Doc from Pa. filmmaker gives voice to trauma of first responders
The Emmy, tucked in a dark corner of Melody Vision Studio in Plymouth Meeting, is an apt metaphor for Rodney Whittenberg's humble approach to his craft. Award-winning composer of soundtracks for 33 films, musician, filmmaker and sound engineer, the 52-year-old renaissance man says, "It's all about storytelling."
Whittenberg's own story started out in Yeadon where, at the age of 12, he built a synthesizer keyboard in his family's basement out of components from RadioShack. That was his first instrument. Following Settlement School Summer Camp and attending UArts, Whittenberg's repertoire expanded to include guitar, bass, drum and piano.
The 200-year-old farmhouse, where Whittenberg provides music and video production services, is filled with acoustic and electric guitars, giving the impression that, at any time, he might indulge in an impromptu jam session. "I used to be into heavy metal," he admits. But the image on his t-shirt isn't Mötley Crüe. It's Ghandi.
When he's not telling his own stories through his music, Whittenberg helps others tell theirs as a creative consultant — which is how he became involved with "Caregivers," a documentary film about secondary trauma, the crippling stress experienced by first responders, the police, firefighters, nurses, social workers and EMTs who are on the front line of natural and biological disasters and violence.
The stars of the film are local men and women who investigate child abuse, neo-natal nurses who mourn the deaths of their tiny patients, firemen who have lost colleagues and Philadelphia Police Chief Charles Ramsey speaking poignantly about the rate of alcoholism, divorce and suicide among his force. The film illustrates how the PTSD we associate with combat vets also strikes homeland heroes, the people in our community who come to our aid in times of crisis.
"The project was the brainchild of Vic Compher, the film's director and co-producer," says Whittenberg. "As a former social worker, Vic was passionate about exposing the side of these traumatic events that the public rarely sees. I had been a consultant on Vic's previous documentary, 'I Cannot Be Silent: Testimonies of Peacemakers.'"
As co-producer of "Caregivers," Whittenberg spent a year going over the premise of the film with Compher. "I think it's really amazing when we started four years ago, there was no interest in secondary trauma. Now, due to recent events, there's a whole new way of looking at the people who come into your community to help in times of crisis," says Whittenberg. "We're hoping the film serves an educational purpose, that it helps open a national conversation about caregivers."
Completed in May, the film has had just two local screenings, but it's already generating international buzz. "We've had some interest from England," says Whittenberg, " We'll be making the rounds of film festivals and we're preparing a television version that cuts the film's 72 minutes down to 52."
Television? Does that mean ...? Whittenberg grins and shakes his dreadlocks. He can't say anymore, other than to assure Philadelphians that there will be future screenings in the area. On June 25, "Caregivers" will be shown at Youth Services, Inc. In September, it will be at Rutgers University in Camden.
The purpose of the screenings is two-fold. To spread the word, but also to give the producers an opportunity to gauge their decisions. Sitting in the dark at a recent screening of "Caregivers" at the Hiway Theater in Jenkintown, Whittenberg saw the film differently. "With an audience, you see things you didn't see before, you see what works and what doesn't," he says.
When he's not producing films, videos or sound recordings, Whittenberg does pre-concert podcasts promoting local jazz events. His sonorous voice can be heard at Pre-Concert.com interviewing jazz giants such as Ramsey Lewis and Poncho Sanchez.
"I feel like the luckiest man in the world, to wake up every day and create."
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