Enjoy: Final Projects by Spring 2017 Certificate in Documentary Arts Grads

From left: Trish Tolbert, Karen Healy, Rahima Rahi, Sydney Dye, Yulian Martínez-Escobar, James Matthews, Cyndi Briggs

On May 24, 2017, seven CDS Continuing Education students graduated with a Certificate in Documentary Arts. They presented their final projects before an audience of friends, family, teachers, fellow students, and fans of documentary in the Full Frame Theater at the American Tobacco Campus. A reception followed in the Boiler Room outside the theater.

The projects (collected below) included three videos, an audio piece, an oral history, a multimedia project combining audio and photography, and a photography presentation that included hand-sewn textiles.

Congratulations to the graduates!

Cynthia Briggs | The Book of John | Oral History

In 2014, Cynthia Briggs discovered a treasure trove of mementos, photographs, and postcards saved by her long-deceased grandfather, John Briggs, who served in World War II. Like many men of his generation, he spoke little about the war, except for humorous anecdotes about practical jokes and his friendship with fellow soldiers. He arrived in Belgium in the fall of 1944, just in time for the Battle of the Bulge, one of the most significant and deadly engagements of the war, fought in bitter cold and snow. Assigned to an armored reconnaissance unit, his extremely dangerous scouting missions put him at the forefront of violence and trauma.

A burning curiosity to better understand his experiences led him to undertake an oral history project, which grew from one conversation with a fellow WWII veteran to (at present) eighty interviews with WWII, Korean War, and Vietnam War vets. The stories are archived at the New Winston Museum in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and will soon be searchable online via the Oral History Metadata Synthesizer (OHMS) program, and available at the Library of Congress. Community partners include Hospice and Palliative Care’s We Honor Veterans program, Senior Services of Winston-Salem and Forsyth County, area retirement communities, and Wake Forest University. Cynthia Briggs’ final project for the Certificate in Documentary Arts includes an autoethnographic audiovisual piece about the experience of creating these oral histories and developing enduring and meaningful relationships with veterans, as well as a longer-term plan for developing and disseminating this important research.

Cynthia Briggs has a PhD in counselor education from Oregon State University and teaches in the Masters of Clinical Mental Health Counseling program at Walden University. After finishing her dissertation, she realized that academic research and writing held little reward for her, so she turned her attention to memoir and creative nonfiction. This process unleashed her love of storytelling and listening, and eventually led her to CDS, where she gets to indulge and cultivate this passion. Thankfully, her current employer supports her creative endeavors, so she’s able to make soul-satisfying documentary work and also pay her bills.

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Sydney Dye | Beehive | Video

A “’90’s kid’s dream” is one of the terms used to describe a jumps course tucked away in a corner of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, woods. Beehive tells the coming-of-age story of the course’s creators, Isaac, Ethan, and Ben, who have spent their free time in high school either riding their bikes or constructing jumps to use with their bikes. The small section of woods they claim as their own is not just a place to improve their biking technique, it’s the glue of their friendship.

Sydney Dye is a senior at Chapel Hill High School and will be attending Elon University in the fall to study cinema and television production. She has been creating documentary films for the past five years through an annual competition called National History Day. Her film Introducing Americans to America won first place at the 2016 National History Day competition, was a finalist at the All-American High School Film Festival in New York City, and screened at ALICEFEST, a celebration of women filmmakers, at the Full Frame Theater in March 2017.

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Karen Healy | A Palette of Rust and Dreams | Audio and Photography

A Palette of Rust and Dreams is a vignette of a North Carolina train journey as seen through the eyes of a romantic, nostalgic traveler. Anchored in the piedmont region of North Carolina, it explores the space between destinations, pairing captured moments of imagery and conversation as travelers bear witness to a world and landscape both ephemeral and historic. The selection shown today is from a larger collection of work of still photographs and audio recordings that will be exhibited at the Imperial Centre Arts Gallery in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, from January through May 2018.

Karen Healy is a documentary photographer with a focus on portraiture and environmental landscapes. She has a BA in communications studies from the University of Massachusetts. She grew up in New England and moved to North Carolina in 1993 with her husband and two daughters. She raised her family in Chapel Hill, where she continues to live with her husband. This work was recently published in the online multimedia webzine Bit and Grain. Photographs from the project were also part of an emerging artists exhibition in the 2016 Click! Triangle Photography Festival.

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Yulian Martínez-Escobar | Our Sunday | Video

More than any other sport, soccer brings together people from different countries, professions, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Our Sunday follows four soccer players from Uruguay, Iran, Egypt, and the U.S., who have come together in Charleston, South Carolina, and bonded over their passion for soccer. They talk about their past, how they learned to play soccer, how they ended up in Charleston, and their shared experience on the soccer field, where they meet every Sunday. In the words of one of the players, Michael, the soccer field reflects “a microcosm of how the world should be.”

Yulian Martínez-Escobar is an adjunct Spanish professor at the College of Charleston in Charleston, South Carolina. His avid interests include languages, traveling, and culture, which have defined his artistic style. He first cultivated an interest in the fine arts in his native Colombia as an actor in his college theater company, and later went on to become a self-taught photographer and videographer. He especially enjoys capturing candid portraits of people he meets in his travels, from Scotland to Peru to Senegal and the Gambia. As an immigrant, he wants to explore and document the lives and diverse backgrounds of other people who have ended up in the United States.

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James Matthews | Material Witness | Photography and Textiles

Material Witness grew out of an attempt to document the large number of evictions in the city of Little Rock, Arkansas. Photographs of roadside piles of possessions lacked immediacy, or a way for the viewer to connect with the evicted. So James Matthews began to col- lect the items left curbside—children’s toys, school books, kitchenware—and mounted them as an exhibit, simply hung on the wall. He was left with mounds of clothes and bedding, which he washed, cut up, and made into a quilt. In this way, he could document the personal and physical loss of the eviction, and trans- form the fragments into something useful, comforting, and sheltering. Each quilt represents a single eviction, and holds within it the personalities and stories of the people who were evicted.


James Matthews studied photography at the Center for Documentary Studies, then went on to study folk- lore at UNC–Chapel Hill. He now lives with his family in Little Rock, where he is director of communications for the Episcopal Church in Arkansas and curates a small gallery that documents life in the city.

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Rahima Rahi | Philosophy of Participatory Filmmaking | Writing and Video

This project explores the effectiveness of participatory filmmaking as a theoretical framework and practical tool for confronting appropriation in the documentary arts. Her work is inspired and informed by the literary theory of Trinh T. Minh-ha, which focuses on themes of “transcultural interactions, the production and percep- tion of difference and intersection of technology and colonization.” The most recent iteration of her research practice is a combination of a written essay and clips from a community-based video project at El Centro Hispano in Durham, North Carolina, which highlights the stories of four transgender members of their LGBTQ program.

Rahima Rahi’s (she/he/they) multimedia art functions as a continuous experiment with form, relationships, theory, and identity. Her work spans autobiography, collaborative social documentary, experimental video, installation, reflective/theoretical discourse, and text-based approaches. Here and elsewhere in her work, Rahi experiments with ways to effectively shift the power she holds as a filmmaker over to the community, while still offering participants the value of her creative and technical support. For Rahi, “the process is the reason for creation” of her autobiographical and bio- graphical experimental art. When practiced in a state of heightened vulnerability, the rituals of production ignite the possibility of healing, liberation, and the reclamation of power.

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Trish Tolbert | Simple Dreams | Audio

Simple Dreams is a Vietnam-era love story that offers an alternative to the stereotypical portrayal of veterans from that war. We meet a former Marine hospital corpsman, Bobby Shelly, and his wife, Sue, as teenagers, then as newlyweds in a small West Tennessee town. We follow twenty-one-year-old Bobby into a close-range battle, Operation Indiana, and its aftermath—weaving together choices made in the wake of that battle and the powerful ripple effect of those choices fifty years later. Simple Dreams is drawn from a documentary video, Bobby’s Gift, currently in production. It reveals the essence of a unique relationship: the resilience required for recovery, and the art of gratitude at the heart of healing.

Trish Tolbert is the eleventh generation of a southern storytelling family that has farmed in Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee for over three hundred years. Raised in Memphis, Tennessee, during tumultuous times, she carried her love of storytelling into her professional career with nonprofits, fundraising for great causes, and pioneering “storytelling as a fundraising tool” with the Nature Conservancy and other global organizations. Trish is now seeking work as a development communications writer or community outreach manager while growing her production and editing skills.

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