Documentary film on VOICE work trip to Ocracoke wins top honor

UNC-CH Assistant Professor Joseph Cabosky, with a big smile, holds the glass trophy after winning the award for Best Film at the Arts of the Pamlico’s Marquee on Main Film Festival, Sept. 15, in Washington, N.C. (Staff photo by Carlton Koonce)


Joseph Cabosky received the Best Overall Film Award for his feature documentary, “Writing My Own Happy Ending”, on the Marquee on Main Film Festival in downtown Washington, North Carolina, earlier this month.

Cabosky, an assistant professor at School of Media and Journalism of UNC-Chapel Hill, focuses on diversifying and disrupting strategic communication, public relations and advertising.

The film narrates the story of both newspapers, the Durham VOICE and the Ocracoke Observer, and a trip for the six teen writers to Ocracoke Island in the Outer Banks.

Documentary filmmaker Cabosky focuses in his subject during the shoot on Ocracoke Island, August 2016. (Staff photo by Jock Lauterer)

“The film started from the idea that we needed to document how valuable the Durham VOICE was, particularly to its teen writers,” Cabosky said. “I initially was only going to do an assessment plan, starting with qualitative interviews of the students. Since I thought it’d be best if we captured the students telling their own stories, I decided to film the one-on-one interviews. After doing so, I determined a documentary would be a much more powerful way to tell their story.”

Natasha Graham, 19, of Durham,  and the narrator and co-writer of the film, said that she was nervous at first because she had never been filmed before but later she adjusted along with it because it was something new and exciting for all of the students involved. She is the former teen-editor-in chief of the VOICE, and now a sophomore in Wells College, Aurora, New York.

“Because Joe is so subtle and compassionate, his presence with the camera was never a bother or an intrusion — and in fact, I think added to the realization among the PYO kids that this was something really special — worth recording.” said Jock Lauterer, the founding publisher of the VOICE and the project leader.

The film was shot during the first week of August 2016, and most of the footage came from ethnographically documenting the trip. Together the six teens and four adult leaders visited the island newspaper, the Ocracoke Observer, wrote stories in a completely different environment, and experienced a cultural exchange with the local people.

Graham said her most memorable part of the trip was probably swimming in the Pamlico Sound for the first time.

“I remember just how calm the water was, and how everyone was just enjoying themselves. Because most of us had never swam in such calm water before.” Graham said.

About the film, Graham said, “I felt really good about it. Of course I still cringe every time I hear my narration, just because it’s always weird to hear your own voice aloud. But I was really happy with the end product. And above all I’m so happy that the awesome time in our lives was captured for us to look back on.”

Cabosky thinks documentary is a great way to share the story of the VOICE, and the realities of the VOICE teen writers with other communities and other youth.

He said that he could not believe it when he heard the film won the prize.

“The success of the film means that we’ll be able to reach more and more audiences, so that more people will be able to experience these powerful and amazing kids,” Cabosky said. “And hopefully, it will help the program spread to other towns, communities and schools. ”

Taking a brief moment to tour the historic Turnage Theater in Washington, N.C., before the screening of the documentary film, “Writing My Own Happy Ending,” the Durham VOICE team includes, left to right, Shay Kimzey, PYO associate director of programming; Elijah McCloud, VOICE teen intern; Qaadir McFadden, VOICE teen intern; award-winning film maker and UNC-CH Assistant Professor Joe Cabosky; and LaMon Jones, last year’s VOICE teen editor-in-chief. Cabosky’s documentary on the VOICE beach work-trip to the Ocracoke Observer in August 2016 was named Best Film at the film festival, Sept. 15. (Staff photo by Carlton Koonce)