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Dream Job: Keystone State

May 23, 2007 3:00 PM, By Kristinha M. Anding

American Insight documentaries reveal Pennsylvania’s role in U.S. history.

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American Insight DP Peter Lorch shoots with the Panasonic AJ-SDX900 DVCPRO for the Pennsylvania Leadership Charter School.

To Margaret Chew Barringer — a published poet and videographer and the founder and chairwoman of Narbeth, Penn.-based nonprofit American Insight — Pennsylvania's history is the history of America.

“That's why they call us the Keystone State; Pennsylvania anchors the whole essence of democracy,” Barringer explains.

American Insight grew out of the American Poetry Center, the Pennsylvania-based nonprofit Barringer founded in the early '80s, which was dedicated to a little democratization of its own: the dissemination of poetry beyond the published mainstream. “People were, very early on, beginning to videotape and record [poets] on the radio and to listen to them in public,” Barringer says.

In 1995, Barringer officially changed the name of the nonprofit to American Insight and shifted its focus to video production in the service of historical preservation. “The muse of poetry and history is the same,” she says.

Now, American Insight's Pennsylvania Visionaries project comprises two documentaries: the completed Arthur B. Carles: Philadelphia Artist, exploring the life of the influential Philadelphia painter, and the in-progress Free Speech: A Sacred Challenge, which examines the concept of free speech as detailed by artist Violet Oakley's murals in the Pennsylvania State Capitol Building.

The organization's historical documentaries are financed through its for-profit video production wing, Make History Everyday!

“When you digitize something, it becomes historical,” Barringer says.

American Insight has completed projects mostly for local clients, including pieces for the online Pennsylvania Leadership Charter School, the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, and several museums.

American Insight used a Sony Beta camera for its first documentary, and it is currently using a Panasonic AJ-SDX900 DVCPRO for its second. Inhouse editors cut the pieces with Apple Final Cut Pro. In addition to its paid staff, the nonprofit works with several local universities — including the Art Institute of Philadelphia, Haverford College, and Villanova University — to recruit interns. The organization uses the same equipment and crew for its nonprofit and for-profit productions.

Barringer says she is looking forward to continuing her excavation of local history. “Once you start thinking about it, it's a goldmine here,” she says.

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