Audio documentary takes students to finals

By Ariel Crawford
November 3, 2010

Recently, Cabrini College senior communication majors, Joe Cahill, Gianna Shikitino and Kerri Dougherty, were honored as finalists in the 2010 College Broadcasters, Inc. (CBI) National Student Production Awards for their audio documentary about the Philadelphia Mummers. “Behind the Strut: A Look inside the World of the Philadelphia Mummers,” was named a finalist in the Best Feature category in August, three months after communication center coordinator and general manager of WYBF radio station Heather Fullerton submitted it for consideration in May. Fullerton said she felt the documentary was entry-grade material for multiple reasons. “Award-winning documentaries have to tell great stories,” Fullerton said. “This one does. It’s interesting, it tugs at human emotion and the passion from the students really shines through.”

Winners of the CBI National Student Production Awards were announced Friday, Oct. 29. “Behind the Strut” lost, but it was going up against high-caliber competition. The winner of the best-features category was a documentary from UC Berkley’s graduate school of journalism about their own radio station. Other schools nominated were Ithaca College and the University of Minnesota. “It’s great just to be in such company. I usually go to these awards and Ithaca College brings a huge box with them to haul home all the awards they win,” Fullerton said. Shikitino describes the documentary as “like Mummers for dummies,” but all three students passionately speak about why, to them, the mummers documentary means so much more. The students feel the Mummers are a huge part of the Philadelphia community and were upset when they learned of budget cuts by the city that meant the Mummers would have to fundraise almost all the money needed to support their program. The documentary has really come full circle since Shikitino and Dougherty came up with the idea one night in October 2009. They were both in the advanced radio practicum class at the time and needed to make a documentary. They are also both from Philadelphia and wanted to make a documentary about the Mummers who were such a big part of their community, close to their heart and even members of their family. At school, the women got Cahill, also then in the advanced radio practicum involved in the project.

“I was passionate about the project because I like local stories that people can get attached to and the idea was so fresh and perfect for the climate,” Cahill said. All of the students were excited about the project but they knew that it would be a difficult pitch because it did not fall in line traditionally with Cabrini’s social justice curriculum. Shikitino says they decided to persist and approach Fullerton with the idea because they were consistent about showcasing how the Mummers contributed to the common good. “Experiencing the Mummers is such a life-changing experience. I can’t imagine my life or Philly without it,” Shikitino said. Fullerton originally wanted to think about the idea for a few days and eventually decided to give the students the green light but not without heavy consideration. “I told them if they were going to do this, they couldn’t skate by. If they were going to do it, they were going to do it well,” Fullerton said.The students had to prove how they were contributing to the common good. They cited that the Mummers are imperative to the culture and history of Philadelphia and that the budget cuts were unfair because the parade brings in $900,000 in revenue annually.

“The mummers have officially been around for over 100 years, the traditions of the immigrants who later became the Mummers are 300 years old. When America was just an idea the mummers were here,” Cahill said.

The Mummers are best known for their New Year’s Day show in Philadelphia but they are active year round and travel to many different parts of the country to entertain. Dougherty thinks the Mummers are important because their appeal transcends far beyond Broad Street. “The Mummers parade is for any kind of community. Whether suburb or urban lifestyle, ethnicity, gender or race, there is no discrimination,” Dougherty said.

The students were passionate about their issue and that passion showed through in their hard work. They all estimated that towards the end they worked about 15 hours a week on the documentary but insist that many sacrifices were worth it. “Just because we lost, it doesn’t really upset me because people are still listening to the doc, they’re talking about it people would walk up to me on the street in south Philly and tell me how thankful they were. To see how happy they are. That’s what counts,” Shikitino said.

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Ariel Crawford

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