Young filmmakers point their lenses at need for environmental protection

BETH YOUNG PHOTO | Filmmaker Paul Stoutenburgh (from left) with students Thomas Spackman, Alex Mautarelli, Eddie Ward, Ella Watts-Gorman and Claire O’Kane at Friday’s film festival at Floyd Memorial Library in Greenport.

A group of teenage students from the North Fork spent this past summer on a quest to create documentaries showcasing the area’s natural places and the threats they face.

Filmmaker Paul Stoutenburgh, grandson of the longtime Suffolk Times environmental columnist of the same name, led the program in conjunction with North Fork Audubon.

The films, which covered topics from piping plovers to plastic bags in the environment to the beauty of nature preserves, premiered at a film festival at Floyd Memorial Library on Sept. 28.

Mr. Stoutenburgh said he was excited by the collaborative talents of young filmmakers Claire O’Kane and Ella Watts-Gorman of McGann-Mercy High School, Thomas Spackman of Greenport High School, Eddie Ward of Southold High School and Alex Mautarelli of Mattituck High School, who were all on hand at the festival to talk about their works.

The students shot with a variety of cameras, from small Handycam hand-held cameras to GoPro underwater cameras, using stop-motion and animations in addition to on-location shoots at beaches and nature preserves all over the North Fork. They also became familiar with several different types of video editing software.

“That is the painstaking part,” Eddie Ward said.

Producing the video “Protecting our Piping Plovers” was also a painstaking process. The students needed to remain still, sometimes for hours on end, waiting for the small shorebirds to overcome their fear and show themselves in their nesting areas.

“It literally took hours, just sitting and waiting,” said Eddie. “People sometimes step on their eggs, not on purpose, but because they’re just so small.”

Another film, “Protecting Our Water Quality,” included underwater camera work at Cedar Beach in Southold and at Goldsmith Inlet in Peconic and interviews with environmentalists about what can be done to ensure the North Fork’s access to clean water.

A third video, “The Plastic Baginators,” chronicled the students’ attempts to rid the beaches of plastic bags, and their starting a petition on and working with environmental groups to ask Southold Town to consider banning plastic bags.

“From the little town of Southold to the United States of America, we can surely make a difference,” said Ella.

The proposal to ban plastic bags was first floated by members of North Fork Audubon earlier this year and the Audubon group will screen a film called “Bag It” at Mattituck-Laurel Library on Thursday, Oct. 4, at 7 p.m. to help explain the dangers plastic bags pose to the marine environment.

“It’s a life-changing movie,” said Debra O’Kane, North Fork Audubon’s educational director, who attended the screening with her filmmaker daughter Claire. “We can start somewhere. The Village of Greenport would be a great place. We’re surrounded by water.”

Alex Mautarelli worked one-on-one with Mr. Stoutenburgh on two movies. The first, “A Bird’s Paradise,” was shot at North Fork Audubon’s headquarters on Inlet Pond in Greenport. He filmed the second, which he wasn’t quite through editing before the film festival, at the Quogue Wildlife Refuge.

“I had great slow motion shots. They were so good, I couldn’t believe it,” said Alex, who also chronicled his misadventures with Mr. Stoutenburgh at the refuge, where they spent time in the bobcat cage and got lost on the trails.

“We thought, we can figure it out. We’re professionals,” he said.

Mr. Stoutenburgh said he would like to run the program every summer, though he might be abroad next year.

“They are some of the most creative, artistic kids I’ve seen,” he said of his students.

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