UM student wins $10,000 prize for video

WITHOUT A SOUND

Bangor Daily News (Maine)

4/30/10 |


BDN Staff

BANGOR DAILY NEWS PHOTO BY JESSICA BLOCH
Samantha Danis

ORONO, Maine — It seems fitting that on the night Samantha Danis found out she’d won a national award for her video documentary work, she was out to dinner with a group of deaf people.

After all, it was the short documentary she made about two members of the local deaf community that propelled her to the grand prize of the YouTube and Pulitzer Center “Project: Report” video competition.

A University of Maine senior, Danis is one of five top winners of the contest, which is intended for nonprofessional aspiring journalists.

Danis’ grand prize includes a $10,000 grant for an international reporting assignment for the Pulitzer Center on anything she chooses anywhere in the world. Danis isn’t sure yet if there are any limitations on the countries she can visit, but she does know she’ll have to produce a 10-minute documentary based on the trip.

The winners will be recognized during an award ceremony in Washington, D.C. Danis leaves May 9, the day after her UMaine graduation.

Winning the award, she said, has helped her realize she wants to go into journalism as a career.

“At first I didn’t know that was what I wanted to do, but winning this contest gave me the courage,” said the Biddeford native. “I knew I had talent, but I guess I didn’t know how much. Getting recognized gave me that boost I needed to prove to myself that I could do this for a living.”

A broadcast journalism major, Danis entered “Project: Report” as an assignment through a class with UM professor Sunny Hughes.

It took Danis awhile, she said, to come up with what she felt would be an original idea for her video documentary. Eventually she decided to focus on the deaf community because she felt it was a group rarely discussed in the media.

Danis, who is in her second semester of American Sign Language classes, e-mailed UM adjunct professor Carrie Pierce, who agreed to participate in the documentary. Danis found her second subject, Hampden Academy student Graham Chase, through a connection with her boyfriend, John Dickinson.

The 4-minute, 8-second documentary, which Danis titled “Without a Sound,” juxtaposed Pierce, who uses only sign language, and Chase, who prefers to speak and hasn’t used sign language since he was a youngster. “I thought it was the perfect balance,” Danis said. “You had someone who is really in touch with the deaf community and has embraced her deafness, then another person who didn’t know where he fit in. So I thought it showed both sides.”

Danis’ video was uploaded to the website YouTube. As of Thursday afternoon, the documentary had been viewed more than 175,000 times. To see Video

Danis was at a restaurant in Old Town as part of an assignment for Pierce’s class — students had to interact with deaf people in public situations — when she got the call she had won the contest.

After hearing the news, Danis returned to her table where she struggled, with her limited sign language, to communicate why she looked so happy.

“I had to sign that I had won a contest, but I feel like they didn’t really understand me,” she said. “I can’t sign all those words.”

In order to get to the finals of the competition, Danis advanced from a semifinal round in which she won a new laptop computer and video camera for her documentary, “A Day in the Life of Alice Fogg.”

Fogg is a Naples woman who sews pillows that she sends to troops in the Middle East.

See video  Naples woman

The experience of making the two videos gave Danis the opportunity to explore techniques such as the use of sound, or lack thereof in the case of “Without a Sound.”

“I had never used any music because news packages are always people talking and natural sound,” she said. “But this was documentary-style and once I put the music behind it, it all just came together.”

So just where is Danis planning to go with her $10,000 grant?

“I have no idea,” she said with a laugh. “I can’t just go somewhere that’s beautiful. There has to be a story there.”

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