2012 John Hope Franklin Student Documentary Prizewinners


John Hope Franklin Award recipient David Mayer working on his project, “A Trip to Derenburg.”

Established in 1989 by the Center for Documentary Studies, the John Hope Franklin Student Documentary Awards are named for the noted scholar John Hope Franklin, the late professor emeritus of history at Duke University, in recognition of his lifetime accomplishments and his dedication to students and teaching. CDS makes these awards to undergraduates attending North Carolina’s Triangle-area universities to help them conduct summer-long documentary fieldwork projects using audio, oral history, photography, film/video, and/or narrative or creative writing. This year’s winners are:

Alice Soo-Hyon Kim (Duke University)
Alice Kim is producing a documentary that “maps the immigrant identity” through black-and-white 35 mm photographs and audio recordings of her grandmother, Kyung Jo Seong, as she returned to South Korea for the first time in more than a decade, perhaps for her last visit. Mrs. Seong’s family left Korea in 1939, when she was twelve, to work on a farm in Japan; in 1950, married and with two children, she returned to South Korea. In 1977, shortly after her fiftieth birthday, she moved to California and has lived there since. Alice writes, “Mrs. Seong adamantly considers herself Korean . . . even as a young adult living in Japan . . .  after being naturalized as an American citizen, after living and working here for thirty years. . . . What is it about this Korean identity that prompts her to cling to it?” Mrs. Seong returned “home” this summer, accompanied by Alice. “There is still so much I do not know about my grandmother, her life before coming to America, and our family history. This project will be as much a self-discovery for my grandmother as it will be for me.”

David Mayer (Duke University)
David Mayer is producing a documentary video that will offer an intimate retelling of his grandfather’s Holocaust story as a parallel to his own comfortable suburban upbringing. Paul Mayer was twenty years old and living in Frankfurt, Germany, when he began to keep a journal on January 1, 1945. His father had died in Auschwitz; his sister had died when the Nazis refused to give her medical treatment. “On March 15, 1945, along with his brother Heinz, Paul Mayer headed to Central Station in Frankfurt with orders from the Nazi Party to board a train headed for a concentration camp . . . deep in the Hartz Mountains,” David Mayer writes. The journal goes on to describe their daring escape out of the camp and through the mountains to the American lines. For his video David visited and filmed Paul Mayer’s childhood home in Frankfurt, the train station where he left for the camp, and the camp itself. He says, “Time and time again my grandfather writes of how one should react to hardship. . . . Would I make him proud with how I live? Would he see himself in me? This documentary is about what it means to try to understand a man I never met using only what he left behind.”

Elyse Pate (University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill)
Elyse Pate is collecting oral histories, along with photographs and recipes, to create a documentary narrative essay that reflects on the importance of a celebrated event in the Brunswick area of coastal Georgia. “In my family, tradition, especially any tradition involving food, is sacred,” Elyse writes. Her father grew up in Brunswick and she spent time there as a child, where she loved to listen to her grandmother’s stories. “Being a very social lady, many of my grandmother’s tales centered on social events, and many of these events, in turn, centered on food.” The “low country boil” was and remains one of the main events, as well as the seafood-based dish that stars at these gatherings. “Like all traditions, low country boils have changed and are constantly changing to fit the times,” says Elyse. “Without documentation, the changes in tradition, while not necessarily negative, often mean the loss of a specific variation. My grandmother, for example, can no longer tell her stories. . . . I hope . . . that by documenting the stories of ordinary people these traditions will not be forgotten.”


Submissions for the 2013 John Hope Franklin Awards will be accepted the month of February. Deadline: March 1, 2013.  documentarystudies.duke.edu/jhf

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