This is the third of three stories about Fort Lewis College students making a documentary about uranium mining in and around Durango.
Final shots are being filmed and most of the work has headed to the editing room as a Fort Lewis College class's documentary about the history of uranium in Durango is set to premiere next week.
“This project has proven itself to be a very innovative and ambitious endeavor,” said Stacey Sotosky, an assistant professor who teaches digital video production. “I'm very proud of the work we've accomplished in the last seven weeks. It's been a very unique classroom experience for all.”
This semester, the FLC class partnered with Rocky Mountain PBS to create a five- to seven-minute documentary about the history of uranium in Durango.
Rocky Mountain PBS, for its part, will premiere its own documentary Nov. 2 about uranium issues in Colorado as part of its weekly history series, “Colorado Experience.”
Both films, however, will be shown at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Powerhouse Science Center, 1333 Camino del Rio. A question-and-answer panel will be held after the showing of these documentaries.
Sotosky said her class of about 16 students experienced a new process in the making of “Duranium: The Legacy of Uranium Mining in Durango.”
“There were twists and turns along the way, and we adapted to the story as it evolved,” Sotosky said.
On top of the guidance by Sotosky, students also had the benefit of learning from award-winning documentary flimmaker Carol Fleisher, who is based in Durango and has had her work appear on PBS, NBC and National Geographic, among others.
“I think everyone can hold their heads high given the short time we had for turnaround on this, and the complexity of the subject,” Fleisher said. “I think it holds up great. It's innovative and noteworthy, and creative.”
Fleisher said the film should appeal to a broad audience, but especially those who live in the Durango area and use popular areas such as the Dog Park, which is the former site of a uranium tailings pile.
“I think there's a citizen curiosity and responsibility to find out what, if anything, still lurks in our midst,” she said.
From the 1940s to 1960s, a smelter at the current site of the Durango Park was used to refine uranium. Although the smelter closed in 1963, uranium was still very much a part of Durango.
Over the years, the tailings were used for building foundations throughout town. People reported wind would whip up plumes of dust over town. And the fine tailings pile was even marketed as a year-round ski area.
Remediation projects since the 1980s have sought to cleanup this hazardous side of history, but the FLC class wanted to explore if any issues remain.
“Overall, I think it's going to be an awesome documentary,” said Talulah Gilroy, a senior at FLC. “People can learn some history about Durango they probably didn't know in a friendly way that's not intimidating.”
Jaityn Gomez, also a senior, who lives in Aztec, said making the documentary was a sort of self-education.
“I didn't know anything about the history of uranium here,” she said. “For a lot of people who haven't lived here that long ... I think it'll be helpful.”
Gomez, an English communications major, said she hopes to pursue a career in radio, but working with film this semester took her out of her element and built useful skills.
“I've definitely learned a lot from it compared to past classes I've taken,” she said. “This is more hands-on.”
The class was made possible in part by a $5,000 grant from the Colorado Office of Film, Television and Media. It's part of a broader effort to bring more coverage of the Four Corners to Rocky Mountain PBS through a regional innovation center.
But for now, both teachers and students have their sights set on being ready for next Tuesday.
“It's always nerve-racking when you show the baby for the first time to the public,” Fleisher said. “But we're getting there.”