sorry if it is a repost.. i didnt see it anywhere else..
THE SAGINAW NEWS
It was his upbringing in Saginaw, says Joel P. Engardio, that made him tough enough to become an award-winning journalist whose first documentary is playing film festivals and soon will air on a nationwide PBS series.
"My mom took me door-to-door throughout Saginaw and that made me tough, having doors slammed in your face time after time, and having people siccing dogs on you," explains the 33-year-old, who lives in San Francisco.
In fact, that evolved into the name of his 63-minute film, "Knocking."
It's about the Jehovah's Witnesses and the group's surprising and untold role in American society.
"I wanted to tell a story about how fundamentalist religion and civic society can peacefully co-exist," says Engardio, a 1990 Arthur Hill High School graduate, "and maybe even benefit from each other.
"America was founded on freedom of religion, yet that is what divides us the most right now. I wanted to make a difference about that. I wanted to raise awareness."
Engardio's mother, you see, was a Jehovah's Witness in a family of Roman Catholics and she took her son along with her knocking on doors to spread the word.
He went, he says, but never joined that religion. What he did do was gather respect for its practices by seeing them in a different light, in the process gathering material for what became "Knocking."
Friday at 7 p.m. it plays the East Lansing Film Festival on the campus of Michigan State University, its third such event with a fourth booked next month.
And somewhere between October and next April it will air nationwide on PBS' "Independent Lens" series.
His mother, Mary Engardio, still lives in Saginaw, along with 92-year-old grandmother Eunice Engardio, both in Saginaw Township.
Engardio is both a print and film journalist. He worked as an associate producer for ABC News and its "20/20" and "Turning Point" newsmagazines and has written for the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, Newsweek and the Boston Globe.
Back in high school he covered sports for The Saginaw News, and went on to get his journalism degree at MSU. Today, he says, he is a freelance journalist.
"I applied four times to get a grant from PBS to make 'Knocking' and was turned down three times. I was always a finalist, so I never gave up."
The fourth time was the charm, and he was awarded the grant in August 2004 and then spent a year and a half making and helping to edit "Knocking." He served as the co-director, wrote the script and narrates it.
Getting the grant means all the various PBS series then take a look at the finished product and decide where it fits best among the network's many shows. "Independent Lens" picked it. In the meantime, he says, "Knocking" is allowed to play the film festival circuit.
At the first two stops, he says, in Reno and Cleveland, it was well received and played more than it was scheduled.
Engardio calls Jehovah's Witnesses and the members' practice of knocking on doors "a necessary annoyance of a free society" and his film documents the surprising civil liberty role the sect has played in shaping our free society.
Its members have gone before the U.S. Supreme Court 46 times -- more than any other group.
They may not vote or fight or pledge allegiance to the flag, but they do litigate.
Engardio tells his story through two American citizens -- Joseph Kempler, a Polish-born Jewish Holocaust survivor who converted to the faith when he saw Jehovah's Witnesses become martyrs as they spoke out against Hitler and went to their deaths willingly in concentration camps, and 23-year-old Seth Thomas of Texas, who needs a liver transplant to survive and who challenges and helps change the medical community when he insists on bloodless surgery.
Engardio met Kempler when he worked for ABC's "Turning Point" and kept him in mind. He went in search of Thomas by calling every medical complex he could think of until he found the perfect patient.
"And we filmed the surgery not knowing if he would survive it or not. We were going to tell the story no matter the outcome. Finding him was a case of old-fashioned reporting; using up a lot of shoe leather to cover the organ transplant field at a frontier point on bloodless surgery.
"I selected compelling people to tell this story, and we even went to Europe with Kempler and his two families, one Jewish and the other Jehovah's Witness."
All told, Engardio and his crew shot 200 hours of film "so obviously a lot of what we shot did not make it, and that is the wonder of DVDs. The DVD version of this is done and contains three more hours of material -- what I call expert interviews with civil liberty lawyers, medical ethicists, rabbis. There's even a nine-minute short film in it about a 2002 Supreme Court case in Ohio."
It is Engardio's hope that DVD will play classrooms and community screenings wherever it can, maybe in 20-minute segments, and spur discussions about its content.
"I like to attend those screenings, too, and do questions and answers. This is a film that can affect doctors and teachers. Every teacher has a Jehovah's Witness kid in class. And beyond the PBS airing I hope it finds a life internationally."
Jehovah's Witness members are banned in 28 countries, his documentary notes.
"What I like is that at the film festivals where it has played so far, both sides seem to like it -- the Jehovah's Witnesses who come and the skeptical people. So that must mean I did a fair piece that does not promote or denigrate the religion."