Monday, May 16, 2011

Our Doc is the News!

It’s been less than a week since we posted our finished product on YouTube and we’ve already had some fantastic reviews. Here is a snapshot of some feedback we’ve received…

1. Andrew Revkin Dot Earth Blog -  NY Times 
Andrew Revkin has helped us every step of the way and wrote a nice piece in his Dot Earth Blog. He’s gotten some comments already, including one from a reader in India: 

(May 14, 2011) “This is wonderful. Sustainability is the key. Here in India and in Thailand farmers could learn from this. In our mad rush to eat more and more, we forget nature's basic rules.”

**We’ve even been recognized in the Twitter world….

2.  Fabien Cousteau's tweeted Congratulations to our Doc Team:>

“Congrats Pace University students for short doc on Linda Thornton, shrimp, and sustainability. Thx Revkin”

**We’ve been posted on a few blogs and was one of the first to pick up our doc.

3.  Documentary Dives Into World of Sustainable Shrimp Farming  

(May 13, 2011) This year, Pace University's award-winning 'Producing the Documentary' class turned its sights on sustainable shrimp farming. Production for the 15-minute film, 'Linda Thornton: Seeking Sustainability One Shrimp At A Time', was aided by NY Times ... at the Pace Academy for Applied Environmental Studies. The doc focuses on how the entrepreneurial Thorton managed to overcome devastating adversity in order to kick start some of the most successful shrimp farms in Belize. ...”

4.  Wolfram Publications: Linda Thornton Seeking Sustainability, One ...

(May 16, 2011) “In a new documentary, "Linda Thornton: Seeking Sustainability, One Shrimp at a Time," a team of Pace University student filmmakers explore the life of a resilient, pioneering aquaculture entrepreneur as she pushes the frontiers of ... and graduate students in Dr. Maria Luskay's award-winning "Producing the Documentary" course, explores the life of a resilient, pioneering aquaculture entrepreneur as she pushes the frontiers of sustainable shrimp farming in Belize….”

5.  Island Press Eco-Compass Blog: "Linda Thornton: Seeking Sustainability, One..”

(May 13, 2011) “Students at Pace University have produced this mini-documentary on sustainable shrimp farming. It tells the story of Linda Thornton, an aquaculture entrepreneur pushing the frontiers of sustainable shrimp farming in Belize. ...”

6.  Western Belize Happenings: Growing shrimp in retirement in Belize ...

(May 14, 2011) “Here's a shout-out to the amazing team of Pace University graduate and undergraduate students who, led by professor Maria Luskay (with my assistance), just completed the short documentary “Linda Thornton: Seeking Sustainability, ...”

7.  The Benshi:  A Compelling Student Video from Belize to Reverse Your ...

(May 12, 2011) “If you're like me and have the blanket (largely uninformed) opinion that shrimp farming has to be disastrous, then you'll hopefully find the lifelong work of Linda Thornton to be intriguing. She is profiled in this nice video produced by the Pace University students of uber-blogger Andy Revkin — a result of their spring expedition to Belize. Contrary to popular opinion, she makes the case that there are sustainable ways to farm shrimp. Check it out! ...”

**Our documentary also reached the Inboxes of those members that follow Shrimp News International with the help of Bob Rosenberry.

8.  Bob Rosenberry, Shrimp News International

(May 6, 2011) “Students at Pace University (, a private university in New York City with three campuses and around 13,000 students, have completed a documentary titled Linda Thornton: Seeking Sustainability One Shrimp at a Time!

“It’s a tale of endurance and creativity,” said Luskay.  “We selected this...compelling story of Linda and her travails as a woman in the sustainable shrimp industry.”

Luskay plans to submit the documentary to about six competitive film festivals including the Woodstock Film Festival, NY Film Festival and Red Wasp Film Festival."

The World Wildlife Fund is featuring our documentary on their website next week.  Stay Tuned.....

Friday, May 13, 2011


Belize It or Not...  We are finally finished!!!!   We were having slight technical issues and apologize for not posting sooner.

Please join us for our official film premiere of "Linda Thornton:  Seeking Sustainability, One Shrimp At A Time."  It will be presented by Dyson College of Arts and Sciences and the Pace Academy for Applied Environmental Studies on May 19th at 3pm in Lienhard Lecture Hall (Entrance 2) on Pace University's Pleasantville Campus. This event is free and open to the public.

We would like to thank Pace Professor Dr. Maria Luskay and New York Times Dot Earth blogger Andrew Revkin, and Senior Fellow for Environmental Understanding at the Pace Academy for Applied Environmental Studies for all their hard work and for motivating us to complete this documentary.  We are very passionate about this film and proud of this semester's accomplishments.  

The Media and Communication Arts Department is proud to present…..

Linda Thornton: Seeking Sustainability, One Shrimp at a Time”

TreeHugger, "the leading media outlet dedicated to driving sustainability mainstream", was kind enough to feature us on their site. They strive to be a "one-stop shop for green news, solutions, and product information". They publish an up to minute blog, weekly and daily newsletters, weekly radio reviews, and constantly update their social media sites.  Please check out their post below!

Friday, May 6, 2011

The End is Near

So close…yet so far away. We are in the process of putting the finishing touches on our documentary. It is so close, we can practically smell it, but it feels so far away when you’re in the lab until 5 AM the night before deadline, tweaking cuts, finding the right b-roll shots and trying to stay awake.

As we’ve been nearing completion, the final master script has been completed, sent to the impregnable Barbara Korsen, and returned in delightful voice-over form. Mrs. Korsen has been gracious enough to lend her professional voice-over talents to our documentary for free and we couldn’t be more grateful. It really lends the documentary an air of professionalism that’s as good as anything you’ll see on TV today.

Some of the students have been compiling the credits, checking and double-checking all names and organizations, making sure everyone gets their due credit. Other have been diligently editing at the Avid station, tweaking the timeline for maximum effect, while others have been hard at work on the soundtrack and sound editing.

Exec. Producer and head-honcho Dr. Luskay even brought in a cot and sleeping bag and spent the night in the sound-room of our production quarters. A true testament to her dedication!

We are all really excited for our documentary and we can’t wait to show it to the world. All our students and professors have been putting in as many hours as they can spare to make the best possible film, and we’re pretty sure we’ve done a great job. Keep an eye open for Linda Thornton: Seeking Sustainability One Shrimp at a Time!

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Feeling the Pressure!

With less than a week until our deadline, we are definitely feeling the pressure. In class we edited the opening, completed the script, searched for the perfect b-roll and sent the voice-over script to voice-over specialist Barbara Korsen, who has offered to lend her voice for our documentary.  One of our students is a rising expert in music.  He is focusing his efforts on creating the overall musical feel of the film.  We all gathered around the conference table as he shared his mixing skills with the class.

We finished and finalized the script with the guidance of Dr. Luskay and Andrew Revkin.   We officially have a rough cut of the entire documentary! Now it’s just about aesthetics and adding scenic shots to match up with our script. It’s hard to be selective when Belize caused us to bring home hours upon hours of beautiful footage! Long nights of editing, fine-tuning audio, superimposing images and creating graphics are in our future. Right now our main priority is getting this finalized by next week.  This is going to be a GREAT documentary and I know all of us our eager to see the final product.

In anticipation of our finalized project a few of the students are working on putting together the publicity plan. We are developing contact lists of people and organizations that might be interested in our documentary. While researching we came across two interesting interactive articles about mangroves on The American Museum of Natural History website under Science Bulletins. What’s fascinating is the transformation that is underway in preserving mangroves while continuing economic development in many parts of the world that supply shrimp. Our mission is to show how this movement is happening at a micro level, with the help of Linda Thornton.

The first one, Mangroves: Roots of the Sea discusses how mangrove destruction has become a huge environmental concern. The grassroots NGO, Yadfon was created in the early 1980s to restore the mangroves in the farming areas of Thailand. Similar to Linda Thornton’s actions in Belize, this organization works with the local community to ensure that their economic way of life is preserved while making strides toward sustainability. The Yadfon founder Pisit Charnsnoh,was quoted saying, “The forest sustains the people who sustain the forest.”

A follow up article, Mangroves and Shrimp: Finding Balance discusses the research that shows mangroves and shrimp farms CAN coexist. “By building shrimp farms 1 km from the shore, the land can reduce storm damage and support farmers.” Linda Thornton’s farms in Belize are a perfect example of how this relationship remains in balance. With our documentary we want to show the world how sustainable shrimp farming really can be! 

Monday, April 25, 2011

American Parallels: Developments in US Shrimp Farming

While continuing research regarding our documentary we came across quite a few websites that relate to similar subjects.

This article from Shrimp News International, written and researched by industry insiders, primarily focuses on research done over the last thirty years. They created scientific developments, which we can learn from. Anyone interested in our documentary, as well as shrimp farming, should check out this overview of “The Shrimp Book.”

Ganix Bio-Technologies, Inc., and Blue Oasis are in the process of building a 36,000 sq ft plant to grow shrimp in the desert. Similarly to Linda’s work in Belize, they will be running ponds on the inland and keeping a closed system, never dumping effluence, but reusing all their water supplies. As a parallel to Linda’s operation, they hope to create jobs and eventually branch out, creating shrimp farms close to every major city in the US. As a comparison, Linda and Mr. Michael Duncker created an influx of jobs in rural Belize with their shrimp farms, boosting the economy. Check out a brief CNN Money report on the Ganix shrimp farms here:

Thursday, April 21, 2011

It's Crunch Time!

This is the life of a documentary filmmaker. It’s not a 9-5 job. Its 24/7 brainstorming, which means staying (sometimes napping) in the editing lab until the wee hours of the morning.

The class has been putting in extra hours in order to meet our fast approaching deadline. We are sometimes even pulling 12-hour shifts to tie up any loose ends like capturing necessary footage and transcribing interviews.

Today’s class focused mainly on adding narrated transitions, explanations and introductions to key gaps in the script. This meant dropping some interviews and unnecessary footage. There are so many great pieces of information that we want to incorporate, but our enthusiasm has gotten the better of us. At this rate, we would be producing a three-hour film rather than a 20-minute documentary! So how do you squeeze all of the essentials into a succinct film? By working together to make sure everyone is on the same page with the story line and ensuring information follows a logical flow.

But there were signs today that the end was near – literally – as Pedro and Harrison worked on building the closing credits!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Keeping Busy!

We have been extremely busy. The post-production of this documentary is taking up most of our time making it difficult to blog. We have spent long days and nights in the lab. Dr Luskay and Andrew Revkin are pushing us to make this the best documentary it can be. Like they say, "Go Big or Go Home!"

Until next week, stay tuned for more updates.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Slow and Steady Wins the Race!

For two weeks, we have been camped in shifts in the lab, editing Act 1 of our documentary on an American shrimp farmer in Belize. With a month left to go, the pressure is on. During class Wednesday, Dr Luskay and Andy Revkin reviewed our progress and then listened as we pitched different approaches to the opening scenes of the film.

The opening of any film, especially a documentary, is comparable to the cover of a book or first sentence of a feature story. It has to have a “wow” factor, a hook, and then it must convey the core theme and concept in a way that builds audience interest.
We found the “wow” in a sizzling pan full of Ben Benson Steak House shrimp, although some last-minute shooting will be needed to get that moment just right. The story will pivot swiftly to the work of our core subject – Linda Thornton.

After our class discussion, we divided into groups.

While the opening lines were written in one room, another team disappeared into the Avid Editing Studio to work on Act 1. A third team continued expanding our master script and preparing to write the sections that will require a narrator’s voice. Other students hunkered down to start building Act 2, which we’ll be editing the rest of this week and over the weekend.

Many of us have found it best to work together on one section piece by piece, rather than scatter on a bunch of different sections of the film. This approach prevents duplicated effort. Teamwork, management, planning, collaboration. Not your average college assignment!

Connecting Act 1 and Act 2 has been a challenge in maintaining an esthetic flow in our storyline. We continued collecting background imagery -- b-roll -- from Linda’s Cardelli Farms to add in to Act 1, which lays out her move to Belize and early struggles. We also captured footage from South Water Caye and sorted through photographs that might come in handy in the film.

Dr. Luskay is pressing us hard and making sure we hold to the work ethic we’ll need to complete this documentary and hopefully make it another award winner!

The rest is up to us.

Shrimp farming has grown tremendously over the past 30 years. One of our main reasons for doing this documentary is to highlight the changing shift towards aquaculture. This graph explains why it's so important.

Monday, April 4, 2011

We're in the News!

Last week we posted that David Laub came in to interview our class for the Pleasantville/Briarcliff Patch.

Here is his article with photos:

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Only the Beginning...

It has been 2 weeks since our return from Belize. The weather in the Northeast has not been very kind to us with a random snowfall and wintery mix lingering in our forecast.  With many classmates working long hours, we were able to complete all the interview transcriptions before today’s class.

In our regular Wednesday meeting with Dr. Luskay and Andrew Revkin, we sifted the transcripts and built a rough draft of the critical first act of the film, in which viewers will learn about the journey that took Linda from Illinois to Belize, from pig farming to shrimp farming.

A central challenge is meshing words with images and interlacing the views of the many subjects we interviewed.

While we were working, David Laub, a writer from the news website, came to write a profile of our class and project.

He asked how we got the idea of focusing on an American expatriate building a seafood business in the tropics and how long Dr. Luskay had been running this film course (nine years!)

He sought students’ views on the course and this particular project and quickly learned that the draw is Linda’s remarkable tale of endurance and creativity.

Many students expressed passion in their response and we all look forward to seeing what he publishes. This interview is expected to be published sometime soon in the Pleasantville and Briarcliff area Patch.

As the weeks wind down toward our May deadline, we all know the amount of work we have ahead of us. We are ready and with the Avid editing system finally working properly, this documentary is officially in full-swing post-production. Although, we aren’t ready to hit any red carpets, many of us are proud of what we have accomplished thus far.

Stay posted… this is still only the beginning.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Let the Editing Begin!

It has been three days since we returned from Belize. Many of us are missing the amazing tropical weather, as our welcome to the United States was a cold (and now snowy!) one.  Many of us are getting back into the swing of the rest of this semester.

Since returning many of us have reflected on the amazing people we met. Linda Thornton is a remarkable individual who has touched each of us in many ways.

Who knew someone else's life story, passion and vision for the future could open our eyes to the idea that anything is possible? She has overcome so many odds, leaped each hurdle thrown her way and still stands strong -- an image we wish to show you in the upcoming documentary.

Today we laid out a rough sketch of our documentary’s timeline on a six-foot-long sheet of white paper. We are starting to brainstorm approaches to the opening and closing scenes.

One of our classmates gathered everyone's availability for editing and the schedule is close to being posted in our Avid room.  In this post-production process, we are transcribing remaining interviews before we start capturing the rest of the footage on the computer and organizing shots and sections into bins.

Many of us have carried the warmth of the Belizean people back with us. As our journey continues the students and professors had remarkable comments about their experience filming this documentary, learning about shrimp farming and experiencing the Belizean lifestyle.

Dr. Maria Luskay: “This was truly a great experience.  I’m so proud of my students and the work that they have accomplished.  Linda Thornton is a great woman whose story needs to be told.  I look so forward to another award winning documentary. “

Professor Andrew Revkin:  “I've met a lot of amazing people overcoming long odds using wile, endurance, creativity and other traits. There are a few standouts, such as Sister Michael Mary Nolan, an American nun who worked with slum kids during Brazil's dictatorship but became a prosecuting lawyer after seeing the police murder one child after the other. Linda Thornton, with both grit and humor and endless optimism, is right up at the top of the heap.”

Yilan Wang:  “I think I really learned a lot from this experience.  I learned shooting, logging and transcribing techniques of which are vital in the production industry.  I made new friends and maybe next time I will not be as shy.  I’ll always remember Belize.”

Pedro Rivera:  “Belize was a great experience.  It gave the entire crew and I a chance to see a different side of the world that many people do not get a chance to see.  Linda Thornton was by far one of the most interesting people I have come to meet.  I’m enjoying the opportunity to be more of a leader on this trip and we are looking forward to finishing this project.”

Lauren Ostrofsky: “Going to Belize consisted of many surprises and opportunities that I never anticipated. Getting to live inside the footsteps of an amazing woman who has gone through many twists and turns and never gave up is inspirational. This trip can only be described as one in a million. I will never forget what I have learned. Belize is a jewel the world has in its own right – from the landscape and exotic blue-green water, to the Mayan dances and museum, Placencia and Carrie Bow Caye, words can’t describe this experience and saying “thank you” is never enough. Regardless, Thank you Linda, my fellow classmates, Andy and Dr. Luskay for letting me experience Belize with you and creating what will be an extraordinary documentary film.”

Martin Totland:  "Filming on location taught me so much about the filmmaking process, like what's going to be necessary for the editing process and how to get the best shots.  And as far as location goes, it doesn't get much better than Belize."

Alexandra Frye: “Going to Belize and getting to know Linda Thornton was truly a once in a lifetime opportunity.  The country is absolutely gorgeous and Linda is truly an amazing woman.  We’ve all learned so much from this trip, and I hope to return one day.”

Harrison C. Davies:  "I feel like we already have so much more material to work with and go through than we did last year, thanks to some crew discussions on location, we really have a nice starting outline, and of course we have great correspondents from Linda, who without a doubt will carry our story."

Emily Tuczinski:  “The journey to Belize has impacted my life in many positive ways.  Witnessing the poverty, especially within the rural areas, was a reminder of how fortunate we are to even participate in a travel documentary course.  The Belizean people were so warm and willing to help us everywhere we went.  Even the orange truck driver who stopped for us on the side of the road made a lasting impression.  I’ve learned so much about filming and the fellow students I work with are incredibly talented.  I have faith that we will be able to produce a dynamic piece of work.”

Molly Forman:  “Trying to capture the life of such a remarkable woman in three afternoons was no easy task.  Though it wasn’t easy, it was one of the best weeks in my life.  Learning about a proactive woman pioneer while surrounded by the beauty of Belize was certainly awe-inspiring.”

Zachary Dalva:  “This is an exciting time for us as we will edit an incredible documentary.”

Yan Zhang:  “This was a once in a lifetime experience!  It liberates my mind, body and soul.  And I’m pleasantly surprised that I met my fellow Chinese at different places at Belize.  This documentary will definitely change my life.”

Megan Katuran:  “Belize was a completely new experience.  You do all this research and get an idea in your head, but when we got to the actual shrimp farms I was blown away.  Linda Thornton was one of the most influential women I have ever met.  I can’t wait to make a documentary that captures her essence. “ 

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Farewell Belize!

For our final day in Belize, we spent the morning shooting some b-roll at South Water Caye.  The weather was absolutely beautiful and the scenery couldn't be more perfect. The beauty that surrounded us was truly incredible.  In the afternoon, we took the boat over to Carrie Bow Caye Field Station at the Smithsonian Institute, which is located on a tiny island not far from South Water Caye.  There we learned about the fascinating research they’ve been doing over the years to preserve their coral reefs. It was a very interesting place to visit and Bonnie, one of the island caretakers, was truly passionate about everything Carrie Bow Caye has to offer.  After leaving, we observed the reefs that surrounded South Water Caye and its inhabitants through the clear blue-green sea.

That evening, a few students filmed the sunset and the “Super Moon”, while others brainstormed on our documentary’s timeline in preparation for the editing planned for the weeks ahead.  Lastly, we finished up on transcribing and logging footage from the previous day.

The last day in Belize flew by. After an amazing week filming, most of us went to bed early that night. The next day was our departure to head home and our water taxi was picking us up at 6:30am. It was going to be an early morning. 

We woke for a quick breakfast and all headed to the pier at 6:30am on a boat to Dangriga Town where we took the infamous bus that supposedly has nine lives. After loading up and getting on the road, not to our surprise, we had to pull over for yet another leak!  This time the bus was leaking a different fluid - oil. Rhonesh, our bus driver, quickly fixed the leak.  We all prematurely thought to ourselves, “What else can seriously go wrong?” During one of these pit stops, one student sarcastically asked if we were at the airport, but that was not the case. Little did we know this wasn’t the last pit stop. To stay on schedule, we knew we had no time to waste or to get stuck and within a few minutes, we were back on the road.

All of a sudden, BAM!, we heard a loud bang. Startled, many of us jumped out of our seats as the bus, without swaying, came to a complete stop. Much to our surprise, the hood of the bus released and the loud noise we heard was that of the hood smashing into the window. Although the window shattered, luckily it was only the top layer. Rhonesh, with much frustration, quickly locked the hood back into its appropriate position and we continued on to the airport for our 1:30pm boarding time.

With time to spare we – finally – made it to the airport, gathered our belongings, said farewell and started our journey back to the United States. 

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Just Keep Swimming!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day everyone! Instead of attending the typical parade, we split the day between exploring a remarkable reef and getting down to business blogging and logging video from our visits to the shrimp farms.

Our underwater excursion took place at Angel Reef, a portion of the world’s second largest barrier reef.  We captured great underwater footage of distinctive aquatic life, ranging from giant rays to Nemo-sized fish flicking around multicolored corals.

Following our return from our snorkeling trip, we rounded up the cameras and got to work. Most of the group began logging video and transcribing our final interview with Linda Thornton at Haney Farms. Some of us decided to take advantage of the beauty at South Water Caye by filming tons of B-roll, industry shorthand for video setting the scene for a film.

Around sunset, the team finally began to sit back, relax and celebrate on this St. Patty’s Day.

Stumbling toward Paradise

Waking up to a thunderstorm should have been an indicator of how the day was going to go. After our final breakfast at Sherl’s restaurant in Independence Village, we boarded the bus to start the second leg of our trip. The destination was a quiet resort on South Water Caye, an island off the coast. It didn’t take long before chaos theory paid a visit.

Just seven miles from Dangriga, with our driver, Rhonesh, nursing a nearly empty tank of diesel, he pulled over to meet up with a van bringing some fuel. A close call seemed to have been averted, but as he tried to restart the bus, we heard a loud thud and knew that we were not going anywhere.

Upon further investigation, we saw a green fluorescent liquid leaking out from under the bus, which we later found out was radiator fluid. While stranded on the side of the road, a truck full of freshly picked oranges pulled over and offered a delicious snack.

After a half hour, Rhonesh’s company sent a replacement bus and we continued our way. We arrived at the Pelican Bay resort in Dangriga – a sister hotel to our lodging on the island – and were excited to discover free wi-fi. Everyone with a computer feverishly started blogging and checking emails. We even had a chance to see our journey and blog featured on the homepage of Pace University!

Quickly it was time to head to South Water Caye. We expected a smooth ferry ride but, as we approached the pier, were startled to see a 30-foot-long high-powered speedboat. The skipper ordered life jackets on all around and no one hesitated.

The boat sliced through the choppy seas at close to 30 miles per hour, but anxiety about seasickness faded and the quick trip ended with the boat pulling in over glassy clear water to an island pier, where we were welcomed by smiling staff and, soon after, had lunch and snorkeling lessons.

We’ll be spending our final three days in Belize logging our footage, filming b-roll, transcribing interviews and developing a script outline – and getting wet when we can!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Last Day with Linda

It‘s a big day, the pressure is on. This is why we came to Belize. Today, we interview Linda Thornton.But first we needed to visit one more shrimp farm -- Haney Farm, a partner of Aqua Mar. At the ponds, we filmed as workers cast nets to check the size, weight and health of the shrimp.

We moved to the extraordinary gardens at the farm, which is also a sprawling orchard. Seated amid gardenias and orchids, Linda answered all our questions, building a picture of a life of resilience and endurance and capturing her spirit of relentless optimism.

When asked what keeps her up at night given the big, costly operations she runs, Linda smiled and said, nothing really, except squawking birds. It was an informative, emotional and compelling interview and a great way to wrap up our exploration of shrimp farming and Linda’s remarkable life.

After the interview, Mr. Haney, who created this farm, led us on a pickup-truck tour of the orchards, weaving through coffee and allspice shrubs, cashew, teak, mahogany, mango and jack fruit trees (jack fruit is the biggest fruit in the world). 

He jumped out at one point and tossed an armful of pickle-shaped fruits at those in the back of the pickups. They were crisp and refreshing but as mouth puckering as a handful of Sour Patch Kids candy.

After departing Haney Farms, it was on to Maya Center, home of the world’s first Maya Museum, which was established in 2010. The museum is run by Mr. Julio Saqui, whose family was relocated from the rainforest by the government to make way for a national park set up to protect jaguars. 

He founded the museum to bring the rich Mayan culture both “forward and back to the people.” Many children, he explained, had lost their awareness of traditions in a flood of microwave ovens and TV. We learned how Mayans lived using only natural resources, getting everything they needed from the rainforest. He showed us traditional musical instruments and even persuaded several students to dance traditional dances. 

We watched his wife, Eleodora, make corn tortillas and got the opportunity to make our own on a clay sheet over a fire. 

Mr. Saqui then acted as our guide for an hour-long hike through Cockscomb Basin Wildlife Sanctuary, a 128,000-acre preserve. We hiked through the rainforest until we reached a beautiful waterfall and swimming hole, where most of us jumped in to cool off.

After returning from the preserve, we had one more stop, and it may have been the highlight of the trip. 

Linda Thornton hosted a dinner party for the group at her spacious, Spanish-style home on a hill overlooking forests and fields and Cardelli Farms. On the menu, shrimp of course, Mexican style! Besides sharing food and drink, Linda shared more of her life, showing us photo albums and reeling off more tales. We ended the night with laughter and hugs, having come full circle on why we came here in the first place. 

At home with Linda
We made a new friend and memories we will never forget. The visit provided a perfect conclusion to our days in Independence, Belize. 

Now it’s time to make a film!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Shrimp Farming 101 at Aqua Mar

It was not even 8am and we were off to Aqua Mar, the largest shrimp farm in Belize, for the second day of our project. Owned by Michael Duncker and managed by Linda Thornton, Aqua Mar is a massive, multimillion dollar establishment covering around 1,000 acres. It is comprised of 90 ponds and raises shrimp from eggs to half-foot giants.  There are over 100 employees, including more than a dozen specialists in research and technology. Each night, 4 staff members sleep overnight to manage risks ranging from power outages to raids by seafood thieves.
Upon arrival, we interviewed Mr. Duncker about the history of the Aqua Mar farm and Linda’s role in the company. He told us that Linda was the one he needed to manage his farm for her experience and knowledge. According to him, 90 percent of Aqua Mar’s shrimp are exported, but only rarely to the U.S.
After wrapping up the interview, we drove to see the farm’s hatcheries. We saw shrimp at all different life stages in the hatcheries, tanks and ponds. The full-grown shrimp, which are used for breeding, were much larger than we had ever seen. The smallest were so tiny that staff members viewed them under microscopes. During our tour of the facilities, Linda and her staff explained each stage of shrimp production.

The first building contained the largest shrimp –which are given a special diet and are living egg factories. According to Linda, typical female shrimp reproduce once a year. At Aqua Mar however, they reproduce once a week and each female produces around 200,000 babies. We learned that while only one percent of those fry survive in the wild, 25-50 percent survive at Aqua Mar.  A staff member, Bartolo Cal, held a flapping and uncooperative shrimp above the water to describe its features and an undergraduate on the filmmaking team, was daring enough to lower a waterproof camera into the tank to get underwater footage of the swimming shrimp.

Our crew then toured the outdoor tanks where shrimp in the later developmental stages are farmed. Luis Carlos Vergara, Aqua Mar’s Hatchery Manager, held up a glass container holding month-old shrimp that were nearly transparent.  Linda said it was helpful to be able to see the shrimp’s digestive tract in monitoring their health.
Just before we returned to Independence Village we witnessed the feeding of shrimp at a few ponds equipped with large aerators. We got some great footage after setting up the tripod in the back of Linda’s parked pickup truck. Also, some of us went up the rooftop of a tower at Aqua Mar to get some aerial footage.

Just before sunset we called it a day and enjoyed a nice dinner in Independence. Walking home from dinner, a few students came across a local store that happened to be selling shrimp. The owner, who immigrated to Belize from China 20 years ago, buys some varieties of shrimp from Aquamar. In fact, she told us that most Chinese restaurants in the area buy shrimp from Aqua Mar.
Soon we’ll be posting video clips giving the full sweep of action around the vast facility.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Shooting Day 1 and Production Has Just Begun!

We woke up excited to finally meet Linda Thornton whom we’ve been researching for the past two months.  Linda arrived at Hotel Hello to greet us around 8:45am.  After our initial introductions we loaded everyone on the bus to Cardelli Farms.  Two students accompanied Linda in her truck in order to film a casual interview.

When we got to Cardelli, the 400 acre farm, we were surrounded by two large rectangular ponds.  As media students we are always searching for the perfect shot.  On top of the hill, in between the two ponds, we found a great panoramic view of the farm.  This became the best place to film our first interview with Linda.

Professor Andrew Revkin conducted the brief interview with Linda.  We will be conducting a more formal interview within the next couple of days.  Linda described her role in the sustainable shrimp farming industry.  She discussed her reason for opening Cardelli farms and why Belizean shrimp are among the best in the world. 

“Imagine an eyelash with two little eyes on the end”, said Linda, as she was trying to assist us in locating some of these infant shrimp.  We had a difficult time finding these tiny crustaceans because of the sun’s reflection off the pool.

A Cardelli Farm employee came by to feed the shrimp, and one rather daring graduate student laid on the floor of a small canoe in order to film.  She left feeling a little less dry than she had before entering the boat.  Witnessing Cardelli Farms first hand really gave us a sample of what’s to come.  Cardelli is a fraction of the size of the next farm, Aqua Mar.

After our day of filming, we took the Hokey Pokey Ferry to the more tourist driven town of Placencia.  At the beach we were able to catch our breath and enjoy the sun, since this past winter was filled with an abundance of snow and ice in New York.  We know our journey has just begun and we look forward to what’s in store for us as we continue exploring this beautiful Central American country.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

"Are we there yet??"

“Meet me at the group gate on the upper level of Terminal C,” the text message ran across our cell phone screens as we were arriving at Newark International Airport. As we began to gather, a twist truly started our day. It was only 7 a.m. but WAIT!!!! “Where are Lexi and Molly?”

Our group received word that our classmates were stuck in traffic due to a horrific bus accident south bound on I-95. They arrived with only 5 minutes left to board.  Our flight successfully took off at 8:50am.  Most of us caught up on much needed sleep.  As we approached our destination we admired the breathtaking views of the Central American coastline, the blue-green Caribbean Sea and it’s beautiful reefs.  We have now arrived to the lovely country of Belize. 

To our surprise, we exited the airport to see a MUCH smaller bus then expected, leaving us to wonder if everything and everyone would fit.  After a 4 ½ hour flight and a few hours on the road, “Are we there yet????” was the question on everyone’s mind.  Five hours into our road trip every house, store, and bus stop suddenly became “Hotel Hello.”   Day turned to dusk and dusk turned to night, during which we saw incredible scenery, lush forests, a mountain called “The Sleeping Giant,” and expansive brush fires. 

After 14 hours we got to say hello to “Hotel Hello,” in Independence Village within  the Stann Creek district.  We settled in and gathered together for our first Belizean feast.  We sat at a long Thanksgiving-style table and enjoyed homemade rice and delicious chicken topped with famous hot sauce from Marie Sharp, a Belizean entrepreneur. 

Now it’s time to say goodnight as we prepare for day 1 of filming and our first adventure at a shrimp farm.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Preliminary Interviews... and so it begins!

During the pre-production process, we contacted three individuals who are highly proficient and knowledgeable of the shrimp farming and aquaculture in Belize.

A few students contacted Sean Ledwin of NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration).  Mr. Ledwin wrote his Graduate thesis about the ecological effects of shrimp farming in Belize (After speaking with him, he suggested we contact several people including Mr. Timothy Smith and Adrian Vernon, a Belizean naturalist.  Mr. Ledwin spent much time doing research in Belize.  He knows Linda Thornton from previously engaging in writing his thesis for Michigan and is familiar with all three shrimp farms that we will be visiting. Upon our return from Belize, we will be interviewing Mr. Ledwin.

We recently conducted a preliminary interview with Timothy Smith, an Ecologist with Brooksmith Consulting and the World Wildlife Fund.  It was a success.  The interview took place for about four to five minutes in our media lab via skype.  We recorded both audio and video.  He gave us vital information about the environmental effects of shrimp farming, noting new techniques that have been adopted within shrimp aquaculture at Aquamar that we should not miss.

While students were experiencing hands-on pre-production filming Smith, the other students were brainstorming effective questions for Dr. Anthony Michaels’ interview, which took place Friday via Skype as well. Dr. Anthony Michaels is the owner of Proteus Environmental Technologie, where he has been Director of the USC Wrigley Institute for Environmental Technologies for 12 years. An expert in ecology and sustainable aquaculture, he is now co-Founder and Managing Director of Proteus Environmental Technologies. During the interview, Dr. Michaels talked about the different types of shrimp farming techniques. He identified that indefinable “ultimate-intensive” technique of shrimp farming methods will create this profession’s future. He also touched base on the issues that the industry faces.  Some of the issues he identified during our interviewed were based on water drainage and bacteria. To him, sustainable shrimp farming is of great importance to human beings because shrimp is seafood of enormous nutritional value.

During the interviews a group of students took practice sessions outside to become more familiar and comfortable using the camera correctly.  They went over some basics, for example, white balancing, manually focusing, using the menu bar, etc. 

And so the countdown begins, 7 days until our departure... You better Belize it!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Belize- tiny country with a lot of character.

Only a couple more weeks until we are off to Belize!  Our travel agent stopped by for a visit to go over our itinerary for the week.  We will be arriving at Belize City Airport on March 12th and making our way to Independence for 4 nights with a welcome dinner at Hotel Hello.  For the next three days we will be spending it at Linda Thornton’s three farms, Cardelli, Aqua Mar and Haney, where we will start production.   From the 16th to the 19th we will be spending it at Pelican Beach in South Water Caye where we will be experiencing the Belizean lifestyle.  

South Water Caye is a private island only 15 acres in size.  It's a tiny island that's bordered by a variety of colorful coral reefs. This will be a great time to shoot some b-roll, do underwater filming, photograph and enjoy the beauty that surrounds us.  

Researching and collaborating ideas are extremely important when getting ready to film a documentary.  This is all a part of the preproduction process.  During class time we went over presentations that some students put together.  We talked about different species of shrimp and the differences between an intensive, semi-intensive, and extensive farm (if you are curious these farms vary in amount of shrimp per volume of water among, amount of labor and maintenance required, and water exchange among other factors).  We also discussed the past, present and future of shrimp farming. 

We never really considered how much work it takes to grow the shrimp in farms that end up on our dinner plates. It is a pretty complicated process especially when the farms have to adhere to strict environmental standards.  Different parts of the world raise their shrimp differently, so for the sake of this documentary we focused our research specifically to Central America.  The shrimp arrive in the post larvae stage where they are raised in hatcheries. From the hatchery they move to a grow out pond that allows them to grow to the desired size. This process usually takes a few months. The shrimp are then harvested by using nets to scoop them from the water or by sometimes draining the pond.  The prime time to harvest shrimp is October before the waters drop in temperature, however many farms now have more than one harvest throughout the year.

With all the different processes out there, our documentary’s purpose is to understand how the Belizean shrimp farms operate so efficiently while being environmentally friendly.  Eco-friendliness is not just a trend in Belize, but rather a lifestyle.  We discovered this when researching our accommodations. The hotel where we will be staying while shooting the interviews at the farms does not have electrical outlets in the rooms. This was our main concern because we have so much equipment to charge during the week. Fortunately, the owner of the hotel has been kind enough to let us recharge our batteries in their office.  We have a feeling some of the girls might be sneaking their blow dryers into the office. 

With that being said, another experiment we will be monitoring is how a group of college students will do after being disconnected from technology for a few days. No texting, no Facebook updates and no tweets. Let’s hope everyone charges their iPods before departure.  Stay tuned….

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Shrimp vs. Prawn?

We got a lot accomplished today.  Everyone is in the process of gathering their research and finishing their group or individual assignments.  Travel arrangements are in order.  We also contacted Linda Thornton to arrange meeting times.  For the first three working days we will be interviewing and shooting at Cardelli, Aqua Mar and Haney farms.  
We also learned a great deal about shrimp today.  Do you know what the difference between a shrimp and a prawn is?  Well, we sure do!  Our group had a healthy discussion on where we buy our seafood and if we prefer king prawns or jumbo shrimp.

The consensus of the group was while many of us enjoy shrimp cocktail, we don’t exactly know where our shrimp is coming from. Which is why, we’ve decided to trace the shrimp’s movement back to the source. Our first step is to go from the plate at a local restaurant to South Street Seaport market where it’s purchased. We want to see what decisions the buyers make when they choose the shrimp to be featured on the menus.  We plan to film them next week and will report back with our findings!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

And we're off!!!

This is so exciting!  As Pace University students in the Media and Communication Arts program, we are thrilled to have the opportunity to participate in this travel course to Belize.  We’re producing a documentary about the world of shrimp farming.  In our excursion we plan to learn and explore this country, its culture, and new areas of its environment.

Linda Thornton is one of the few women shrimp farmers in the world.  She is a dedicated and well-known advocate for sustainable aquaculture in Central America and a valuable resource for our film.  Ms. Thornton originally from Illinois, vacationed in Belize where she fell in love with the lifestyle and beauty of the country.  Being an experienced shrimp farmer her transition to Belize was smooth.  Since relocating to Belize, she learned how to farm shrimp and currently manages Aquamar, one of three shrimp farms we will visit.

One of Ms. Thornton’s main goals is to develop ways to farm shrimp that isn't harmful to the environment.  In many parts of the world, farms that produce the frozen shrimp result in the destruction of mangrove forests and other costal ecosystems.  These farms use large amounts of water and generate choking flows of waste in the water.

We are honored to have Andy Revkin, a veteran New York Times environmental correspondent, author of the Blog Dot Earth and senior fellow for environmental understanding at the Pace Academy for Applied Environmental studies, to help plan and execute this film with us.

Currently, we’ve started the pre-production process.  So far, we have handed out individual and group assignments. All students are in the stages of researching and brainstorming film ideas.   We hope you join us on our journey to Central America by following our Blog. We will detail our exploration into the world of shrimp farming and our experiences as we learn new aspects of the environment.