Film maker’s visit to classroom makes a positive impression on students
By Leigh Ann Schoffstall and Patrick Wesley
On October 5, 2011, the MCOM/HIST 150 “Movies: History and Art” class had the pleasure of meeting with a prominent documentary filmmaker, Dr. Tony Mussari. Dr. Mussari, the former chairperson of the Mass Communications department at King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, has been documenting the lives of others for more than 30 years. He was invited to speak to the class by the instructor, and his former student, Dr. Rick Ostopowicz (affectionately known as “Dr. O.” by the students).
It was just like any other night in the movie history class, only because Dr. O.’s class is anything but typical. Reflecting on that evening, students could tell that Dr. Mussari was very passionate about his profession. As he began to speak about his background, credentials, and his current and most significant task to date—another documentary in his “Face of America” film series, it was clear that this man is filled with wisdom and experience. He was willing to share his most life altering project with a class of diversely opinionated students. The project that is precious to him has spanned the last ten years.
Over a decade ago, Dr. Mussari decided that, instead of a Mercedes Benz or a month long European vacation, he would invest in a camera that he and his wife, Kitch, would use—along with their determination—to find the true face of America. Their dream and passion came through brilliantly in their latest documentary, where they capture for eternity the events that took place in the sky and on the ground in Shanksville, Pennsylvania on September 11, 2001. In the film, Dr. Mussari showcased high school students as they visited the 9/11 Shanksville memorial. Together, through this great loss many years ago, they attempt to find peace, solace, and some answers about the qualities of togetherness.
The remnants of 9/11 have a special place in the hearts of every American. More specifically, Flight 93 has a deep attachment with Dr. Mussari—so deep that he has spent 10 years of his life devoted to telling the stories of all the lives affected, rather than following the path of other film makers that just told the stories of the victims’ families. In the final documentary of the series, screened for the class, Dr. Mussari followed the New Jersey high school cheerleaders during their two-day experience of visiting the site of the Flight 93 crash, meeting the townspeople, and hearing the stories from the Shanksville perspective. It was very moving, as Dr. Mussari was able to capture the realism and make you feel like you were there. Additionally, the students shared their thoughts about what it means to be an American. The culturally diverse group gave honest and compelling thoughts and feelings that were honest and hopeful.
After the screening, Dr. Mussari graciously welcomed comments and critiques. Most students commented on particular points of the film, such as how it highlighted the diversity of the students. It was so interesting for a class of about 15-20 students to watch the same film yet have such different views. A lengthy conversation after the film found many emotions floating on the surface. Like any great documentary, Dr. Mussari’s work gets emotional reactions in many forms. “This is the greatest compliment anyone could ever pay me,” said Mussari, who sees his passion crossing over into the minds and hearts of his audience. This latest documentary in his series made its viewers emotional like a famous painting or a timeless song.
At the end of class, Dr. Mussari had a surprise for the students and professor. Through his film series, he met the woman who created the national 9/11 remembrance flag. Dr. Mussari explained that for the last few years, he was given the opportunity to pass along this flag as a reminder of the sacrifices that were made on that fateful day, as well as to display his gratitude for people sharing in his film making experiences. To that end, he presented the class and CCBC with this momentous flag. It was an honor to be a part of the presentation, as the flag is a tangible representation of how Americans will never forget the events of that day.
In our time together, Dr. Mussari did a lot of talking about the heroes of flight 93. These heroes gave their lives to protect the innocent, but we must not forget that heroes walk among us every day. Perhaps people who spend a large parcel of their lives and completely fund projects like this documentary could be considered heroes in their own right.
Most of us would never take on a project for 10 years. Yet, Dr. Mussari did, and he did it with pride and excitement. His goal to help us never forget the stories of Flight 93 and lives that were impacted in that small town rang true for the CCBC students. His work and words made us realize that we can all reach a little higher.
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