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Student documents grandfather’s discovery

In 1943, a graduate student at Rutgers University discovered streptomycin, the first viable antibiotic against tuberculosis. But his research advisor, Selsman Walksman, took the sole credit for the discovery, and went on to win the 1952 Noble Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

The graduate student was Albert Shatz, whose grandson, Carl Sigmond ’13, is commemorating his grandfather’s achievement through a film: Discovering the Discovery and the Grandfather Who Saved Millions.

Sigmond’s project began last spring in Introduction to Documentary Filmmaking with Visiting Instructor in Independent College Programs Vicky Funari. Along with Gebby Kenny ’14 and Vanessa Douglas ‘12, Sigmond produced Discovering Albert, a 10-minute character study of Shatz that won Best Coursework Film at last year’s Tri-Co Film Festival at the Bryn Mawr Film Institute.

Sigmond then received funding from the Hurford Humanties Center for an 8-day summer interview tour in New England, for which he enlisted Larry Miller ’12 and Zein Nakhoda, Swarthmore ’12, as co-directors of photography.

The 83-minute rough cut of Discovering the Discovery will be shown along with Discovering Albert tomorrow in Stokes at 7:00 p.m., as part of the Haverford Family and Friends Weekend.

Photo by Zein Nakhoda, courtesy of Carl Sigmond.

The Clerk spoke with Sigmond about his experience:

What inspired you to do this documentary?

I made a number of documentaries before I came to Haverford. I made one in middle school and one at Woolman [a semester-long high school program], so I was familiar with the process and I liked the medium. So in August of 2011, I began thinking that I wanted to produce a documentary in the summer of 2012, but at that time I did not know my topic, nor did I know about Professor Vicky Funari’s documentary film production course here at Haverford. Over the fall, I narrowed down my topic and I met with Vicky, who was teaching a documentary intro course in the spring. I took the course and I began this project as my final project for the course.

Did the nature of the summer road-trip lead your film to new or unexpected paths?

I would say the biggest thing that opened up on tour was the ability to see the interconnection between different interviewees and having Larry and Zein on that tour helped in the process. So Albert was my grandpa, but Larry and Zein did not know much about who he was coming in. So for me, it was special to work with them on tour and have them develop their own picture of who he was based on the people we met. And my goal is to try to capture that sense in my documentary.

Did the short film from your course put any limits on your summer filming?

It was hard because on one level, I was laying the groundwork. But on another level, it was a project for the course so I needed to meet in between: Gebby and Vanessa needed to complete a film in the time allotted even though it was part of a larger whole. So that was hard, but what it enabled to develop a style for how I wanted to approach the larger project.

[Also, over the summer, we used two cameras,] whereas for the course, we only filmed with one camera. So the challenge in the editing room is how to mesh the two filming styles.

What do you want the film to achieve?

I really have two goals for the project: One is to make a finished documentary, which I’m not done with, but getting there. But the second goal is to document memories of my grandfather, a man whose discovery saved millions of lives. A number of the people we interviewed on our tour are getting old and some are not in the greatest of health. So the second goal is to document these memories, not necessarily for a documentary, but for history. And the medium of film is a great way to do that.

Full disclosure: The author works as an aide to Sigmond.


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