Despite the growing importance and relevancy of visual communication through almost every aspect of public and private life, many liberal arts colleges do not support a teaching filmmaker on campus. The powerful immediacy of visual communciation makes it an increasingly essential skill for all students, especially students of science. And the process of constructing, producing, and disseminating video products provides unique opportunities for students to acquire technical, collaborative, and creative skills. With this challenge in mind, W&M faculty mentors Sharon Zuber (Visiting Assistant Professor of English and Film Studies), Dan Cristol (Professor of Biology), and John Swaddle (Professor of Biology, Director of ENSP) created the opportunity for William and Mary to hire a Mellon Environmental Postdoctoral Scholar who could negotiate the intersection of science and the humanities, with the goal of teaching how to communicate good science beyond the laboratory and academy walls.

A teaching filmmaker-residence within the William and Mary community encourages collaboration between (natural, physical and social) science, humanities, and the fine arts. New class opportunities and projects among departments spark fresh ideas and possibilities. Faculty benefit from the creation of more visual research opportunities for their students, as well as providing a new element to their own research agendas.  Students stand to develop a stronger comprehension of visual literacy and ultimately a deeper understanding of visual storytelling. Just as important, students learn the techniques to use media as a tool to build media campaigns around important issues, and how to distribute their work to maximize audience levels and engage a community outside the academic walls.

The filmmaker-in-residence position provides a great opportunity to teach a rising generation of students that successful policy is dependent not only on good research but on effective communication of that research. By integrating filmmaking and visual communication into the college, students and faculty now have the potential to expand the reach, relevance, and funding opportunities of work done at William and Mary.

In the fall of 2010, filmmaker Jes Therkelsen began a two-year post at the College of William and Mary as the college’s first Environmental Filmmaker-in-Residence. PHOTOEPISTOGRAPHY (which literally translates to drawing science with light) serves as a living document, a snapshot of that collaboration in and out of the classroom.