jake. They are tremendous people and a lot of fun. We keep in touch with them and the rest of the Scouts in the Troop.

Justin noted that he and Keith share swimming history in how their first ability tests came out. What others ways were you able to relate to the boys of Troop 759?

JUSTIN: Like Keith, the first time I took a dock test I failed. Jumping into a lake when you are eleven is not always easy man! But Keith is a tough kid. He practiced hard and passed his test by the end of the week–which was better than me. I was too chicken to get back in the water my first week at camp.

Read part two of this interview with the Co-Directors of 759: Boy Scouts of Harlem.

Learn more about 759: Boy Scouts of Harlem by visiting http://harlemscouts.com. Be sure to sign up for the email list to receive up to date information about the film.

This was a guest post by Joshua R. Godinez of BoyandGirlScouts.com.

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Troop 759: Boy Scouts of Harlem

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Troop 759: Boy Scouts of Harlem

Posted on 06 January 2009 by Dan

I was recently made aware of a new documentary film in production, titled 759: Boy Scouts of Harlem. The film is a 72 minute documentary coming in the Spring of 2009.

Film Synopsis
Keith Dozier - Troop 759\'s Newest Scout759: Boy Scouts of Harlem is an upbeat, family friendly verite-style documentary about the unexpected power of Scouting. Eleven year old Keith Dozier, Troop 759’s newest Scout, is the film’s star and we follow him from the streets of Harlem to Camp Keowa in upstate New York. We see how Scouting transcends race, geography and national origin to teach life skills and build character.

759: Boy Scouts of Harlem Trailer

759: Boy Scotus of Harlem follows Keith Dozier, Troop 759’s newest Scout, from his home in Harlem to Camp Keowa in upstate New York. The film is structured around a week at camp where Keith and his fellow Scouts confront the kinds of challenges they don’t find in Harlem.

The film opens with Keith sitting in a church basement—the kind of place where most Scout Troops in America meet—he wears a brand-new uniform with no badges or awards, just a Troop 759 patch. Keith explains he joined Scouts because he is following in his father’s and his uncle’s footsteps. He says he wants to earn Eagle Scout before he gets to college—he’s not sure if he can do it, but he thinks he can do it. We cut to the interior of his grandmother’s Harlem brownstone. It is early morning just before Keith leaves for camp. Keith shows us a photo of his father when he was in Boy Scouts.

We see Keith and his fellow Scouts–Mani, KC, Devon assemble at Scoutmaster Okpoti Sowah’s apartment tower and pack up for camp. Ms. Ann, Keith’s grandmother and 759’s assistant scoutmaster drives the group to Camp Keowa—with stops along the way at McDonald’s and Wal-Mart.

Troop 759 packs into their green platform-tents at campsite 5 as John Restrepo and Andy Cabrera, senior camp counselors, explains that Camp Keowa is a place where kids from the city can come to experience a completely different way of life—and ultimately help them become better people.

759: Boy Scouts of Harlem Production Notes
Jake Boritt & Justin SzlasaTroop 759: Boy Scouts of Harlem was shot over the course of 2007 and 2008 in New York City and at Camp Keowa, part of Ten Mile River Scout Camp in Narrowsburg, New York. Directors Jake Boritt and Justin Szlasa effectively became part of the Troop 759 family to earn the trust of their subjects. Troop 759 was shot on the Sony Z1U in HDV and edited on FinalCut Pro in New York City. Additional footage was provided by the TMR Scout Museum.

759: Boy Scouts of Harlem was independently financed on a micro-budget by Justin Szlasa. The film received cooperation and enthusiastic approval from the Boy Scouts of America Greater New York Councils, and the Boy Scouts of America, but the project received no material support from the Scouts.

To learn more about 759: Boy Scouts of Harlem visit the film’s website, http://www.harlemscouts.com.

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