On June 1, Lakeland graduate Josh Blankenship received an Emmy for his recent short documentary, “Indianapolis Island.” The Emmy was awarded by the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (NATAS) in the Lower Great Lakes region, a professional service organization that promotes the advancement of creativity, education, and technology in the television industry.
Blankenship – who was the cinematographer – and his film team received the coveted student award for excellence in the Arts and Entertainment/Cultural Affairs category. This specific award is granted to one documentary or film team in each of the 19 regional chapters across the nation.
Blankenship created his documentary in 2012, in his last year as a broadcast and communications major at Anderson University. He chose his major because of his fascination with “anything to do with a camera.” The film was a part of a small class of just five students called Advanced Audio Production. The five had the entire semester to plan and prepare their subject and budget for their collaborative film. The final product, rightly titled “Indianapolis Island,” takes place on a minuscule, man-made, igloo-like island on the lake behind Indianapolis Museum of Art, surrounded by the forests of 100 Acres Park.
The island was designed by Andrea Zittel and built by the Barnacle Brothers in 1965. The floating hut that has no plumbing, no water, and no electricity houses individual artists for months at a time, giving them the time and privacy to create their art. Zittel designed the anti-luxury island to examine the needs of human beings.
Blankenship’s documentary follows an artist and biologist named Catherine Ball, who attempted to purify the lake of E. coli by growing mushrooms and floating the tiny root-like mycelia on the water in burlap bags.
At the time of the three-day filming process, Ball had been living on the island for six weeks, surviving off of the forest, a farmer’s market, her own self-made water system, and a rowboat. “She’s a very unique person, that’s for sure,” said Blankenship about the island-dweller.
While the film was meant to focus on the water purification itself, Blankenship admits, “It came to be more about a community coming together around this woman to help her and understand her.”
Blankenship worked as the cinematographer on the seven-minute documentary. He filmed everything in just three days, making decisions on lighting and camera technique which sometimes proved difficult in an outdoor setting. He then assisted his peers in the extended weekend of post-production.
The film features many close-up camera shots of nature, juxtaposed against the human interaction that is Ball’s interview. The camera work deftly reflects Catherine Ball’s message that connection with nature is important and that “without that connection, science doesn’t matter.” Blankenship stated that he was excited to have so much freedom with his camera during this project. “It was the first time when the group pitched an idea and actually just went out and did it,” he said. He also loved filming in nature or, as he explained it, “taking what’s out there and making it look good.”
Before the group could qualify for an Emmy, the film team’s professor sent the documentary to WFYI television station in Indianapolis, a channel that works under PBS. The station had requested material from college students for arts and entertainment, as well as for other categories. WFYI decided to air the documentary as “filler” for blank space in their coverage, which Blankenship said they still do today. This qualified Blankenship and his peers for the regional Emmy with NATAS.
The Emmy was presented at an awards ceremony in Cleveland, Ohio. The ceremony included a formal dinner followed by the presentation of several awards. “My parents were definitely proud, but the people at the station at work were really proud,” Blankenship said.
In addition to the documentary award for creative arts and entertainment, the organization granted prizes to students and professionals alike for news, sports, daytime entertainment, public and community service, technology and engineering, and business and financial reporting.
Josh Blankenship, son of Keith and Pam Blankenship, LaGrange, graduated from Anderson University last year. During his studies, he worked for Covenant Productions, an Anderson University filmmaker’s camp.
He currently resides in Indianapolis and works for WTHR Channel 13 News, an award-winning and number-one ranked news station in Indianapolis. Blankenship assists in production, operates the studio camera and prompter, and helps with editing.
The WTHR team itself won 14 regional Emmys this year for news, audio/visual craft, and technology.
Blankenship does not know if there are any other Emmys in his future, but he does plan to continue his work in cinematography, news, or anything with a camera.
“Right now I go where the job is, but anything is possible,” said Blankenship. “I’m excited to see where I’ll end up.”
Blankenship said he owes much of his success to his professor Mark Dawson at Anderson University. “He’s one of the main people that helped me to start my profession,” Blankenship said.
Above all, Blankenship thanked his family. He said, “I’d just like to thank my family for putting me through college and giving me this opportunity.”