After roughly a year and a half, senior Eric Newnham has put together a documentary about the Lincoln-Douglas debates, and it all starts in 1858. The documentary consists of a handful of interviews from Knox faculty and staff who had more to say than Newnham could have imagined.
“This is an extraordinary collection of some amazing professors and staff doing a series of interviews and giving a masterclass on 1858, the politics of the United States, on Lincoln, his life and the debates,” Newnham said.
Newnham’s original plan was to only make a short film during the month of June. During his extensive research, which included speaking to professors, gathering information in the Knox Archives and frantically searching the Lincoln Library in Springfield, he felt that there was too much to say than just the script he had put together.
“The interviews were so extraordinary and so rich with history,” he said. “I felt a responsibility and saw a great opportunity to package these interviews in a documentary form.”
Professor of Africana Studies Frederick Hord was one of the professors interviewed for Newham’s research. Hord has been writing a book starting at the same spot as Newnham, 1858, about Lincoln as well. He hopes that students will support not only the film, but the book he will be putting out within a year.
“I really think that if students, white, black or otherwise, read the book from cover to cover, that it would move students on this campus,” Hord said. “They would understand each other and maybe themselves a little bit better.”
Newnham hopes to bring more awareness to the history of Knox’s campus. He found it interesting that both the book Hord is writing, and the film Newnham is putting together are both based in 1858.
“It’s just an important year like Fred says in the documentary. If we all had a greater understanding, it would probably make us all better Americans,” Newnham said
The entirety of the documentary was put together and edited on Newnham’s tablet. He received a Richter Grant for his scripted film to make sure there was more of a budget to utilize. He also has an “Indiegogo” to help him fundraise for a longer film. His original intention was to have the film be 58 minutes long to pay homage to the year 1858. Now the film has been cut to around 25 minutes long. Yet, Newnham is not worried. He is just thankful for the students and faculty getting involved to tell this story.
“It takes a village to make a really good film. If everyone wanted to participate, we could make that happen,” Newnham said, “We want to encourage people to get interested in history and see how we’re all connected. It’s just remarkable.”
Sophomore Julian Bowens Robinson has taken on a role in social media for the film. At the premiere of the documentary on April 26 in Kresge, Newnham praised Bowens Robinson for his interest in the project and all his help in the social media aspect.
“They have kind of given me a free-range, so I guess I’m probably just going to spread out between multiple platforms. But the big thing is they have an Indiegogo, that’s really what needs to be pushed so they can get funding,” Bowens Robinson said on his role in the film.
Bowens Robinson originally got involved because of his love for history documentaries, and found it interesting that there is so much history involved on this campus. He also thought the role on the film team would help him in the future with his work as a blogger.
“So much of the stuff I do now, work-wise, is through media so I want to try to enhance that skill,” Bowens Robinson said.
Newnham hopes that more students get involved as he continues. The film will be shot on June 8 and 9, the weekend after Knox’s graduation. Newnham wants students to know that even if they are not here for the summer, there is much to be done before then.
“It’s not just acting. We need electricians … carpenters … people in wardrobe, in make-up, computer science, social media,” Newnham said.
Walking at graduation means everything to Newnham, who waited 28 years to return for his senior year. He wants to leave something to be remembered as he steps off of Knox’s campus once again. He hopes that these projects will do that.
“I don’t want to just graduate, I want to do something impactful,” Newnham said. “I want to make a difference. I get so excited and want to do everything.”