Through Documentary, Jennifer A. Uihlein Pays Tribute to Her Roots
In February 2008, Hicksville resident Jennifer A. Uihlein started work on a documentary to fulfill a master’s thesis requirement at Hunter College. She began researching, sourcing interview subjects and seeking supplemental media and music while at the same time volunteering in the community. Within a few weeks, Uihlein had secured 12 interviews, which she then filmed over the course of a week.
In May 2008, after a painstaking editing process, Hicksville, 11801, Uihlein’s documentary paying homage to her hometown, screened at the City University of New York Graduate School and University Center.
“Three and a half months for pre-production, production and post-production (editing) for a 45-minute documentary is an extremely tight deadline under any circumstances. When you factor in a full-time job, time is never on your side,” said Uihlein. “When I reflect back to last year, I realize that with focus, determination, passion and commitment to a project, even the tightest deadlines can be realized.”
In September 2008, Hicksville, 11801 celebrated its world premiere at the Long Island Film Festival and on a local level, screened at a Hicksville Historical Society meeting in March 2009. Uihlein is hopeful the documentary will also be part of the 2009 Long Island Fringe Festival, which will take place at the C.W. Post Campus of Long Island University this fall.
But nothing compares to the honor recently bestowed on Hicksville, 11801 and its creator. Uihlein recently learned that the documentary was selected for the Long Island International Film Expo (LIIFE), which begins Friday, July 10 and runs through Sunday, July 19. For the young filmmaker, having her film screened at this event ranks high in the personal accomplishment department.
“I was eager to screen the film at its first international film festival and was delighted when it was selected for the Long Island International Film Expo,” she said. “For me, the LIIFE is the pinnacle achievement for this film. It sends a strong message that while much of local history has not been preserved and recorded, we should celebrate the contributions of our predecessors and appreciate the hamlet we call ‘home.’”
According to Uihlein, whose maternal grandparents emigrated from Ukraine and settled in Hicksville, the idea to create a documentary that focused on local history was a culmination of ideas and observations.
“As a visual artist, I derive my work from personal history and experience. I am reminded that everywhere we walk, work and live, the land covets a story, and we are, in effect, living in our ancestor’s footprints,” Uihlein told the Hicksville Illustrated News.
She added, “Hicksville, as a microcosmic representation of American history, is reflective of the diverse cultural landscape that comprises our nation. As the hamlet continues to evolve and grow, it is important to recognize and document the role it plays in American history, from its significance in the technology, aircraft, textiles and gold beating industries, to its accessible infrastructure that allowed for agriculture trade and commerce.”
In Uihlein’s opinion, Hicksville’s scenery is changing rapidly. “Tree-lined streets have been replaced with parking lots; vast potato fields are now home to shopping and strip malls; and homes now sit on land that was once a Heinz pickle factory and the Long Island Aviation Club,” she said.
The goal of the film, according to Uihlein, is to preserve her hometown’s history. “As a Hicksville resident, I am saddened by the lack of historical preservation. Drive around town, and you won’t find any historical markers, aside from a boulder at the interesection of Cantiaque Rock Road and West John Street,” Uihlein said. “Other towns, including the Town of Huntington and the Town of Islip, proudly display historical markers throughout the area.”
Making the Documentary
Unlike mega-million dollar budgeted Hollywood blockbusters, documentaries are oftentimes created on a shoestring budget and with a lot of collaboration and help along the way. “Collaboration is essential to the success and integrity of the project,” said Uihlein, who credits many for their assistance with the documentary.
“Although I was not graced with an endless budget, I was fortunate to enlist the dedication and assistance of friend and colleague Vincent Shields, who worked as my director of photography,” she said. “We often discussed working on a project together, and when I came to him and said ‘I need to get this done, and I don’t have much time,’ he jumped right in and offered to assist in any way possible.”
Uihlein’s thank you list also includes several others, including Hicksville’s own historian Richard Evers, reference librarian James J.J. Janice and Gregory Museum historian Paul Manton along with Assemblyman Rob Walker, Oyster Bay Town Councilwoman Rose Marie Walker and Oyster Bay Town Historian John E. Hammond. Uihlein told the Hicksville Illustrated News that she is “deeply indebted” to her thesis advisor Dr. Isabel Pinedo and thesis committee members Dr. Steve Gorelick and Gordon Jenkins.
“Certainly, my deepest appreciation is extended to my family, whom I dedicate this project to,” she added.
A 32-year resident, Uihlein attended Burns Avenue and East Street Elementary Schools, and Hicksville Middle and High Schools. Upon graduation, she attended Fordham University where she earned a bachelor’s degree in media studies with a minor in creative writing. Hicksville, 11801 satisfied the thesis requirement for her master’s of fine arts degree in integrated media arts from Hunter College.
Despite her diverse academic background, Uihlein greatly credits her experiences in Hicksville Schools for her love and success as a filmmaker.
“In second grade I remember a school field trip about Hicksville. Our escort was none other than former Hicksville educator and historian Richard Evers. Now, some 24 years later, Mr. Evers appears in my film. If only I had a videocamera then!” Uihlein said, adding, “My first introduction to documentary filmmaking was during an after-school gifted and talented class at the middle school, which was taught by Hicksville Senior High School history teacher Dr. Lemmey. Although we never produced a documentary film, the wheels were already in motion while we discussed various shooting techniques and experimented with a VHS videocamera. Technology has really come a long way.”
Hicksville, 11801 marks Uihlein’s second work as director and editor. In 2004, her first documentary, Saying I Do, celebrated its world premiere in Huntington and was screened at several film festivals and lectures throughout the country as well as in Australia. Saying I Do won awards at various film festivals, including two best student documentary awards, a second place-best documentary award and an audience award for best documentary. The documentary also earned Uihlein a grant and acknowledgment from the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures.
Despite her success, Uihlein told the Hicksville Illustrated News that there was a time when she herself didn’t appreciate documentary films. “I envisioned moving to Hollywood and becoming the next breakout director,” she said. “It wasn’t until one of my professors introduced me to cinéma vérité and the likes of Chris Marker, Frederick Wiseman and the Maysles brothers that I realized the great artistic and storytelling-potential of documentary films.”
It is her hope, said Uihlein, that in the future, Hicksville, 11801 will be included in the local school district’s curriculm so that “one day, 25 years from now, a student will have a similar fond memory of Hicksville as I did during my field trip with Mr. Evers,” Uihlein said. In the meantime, she plans to spend the remainder of the year submitting Hicksville, 11801 to various film festivals and conferences and is working to have the documentary made available for circulation at the Hicksville Public Library.
Hicksville, 11801 will screen at the Long Island International Film Expo at Bellmore Movies on Friday, July 10 at 3:30 p.m.