Student catches recognition for her work

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A Flagler College student’s documentary about midwifery was screened at the St. Augustine Film Festival in January.
Elise Kolmer, who graduated from the college with a degree in journalism and media production in December 2018, calls her project, “The Fourth Wave: Catching Babies.”
After it was shown at the film festival, she said her documentary shed light on a topic that is seldom debated in public. She wrote:

I didn’t even pay attention to the screen, as I was too busy looking around the room at the audience. I saw jaws physically dropping as my film played. I’d put money on the fact that half the room was uncomfortable and the other half was absolutely in awe that these births were being projected on the big screen. And then I thought, I’m not doing my job if I’m not making people uncomfortable with these clips and information. We’ve got a lot of unlearning to do.

During her final semester at Flagler, Kolmer traveled throughout Florida to interview midwives, attend births and learn more about the issues at the forefront of the industry.
Her documentary touches on maternal mortality rates, the healthcare disparities between white mothers and mothers of color and other issues affecting midwives in the United States.
Kolmer directed, shot and edited the film, which premiered at a private screening on Dec. 7 in the Gamache-Koger Theater at Flagler College. Flagler College journalist Katie Garwood caught up with Kolmer afterward and asked her a few questions.

Garwood: What inspired you to do this?

Kolmer: I met a student midwife while I was working at a retail shop downtown. The first night that we met, she told me this insane story about an encounter she had at a hospital in Palatka, if I’m not mistaken. She told me there were just huge disparity gaps between white women and women of color and that she witnessed this herself, how the staff treated a black mother compared to a white mother and assumptions they would make about each mother, though they came from similar circumstances or socioeconomic class or something like that. So meeting her, it just really snapped in me and I just couldn’t get it off my mind.

I was taking Reporting I with [Dr. Paige] Chapman and so I had to write a bunch of stories and that first led me to writing an article on midwifery in America. I researched it some more, and then it wasn’t done with me and then I just kept wanting to further educate myself and do more research and develop a more expansive story on it. And then Mallory Hopkins was in the middle of doing her documentary, so she was telling me about the process and it inspired me to follow her path of doing a documentary and so that’s what led me to here.

Garwood: What have you learned throughout the process?

Elise Kolmer with her mentor, Dr. Nick Serenati.

Kolmer: I think overall I’ve learned that women’s rights have a long way to go, despite how much progress we’ve made since the first wave of feminism, I think that this documentary has opened my eyes to the progress that we still have to do, but also, you know, the powerful connections that we can make because of this huge inequality that is still in place in America and around the world.

Garwood: What sort of technical skills have you gained from working on this documentary?

Kolmer: I think that it was totally based off of what classes I was taking, Tracey Eaton really challenged me to work more on my photography, my videography and my technical skills and my editing skills. And then Chapman really challenged me to expand thoughts on subjects and to dig deeper into stories. Then I met [Dr. Nicholas] Serenati who really took an interest in me and my story, and then he invested in the tools that the department had to help me really do as much as I could possibly do to really cover this topic … Serenati further developed my skills, with specifically Adobe Premiere Pro.

And so I think that my main progress has been with editing, but also through the process, over the months of talking with all of these different people and all over Florida within their different industries. You know, I saw right before my very eyes my progress with communicating to people and how quickly I can set up a video interview.

Garwood: What kind of difficulties have you faced kind of along the way?

Kolmer: I think difficulties that I faced actually are like a lot of personal setbacks, because this topic is so close to home, per se. Through the research I uncovered a lot of deep rooted issues that I think every woman unknowingly deals with. So a lot of overcoming a lot of personal hardships. But also with any journalist, overcoming and finding a way around something that’s stopping me from finishing the interview, whether it be the zoom will stop recording after 30 minutes, or the camera shuts off after 30 minutes. So I’ve become more crafty with the way that I have to in the moment, handle a situation. I can do that much more fluidly now. So I think it’s upped my level of professionalism as well.

Garwood: What have you enjoyed most about this whole experience?

Kolmer: The [midwifery] communities that I have come in contact with, they are the most uplifting and empowering community. I’m really grateful that I’ve met everybody, because I think that the connections that I made now – not only with the midwifery community but also with Flagler, and how supportive professors have been and other colleagues in the journalism department – I know that these connections will stay with me forever and continue to follow me wherever I go. [They will] do anything they can to see me be successful and go to the next chapter of whatever work I’m doing. That’s what I’m really grateful for.

Elise Kolmer

Garwood: How do you plan on using some of these skills that you’ve learned in doing the documentary once you graduate?

Kolmer: For interviews and on paper, I think that this project has really put me ahead, compared where I was before I even started this. I think I definitely upped my level, if that makes sense. I upped where I was because I’ve gotten so much experience and a lot under my belt to help me successfully, and most importantly, feel confident in talking to employers who I probably wouldn’t have had the confidence to reach out, even if I think I’m under qualified. I think after doing this project I can confidently sell myself in order to get the job, get the interview, get the application, get to that next step.

Garwood: What do you plan on doing with the documentary?

Kolmer: I plan on fine tuning it with the absolute final cut and then I’m going to enter into film festivals. So really film festivals and then also I’m going to be selling a few copies to midwifery schools, so to help educate other midwives who are studying and taking tests, and Doulas as well. Doula schools in Virginia, Georgia and Florida so far. The ultimate goal was to educate. I hope to just expand it and let it bleed into all these other facets of industries so they can also spread knowledge and benefit from that.

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