Documenting an educational experience at Gettysburg
Posted: 01/17/2013 09:16:17 PM EST
Tony and Kitch Mussari are lovers of all things ordinary.
They have even managed to make a career out of it, traveling across the country documenting the lives of regular Americans on their best days. This weekend they will be in Gettysburg showcasing their latest foray into the world of ordinary – a documentary about a high school field trip to the battlefield.
"I can still see them walking off that school bus today," Tony said with a glisten in his eye.
Tony is a retired documentary filmmaker and teacher, and his wife Kitch is a retired journalist. After Sept. 11 they sought out to record all that is good in the country with their documentary series, "The Face of America."
While on their travels they stopped at a Flight 93 memorial service in Shanksville where they met a group of North Plainfield High School cheerleaders. And from there the Gettysburg project was born.
The Mussaris produced two documentaries about these cheerleaders who made a habit of visiting Sept. 11 memorial sites each year and from then on were welcomed into the New Jersey high school with open arms.
"We have become the adopted son and daughter of North Plainfield," Tony said. "They have given an old teacher a new classroom."
With the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg coming up, the Dallas residents chose Gettysburg as the theme of their next North Plainfield documentary, called
"Walking Into the Light at Gettysburg." They brought 10 North Plainfield students and five chaperones to Gettysburg last April for a three-day educational immersion experience and filmed every moment of it.
"There were no scripts," Tony said. "We just took them to a place and followed them around in an unobtrusive way, as if the camera was not there."
The Mussaris brought the students on a tour of the battlefield with a licensed battlefield guide and brought living history actors portraying Abraham Lincoln and Robert E. Lee to speak to the students. From the time the students woke up in the morning from the time they went to sleep, said Tony, they were learning.
"This wasn’t just a chance for them to get out of school," Tony said. "There were no ice cream socials or pizza parties."
"It’s experiential learning in its very best form," Tony said.
Two months after the trip was over, the Mussaris returned to North Plainfield to interview the students and test their retention of what they had learned at Gettysburg.
"It’s stunning what they learned," Tony said, emphasizing that it was not just facts and figures that they remembered, but a deeper understanding of war and heroism.
"We took them to the Pennsylvania monument and they read those names," Tony said. "It made them stop and think about what life is really about."
In today’s celebrity-driven culture, Tony said, it is important to make sure young people are still learning these deeper lessons about helping others and standing up for what is right.
"You can find everything that is good and bad about our country in the Battle of Gettysburg," said Tony. "To learn about this place is a lifetime pursuit."
If you go
What: "Walking Into the Light at Gettysburg" documentary
When: Sat. Jan. 19, 5 p.m.
Where: Gettysburg National Military Park Museum and Visitor Center, Kinsley Theater