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PLU’s MediaLab takes on ‘compassion fatigue’

March 1, 2011

PLU’s MediaLab takes on ‘compassion fatigue’

Compassion fatigue is a condition people have never heard of, and MediaLab is striving to make people aware through its next documentary project. “We thought it was an interesting topic that isn’t talked about and everyone should know about it,” said sophomore Katie Scaff, a MediaLab filmmaker. Scaff said compassion fatigue is a fairly new condition that experts are still trying to define. It occurs when people are overexposed to instances of suffering, and anyone is susceptible to the condition.

Aid workers, personal and professional caregivers and even firefighters and police officers are known to have developed compassion fatigue, and Scaff said it is this common overexposure to suffering that led to the film title “Overexposed.”

The film, which is a joint project in partnership with World Vision, is tentatively scheduled to premiere at the beginning of October, and the MediaLab team has already been underway traveling and interviewing experts around North America.

“There are only five known compassion fatigue experts in North America,” junior Anne Walters-Cooke, another MediaLab filmmaker, said. “There are so many different definitions. It’s a really new idea.”

During J-Term, Scaff and Walters-Cooke, along with juniors Hailey Rile and Elizabeth Hertzfeldt-Kamprath, travelled to New Orleans to begin filming for the project. They interviewed victims and aid workers who were involved with and affected by Hurricane Katrina.

For one week, Scaff said they were able to interview victims who have returned to the city years later to rebuild their homes and their lives.

“We talked to the people who came back,” Scaff said. “We wanted to hear their stories.”

Scaff said that anyone can be affected by compassion fatigue.

“We want to let people know that everyone across the board can suffer from compassion fatigue,” she said. “By hearing these stories of suffering I could experience it.”

The team interviewed author Charles Figley, who was one of the first people to coin to term compassion fatigue. They are also scheduled to tour North America in June for three weeks, with a stop in Ontario for a compassion fatigue conference.

Scaff said World Vision plans to use the film as a way to educate volunteers and employees about the condition, and the local PBS station has also expressed interest in featuring a behind the scenes look at the student documentary filming process.

MediaLab has produced a number of award-winning documentary films, including the Emmy award-winning film “Illicit Exchanges: Canada, the U.S. and Crime” and “Oil Literacy,” which premiered last October and has since been awarded an honorable mention in the Broadcast Education Association (BEA) Festival of Media Arts Documentary Competition.

For more information about MediaLab and the projects the organization has produced, visit