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GW faculty member wins Emmy for documentary

GW’s Center for History in the Media, a division of GW’s history department, has one more acclaim to add to its list: an Emmy Award.

The documentary, A Paralyzing Fear: The Story of Polio in America, written, directed and produced by CHM Director Nina Seavey, received the award for Best Research in a News or Documentary Program at the annual presentation Sept. 8.

Seavey’s documentary was nominated for three awards, including best music and best editing – half the number of nominations that the Discovery Channel earned.

“We are simply delighted that the work of Nina Seavey, and Center for History in the Media has been recognized in the awarding of an Emmy,” Lester Lefton, dean of the Columbian School of Arts and Sciences wrote in a press release.

While the Emmy is the “award that people do know,” Seavey said other “substantial” awards the CHM receives go unnoticed. A Paralyzing Fear won four other national awards, including the Golden Higo Award for Best Film in History and Biography.

Seavey said the process to create the film began in 1994 when she focused her Historical Film Production class on the polio epidemic. After her graduate students created a small film about the disease, Seavey decided to create a larger production unveiling the social impact of the epidemic through the “lens of polio,” she said.

Seavey said she received a total of $1.3 million from the National Endowment for Humanities and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to produce her film. While the film was part of the class curriculum in her graduate courses, Seavey said the project had a professional orientation.

Seavey’s research efforts for the film included scavenging 40 depositories around the country for photographs and video footage, interviewing 100 victims, family members, doctors and journalists affected by polio and traveling to India to study immunization procedures. She said a March of Dimes archive, containing 3,000 films and 5,000 photographs dating back to 1916, proved beneficial to the film.

Some films in the archive showed footage of former President Franklin D. Roosevelt in a polio ward before his presidency.

“There had never been any film footage of him like this,” Seavey said.

Jeff Pingree, the film’s director of research and director of GW’s Institute for Historical Documentary Filmmaking, said Seavey’s ability to tap important resources was crucial to creating a great film.

“We did solid, deep research and had access to unusual, rich resources,” he said.

Pingree and Lucinda Leach, the film’s director of archival motion picture research, accepted the Emmy at the award ceremony.

The process of creating A Paralyzed Fear is an example of the combination of professional, award-winning filmmaking and classroom learning that CHM offers its students, Seavey said.

Students and interns worked on the production of the film at University production facilities. GW owns one-third of the rights to A Paralyzing Fear, Seavey said.

“There is no other place in the country that does what we do,” Seavey said.

Seavey said CHM has come a long way since she started the program in 1991.

“Back then it was sort of me putting up posters around campus to get students to come,” Seavey said. “Now students come from all over the world to do this.”

Students in CMH experience something different from other universities in that they get to work alongside an experienced filmmaker with access to large budgets and state-of-the-art equipment.

Seavey is shooting a documentary that chronicles the travels of seven Russian country singers, and she said she hopes to push the department further by possibly working with the School of Media and Public Affairs in the future.

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