Aspiring filmmakers examine neglect of Mystic River

by Sofya Levina / Beacon Staff • October 20, 2011

, Beacon Correspondent/strong

One might think that a river that supports over 500,000 people would receive enough attention to keep it sustainable. But as a group of Emerson graduates have shown with a recent film, one Massachusetts river has been largely ignored.

emThe Mystic Unseen/em, a documentary by Emerson graduates Kelly Wessel, Christopher Bianrosa, and Sarah Ginsburg, and senior visual and media arts major Julie Hook, focuses on the Mystic River and its effects on the ecology of Boston.

The film was created for the Mystic River Watershed Association (MyRWA) and will be shown on Oct. 25 at the group’s annual meeting. According to the association’s website, the conference will focus on legal advocacy for environmental protection and will bring updates on the progress of the Mystic River cleanup.

The students met in Robert Nesson’s Documentary for Social Action class during fall 2010. They were assigned to work with a non-profit organization of their choice. Multiple groups came to speak before the class, presenting their projects.

“The whole point of the class was to get used to working with a client, to recreate an informative piece for the organization,” said Ginsburg, a former Emerson graduate who shot and edited some of the film’s footage. “My group and I were interested in the Mystic River because it seemed like the most pressing issue, and I took it as a challenge.”

emThe Mystic Unseen/em points its lens at the Mystic River’s near-toxic state, serving as a call to arms to protect the environment that so many take for granted. The picturesque scenes of the Mystic River remind the viewer that one does not have to travel far in order to get a little piece of serenity. But it also warns that if the community does not act now, this place of beauty could soon be just another memory.

It could also cause potential health problems for Boston residents. In one of the several interviews that make up the film, MyRWA Water Quality Monitoring Director Patrick Herron explains that when heavy rainfall hits Boston, the sewage system overflows and residents find themselves walking through a concoction of fecal matter, condoms, and toilet paper from the river, otherwise known as Sanitary Sewer Overflows. The film makes use of animation and graphics created by Ginsburg to demonstrate this constant strain on the Boston sewage system.

The documentary reminds the viewer why it’s important to protect the river by highlighting its natural serenity. The airy soundtrack, including the song “Folklore Feel” performed by Apostle of Hustle, adds to the waterway’s scenic mysticism.

But the shore is also sprinkled with hundreds of plastic coffee cups, candy wrappers, and other trash. Sewage overflows from manholes.  The calm waters reflecting flying cranes and autumn foliage seem somehow tainted and too fragile. According to Ginsburg, these images drive home the goal: to create urgency for ecological change in Boston’s policy towards the Mystic River.

“The fact that MyRWA is showing this at their annual meeting is already proof that we accomplished our goal,” she said. “We wanted to expose this pressing issue. The Mystic River is beautiful. They are going to make a lot of improvements. It’s going to be cleaned so people can appreciate how gorgeous it is.”

The students’ professor praised the images that they captured, while acknowledging the limitations posed by making a promotional video for a client.

“[Ginsburg] was able to get beautiful shots with unusual perspectives ... The editing structure worked pretty well,” said Nesson, a part-time documentary production professor. “I have to say my true reaction is that some of the talking segments were too long. In essence, although this was in documentary form, it was sort of a promo for the organization so the students had to include the desires of the organization.”

According to Ginsburg, though some students had trouble following the formats created by the non-profits, she thinks her group was able to hold on to their creative license despite having to follow guidelines set forth by MyRWA.

“If you’re good at what you do, your style should show no matter what the project is,” said Ginsburg. “[MyRWA was] so nice and easy to work with. We could still be creative and work for a client.”

strongemThe Mystic Unseen /emwill screen at the MyRWA Annual Meeting on Oct. 25. The event is free and open to the public./strong

emLevina can be reached at sofya_levina@emerson.edu./em

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