In the spring of 2020, four students teamed up during a documentary project in their final production class and found a subject: an 8-year-old boy named Ben who had a rare liver disease. Almost a year later, they won the Broadcast Education Association Award of Excellence.
“Ben (Not The Fish)” is a thirteen minute documentary project that features a little boy and talks about the YMCA Program “Circle of Champs.” This is a group where families who have seen the hardships of life-threatening illness can get financial and emotional support when needed. Benjamin Longale is the boy’s full name, and he has a fascination with fish which started with his sister years prior.
“Erin had a feeling that Ben was the perfect character for the documentary because he had a really good personality and he definitely loved fish,” said cinematographer George Catechis. The cinematographer is responsible for actually holding the camera and shooting the scenes, as well as making sure lighting and framing is stable for interviews and B-roll footage.
Ben also named his opal white betta fish Ben, which was where the title for the film came from. Four New Paltz alumni worked on the documentary: Catechis (‘20), Connor Sweeney (‘20), Jillian Pugliese (‘20) and Erin Wolcott (‘20). Wolcott, the director of the film, is the daughter of the Director of Operations for the Guilderland branch and the “Circle of Champs” administrator, Lisa Wolcott. Pugliese produced the film, with the help of Sweeney, the editor, and the cinematographer Catechis.
This was Wolcott’s inaugural directing experience, and interestingly enough was how she met her current boyfriend, Sweeney.
I often worried that I wasn’t doing enough, or that I was controlling too much,” said Wolcott. “It’s very much a balance that you have to find. I was lucky to have such a great team that I trusted completely to bring my vision to life. Directing this film turned into one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.”
The Broadcast Education Association is a college film festival which had over 1300 entries this year, and over 250 colleges and universities were represented in the nominees and finalists. It is also not limited to the United States and has a global audience, making it a great honor to be selected.
According to the New Paltz media site, “Ben (Not the Fish)” premiered at the 2020 Hudson Valley Film Fest and was selected for nomination at the First Time Filmmaker Sessions, the Lift-Off Sessions, and an on-demand film festival titled FLICKFAIR.
Though most of the production was filmed before the pandemic struck, the four filmmakers were also planning on visiting an aquarium with Ben and capturing that footage. Unfortunately, that trip was cancelled due to COVID-19. Much of the editing process was also done virtually via zoom or web call, according to Catechis.
“Connor [the editor] and Erin would go back and forth and then they would send me cuts of it,” said Catechis. “I wouldn’t say it was a challenge, but it was different.”
Wolcott echoed this sentiment, though she says she wouldn’t change the way things happened.
“The switch to remote was a crazy time,” she said. “Conner and I would stay on Google meets for hours trying to bring the film to a close and make sure it was as seamless as possible. We made our poster, adjusted the opening sequence, and tied together as many odds and ends as we could. We made the best of an insane situation and it was actually during those long nights of virtual editing that we fell in love.”