Kari Moffat and Caroline Kelliher interviewing a community member named Connie for their documentary fim

Kari Moffat '17 '19G (left) and Caroline Kelliher '18 interviewing a Bethlehem community member

Lehigh Students to Premiere Documentary Film About Sands Casino and South Bethlehem

The student-led documentary film, 'Betting on Bethlehem,' will premiere on May 2. 

Where Bethlehem Steel once stood now stands around 3,000 slot machines, a poker room and more than 200 table games at the Sands Casino.

A decade after the casino’s opening on May 22, 2009, Lehigh graduate and undergraduate students have created a documentary that takes an in-depth look into the history of the Sands Casino and its relationship with the Bethlehem community.

The documentary, “Betting on Bethlehem,” highlights how the casino has helped revitalize the area and improve economic growth after the loss of Bethlehem Steel, as well as the reaction from the community during the time it was being developed and the community’s current opinions.

After a year of interviewing, recording, editing and marketing, the film will premiere this Thursday, May 2, a few weeks before the casino’s 10-year anniversary. The free viewing will be held from 6-8 p.m at Donegan Elementary School, 1210 E. Fourth St., Bethlehem.

The documentary started as a Mountaintop Summer Experience research project in summer 2018 with Delaney McCaffrey ’19, graduate student Caroline Kelliher ’18, Kari Moffat ’17 ’19G, who were  advised by Michael Kramp, director of the film and documentary studies program and associate professor of English.

Lehigh students interview Bethlehem community member for Sands casino documentary

Caroline Kelliher '18 (left) and Kari Moffat '17 '19G interviewing community member Roger Hudak

The idea of a documentary on the Sands started two years ago after Kramp talked to Mary Foltz, professor of English and the co-director of the South Side Initiative, about assessing how the casino has affected Bethlehem since its opening.

Although the project stemmed from Kramp’s idea, Moffat says Kramp emphasized throughout the project that this documentary should be student-led.

“We asked [Kramp] for guidance and what story we should tell, what should we look at first, [and] he was like, ‘this is your project, you can do what you want,’” Moffat says.

Kramp says he wanted the students to take the initiative and have the confidence to pursue their ideas, and he was there to help them “take the steps they want to take as filmmakers.”

During the first few weeks of Mountaintop, the students spent most of their time researching about the casino’s history and what the media has written about it. They looked at local newspaper articles and researched the archives at the Bethlehem Public Library.

The student filmmakers wanted to make sure they were able to get voices from different people impacted by the casino’s development, such as residents, community leaders and Sands Casino representatives.

They knocked on people’s doors to listen to their stories about the Sands and to learn about their reactions when they heard it was going to be built 10 years ago.

“The best part was we immersed ourselves in this network of Bethlehem, and everyone knew each other, ” McCaffrey says. “We would ask the same question about the story to someone, and by the end, we knew all the answers.”

Moffat says it was like a “waterfall effect,” where one person they interviewed would give them a name and then that person would give another, which helped the students get background information and engage with the community. She says it was a collaborative process with people in the area.

“Everyone was excited to lead us in different directions,” Moffat says. “It was exciting for us when we would go out into the community, and we would go into a coffee shop and people would know us and they would wave to us … It was a lot of cool experiences being able to talk to others.”

Lehigh students presenting about their documentary film as part of the mountaintop initiative that funded the research for the project over the summer

Kari Moffat '17 '19G (left) and Caroline Kelliher '18 presenting as part of the Mountaintop Summer Experience, which funded the research for the project over summer 2018

Filming ended in the fall semester and included interviews with individuals who were instrumental in bringing the casino to Bethlehem, such as former Bethlehem Mayor John Callahan, as well as some Bethlehem residents.

During this spring semester, McCaffrey, Moffat and Kelliher wanted to expand the team to include others who could help with marketing the documentary and music. Donterrius Walker ’19 joined the team as composer and sound engineer for the film.

Walker says he had worked with Kramp during his four years at Lehigh. Still, he says, he was surprised when he received an email from Kramp asking if he would like to join the project, because he believed Kramp hadn’t heard his music.  

“It was just that trust. [Kramp] said he believed that I would be able to create something good and be a good fit for this project,” Walker says.

Moffat says it was a “huge asset” to have on the project the other students who specialized in marketing and creating music.

“I don’t think we would have been able to market the film or make a soundtrack or reach out to the community as well if we didn’t have the other students participating in the project, and I don’t think we would have been able to finish without them,” Moffat says.

The target audience for the documentary is both the Bethlehem community and Lehigh University because the casino impacts both, Moffat says. She said she is excited to have people from Bethlehem and the university in one room to learn about the casino.

Kramp says he hopes after viewing the film, people will have an open dialogue about the casino’s impact on the community, “especially in terms of how the community has or has not maintained its identity in the wake of the casino coming to town.”

After the documentary viewing on May 2, the creators will open a discussion to attendees. People can also learn about the project at the team’s WordPress page and follow the team on their Twitter, BetOnBethlehem.

Kramp says Digital Scholarship Manager Julia Maserjian, Media Production Specialist Allen Kingsbury and the Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning's Digital Media Studio staff were “indispensable collaborators” to this project. Kramp also emphasizes the documentary wouldn’t be possible without the help of, the Office of Creative Inquiry, the SouthSide Initiative, the Humanities Center and members of the Bethlehem community, who Kramp described as “vital storytellers.”

The best part was we immersed ourselves in this network of Bethlehem, and everyone knew each other. We would ask the same question about the story to someone, and by the end, we knew all the answers.

Delaney McCaffrey ’19

The students involved in the film include:

Delaney McCaffrey ’19, an IDEAS major studying journalism and computer science and engineering with a minor in documentary story-making, served as a filmmaker.

Claire Silva, a graduate student in English, had a community engagement role.  

Brielle Paul ’20, an English major with a minor in marketing, worked on marketing the film.

Donterrius Walker (Amari) ’19, an Africana studies major with a concentration in hip hop, served as a music producer for the project.

Caroline Kelliher ’18, a graduate student in English, served as a filmmaker.

Alexandra Gonzalez ’19, an architecture and design major, served as a graphic designer.

Kevin Kirner ’19G, a graduate student in American studies receiving a graduate certificate in documentary film from Lehigh, was the creator of an accompanying podcast for the film called “The Gamble.”

Jessica Mun ’21, an anthropology and global studies major, had a community engagement role.

Kari Moffat ’17 ’19G, a graduate student in American studies with an undergraduate degree in journalism, was a filmmaker on the project.

Story by Madison Hoff

Images courtesy of Delaney McCaffrey ’19

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