JHS grads awarded Emmy for documentary

Brea Mullen and Amanda Ackerman


Jasper High School alumna Brea Mullen’s heart soared when she heard that a documentary she and fellow JHS alumna Amanda Ackerman produced was nominated for a Student Emmy from the Ohio Valley Chapter of The National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. When she found out they won, she couldn’t believe it.

Ackerman and Mullen have been friends since middle school, and after graduating from JHS in 2017, the duo enrolled at the University of Evansville, where they are pursuing degrees in multimedia communications. In the summer of 2018, the pair teamed up on a documentary project that would alter their perspectives.

The documentary, titled “The Guatemala Project: A Habitat for Humanity Mission,” took both students out of the country for the first time, as they traveled to Guatemala with the University of Evansville chapter of Habitat for Humanity on a mission to document the projects.

“It was great to shoot with [Ackerman] on this project, because we had already established a solid workflow beforehand from previous projects,” Mullen said via email. “We knew each other’s strengths, and could communicate efficiently, overall making the more stressful moments manageable and daily shooting more effective.”

There was a lot of daily shooting. Each morning in Guatemala, the duo went with the Habitat for Humanity team to the build sites where home foundations, smokeless stoves and latrines were being constructed. On site, Ackerman and Mullen traded off filming and working on the build. They also interviewed the Guatemalans who would use the facilities the team was building.

In the evenings, Mullen and Ackerman shot interviews with each member of the Habitat for Humanity team — 17 students and three faculty leaders.

“It was honestly very overwhelming at first,” Ackerman said. “We wanted to both document the experience and be part of the projects.”

Ackerman and Mullen wanted the final product to show the work involved in the project and how the work impacted both the Habitat for Humanity team and the Guatemalans they were helping. Getting every element of the story came with unique challenges, most notably interviewing people who didn’t speak English. To make sure the interviews work, Ackerman and Mullens worked with a translator, which was new to both of them.

After the trip, Mullen and Ackerman returned to campus with hours of footage that had to be edited into a half-hour final product. Sorting through and editing the footage fell to Mullen.

“The editing process was most definitely the longest segment of the project,” Mullen said.

While Mullen edited the footage, Ackerman worked on the final sound design. The final production process took about 11 months.

As they worked on the final product, Ackerman and Mullen reflected on their time in Guatemala. Ackerman kept coming back to a feeling of gratitude. She remembered that the Guatemalans showed their gratitude to the Habitat team in a variety of ways and were always gracious to their visitors, often inviting her and Mullen into their homes.

“I really just took that away as a reminder to be grateful,” Ackerman said.

Mullen’s memories kept returning to the family traditions and close communities she witnessed among the Guatemalans.

“We’re all human,” she said. “But we all live such very different lives.”

One moment stands out in particular. Mullen and Maria, the daughter of one of the families featured in the documentary, stood outside Maria’s home having a conversation. Despite not speaking each other’s language fluently, the two were able to piece enough together to overcome the language gap. It was a moment of connection Mullen won’t forget.

Back on campus, Ackerman and Mullen worked to create a final product that would help viewers connect with the Guatemalans and Habitat for Humanity team. They knew they’d achieved that goal when their professor, Joe Atkinson, entered their project for a Student Emmy in the long-form nonfiction category. When they won, it took their achievement to the next level.

“For someone else to connect with the story means that we have done the job we set out to do — spread the message and the story of these beautiful people,” Mullen said.

Both Mullen and Ackerman want to work with Habitat for Humanity in the future, and are especially grateful to Holly Carter, the head of Habitat For Humanity at the University of Evansville, for supporting their project.

Ackerman is planning to travel with Habitat For Humanity again in the summer of 2020. This time, though, she wants to be part of the build team, not a journalist tagging along.

“I feel really passionate about the mission of Habitat For Humanity,” Ackerman said. “It was such an honor to be able to tell the story.”

The full documentary will air on WNIN-PBS at 8 p.m. CT on Oct. 3 and at 9 p.m. CT on Oct. 5.

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