Step Forward Internship Inspires Student's Passion for Filmmaking, Environment

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Jason Klein and Kevin Zak spent a day recently following the trail of more than 15 shopping carts submerged in the Naugatuck River, filming as they went. They were there to document the river cleanup, to create a series of short films for students, the broader public and politicians. They are making the films, Zak said, “to educate them of the beauty, impairment and solutions to the river’s short and long-term challenges.”

Theirs is a collaboration that came about thanks to an internship that is part of Gateway Community College’s Step Forward program, a college transition program for young adults who face barriers to education and employment. The internship happened serendipitously, said Step Forward Director Jaime French. Jenn Abbott, a Step Forward teacher, had an eagle’s nest in her backyard and Zak, an independent filmmaker, asked to film it. Meanwhile, Klein, a student in the Step Forward program and aspiring filmmaker, had been hoping for an internship in filmmaking. Abbott and French connected the two and the internship began.

Klein plans to go to film school, to study cinematography, directing or screenwriting. One of his passions is researching the latest developments in video and editing equipment and he is self-taught in many areas related to film.

Zak, who has received grants to make his films, said Klein’s expertise has been invaluable. “Jason has been key to our selecting technical equipment: new computer hardware and editing software. His knowledge and experience are not only impressive but important to moving our projects forward,” Zak said.

Klein said, “It’s a lot more interesting than ordering coffee or whatever happens at many internships.  I’m doing documentary filmmaking.” He said he had not thought much about the natural world before the internship but now it bothers him to see shopping carts in the river and the garbage that people toss along its banks. He said he likes it that he is not only learning about filmmaking and photography, but that the learning extends far beyond that. He now knows more about owls, bald eagles, other birds of prey and the ways of a river and its surrounding landscape.

Zak calls himself an accidental environmentalist. 

“I am simply a house painter who saw a plastic bag in a tree by the river. It was there all winter long. That was over seven years ago. I told myself I was going to pull it out because no one else was going to do it. I realized how simple it was and picked up the surrounding litter and just never stopped,” he said. “That led to cleaning the river and the realization in how beautiful the Naugatuck River was without trash which led us to sit and observe the wildlife. That led us to want to be a witness thru the lens of a camera.”

Today Zak works with Sondra Harman, executive director of the Naugatuck River Revival Group. The two recently spoke to GCC’s Step Forward classes about their environmental work. Zak said he and Harmon loved talking to the Step Forward students. “I think we all learned something. We would return in a heartbeat,” Zak said.

In addition to making several short films about the river, Zak and Klein said they also hope to make a full-length documentary; they are also the documentarians for A Place Called Hope, a rehabilitation center for birds of prey in Killingworth where Klein will film the training of a bald eagle named Cerina. They travel along the banks of the river, into the woods beyond, shooting the beauty and the neglect, finding ways to tell its story.

“Jason and I actually found and filmed a beautiful cluster of Lilies of the Valley among the shopping carts along the river,” Zak said. “That was a first for me. It was so isolated it probably has never been seen before except for a kid exploring the banks of the river.”

“When internship works like this, the learning that goes on is amazing,” said French.

See related article, Students Step Forward into the Working World through Individualized Internships at GCC.