Boston Globe reporter to visit UM to film documentary

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The Boston Globe reporter David Abel will be the visiting Knight Chair in journalism at the University of Miami during fall 2016 in order to complete a documentary on the Gladesmen, a group of people living off the ever-shrinking Everglades.

The tentative name of the film will be “Gladesmen: The Last of the Sawgrass Cowboys.”

“I’m hoping that it will be an informative and telling and beautiful film that will also be a learning experience for everyone involved, so that we will all hopefully learn new skills,” Abel said. “I’m hoping that I’ll receive approval from the university shortly to recruit a number of students for various roles and that each of the students will learn how to go about making a feature documentary film and how to put the components together and, hopefully, have a pride of authorship and a pride of overseeing a project from start to finish.”

Abel will be spending the semester working on the film with students who are taking it as an independent study course. The documentary process will most likely stretch past December, according to Abel, which is when most of the editing will take place.

“I look forward to getting to know a lot of the students and a lot of the professors on campus,” Abel said. “I’m really excited to be down here, and this is such an amazing place with so many creative people, and I can’t wait to get to it.”

Abel has worked for the Globe – most recently covering environmental issues – and several other major newspapers across the country, including the Miami Herald and San Francisco Chronicle.

Abel has been a newspaper writer for more than 20 years in the field of journalism. He has also worked as an adjunct professor at Boston University, Northeastern University and Harvard University. This will be the fourth documentary he works on and the second centering on environmental changes.

“I think there’s great similarities between the type of writing I like to do, and some of the work I’ve won prizes for as a newspaper journalist has been for narrative storytelling,” Abel said. “Building a story and spending a significant amount of time recording those deeds and allowing those deeds to build a larger narrative and just letting the story emerge from spending a lot of time watching … you can do the same thing by holding a camera and filming. There’s something I think a lot more powerful and visceral about seeing it in film.”

Abel was selected for a Nieman Fellowship at Harvard, a program by the Nieman Foundation for Journalism that brings distinguished journalists to the university for a year of study. There, he began taking classes on documentary filmmaking and soon after began working on his first documentary. His subject was Juli Windsor, a woman running the 2013 Boston Marathon. Had she completed the race, she would have been the first person with dwarfism to complete the marathon.

Abel was on the frontline of the Boston Marathon, waiting for Windsor to arrive, when the first bomb exploded. He captured footage of the second bombing and the chaos that followed.

“I was basically waiting for her to cross the finish line when two bombs exploded right near the finish line of the Boston Marathon,” Abel said.  “And I was standing on the finish line holding a video camera I was still fairly learning how to use. I proceeded to film the entire horrible aftermath of the bombing and that radically changed the ending of the film I was making.”

He and his colleagues won a Pulitzer Prize for their reporting of the Boston Marathon bombing, and his video would be nominated for an Emmy in a news package on the event.

Abel finished the documentary on Windsor, showcasing the impact the bombing had on the runners and spectators of the event in the 20-minute film “25.7: In Twice the Steps,” named after the mile she was stopped at during the bombing.

He went on to do a second documentary on Windsor, “Undaunted: Chasing History at the Boston Marathon,” where he followed her after the bombing, leading up to the 2014 Boston Marathon where both he and his subject finished the marathon together. The documentary was shown internationally on BBC World News.

“It was a film about a city coming together,” Abel said. “It was a film about resilience and the people who ended up coming back to the finish line.”

From there, Abel worked with fellow journalists to create “Sacred Cod: The Fight for the future of America’s Oldest Fishery,” focusing on the struggles of generations-old fishermen in the Gulf of Maine as the population of cod dwindles due to climate change. The film will be screened at the Camden International Film Festival and GlobeDocs Film Festival this month. In the spring, it will be shown around the world on Discovery Channel.

“With the cod fishery, I think it was clear that the larger story is about how fragile ecosystems can be, especially ecosystems that are incredibly valuable,” Abel said. “And we have to be careful on how we manage them and treat them, and they’re vulnerable to problems if we mistreat them. And that’s a similar storyline that I hope will be reflected by the film about the Everglades.”

Abel will be giving a talk on Sept. 14 from 1-2 p.m. at the Wolfson Building, room 1020.

Students from the Department of Journalism and Media Management interested in earning 1-3 academic credits under JMM 499 or CIM 499 should contact Professor Samuel Terilli at sterilli@miami.edu.

Interested students from the Department of Cinema and Interactive Media should contact Professor Christina Lane at clane@miami.edu.

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5 Comments

  1. This news is extremely exciting for all students and faculty at UM. Having such a renowned reporter like David Abel, visit the university in order to complete the documentary, “Gladesmen: The Last of the Sawgrass Cowboys” is exciting news. This opportunity gives great attention to our school while giving the students hands-on experience in the production of film. With the help of UM students this production is going to be one of a kind.

  2. I think this is truly an amazing opportunity for UM and all the students and faculty. The article is very well written and provides great information to all the readers. David Abel seems like a very educated and informed man and it seems that the film will be more than excellent.

  3. Victoria McKaba on

    This is an amazing opportunity for film students on campus. David Abel is clearly a talented and well-respected journalist and will provide many amazing opportunities to those who choose to work alongside him. I am eager to see the film about these Gladesmen. The reporting was excellent and the direct quotes were used well throughout the story.

  4. I think that it’s incredible that David Abel chose to film and edit his latest documentary at the University of Miami. The fact that Abel will be working so closely with the University of Miami is an excellent opportunity for students to gain hands-on experience in filmmaking prior to entering into their prospective careers. This article is extremely informative, and gives readers an idea of what the documentary will be about and who to contact if they are interested in working on the film.

  5. This is a truly great opportunity for the UM students who are taking this independent study opportunity. Working with an acclaimed individual with such a large resume of famous newspapers is a great thing for the students. Mr. Abel has also established himself with several documentaries and “Gladesmen: The Last of the Sawgrass Cowboys” will be a great one as well with Miami students help.