On Jan. 30 and 31, Jonathan Shaw, an alumnus of Christ the King School in Snyder and filmmaker who has relocated to Hollywood, came to the Buffalo Museum of Science to speak with Catholic schools' seventh-grade students as part of the diocesan STREAM initiative. STREAM focuses on integrating the diverse fields of science, technology, religion, engineering, arts and math into the classroom setting.
Each day, students gathered in an auditorium at the science museum for a screening of Shaw's "Finding Noah," a documentary that chronicles a group of explorers and their dangerous expedition to the summit of Mount Ararat in Turkey to search for scientific evidence of Noah's Ark. After watching it, they asked questions of Shaw, the movie's producer, co-writer and editor, and engaged in special hands-on work sessions designed to incorporate what they learned in the film for their Catholic Schools Week experience.
"I am one of you. I came through the same school system you did, and I give a shout-out to all my Christ the King people out there," Shaw told the students in attendance. "I just feel really, really thankful for everything that's happened here with the STREAM program. They came to us, saw the film and they embraced what we did here, and they created this wonderful thing that you are going to experience today."
According to Shaw, one of his lifelong dreams, after having sat in the same classrooms as many of the students, was to come back to the Buffalo area with a film. In life, it is impossible for people to know if something larger than themselves is out there unless they go out and actually look for it. Whether it is climbing a mountain, making films or looking for disease cures, it is possible to find a solution, he said.
With Shaw was Brent Baum, the movie's director and co-producer, who came to the Buffalo Museum of Science last year for a similar event and screening. Shaw was not able to make that trip.
The mountain climbers and camera crew had to get permission from the Turkish government to go to the summit. Baum explained that since there is an active war between Kurdish rebels and the Turkish government, some of the most dangerous and tense moments were left out of the film. The team members were not allowed to take guns into Turkey. Many people who were interviewed for jobs as camera operators turned the job down when they found out they would be going into a war zone, and the team brought security guards.
"We also had the benefit of having a tribe of Kurds who were our partners in this. You can't just go to Turkey, and you can't just say, 'Hey, I'm going to climb this mountain.' You can't rent a car in Istanbul and drive over there, because the Kurdish guerrillas will blow that car off the mountain because they don't know who you are," Baum said. "In (a) preliminary scout trip, we had to go and negotiate with the tribal leaders of the different Kurdish factions - and when I say 'negotiate,' that means we had to pay them some money. But once we were on their team and we were together, we were under their protection."
Other challenges included the effects of oxygen deprivation, since air becomes thinner at high altitudes and this affected the mental faculties and energy level of the climbers. Faith often helped the participants, including Catholics and Baptists, when times became especially rough. Shaw expressed his belief that "the hand of God" often intervened to make many adverse situations work out for them in the end.
"Being a Catholic, when I was brought to this project, I hadn't really spent a lot of time thinking about the ark and about Noah, so that has made me kind of go back and start examining things about my faith, and having a closer look at things," Shaw said. "I learned a lot of things in a different way, in the sense that I had to think about what the subject matter is and how to present it to you. It became a different journey. We were able to do a lot of research, but it did make me kind of redefine who I am as a Catholic."
"Somewhere in the midst of a terrible journey, there are wonderful things that happen, and so while we endured the difficulties of the mountain, the opportunity for us to share this experience with people is what has been the most exciting thing for me," Baum remarked. "It's great to conquer a mountain, but what you learn in the process of conquering the mountain is that there's another mountain just beyond that, and there's another challenge in life that you're going to have to face. I say, look at the terrible journey with a smile, because it's an experience that you are going to look back on and think how wonderful it really was."
After watching the documentary, students participated in courses with names such as "Contemporary Weather Disasters," "Epic Fail," "Arctic Archaeology" and "Middle East Conflict," where they could implement some of the material in the film. The activities allowed youth to build their own seismometers, work on a simulated dig site and hear stories from an individual who lived in the Middle East.
"Jonathan lives in Hollywood. He's a Hollywood producer. He's done TV movies, he has done regular movies and all sorts of things," Sister Carol Cimino, SSJ, superintendent of Catholic schools, commented. "You're from Buffalo, and you go to a Catholic school in Buffalo. Look at the possibilities you have. One day, one, two, five or a hundred of you might go to Hollywood and be a movie producer."
According to Sister Carol, no other group of children outside of the Diocese of Buffalo has been given the opportunity to watch this documentary, engage in discussion with the filmmakers and participate in the activities. She told the students, "When you go home tonight, tell everybody, 'We did something that only kids in Buffalo in the Catholic schools did.' This is a great expression of your STREAM program."