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Professor and Students Collaborate on Porchfest Documentary

Feet tapped against the chipping paint on sturdy wood, fingers strummed guitar strings and singing voices echoed through the streets of Ithaca. The music whipped with the wind through car windows, giving the drivers a sporadic and brief preview of what they could hear if they stepped out of the car and listened. On this exceptionally warm and sunny September day, eight students watched the scene unfold through the camera lens, documenting an annual tradition in the Ithaca community called Porchfest. 

Porchfest is an annual event in Ithaca when local musicians set up instruments on porches all over the Fall Creek neighborhood and share their music with community passersby.

Emily Junge, a sophomore television-radio major, was one of eight students who teamed up with TV-R professor Gossa Tsegaye to shoot footage for a documentary entitled, “Porchfest: Celebrating the Spirit of a Community Through Music.”

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“There were so many people who showed up of all ages — people who have been going for years, people who it was their first year, people who returned from their universities to come back to their hometown to see what’s going on,” Junge says. “It just showed me that the community is lively, creative, and fun.”

Tsegaye pitched the idea to his students last spring and invited them and their friends to help with the production.

“When an opportunity like this exists, the college community should seize it, and they should get out and get to know the community," he says. "The community should get to know you.”

Tsegaye and two student co-producers, juniors Stacey Lawrence and Sarah Furie, planned months in advance before sending a crew to capture the best moments of Porchfest.

“We met every week to be prepared, find crew, plan the documentary, get equipment, map out the Fall Creek area, and what crew was going to go which way,” Furie says. “Afterward, I spent 40 hours in post production to edit a 30 minute piece. I gained experience being a producer and have never worked that intensely on an edit.”

The production was a learning experience for all involved. Instead of shooting digitally, the production team used tape and therefore, they had to be judicious in what they chose to capture. In total, the team shot seven hours of footage. The field setting acted as a laboratory where students applied the skills they learned inside the classroom. 

“[Tsegaye] taught me to think more about the big picture,” Ben Ratner, a sophmore TV-R major, says. “He also reinforced the importance of pre-production to me. He spent weeks finding the right people to interview before hand, looking for the best houses to get interviews and performances.”

Aside from learning production skills, the team gained a bigger perspective about the Ithaca community and the power of music in bringing people together.

“Music is a universal language," Tsegaye says. "Regardless who you are and what you do, for one day everything is forgotten. You get into this moment of joy and reflection and camaraderie, and get to know your neighbors through music.”

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TV-R professor Gossa Tsegaye talks about the process of making “Porchfest: Celebrating the Spirit of a Community Through Music.”




Originally published in Fuse: Professor and Students Collaborate on Porchfest Documentary.


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