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Professor creates award-winning documentary amid pandemic 

Professor Virginia Orzel | Photo credit: SUNY Brockport
Professor Virginia Orzel | Photo credit: SUNY Brockport

By John Lutz | Entertainment Editor 

SUNY Brockport journalism and broadcasting professor Virginia Orzel completed her documentary, “The Fight for Your Life” last semester. The film explores the impacts of the various forms of dementia on people who are diagnosed. It also explores the physical, mental and the emotional toll that caretakers of those with a form of dementia must    deal with.   

The documentary, which took Orzel about four years to develop and produce, gained recognition and earned her a Silver Telly Award as well as three awards from The Impact Docs Awards Competition. However, with about two-thirds of the documentary filmed, the COVID-19 lockdown began and eliminated Orzel’s ability to film in nursing homes.  

“The awards mean a lot. I think this documentary meant more because I felt so insecure about it. I didn’t finish the film,” Orzel said. “I wanted to interview some more doctors that could speak specifically on these diseases. I think it would have been better had I been able to go to their office and actually get them working with patients. I felt like I was kind of patching it to tell the story, using footage I wouldn’t have used to tell the story.”  

“The Fight for Your Life” is Orzel’s third documentary to be picked up for distribution, and she found that it was much easier to get distributed than her previous work.  

“The first time I got a distribution deal it was difficult because they didn’t know me as a filmmaker. I’ve had such successful films [since then] that this time, I sent it out, and it was picked up within a week,” Orzel said.  

While getting a distribution deal was easy, the documentary brought other challenges. Not only did Orzel face challenges brought on by the COVID-19 shutdown, but the topic of the film brought along its own emotional baggage.   

“Every time I got home from work or I cut off editing at home, I watched comedy. I liked ‘Hot in Cleveland,’ and I ended up watching the entire six seasons three times through, because you need relief somewhere,” Orzel said.   

While making the documentary, this emotional stress continued to weigh on Orzel. However, she used this challenge to her advantage.   

“You have that emotional component which makes you more compassionate. When you’re talking to people, you’re having a deeper conversation,” Orzel said.  

After making three documentaries, Orzel has started to explore other avenues           within media.   

Unreal Engine is a software developed by Epic Games that connects virtual reality and real-life footage. Orzel has been exploring the variety of creative options Unreal Engine presents, from an interactive museum to a virtual tour of foreign countries.   

“My next project could be a film all made from Unreal Engine, or it could be a combination of Unreal Engine and video. That’s kind of where I’m thinking now, but where that will lead, I’m not sure,” Orzel said.  

Either way, Orzel says she is proud of her latest documentary, especially given the drastic challenges she faced while completing the film. The awards are just confirmation of a job well done.   

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