Bellisario Professor’s Award-Winning Films Strive For A Deeper Impact
Boaz Dvir teaches writing and production for the Bellisario College of Communications, and he’s never lost his passion for storytelling. In fact, it’s the opportunity to share that passion with students that drives him.
As a journalist, Dvir wrote for media outlets such as New York’s Newsday, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Tampa Bay Times, and The Miami Herald. He also served as editor of the Jacksonville Business Journal and managing editor of the South Florida Business Journal.
After moving up in the journalism world, working 80-hour weeks, flying around the country, and catering to demanding readers, Dvir realized he needed a change of pace. At first, he intended for it to only be for a year or two, and he had always dreamed of returning to his alma mater, the University of Florida, so he got a job teaching and converting the Communigator newsletter into a glossy magazine.
For a couple of years, Dvir relived his college years. He rode his bike around campus, went to Gator football games, and lived in the same “student ghetto” he grew to love as an undergrad.
“It really was the life,” Dvir said.
Then, almost two years to the date that he accepted the position at Florida, which he expected to just be a “break” from the journalism world, Dvir received the best job offer of his life from a media outlet.
After thinking for a few days, Dvir declined the position because he had fallen in love with teaching.
“There’s something about working with young people that’s very rewarding,” he said. “Every semester, I get to see students learn, grow, and develop. It’s great.”
Although Dvir loved teaching, he told himself he needed to add something else that would further challenge him, so he decided to make his first documentary. He had fallen in love with the storytelling medium of documentaries. And with very little knowledge of how cameras work or how to use editing software, Dvir found this to be the perfect challenge.
Twelve years later, Dvir is now an award-winning filmmaker whose documentaries have made it on PBS, Amazon, The New York Times, Netflix, Hulu, and other big-name companies. He uses his films to tell the little-known stories of unsung heroes and makes sure to only create films on stories that have never been done before and that will have an impact greater than mere entertainment for his audience.
Dvir’s first film — Jessie’s Dad — captured the story of an uneducated truck driver whose 9-year old daughter was kidnapped and molested by a neighbor in their RV park in Florida.
The film follows Mark Lunsford, Jessie’s father, and his journey to push government officials and lawmakers to increase punishments for people convicted of offenses against children.
This story eventually results in the creation of Jessica’s Law, which made it mandatory that convicted child molesters and sex offenders be put on a registered list, required mandatory background checks required for people working in schools, and added an increase to sex offender penalties. Prior to the tragic death of Jessica Lunsford in 2005, none of these laws existed.
Dvir has made a handful of influential films since Jessie’s Dad, including “PALS,” which helped garner hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants and a Nobel Peace Prize nomination for a nonprofit organization that works to aid troubled teens.
Dvir is currently finishing his latest documentary, a post-Holocaust film called Cojot, which is scheduled to release this year.
Cojot follows the story of an ordinary French banker who sought revenge against Nazi officer Klaus Barbie for deporting his father to Auschwitz, where he was killed. After years of searching and uprooting his life to get his revenge, Michel Cojot finds himself involved in one of the history’s most daring hostage-rescue operations.
Cojot is one of two of Dvir’s post-Holocaust films that drew the attention of the Pennsylvania Department of Education, which asked if they could incorporate the two films into the state’s Holocaust education curriculum.
On top of that, the two films Cojot and A Wing and a Prayer were showcased at the Pittsburgh Holocaust Center’s annual teacher training in July. A teacher who shows Holocaust films to students at a museum for a living said the Cojot and A Wing and a Prayer material and packages were the best she’d ever seen by far.
The Reading Jewish Film Series will screen a rough cut of Cojot at 3 p.m. on November 10 at the Fox Berkshire Theater in Wyomissing, Pennsylvania.
Dvir continues to teach students at Penn State, taking note of what keeps an audience engaged while working on multiple films at a time. He has found a way to keep doing what he loves, which is telling the stories of ordinary people who transform into heroes while being able to impart his journalistic wisdom onto young minds who may one day become the next Boaz Dvir.
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Just like Goldilocks found out, some are too small, while others are too hard. But a special few are juuuust right.
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