|Mark Jeevaratnam '10 Is Semifinalist in Project: Report Video Competition
April 16, 2010
Contact: Stacey Schmeidel, 704/894-2798
Davidson, NC -- Mark Jeevaratnam may be one of the best reporters on YouTube, according to the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.
A video by the Davidson College senior has earned Jeevaratnam semifinalist status in the center's "Project: Report." Viewers are invited to vote to decide which of the 10 semifinalists will receive a $10,000 travel grant from the Pulitzer Center to work on an international reporting project. The deadline for voting is Sunday, April 18.
Jeevanatram's video, "For Higher Ground," focuses on a Harlan County, Ky., community drama group with a program to combat prescription drug addiction. The film also examines the underlying issue of mountaintop removal, a form of coal mining that's common in Southern Appalachia, exploring the impact that the practice has on the environment and the culture of local communities.
Jeevaratnam made "For Higher Ground" over the course of a month, after advancing to the semifinalist round of the Pulitzer Center competition. (His first-round film profiled Davidson College employee Sharon Hill, "the smile of Commons.")
For the semifinalist round, Jeevaratnam had to create a film about an issue that was underreported or inaccurately portrayed by the national media. As one of just two semifinalists from the South, Jeevaratnam said he wanted to focus on something "with regional pull." He brainstormed ideas with Fuji Lozada, associate professor of anthropology. A series of Davidson connections led to the final topic choice; Katie Epstein '10 had done her thesis on mountaintop removal in rural Appalachian communities, and she recommended talking to Matt Samson, visiting assistant professor of anthropology, who knew the director of Common Ground. And thus the film was born.
Once Jeevaratnam started working on the documentary, he developed a sense of how layered and complex the issues were. "Prescription drug abuse is the surface level issue," he said, "but I wanted to go deeper than that. Mountaintop removal limits employment opportunities in these rural towns, and it leaves a lot of people unemployed. Mining is hard work, dangerous work , and so a lot of retired miners have prescriptions for pain relievers. There's a market for these prescriptions to be sold on the street.
"I felt it was important to portray the issues fairly, and I wanted to portray the people as human beings who deserve to be treated with dignity," Jeevaratnam said. "I didn't want to contribute to the hillbilly stereotype."
Jeevaratnam learned about the Project: Report competition from Lozada and contacts in Davidson's Dean Rusk International Studies Program. "Film was something that I'd done a little bit in high school," he said. This past summer - with an Abernethy grant and support from the Dean Rusk International Studies Program and the Ernest K. Patterson Fund-he went to the Philippines to make a film about Filipino workers and labor remittances. "Davidson gave me the opportunity to go abroad, make that film and discover my passion," he said.
The five people who get the most votes at this stage of the Project: Report competition receive $10,000 grants to travel abroad and make another movie. Jeevaratnam said that if he wins, he'd like to go to his father's home country, Sri Lanka, and make a documentary about the recent ethnic civil war there. "It's definitely an issue that's close to my heart," he said, "and I would be honored to be able to tell that story."
Regardless of the outcome of the Project: Report competition, Jeevaratnam hopes to pursue filmmaking after graduating from Davidson in May. "I enjoy telling people's stories and making connections, earning people's trust," he said. "Filmmaking is a great way to give voice to the voiceless."
Davidson is a highly selective independent liberal arts college for 1,800 students located 20 minutes north of Charlotte in Davidson, N.C. Since its establishment in 1837 by Presbyterians, the college has graduated 23 Rhodes Scholars and is consistently regarded as one of the top liberal arts colleges in the country. Through The Davidson Trust, the college became the first liberal arts institution in the nation to replace loans with grants in all financial aid packages, giving all students the opportunity to graduate debt-free. Davidson competes in NCAA athletics at the Division I level, and a longstanding Honor Code is central to student life at the college.