He's worked with moving images for most of his career. From animation to video to the painstaking process of post-production. By day, this Rochester producer, director, and editor helps commercial clients tell their stories in his position at Post Central, a local production house. By evening, weekend, or vacation, he tells stories of people on the edges of America. The oppressed. The imprisoned. The dying.
Social justice is Dave's passion as a documentary filmmaker. It's taken him on a journey with aging gay rights activists, migrant workers, and Great Lakes sailors. And this three-time Emmy winner's latest project: a film about a high-school course in connecting with the terminally ill in hospice.
Death and Other Signs of Life takes place at The Harley School, a private Rochester K-12 grade institution. The film follows a small group of students through the process of serving in hospice care. The program, created and run by Harley educator Bob Kane, is in its eleventh year.
“The film is about beginnings and endings,” Dave says. “What transfers between generations. What's meaningful in life. When you see the relationship they have with people in hospice, there's a wonderful transfer of wisdom that goes both ways.”
The program teaches kids about a profound moment in someone else's life. But there's more.
“It's also a chance for students to look at their own lives,” Dave says. “And think about what they want their lives to be about. These kids get it. They absorb it. And it becomes part of the texture of who they are.”
Students learn that sometimes the best gift of all is just being there.
“Somehow, we believe that we have to have a purpose,” Dave says. “The truth is, at the end of the experience, they understand that 'my presence is enough.' That moment is a wonderful experience for everybody.”
After the first year of filming, Dave and his team decided to capture one more academic year. The film is slated to debut in 2014.
Producing ambitious stories takes money—often in short supply. On a recent project about The 1971 Attica prison uprising (trailer below), Dave and his co-producer turned to crowd-funding site kickstarter.com, raising $15,668, narrowly surpassing their goal.
“There isn't a lot of money for pre-pro, research, production,” he says. “You have to get the film to a point where people can see what you're doing, so you have something to show to apply for grants.”
Owning some of your own equipment helps. So does working at a post-production studio.
“They're very generous with me and let me use stuff if I need it. None of this would happen if I didn't have the resources I have access to.”
Local film-making talent has been generous, too.
“We have a very strong film community here,” Dave says. “I'm lucky that I can tap into that.”
But when you make a real difference, you often get more than you give.
The students Dave is chronicling at Harley understand that, too. He recounts one student who washed a resident's feet and put lotion on them. She passed away later that night.
“It was his willingness to touch. He moved so far in this year to get to the point where he could do that. He made her last moments that much more comfortable,” Dave says.
“That's the gift.”
See more: at Dave's production company, Blue Sky Project
Say hi: on LinkedIn
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Dave teamed up with co-producer Christine Christopher to make Criminal Injustice: Death and Politics at Attica, airing on WXXI this February and being screened at historian conferences through the spring. The film takes a critical look at New York State politics at the time of the 1971 Attica Correctional Facility uprising.