Lost in the Movies (formerly The Dancing Image): Generations Linked by Video: The iHistory WW2 Project & Interview with Jeffrey Worthington

Monday, October 7, 2013

Generations Linked by Video: The iHistory WW2 Project & Interview with Jeffrey Worthington


 The iHistory WW2 Video Competition
"The iHistory WW2 video competition is proud to connect teenagers with WWII veterans, giving students the opportunity to hear first-hand accounts of history. The students will film an interview with a WWII veteran that will be submitted to the Library of Congress. Then the students will use editing resources provided on our website to make a mini-documentary which they will submit to the competition on YouTube." - from "About the iHistory WW2 Contest"

There's a moment near the start of The Century (a documentary miniseries from 1999) that I've always found magical. The program begins unexpectedly in small-town New Jersey around '96 or '97, peeking into the corners of the familiar present to notice unexpected hints of the past. While there are many revealing places (including a car garage that was once a stable, back when "horsepower" meant just that), the most powerful and poignant reminders are the people who inhabit these places. It's their voices that carry us into the past, a miraculous dissolve from a moonlit sky to archival footage of dancing soldiers and parading movie stars and moonwalking astronauts...never has history seemed so alive.

That's the power of human memory, and the power of modern technology to capture and deliver these memories to a new generation. And that is why I was so intrigued to find out about the iHistory World War 2 project, a contest (sponsored by the nonprofit Worthington Foundation) encouraging young students to record interviews with World War 2 veterans; students will then be given the opportunity to craft  polished documentary projects. This idea perfectly captures ability modern media's ability to bring history to life. Furthermore the time is now, because the youngest WW2 vets are now in their late eighties, and they aren't getting any younger.

I heard about the contest via email; I receive many such notifications and usually can't follow up even with the interesting ones. Yet I was fascinated by this project - its historical relevance, its cross-generational connections, its ability to open up filmmaking for young people who many never have considered themselves filmmakers before - and so I scheduled an interview with Jeffrey Worthington, founder and CEO of the Worthington Foundation. At the appointed time, Jeffrey was dealing with an unforeseen emergency, but he was kind enough to respond to my questions anyway, and the results are below. For more information, you can visit the iHistory WW2 contest website. The full interview follows the jump.

How did this project came about? Is it different from past projects your foundation has worked on, and if so how and why?

I started developing the idea that would later become the iHistory WW2 contest back in 2009.  I decided to create this contest because we are losing members of this “Greatest Generation” at a rapid rate, approximately 1000 per day, and we think it’s very important that young people understand and appreciate the stories of bravery and sacrifice before they are lost forever. We also believe it will ignite young people’s interest in history, specifically WWII, and help bridge the generation gap between teens and the veterans.

In October 2012, the Worthington Foundation received our 501c3 status.  And the iHistory WW2 contest is the first of our annual contests.  The Worthington Foundation’s long-term plans are to continue to do annual media contests for American youth that engage them in history and [give them] valuable experience in using media.  In 2014 we will launch the iHistory Korea contest, which will focus on engaging aspiring young filmmakers with veterans of the “Forgotten War”.

What is your own history with both filmmaking and World War II? What inspired you to start this foundation and to take on this particular project? Do you have relatives who fought in the war, and did you talk to them about it when you yourself were younger?

Both of my grandfathers severed in WWII.  One of them fought through Italy, but he passed away years before I born.  The other served in the Pacific and never spoke about his stories.  So I only starting researching my own family's WWII history since starting the iHistory contest.

My inspiration was realizing how quickly WWII are passing away and how little students today know about them.  The New York Times reported in 2008 that 23% of youth could not identify who Hitler was.

What inspired you to start this foundation and to take on this particular project?

I wanted to find a way of connecting students with WWII veterans, filming the veterans' oral histories, save those stories with the Library of Congress' Veterans History Project, and find a way of motivating students to do this own their.  Those ideas and values became the basis for the Worthington Foundation and subsequently the iHistory WW2 video contest.

Do you see this project and others like it enabling not just an interest in history, but also in filmmaking, documentary or otherwise?

The iHistory WW2 contest helps expand students' skills in journalism and video technologies - giving students an opportunity to learn from the skills associated with filmmaking. Researching, interviewing, lighting, video technology, editing, narrating, and storytelling will become a part of these students’ education, a critical element of students of the information age.

Obviously with footage provided by the website, and awards for editing, you are encouraging a particular documentary approach based on mixed media and not just straight documentation (like, say, a Claude Lanzmann documentary) - why do you feel this approach would be best for the contest?

We allow students to choose any creative style they wish.  Providing free royalty-free music and WWII archival footage is our way of allowing students a convenient and affordable options to pursue their desired visual style. With these option we feel that student will be able to produce better quality mini-documentaries.

Will there be any requirements/restrictions for the footage students send in during the initial period? Can it be shot on a phone, or even recorded as audio-only, with pictures from the website providing the visual content?

We require the students film (video) the interviews according to the Library of Congress' guidelines, which require use of a video camera (no footage from a phone), use of an external microphone. The students are welcome to use images as they like.

What avenues/approaches do you foresee the Worthington Foundation pursuing in coming years, aside from the aforementioned Korea project?


In 2015 we plan on having a contest for students to interview Vietnam veterans.  Beyond that we are not sure yet but the top of lists is to revisit WWII's "home front" stories, and future contests featuring the Iraq & Afghanistan veterans.


If you yourself are an educator, parent, student, or WW2 veteran, you can participate in the project. Good luck, and let me know if you or someone you know gets involved!

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