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Walt Whitman Documentary, plus Q & A with filmmaker Mark Zwonitzer

Posted by kaylamiller on September 10, 2008

A showing of the documentary Walt Whitman, written and directed by MU alum Mark Zwonitzer (BJ ‘84), was held in Jesse Auditorium on Wednesday, Sept. 10, 2008 as part of the School of Journalism’s big Centennial celebration. In addition to a free presentation of this movie, viewers were also treated to a Q & A with Zwonitzer himself.

The documentary is an inspiring, yet intense, film focusing on the life and works of poet Walt Whitman.

Commenting on the intenseness of his film, Zwonitzer joked, “This is the first time I’ve seen this in over six months. I didn’t realize the intensity of it; I should have put in a few more laugh lines!”

Zwonitzer, who has received numerous awards for his film projects, said he was inspired to do a documentary on Walt Whitman because “poems tell a big American story. I’ve never seen a documentary on poetry, and I wanted to see if it could be done.”

Six years in the making, including 15-18 months of intense filming, Walt Whitman also features another MU grad, Academy Award-winner Chris Cooper (BGS ’76), who does the narration. Zwonitzer actually hand-picked Cooper because of his remarkable voice-over skills: “Chris Cooper is a 46 year old, who can sound like a 70 year old!” he exclaimed.

Originally in the print media field, Zwonitzer completed two successful internships, which eventually led him into the filmmaking world.

“Documentaries just give you that experience that you can’t get from reading a magazine or book,” he said.

Zwoniter also discussed some tips for breaking into this field: “I recommend to work very hard on story-telling skills. Work your way into the craft. Find your specific. It can take you all over the world.”

After the huge success of Walt Whitman, Zwonitzer is currently working on another project, a TV mini series titled We Shall Remain. And this time, “I promise more laugh lines!”

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