RCBC students capture essence of Katz JCC mission

Film project shows slice of life before and during COVID-19.

RCBC students, from left, Mikhail Baba, Evalisa Santiago and Daniel Edmonds, set up a shot during preparations to film a documentary tracking the lives of older adults through their experiences with the Katz JCC and COVID-19 earlier this year. (Photo credit: Stephanie Dworkin/Special to the Sun).

A rare, inside glimpse into the lives of local seniors — before and during the spread of a pandemic — is set to debut later this week, thanks to a collaboration between cinematically-inclined students from Rowan College Burlington County and Katz JCC.

“Tikkun Olam: Home Away From Home” opens on March 11, when Gov. Murphy issued his first stay-at-home order as COVID-19 reached the Garden State. It chronicles the experiences of older adults as they navigate their social lives when faced with a sudden interruption. 

Infused with interviews and scenes of JCC members participating in fitness classes, recreational sports, craft activities and sharing meals, the sense of community shared in these spaces was brought into sharper focus. 

“The past few months have redefined community, and this film reminds us how important it is to stay connected in good times and challenging times,” RCBC President Dr. Michael A. Cioce said in a release announcing the film’s presentation. 

“‘Tikkun Olam’ reflects the vibrant diversity of our community, the talents of our students, and the breadth and quality of the academic experience offered at RCBC in partnership with industry professionals and like-minded community partners.”

Stephanie Dworkin, Marketing Director for the JCC, explained how the picture came to be. 

“Brooke Mailhiot is a professor in the school’s Entertainment Tech program and a JCC member. I was talking with her at a JCC event about films, and she explained how her program worked. In this particular class, students partner with a local organization, and work with a department which fosters that relationship,” she related. 

“Once the partner agrees, students will come there during one semester, take a tour, spend a day, talk to people, as many people as they can to get a good feel for what goes on in the place.”

Once familiar with a location, students will pitch an angle or a story which they feel could be expanded into a good documentary. According to Dworkin, it’s Katz which decides what pitch would best make a visually compelling story. 

“One of the students who’s going on the panel delivered the concept of how the senior community bonds, and how the JCC facilitates that,” Dworkin continued.  

“She had a grandmother in her 80s, who doesn’t get a chance to socialize outside the family, and what the JCC does really spoke to her regarding its senior care and activities. That was the winning pitch.”

Of course, coronavirus had a lot to say about how the film was completed. 

“(The students) spent two or three weeks in the building interviewing members, and then the pandemic hits. We really had to pivot to provide a lot of archived materials and video for them, and phone numbers so they could follow up with the seniors to talk about how things affected them,” Dworkin said. 

Undeterred, the students involved in filmmaking and the JCC pressed on to complete the project. 

“Sydney Williams is one of the members shown in the film. And during the Zoom interview we set up back in April, she said it best: even though our doors are closed, it’s the essence of the JCC that they still do what they do,” Dworkin added. 

“We’re still providing opportunities to connect, with each other and with others in the JCC. We give people a window outside their homes. Without that, many would not feel like they have anything keeping them going day-to-day.”

To catch the premiere, tune in to RCBC’s Facebook page at 7 pm, on August 27. There will be a follow-up live panel discussion hosted by the JCC via Zoom at 7:30 pm. To attend, please RSVP at: https://tinyurl.com/y32g2cb2.

To learn more about RCBC’s Entertainment Technology programs, visit rcbc.edu/programs-courses. To learn more about the Katz JCC, visit katzjcc.org