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Breaking News, Breaking Down filmmaker interview

April 1, 2010
OXFORD TOWN – For the people who tell the stories of other’s tragedies for the world to understand, we often forget that their own experiences of those events are as telling, if not more. While a journalist is trained to remain detached and record the events, in the midst of catastrophe, there are sights and experiences that alter you.
Breaking News, Breaking Down is a 36-minute documentary that looks at the journalists behind the words and cameras during Hurricane Katrina and September 11. The film will play in Oxford on Monday, April 12 at 4 p.m. in the Overby Auditorium, next to Farley Hall on the Ole Miss campus.
Mike Walter was a journalist but on 9/11 became a filmmaker.
“I think it’s the one story that hasn’t been told by journalists and it’s an important one,” Walter said. “We’ve covered how trauma has impacted returning vets, and we’ve shown how it has impacted firefighters, cops and paramedics..but somehow we’ve always maintained that we should be these stoic figures and that we can not be impacted by our work…but that’s ridiculous. I didn’t see it as an issue until it hit me.”
Walter said he looked at these people throughout his two decades in journalism that were suffering bouts of alcoholism, broken marriages and the lightbulb turned on.
“I’ve been a journalist for more than two decades and it took 9/11 to show me this story that was right under my nose the whole time,” Walter said. “Now it’s been great because we’ve shown it all around the world and journalists thank me because they know this is a real issue.”
The documentary mostly follows the story of John McCusker, a photojournalist who helped the New Orleans Times win two Pulitzers for the Hurricane Katrina coverage and then had a mental breakdown.
“But I thought if I was going to examine him and his story I needed to be honest with the audience and tell about my own struggles with trauma and depression following 9/11,” Walter said. ”So I did, and in the process I introduce the audience to David Handschuh who really pointed me in the right direction towards the Dart Center, and Dart Ochberg fellowships, and eventually the Dart Society.”
The Dart Society, which is discussed in the documentary, is a nonprofit organization of journalists who advance the compassionate and ethical coverage of trauma, conflict and social injustice. Members of the society are Dart Center Ochberg Fellows and winners of the Dart and Mimi awards.
“A big chunk of the film is devoted to 9/11 and Katrina. But trauma can impact any reporter…including those just breaking into the business who have to cover the gruesome car wrecks and the impact that has on families,” Walter said. “We absorb all of this stuff…and it can get to you.”
Walter said he hopes what people take away from the film is two-fold.
“For journalists it’s important for them to acknowledge this issue exists and it gives them permission to talk about it, and it also shows them that there are resources like the Dart Society and the Dart Center to reach out to for help,” Walter said. “The other take away is I like the fact that people who are news consumers come up to me after the screening and say they have a new respect for journalists and that they didn’t understand what they go through to get the story. I think given the fact that journalists are losing their jobs right and left in this current environment that is a good thing.”
For the trailer or more information, visit http://breakingnewsbreakingdown.com.
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