JMC @ AUBG

What is happening in the JMC department at AUBG?


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Maria Savkova, BTV: Video Journalism is Challenging but Rewarding

Hallo, dear readers!

AUBG students of journalism learn the craft from professors who have gathered extensive experience in the industry. In addition, they receive advice from media professionals from both Bulgaria and abroad who visit the university on a regular basis.

Maria Savkova

Maria Savkova is one of these media professionals and she discussed the good and bad sides of video journalism on April 22 as part of the “Conversations in JMC” series organized by AUBG’s Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) Chapter.

Though she is relatively new to the profession, Savkova has already gained solid experience in video journalism as a reporter with BTV, one of the two biggest private TV channels in Bulgaria. She earned a bachelor’s degree in English philology at Sofia University and started working as an interpreter. Later, however, after she lost her job and had nothing to do, she decided to apply for a three-month internship with BTV. Having fallen in love with the world of television to the point of seeing it as her “dream job,” Savkova stayed with BTV, where she has been for the past six years. Meanwhile, she completed a master’s degree in journalism at Sofia University. Although she initially reported on a variety of topics, she has over time specialized in topics related to healthcare, education, charity and other social issues.

Maria Savkova's documentary about minority rights in Kenya, Credit: Tsvetelina Miteva

Maria Savkova’s documentary about minority rights in Kenya, Credit: Tsvetelina Miteva

Savkova first showed a short documentary of hers about the major social and educational problems the Endorois and Ogiek communities in Kenya have been struggling with, especially poverty and gender discrimination. Thanks to the financial support of Minority Rights Group International, an NGO, Savkova spent two weeks in Kenya, exploring the state of minority rights there.

Savkova then used this film as the basis for her presentation. She highlighted three particular features of video reporting that make it more powerful than other forms of journalism. Video journalism reaches the senses and builds “vigorous images,” she said. Together, these elements make a story more realistic and emotional. For instance, instead of reading what a person has said, viewers can see and hear the person speaking.

“The first and the last shots should always be the strongest and most influential so that you make people think,” Savkova said.

What makes video journalism important is its capacity to reach large audiences, including illiterate citizens. Reading a story requires effort and language competence; watching a story, in contrast, transfers a message on an emotional level and thus does not depend on the receiver’s education.

By reaching more people as well as by being more visible, “video journalism easily makes changes,” Savkova said.

Maria Savkova during her presentation, Credit: Tsvetelina Miteva

Maria Savkova during her presentation, Credit: Tsvetelina Miteva

Like any other job, video journalism has its disadvantages. Savkova pointed out two of these. Video journalism is time-consuming, she said, because the journalist needs to not only take notes and listen carefully but also find the right settings and interview partners to record enough and appropriate video material. “No video, no story,” she said.

While any form of journalism demands a lot of skills and flexibility, video journalism does even more so. In a world suffering the consequences of a harsh economic and financial crisis, “Video journalism [is becoming] a one-man show, [and] you have to be able to do each step of the process,” Savkova said. In other words, journalists in the 21st century should be able to not only come up with innovative ideas, write and shoot well, but also edit their own footage as quickly and efficiently as possible.

At the end of her presentation, Savkova touched on a topic she said most journalists avoid discussing, namely the loneliness many journalists feel as a result of their busy schedules and unconventional working time. While she said she can’t really say how many hours a day she works simply because she loves her job and hardly checks the time during the day, she stressed how self-sacrificing journalism can be. After all, people tend to see only the final product but they don’t realize how much effort and time it takes to produce even a two-minute news package of good quality.

Despite the challenges, Savkova sees journalism as her calling, as a way for her to “make a change” in her home country. AUBG students of journalism had better take note of her enthusiasm for what she does and her simple recipe for success: “Believe in your dreams. There is nothing impossible.”

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So What is Realy Happening in the JMC Department at AUBG?

Hallo, dear readers!

Having been keeping you updated on the most interesting media- and journalism-related events during the Spring 2015 semester at the American University in Bulgaria (AUBG), I am now about to part with you. We, AUBG students, have just one more week of classes to go before we embark on a week full of final exams (and unprecedented joy or despair, depending on one’s overall performance during the semester).

Today I am not going to report on a newsworthy JMC event, nor am I going to present to you yet another charismatic or influential JMC person. Instead, I am going to summarize all my previous blog posts. I will briefly introduce each of my previous blog posts, each description supported by a memorable quote. By summarizing my blogging activity, I will be able to answer the question I asked myself in the beginning, namely what is happening in the JMC department at AUBG.

Erik BraundBlog Post #1: In this post titled “Of Erik Braund, Music, Video, and Pomeranians,” I reported on the first Conversations in JMC event for the Spring 2015 semester. Thanks to the organizers from AUBG’s Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) Chapter, JMC students learned more about video production and journalism from Erik Braund, a New York-based music and video producer contributing to The New York Times as a freelancer. Braund shared his recipe for success with AUBG students, which consists of 3 main ingredients: networking, luck and hard work.

“You never know who you are going to meet and what is going to happen” in a big city like New York

Dimana Doneva, Source: Personal Archive

Dimana Doneva, Source: Personal Archive

Blog Post #2: In this post titled “From AUBG to AUBG – Look Who’s Back on Campus,” I presented to you Dimana Doneva, a Bulgarian-born AUBG alumna from the class of 2014, who decided to come back to her alma mater as one of the new talents in AUBG’s Office of Communications and Marketing (OCM). Since the beginning of February, Dimana has been in charge of the content published on the university’s website. Dimana’s coming has proved beneficial to both sides so far: she enjoys keeping AUBG people and the international community informed about life on campus, and the OCM is developing as a result of Dimana’s and her colleagues’ efforts.

“If you ask me if being a part of an extracurricular activity at the university can get you a job in the future, for me the answer is yes. Not because it’s on your CV but because it taught you something valuable and added to your portfolio.”

AUBG Doc ClubBlog Post #3: In my third blog post titled “How the AUBG Documentary Movie Club Has Transformed the University,” I presented to you the AUBG Documentary Movie Club as just one but extraordinary example of a success story within the JMC department. Since its inception in January 2012, the club has become one of the landmarks of the revolution carried out on campus by Melody Gilbert, a well-known U.S. documentary filmmaker and chair of the JMC department at AUBG. The club has organized numerous documentary screenings, often with directors or producers in attendance, as well as several trips to international documentary film festivals, such as the Thessaloniki Documentary Festival (four times so far; their fourth trip to the festival took place just last week), the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam, the Sofia International Film Festival, and the So Independent Film Festival.

“Not many students, when they come to AUBG, are that much in love with the documentaries. People love movies but not documentaries [because] they think documentaries equal boring. But with this club, [other students and I] learnt that documentaries can be really interesting and right now I even prefer documentaries to fiction movies.” (Kaja Duknic, an AUBG Documentary Movie Club member)

The Last Black Sea Pirates posterBlog Post #4: In this post titled “Third AUBG International Student Film Festival,” I reported on the third edition of the annual international student film festival (AUBGISFF), organized jointly by the JMC department, the AUBG Documentary Movie Club and the university’s student government. The 3rd AUBGISF took place in the Skaptopara campus on Feb. 15-16. The festival represents a single- or two-day film marathon during which AUBG students, professors, administration and other staff can enjoy short documentaries as well as fiction movies and animation produced either by current or former AUBG students, students from the Southwest University in Blagoevgrad, students from different U.S. universities, students from one UK university and other young filmmakers. The program included nine documentaries produced by AUBG students, among which Buzludzha: Memories in the Dust and Memories of Lost Jewish Legends deserve special attention. Aspiring AUBG filmmakers also had the chance to learn more about the craft from Svetoslav Stoyanov, a Bulgarian filmmaker who attended the screening of The Last Black Sea Pirates (2013), an award-winning creative documentary by Vanya Rainova and him.

“I really believe that the strong movies, the strong stories, are personal. It [the movie] was really important to my life. On this place, I found my wife […] and our second child was born during the shooting down there.” (Svetoslav Stoyanov)

Blog Post #5: In my fifth blog post (my midterm blog post), I reported on the deteriorating media landscape in Bulgaria as reflected by the 2015 World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders. In this edition of the Index, Bulgaria ranks 106th out of 180 countries with a score of 32.91. This automatically makes Bulgaria the worst performer among EU member states. To localize the story, I interviewed Tanya Stoynova, a Bulgarian-born AUBG junior majoring in journalism and mass communication, who views the Index as a truthful reflection of the far-from-bright media situation in Bulgaria.

“I want to stay here and practice in Bulgaria. But I am concerned that it will be difficult to have the freedom to be a real journalist. But I don’t think it’s not possible. If a person really wants to be a good journalist, [he or she] can make it.”

Film Studies minorBlog Post #6: In this spring-break post titled “AUBG Launches a Film Studies Minor,” I provided you with detailed information about the brand-new interdisciplinary film studies minor at AUBG. The architects of this program are Sean Homer, associate professor of arts, language and literature, and Melody Gilbert, a JMC professor and chair of the JMC department.

“The [film studies] minor fits into the existing structure of the majors we offer – it is a natural growth area as far as I can see, I personally would hope to develop a major in film studies in the future but this will depend on the wishes and interests of my colleagues.” (Sean Homer)

Thessaloniki Film Festival 2Blog Post #7: In this post, I reported on a group of AUBG filmmakers’ visit to the 17th Thessaloniki Documentary Festival in Thessaloniki, Greece. Under the guidance of Melody Gilbert, professor of multimedia journalism and documentary filmmaking and JMC department chair at AUBG, the students attended many screenings, got to know some of the people behind these productions, and thus had the chance to learn more about professional documentary filmmaking first-hand.

“We had the opportunity to meet a lot of filmmakers and to talk with them, [and] to share some experiences. We watched a lot of documentaries made by people from many countries. Prof. Gilbert gave us an opportunity to have a private talk with those filmmakers, which was really great.” (Bojan Mircheski, an AUBG freshman from Macedonia who participated in the trip)

Melody Gilbert and Andrey Hadjivasilev posing in front of the film poster, Credit: Igo Myakotin

Melody Gilbert and Andrey Hadjivasilev posing in front of the film poster, Credit: Igo Myakotin

Blog Post #8: In this post titled, “Andrey Hadjivasilev and Melody Gilbert’s Steps in the Fire,” I gave you some interesting information about the production process and premiere of Steps in the Fire, the first Bulgarian 3D documentary, which captures the magic of a century-long ritual called nestinarstvo. How does a non-Bulgarian like Gilbert find fire-dancing, the culmination of the two-day ritual?

“Not everybody falls into a trance, some people do, some people don’t. But watching the intensity that they are feeling, the emotions of the icons, and the ritual, and the meaning behind that. That was very beautiful for me. [And] for me, to see so many people dancing the horo (a Bulgarian folk dance in which people hold one another by their hands and dance together) together, it was very emotional. I was amazed that all these people can come together and just do the same dance. It was very beautiful.”

Lynnette Leonard, associate JMC professor and chair of the JMC department starting in Fall 2015, Source: Official website of the American University in Bulgaria, www.aubg.bg

Lynnette Leonard, associate JMC professor and chair of the JMC department starting in Fall 2015, Source: Official website of the American University in Bulgaria, http://www.aubg.bg

Blog Post #9: For this blog post, I interviewed Lynnette Leonard, a JMC professor at AUBG who is set to take over as the next JMC department chair in the fall 2015 semester. The purpose of this post was to inform the JMC students and faculty on the future of one of the most vibrant departments on campus following Melody Gilbert’s stepping down and taking a leave of absence for one academic year. Leonard also used the opportunity to encourage journalism students to be proactive and look to expand their professional network because nobody is going to do this for them.

“We’ll continue to bring people to campus […] and help students build those networks but ultimately it’s their feet on the ground, their fingers on the text, and on the tweet, and wherever it is, they are the ones that have to make the contacts to move their career forward.”

Blog Post #10: This blog post differed dramatically from the previous ones because I decided to experiment a little bit. I carried out a small-scale survey among JMC majors and minors at AUBG to learn about which their favorite course(s) is (are) and why. In the post, I first provided the most important information about the JMC program at AUBG and then presented a short video in the form of a vox pop with the nine students majoring or minoring in journalism. Given the diversity of responses, I decided to conclude this post with Lynnette Leonard’s thoughts on why AUBG students should consider studying JMC.

“Because it’s an excellent major, because it pairs well with just about everything. Every single field talks about the need for [a wide range of] communications skills, so you can write but not just that you can write. There are different jobs now that are requiring that you can do film, that you can tweet, that you can understand a professional Facebook page, that you can do website[s], all these kinds of stuff. […] [However,] if you’d rather be told here is what you are going to study and this is what you are going to do, JMC is probably not the one for you. It’s about driven, self-determined individuals learning the skills and understanding the complexity of communicating and enjoying doing it.”

Blog Post #11: In my most recent blog post, “Video Journalism: A Curse or a Blessing?,” I reported on Maria Savkova’s presentation at AUBG. Young though she is, Savkova has already gained solid experience in video journalism as a reporter with BTV, one of the two biggest private TV channels in Bulgaria. She earned a bachelor’s degree in English philology at Sofia University and started working as an interpreter. Later, however, after she lost her job and had nothing to do, she decided to apply for a three-month internship with BTV. Having fallen in love with the world of television to the point of seeing it as her “dream job,” Savkova stayed with BTV, where she has been working for the past six years. Meanwhile, she completed a master’s degree in journalism at Sofia University. Although she initially reported on a variety of topics, she has over time specialized in topics related to healthcare, education, charity and other social issues.

“Video journalism [is becoming] a one-man show, [and] you have to be able to do each step of the process.” (Maria Savkova)

In the video below, you can find the answer to the question I have been trying to answer in this blog since the beginning of the spring 2015 semester.

Thanks for accompanying me in this journalistic journey throughout the semester!


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The Journalism Courses AUBG Students Like the Most

Hallo, dear readers!

Having considered the topics of my previous blog posts, I realized that I’d like to experiment a little bit this time. On the one hand, I have so far focused on exciting JMC activities and events taking place outside the classroom; thus, this week I want to give you more information about the JMC curriculum at the American University in Bulgaria (AUBG). On the other hand, instead of presenting to you an ordinary video in which I interview a single person, I have produced a small vox pop, in which nine AUBG students reveal which their favorite JMC course or courses are and why.

Before I move the students’ opinions, let me introduce to you the JMC program, which has been quite popular among AUBG students. I will present the JMC major as well as the JMC minor.

AUBG students majoring in JMC have to take 12 or 13 courses, depending on the type of internship they do. There are five required courses: JMC 141 Communications, Media and Society, JMC 150 Writing for Media, JMC 200 Visual Communications Theory and Practice, JMC 220 Multimedia Journalism, and JMC 356 Media Law and Ethics.

The remaining six or seven courses are electives, meaning students can choose among different options to fit their own interests and strengths. JMC majors usually take electives related to both journalism and mass communication, but they can also choose to focus on just one of them by doing either a journalism track or a mass communication track. To complete one of these tracks, students need to take at least five courses related to the specific track. The traditional electives thus include:

Journalism Track (a minimum of five completed courses required)

  • JMC 233 Introduction to Video Journalism
  • JMC 250 Writing and Reporting
  • JMC 321 Digital Photojournalism
  • JMC 345 Specialized Writing
  • JMC 430 Television News Reporting
  • JMC 435 Magazine Journalism
  • JMC 455 Global Comparative Media
  • JMC 470 Topics in Journalism
  • JMC 491 Capstone Project

Mass Communication Track (a minimum of five completed courses required)

  • INF 240 Website Development
  • JMC 370 Introduction to Public Relations
  • JMC 389 Introduction to Advertising
  • JMC 411 Design and Layout
  • JMC 425 Advanced Communications Design
  • JMC 480 Topics in Media
  • JMC 491 Capstone Project

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To earn a degree in journalism, JMC majors have to intern with one or more media or other organizations for a minimum of 320 hours. They can choose between two types of internships: professional and academic.

Professional internships are what most JMC students at AUBG opt for. They allow students to intern with media outlets or other organizations. The hours students have worked are then recognized by the university administration, but they don’t carry any credits. Academic internships, in contrast, require that students have an academic supervisor from AUBG and a mentor at the organization they are interning with. Once the internship is over, students have to produce a paper in which they elaborate on their experience. That’s why an academic internship counts as a JMC elective and, thus, carries credits.

Wonder what a capstone project is? In a nutshell, it is a semester-long project equivalent to a senior thesis, which allows students to work on a topic of their own choice and apply a combination of most of the skills and knowledge they have acquired during their studies. To be eligible to undertake a capstone project, students need to have a cumulative grade point average (CGPA) of at least 3.25 (4.00 being the highest possible grade according to the U.S. grading system) and their topic for the project has to be approved by the JMC department. At the end of the semester, students present their capstone projects in front of JMC faculty and students. If a capstone project fulfills all requirements, it counts as a state exam.

As to the JMC minor at AUBG, students have to take the five required courses mentioned above, plus one elective course, and they are not required to complete an internship. In other words, the JMC minor program aims to introduce students to the basic journalistic principles, values, and practices and train them to consume and produce news and any other information carefully and critically.

Bearing in mind the essentials of the JMC major and minor programs at AUBG, you can now learn which course or courses nine AUBG students define as most interesting and/or useful and, hence, as their favorites.

Writing, graphic design, magazine production, photojournalism, video journalism, multimedia journalism, media law and ethics, public relations – different students like different courses because they have different passions and aspirations.

When it comes to learning the craft of journalism at AUBG, what matters the most is that almost all courses expose students to the practical rather than purely theoretical aspects of the profession. Students participate in hands-on media production under the guidance of professors coming from the field and not professors who might have perfect theoretical preparation but only limited professional experience. This is extremely important for two simple reasons: first, there is nothing better than acquiring specific techniques directly from those who have applied them successfully for many years, if not decades; and second, learning from a professional brings another important bonus, networking. And networking (or the absence of it) can build (or destroy) a career in the 21st century media world.

Here is how Lynnette Leonard, an AUBG professor of journalism set to take over the JMC department in the Fall 2015 semester, summarizes the benefits of the JMC program at AUBG:

“Because it’s an excellent major, because it pairs well with just about everything. Every single field talks about the need for [a wide range of] communications skills, so you can write but not just that you can write. There are different jobs now that are requiring that you can do film, that you can tweet, that you can understand a professional Facebook page, that you can do website[s], all these kinds of stuff. […] [However,] if you’d rather be told here is what you are going to study and this is what you are going to do, JMC is probably not the one for you. It’s about driven, self-determined individuals learning the skills and understanding the complexity of communicating and enjoying doing it.”

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Telling Stories Through Storify

Hallo, dear readers!

Here is a bonus blog post to celebrate the first time I have used Storify. a content-curation application we learned about in our Multimedia Journalism class today! Please follow the link below to find my whole Storify story related to journalism at AUBG!

https://storify.com/dani1993/jmc-at-aubg-stories-through-storify#publicize

In addition to Storify, we also did our first steps in using Thinglink! Here is my first Thinglink piece, which gives you some basic information about the various media-related activities on campus!

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What to expect from the JMC department at AUBG in the future

Hallo, dear readers!

At some point last month Melody Gilbert, journalism professor and chair of the Journalism and Mass Communication (JMC) department at the American University in Bulgaria (AUBG), and Mark Wollemann, also a journalism professor at AUBG and Gilbert’s husband, announced that they would take a leave of absence for Fall 2015 and Spring 2016. The reason: Gilbert has a lot of film projects to work on and, to do this efficiently, she needs to be physically present in the USA, her home country.

Lynnette Leonard, Source: Official website of the American University in Bulgaria, www.aubg.bg

Lynnette Leonard, Source: Official website of the American University in Bulgaria, http://www.aubg.bg

Along with this news, the AUBG community learnt that Lynnette Leonard, professor of journalism at AUBG, would take over as the new chair of JMC department in Fall 2015. This change has nothing to do with Gilbert’s taking a leave of absence. Instead, her two-year term as a chair is to expire at the end of the current semester and she decided not to run for a second term. Given the JMC faculty members’ biographies and interests, Lynnette Leonard turned out to be the most appropriate choice for this position.

While the change in chairmanship does not necessarily make huge news on its own, it certainly generates multiple and intriguing questions regarding the future of the journalism department. To make things a little bit clearer for both current and future JMC students at AUBG, I talked to Leonard to learn more about her vision for the department.

Leonard has been teaching at AUBG for the past few years. She came to Bulgaria not alone, however, but together with her husband, Mark Leonard, a professor of economics at the university. Leonard has a Ph.D. from the University of Kansas. Her research interests include new media, writing and speaking skills, rhetorical theory and criticism, and pedagogy.

Even though she has recently become one of the most active faculty members of the JMC department, Leonard did not start teaching journalism classes from the very beginning. Instead, she first joined the Arts, Languages and Literature department, but then she decided she needed a change toward media and journalism.

What does Leonard plan to do first once she takes over the JMC department in September?

“We are trying to get a lot of things established and then to try to get them to work. We have different minors that are coming that have been approved. With Mark [Wollemann] and Melody [Gilbert] gone for next year, it will be trying how [we keep] certain things going, if we can, but then also incorporating the new faculty that we will be bringing in. [We will try] to keep the momentum on some of the things we’ve started, try to continue to improve things that we can.”

Soon after the administration approved Gilbert and Wollemann’s leave of absence for the next academic year, the JMC department started a recruitment process to fill the vacant positions. They have received applications from some interesting and highly qualified people, Leonard said, and that’s why she feels positive about the would-be additions to the department.

Lynnette Leonard giving some online writing tips to students visiting AUBG during an Open House Day in November 2014, Source: Official website of the American University in Bulgaria, www.aubg.bg

Lynnette Leonard giving some online writing tips to students visiting AUBG during an Open House Day in November 2014, Source: Official website of the American University in Bulgaria, http://www.aubg.bg

Inheriting a solid legacy from her predecessor, Leonard is keen on preserving and developing the best of the innovations Gilbert has introduced. She definitely wants to preserve and perfect the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) Chapter at AUBG, a student-run organization that organizes various guest lectures and workshops to complement the education JMC students receive in the classroom.

Conversations in JMC will probably stay as well but, as Leonard pointed out, the guest speakers might differ from those who have come under Gilbert’s term due to the different professional contacts they have. Leonard is willing to cooperate with AUBG alumni and everybody from the field of journalism who would like to visit the university and share their expertise with would-be journalists.

Students can and should contribute even more to the organization of such events, she said.

“[Students can also] work to contact people so they have to work with their network and find out more. I think that can be a really valuable activity for the students.”

Students doing or planning to do a major in journalism should take this advice home because it is not only about contributing to their alma mater. Indeed, it is first and foremost about contributing to their personal and professional growth. In the end, Leonard said, it is up to the students to take the initiative in their own hands and not wait for opportunities to emerge on their own.

“We’ll continue to bring people to campus […] and help students build those networks but ultimately it’s their feet on the ground, their fingers on the text, and on the tweet, and wherever it is, they are the ones that have to make the contacts to move their career forward.”

The issue of student responsibility is also relevant to the creation and operation of media-related clubs on campus. As you already know from a previous blog post of mine, the Documentary Movie Club has over time become the JMC department’s landmark, largely as a result of Gilbert’s passion for documentaries, her commitment to revealing the secrets of the craft to aspiring filmmakers, and her extensive professional contacts. Being more interested in other areas, Leonard said she would not take the lead of the Documentary Movie Club herself. She strongly believes, however, that those of the current club members who are not graduating this year will keep up the enthusiasm and hard-work to ensure the club’s smooth operation in the long-term. Provided they do so, they can count on all the support they need from the department, Leonard said.

In addition to keeping many of the improvements Gilbert has introduced with respect to the media life on campus outside the classroom, Leonard would also like to see more and more opportunities for JMC student and faculties to come together. As of today, two big social events have become an important feature of the department’s calendar: the JMC reception in the beginning of the fall semester and the JMC Rocks toward the end of the spring semester.

Lynnette Leonard, Source: AUBG Daily, aubgdaily.com

Lynnette Leonard, Source: AUBG Daily, aubgdaily.com

Even though we all want to know exactly what is going to happen, Leonard, and indeed whoever is in her shoes, can never predict how things are going to work out half a year or even more in the future. Having talked to Leonard in person for close to an hour, however, I see a bright future for the JMC department. A bright future resulting not so much from specific plans for improvement but from Leonard’s extremely positive attitude and love for journalism which are more than visible to the naked eye.

To be more precise, the JMC department seems to be moving from good hands to other good hands. And I fully agree with Leonard as to what the JMC major should teach AUBG students.

“I think it’s about helping students figure out how they can make it in the world. And I think that’s a strength that we can do, and we do, and we can continue to do.”

STORIFYClick the link below to see my whole Storify story related to JMC at AUBG.

https://storify.com/dani1993/journalism-aubg-style

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Andrey Hadjivasilev and Melody Gilbert’s Steps in the Fire

Hallo, dear readers!

It is a unique Bulgarian custom that takes place once every year, on June 3-4, in Bulgari, a small village in the Burgas region. The two-day ritual comprises a series of processions, folklore music and dances, which together lead to the culmination of the ritual, fire-dancing. Even though this custom also exists in other parts of the country, it is nowhere but in Bulgari where you can witness its most authentic version.

How is this tradition called? Nestinarstvo, a beautiful Bulgarian word that has no direct English translation. The people who walk on fire, in turn, are called nestinari.

Fire-Dancing in the village of Bulgari, Source: Melody Gilbert's Personal Archive

Fire-Dancing in the village of Bulgari, Source: Melody Gilbert’s Personal Archive

While most Bulgarians have probably heard these words and know what they mean, only relatively few have a solid understanding of this custom.

To increase public awareness and encourage the Bulgarian people to preserve their cultural heritage, Andrey Hadjivasilev, a young Bulgarian filmmaker, and Melody Gilbert, a prominent U.S. documentary filmmaker and chair of the journalism and mass communication department at the American University in Bulgaria (AUBG), have captured the beauty and the vivacity of the nestinarstvo in a documentary. Even more, they took on the challenge of producing a 3D documentary, the first Bulgarian documentary in this format.

The documentary, Steps in the Fire, was shown for the first time on March 18, 2015, in front of hundreds of people during the Sofia International Film Festival (SIFF).

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Here is how Gilbert described the premiere:

“It was a full audience, all the people with their 3D glass, of many ages and backgrounds. A lot of Bulgarians came up to me after the screening saying they were very moved by the film […]. We really focused on the country and the beauty of the country, the beauty of the feelings of this tradition and the sharing of this tradition.”

Gilbert said that people from smaller villages felt particularly proud of the fact that a Bulgarian tradition has made it into a movie.

The documentary took two years to produce. While Gilbert visited the two-day holiday only once, Hadjivasilev and some other members of the production team visited it twice to ensure they depict this tradition as truthfully and originally as possible.

The two-day ritual has left a lasting mark on Gilbert’s memory. She vividly recalls feeling the intensity of the emotions around her as well as watching how some of the people fall into a trance and are thus able to dance in the fire without hurting themselves.

How does a non-Bulgarian like Gilbert find the culmination of the ritual?

“Not everybody falls into a trance, some people do, some people don’t. But watching the intensity that they are feeling, the emotions of the icons, and the ritual, and the meaning behind that. That was very beautiful for me. [And] for me, to see so many people dancing the horo (a Bulgarian folk dance in which people hold one another by their hands and dance together) together, it was very emotional. I was amazed that all these people can come together and just do the same dance. It was very beautiful.”

In addition to Gilbert, the team behind the documentary includes one more member of the AUBG community, namely Dimana Doneva, an AUBG alumna of the class of 2014 whom I told you about in great detail in my second blog post.

Doneva’s participation in this project benefited her in two major ways. First, as a young Bulgarian born and raised in the town of Blagoevgrad, Doneva got to know more about a long-lasting Bulgarian tradition taking place on the other side of the country. Second, as a journalism major, Doneva gained her first hands-on experience in documentary filmmaking outside university, in 3D filmmaking to be even more precise.

Doneva said,

“Brainstorming story ideas, shooting, sound recording – all of these were interesting to me. At first, it was difficult for me to approach complete strangers for interviews but the people in this village are very hospitable and kind so I soon got comfortable with this.”

Doneva, who joined AUBG’s Office of Communications and Marketing (OCM) in the beginning of February, has no doubts that she managed to cope with the tasks she was responsible for thanks to the practical dimension of the journalism education she received at AUBG.

“JMC classes at AUBG are very practically oriented so I had chances to shoot, edit and interview as part of my university projects and thus felt prepared. As part of this film project I upgraded my previous skills but also gained new knowledge.”

Andrey Hadjivasilev, Melody Gilbert and their colleagues are now negotiating with Bulgarian TV stations interested in showing Steps in the Fire.

If everything goes well, Steps in the Fire will soon be shown on at least one Bulgarian TV station. Many Bulgarians will thus have the chance to experience some of the magic of Bulgari-style nestinarstvo without the need to even leave their homes. As a result, people who know nothing or only very little about this tradition will make their first steps in the subject.

Because, as Gilbert says:

“That’s why you make a documentary. A lot of times that’s why you tell a story, you make a documentary, because people don’t know about it.”

In the video below you can watch the most interesting bits from my interview with Melody Gilbert.

The most interested in the film among you can also watch Gilbert and Hadjivasilev’s interview on Before Noon, a morning talk show Bulgarians can watch Monday to Friday on BTV, a leading Bulgarian TV channel, to which I provide a link below.

http://www.btv.bg/video/shows/predi-obed/videos/tajnstvoto-da-hodish-po-zharava.html

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AUBG Filmmakers Visit the 17th Thessaloniki Documentary Festival

Hallo, dear readers!

As you already know from my blog post about the Documentary Movie Club at the American University in Bulgaria (AUBG), club members not only watch documentaries and talk to directors or producers on campus but they also undertake various field trips, including trips to internationally renowned film festivals. Their most favorite destination seems to be the Thessaloniki Documentary Festival in Thessaloniki, Greece.

Some of the AUBG students during their trip to Thessaloniki, Credit: Ani Devdariani

Some of the AUBG students during their trip to Thessaloniki, Credit: Ani Devdariani

During the second half of last week, a group of journalism and mass communication (JMC) students from AUBG participated in a four-day trip to the 17th Thessaloniki Documentary Festival. This is the fourth time in a row AUBG students have visited this event, which suggests the university has established a solid presence there.

Credit: Ani Devdariani

Credit: Ani Devdariani

Under the guidance of Melody Gilbert, professor of multimedia journalism and documentary filmmaking and JMC department chair at AUBG, the students attended many screenings, got to know some of the people behind these productions, and thus had the chance to learn more about professional documentary filmmaking first-hand.

One of the students who participated in the field trip is Bojan Mircheski, a second-semester freshman at AUBG coming from Macedonia, a neighbor of Bulgaria to the west. Mircheski has decided to double-major in journalism and mass communication and political science and international relations, and minor in film studies (the newest program at AUBG which was officially announced around a month ago and which I told you about in this post).

Here is what Mircheski said about the field trip:

Bojan Mircheski, Source: Personal Archive

Bojan Mircheski, Source: Personal Archive

“We had the opportunity to meet a lot of filmmakers and to talk with them, [and] to share some experiences. We watched a lot of documentaries made by people from many countries. Prof. Gilbert gave us an opportunity to have a private talk with those filmmakers, which was really great.”

Such field trips offer numerous benefits: seeing documentaries from various countries, networking and feeling the atmosphere characterizing events of this scope and prominence. Hence, Mircheski thinks the question whether AUBG journalism students who missed this trip should join future ones has a simple and concrete answer.

“Of course! This was my first time visiting this film festival but I’m surely going to go next year [as well].”

Below you can watch the news package I have prepared for you.

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