September 19, 2017  

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Southern Miss Film Students Capture Lightyears of History

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This summer, 13 University of Southern Mississippi film students have been involved in creating a documentary about the transport of an Apollo rocket booster to the INFINITY Science Center in Pearlington, Miss. From left to right: students Colton Comans and Noah Beasley; film instructor Vincenzo Mistretta; astronaut Fred Haise; and students Audrey Christine Cahill, Jennifer Windom and Neha Sharma. Not pictured: Kenneth Homer, equipment manager, and students Thomas Carpenter, Hunter Schulpius, Alexis Antoine Cooper, Sally Smith, Mia Esters, Jonathan Clint Haley, Dillon Hatcher and Forest Jourden.

University of Southern Mississippi film students were offered the opportunity to capture history this summer in a developing documentary detailing a space relic’s journey from Louisiana to Mississippi.

In early June, 13 basic and advanced film studies students from the University’s Gulf Park campus in Long Beach began filming the voyage of a forgotten spacecraft known as the S-IC-15, or Saturn V rocket stage, from NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans to the INFINITY Science Center in Pearlington.

Originally scheduled for the cancelled Apollo 19 moon-landing mission in 1970, the S-IC-15 is the last remaining Saturn V three-stage rocket from the Apollo program known to exist. Sitting at 360 tons and 138-foot long, the rocket booster resided at Michoud unpreserved for more than 45 years, weathering the elements.

In order to preserve this reminder of America’s achievements in space exploration, Biloxi native and Apollo 13 astronaut Fred Haise, who also sits on the INFINITY board, advocated moving the rocket booster to the center where it could be kept and showcased for generations to come.

To record this momentous move, Southern Miss film instructor Vincenzo Mistretta was contacted by the Mississippi Film Office to produce a documentary for INFINITY. Since he was already in search of a large project for his students, Mistretta thought this would be a great opportunity for them to gain real-world experience and be involved in a project important to their community.

“One of the goals here at the USM film program is to build connections with the community and give our students opportunities to develop not only as capable filmmakers but active and participating citizens,” he said.

The students were tasked with creating a 15-minute film for the center that would chronicle the move of the rocket stage from Michoud to INFINITY and that would provide a brief history about the Apollo missions and Fred Haise’s participation in the space program. They will also create a longer version of the film with more details to submit to film festivals and distribution outlets like television.

Throughout the month of June, the students rotated in teams to cover the initial preparations for the move, the transport of the rocket booster and the reception held afterward.

The actual relocation of the rocket booster was a 10-day process, which began with the booster being loaded onto a barge at Michoud’s docks. The students set up cameras at various locations along the transportation route in order to record the booster’s journey from New Orleans into the Pearl River and then to NASA’s John C. Stennis Space Center in Hancock County. Once at Stennis, the booster was transported overnight across Interstate 10 before arriving at its final destination at INFINITY.

Junior film studies student Noah Beasley said that although the work to document the move was a complicated and tedious one, the project was one of the best and biggest learning experiences of his life.

Serving as one of the camera operators, Beasley was with the booster from the time it left Stennis to its arrival in Pearlington.

“I learned just how difficult it is to make a movie, especially a documentary like this. We had to depend on the guys at NASA and INFINITY to let us now when they were doing things, and sometimes things just didn't work out,” he said. “They weren't going to stop and wait for us, and they definitely weren't going to redo anything if our cameras weren't running. So we really had to be on the ball.”

Sophomore film studies student Audrey Cahill also agreed that she had to be quick on her feet if she wanted to carry out her responsibilities as production manager efficiently. 

“I think first and foremost, I gained a lot of self-confidence,” she said. “As a film student, I had to adjust to a lot of different environments, both in terms of locations and in meetings with officials from the different facilities.”

Throughout the entire project, Cahill was in charge of scheduling meetings with INFINITY officials, scheduling film shoots and coordinating shoots with the students who severed as film crews for the project. As someone who grew up during a time when the space program was of paramount significance, Cahill said she felt a special connection to the project.

“I had no idea two years ago that I would have an opportunity be a part of a film documenting the moving and preserving of a piece of NASA history,” she said. “I am from a generation that had more exposure to the exploration of space, and I remember telling my crew that not only were we documenting history, but we were also making history.”

According to Mistretta, the students have grown tremendously in their respective roles.

“The student’s dedication and perseverance was evident in the hours we had to work. Above all, they gained crucial experience on how a documentary film is produced and all the hard work that is involved,” he said. “They can truly say they made it. This experience will further their development as professionals, and they will learn to work in a collaborative environment.”

While the students have completed a substantial amount of work on the documentary, their job is not yet done. They will continue to work on the production stage, set up interviews with key personnel, and catalog and transcribe footage for the post-production stage and editing. Mistretta said he hopes to have the project finished by the end of spring semester 2017.

A screening of the film and a release party will be held at INFINITY Science Center upon completion.

Students interested in studying film can now earn a Bachelor of Arts in entertainment industry with an emphasis in film at The University of Southern Mississippi. In a partnership between Southern Miss and Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College (MGCCC), MGCCC students now have the opportunity to enroll into the Film Studies Pathway program, an academic degree route designed to provide MGCCC students with the opportunity to take recommended university courses while enrolled at the community college.

For further information about the bachelor’s degree in entertainment industry, with an emphasis in film, or the Film Studies Pathway, contact the Office of Admissions at 228.214.3444 or gcadmissions@usm.edu.