Recent SUNY Oswego graduate Joey Considine and senior Sally Becker created a documentary titled “The Train Up North: The Underground Railroad in Oswego County” highlighting Oswego’s connection to the Underground Railroad. 

The documentary, part of a class assignment during the recent spring semester in their class "Global Documentary Production" class, recently drew attention as part of a June 21 social media post from Oswego County, NY -- the Oswego County Tourism account.

“Oswego County has a long and rich heritage. The chapter on the Underground Railroad is not only significant to our area, but to the whole of our country,” said David Turner, Oswego County director of strategic initiatives. “Recognizing the role our citizens played in the abolitionist movement helps ensure those values are not lost in modern society. We can protect their legacy by sharing their stories and making sure that they –- and all they fought for –- are not forgotten. Social media, with its wide networking capability, is the most effective tool we have to reach more people and accomplish this goal.”

Global documentary perspective

SUNY Oswego communication studies professor Francisco Suarez has been teaching this BRC 460 course for five years, teaching students not only how to tell stories on the screen but how others do so across the globe. 

“BRC 460 is a global documentary class,” Suarez said. “It’s a video production class where we establish the fundamentals of documentary production and documentary storytelling. The word ‘global’ is important because they have to watch documentaries that are produced by international filmmakers that have international subjects and it introduces students to the realities of other places in the world.” 

Considine and Becker embarked on a journey to understand the connection between Oswego and the Underground Railroad, the informal clandestine network that took escaped slaves to Canada. Considine had been inspired to research this after taking "Broadcast News Reporting" with faculty member Michael Riecke the previous semester.

“Part of that class was that as a reporter, you should know the area very well,” Considine said. “We did a little test that asked things like 'How do you pronounce "Scriba?'” and it also mentioned an important local underground railroad site.”

Once they began their research, Considine and Becker found that Oswego and its surrounding areas had a rich history in the abolitionist movement. They trekked to the nearby Oswego County town of Mexico to the Starr Clark Tin Shop and Underground Railroad Museum and spoke with Jim Hotchkiss and Allie Proud about the history maintained within its walls.

“I really loved talking with Jim and Allie at the museum,” Becker said. “It was really nice to feel connected to the community -- it’s a little hard to feel part of the community when you’re a student -- so it felt like I was part of the larger community, too. They didn’t just tell us facts about the underground railroad but also some cool facts about Oswego and Mexico and I loved to get to talk to them. I’m a big history nerd, so they were really helpful with that.”  

“The one thing I took away from this project is people who really care,” Considine said. “The people who work at the Starr Clark Tin Shop were very passionate about the telling of the history of the underground railroad and Starr Clark and Asa Wing as well as other local abolitionists. It’s important that you share these stories and that regardless of what year it is or how long ago the story was, they are always relevant.” 

Considine and Becker also learned about local abolitionist movements like the Jerry Rescue, which is memorialized in a statue in Clinton Square in Syracuse. Escaped slave William Henry had been living in Syracuse when he was captured by police as part of the Fugitive Slave Act. Abolitionists from all around the Central New York area came together to free William, known as Jerry, and were successful breaking into the jail, freeing Jerry and getting him to Canada. 

“This is a documentary -- you have to dig in and find the story behind.” Suarez said.

A future in documentaries

Both Considine and Becker have expressed their desire to create documentaries as their career. By enrolling in Suraez’s class, they both feel more prepared than ever to do so. 

“Part of why I’m a double major in gender and women’s studies is because what I want to do with broadcasting is using documentary and broadcasting as a tool to document stories,” Becker said. “I want to tell stories from around the world. This was the perfect class to do just that and gain that experience.” 

Suarez treats his class like a true professional environment. Students not only pitch their own subject idea for their documentary, but they also pitch their production company name, create storyboards and keep Suarez abreast of any changes and information along the way. 

“The assignment is a 10 to 12 minute documentary where students find a subject, preferably off campus, and research that subject,” Suarez said. “They then follow this person or subject in what is called a ‘sit-down interview,’ and then they need to do a ‘day in the life’ with the subject, where they follow the person or subject for an entire day. I teach the theory of documentary filmmaking to the process and practice of the making of a documentary which is a much more powerful way for them to learn than just giving them the technicality of it.” 

Suarez hopes his students not only want to complete the project just for his class, but also aim their sights higher like film festivals and competitions. 

Learn more

Undergraduate students at SUNY Oswego interested in taking Suarez’s BRC 460 class can find more information in the SUNY Oswego course catalog

Considine and Becker’s documentary is available for viewing and sharing via YouTube or via the link