On May 2, the student-made documentary “Betting on Bethlehem” will premiere at Donegan Elementary School at 6 p.m.
The film focuses on the multiple different ways that Sands Casino has impacted the local community in South Bethlehem. The premiere comes just two weeks before the casino will celebrate its 10-year anniversary on May 22.
From it’s very inception the film was produced and edited by a team of three Lehigh students; Caroline Kelliher, ’18, ’19G, Kari Moffat, ’17, ’19G and Delaney McCaffrey, ’19, who is a Brown and White editor. The team later included students of other majors who could help with marketing and community outreach.
The documentary started as a Mountaintop project during summer 2018, where Kelliher, Moffat and McCaffrey had the opportunity to research, study and dive deep into the different components of the story.
The project was extended into the school year, as the students got the opportunity to travel around the country and continue the project as a class in the spring semester.
With the help of the Creative Inquiry Initiative and Mountaintop funding, the team got the chance to travel to Boston, Charleston, South Carolina, and Northwestern University in Illinois. The group used this time to interview a number of people who are professional specialists and scholars on casinos and the casinos’ impacts on local communities.
The team has also spent hours interacting with the local community in Bethlehem, interviewing and interacting with residents who can explain how the Sands has affected their lives.
Michael Kramp, an English professor and the director of the film and documentary studies program, proposed the project idea to the students. He said the original idea for the project came about two or three years ago from Mary Foltz, an English professor and the co-director of the South Side Initiative, which aims to bring together the Lehigh and South Bethlehem communities.
Kramp said it was up to the students to determine which direction they want to take the project in, allowing them to have complete creative control on what they want the story to become.
“I think a lot of times faculty talk about student-driven work or student-centered work, but I think I can absolutely, thoroughly say this is a student project,” Kramp said. “They have called the shots throughout.”
The team realized the amount of material they had on their hands and knew there would be some important decisions to make about what the film will end up showcasing.
Moffat said that the project has been complicated, which also excites her the most about the process.
“It’s so complicated and we can make 20 different films out of this one idea,” Moffat said.
Throughout their journey as students, producers, editors and filmmakers, the team learned a lot about the local South Side community.
They discovered both the political and economic impacts that the presence of a casino brings to the neighborhood.
“The kind of things we were asking in the beginning of the summer we’re completely different from the story we are telling now” Kelliher said, looking back at how the research component has affected both the creative process and the production of the film itself.
Through their filming journey, the team learned the impact the casino and documentary can have on the university as well.
“I think a lot of people who are invested in Bethlehem, and specifically professors, are trying to break down the idea of ‘Sketchlehem’ by telling students that it’s this great, diverse place, but nobody told us that,” Kelliher said. “We are allowed to find that out ourselves by engaging with the community and actually seeing for ourselves how much they care.”