SULLIVAN COUNTY, NY — Did you miss your last town board meeting? Now you’ll have another chance to see it, thanks to two local filmmakers Nyssa Calkin, 27, and Isaac Green Diebboll, 24.
What started last summer with Calkin and Diebboll offering their video equipment and expertise to record a Town of Delaware meeting grew into Community Film Watch (CFW)—a service they offer to film meetings and post them on YouTube. So far, they have filmed municipal meetings in the Towns of Delaware, Callicoon and Fremont. Now, CFW is evolving into a bigger project, branching out to other meetings as well as working with Sullivan West High School.
Diebboll is speaking with Sullivan West social studies teacher John Ogozalek, who teaches “Participation in Government.” Diebboll said it will be “an exciting way to get students involved in looking at how government operates and to be broadcasting their own show about government.” He also wants to make films about the people and places of the community, like a day in the life of a local farmer, or a profile of a restaurant.
Calkin, a resident of Callicoon, was raised in the area. She went to Sullivan County Community College for photography. Diebboll is a newcomer who moved here recently from New York City with plans to build on his family’s property on Robisch Hill Road in the Beechwoods. He graduated with a degree in Interdisciplinary Sculpture from the Maryland Institute College of Art and he has around 10 years experience with film. Upon his neighbor’s suggestion when he moved here, Diebboll went to a Town of Delaware meeting and from there has made connections within the community.
“I never really had such direct access to what government is or how it functions coming from New York City,” he said. “But here in the country, I can go to a town board meeting and I can use my voice to share my feelings; I’ve never felt so closely connected to government.”
That connection is something he and Calkin want to share with the community. By putting the videos on YouTube and the Public Access Channel, they say it makes government transparent, accessible and entertaining. “There’s so much that I learned that I never knew prior to going to the meetings,” said Calkin. “We hope to encourage people to follow what’s going on in their areas.”
Diebboll and Calkin present the videos in an objective way, with no editing or commentary. Diebboll said he wants it to be “a trustworthy source of what’s happening that anybody can access without feeling like they are unwelcome. I want people to feel included in being able to watch this footage. I don’t want to represent a side.” He says being objective is an ideal that’s a hard thing to do as a human being.
Calkin agreed, saying that while the meetings speak for themselves, it can be difficult not to express their personal views, which she did at the first meeting they filmed. She said, “I wasn’t going to speak at the meetings. The film work is completely neutral; we don’t make anything look biased in one direction or another. But at this particular meeting, I was getting frustrated and I had spoken my mind.”
Calkin and Diebboll say that YouTube is the fastest and easiest way to reach people who don’t go to the meetings. Diebboll spoke to the power of images in today’s society and said that when he is filming the meetings it is a form of art. He hand holds the camera and is careful to follow whoever is speaking, keeping a tight frame around their face. This portrait style lends the viewer the feeling of actually being there. Calkin said the benefit of the videos is being able to pause and come back to them later, and to be able to watch them at any time. Their vision is to connect the community through film.
Diebboll said CFW’s mission is to share the value of people through a public film archive that documents all sides of community from government, to education, to business, to farming, to art and performance, and to people’s stories and working processes.