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North Fork film club focuses on nature

Thomas Spackman, of Greenport, mans the camera under

Thomas Spackman, of Greenport, mans the camera under instructor Paul Stoutenburgh's watch as part of the North Fork Audubon Society Environmental Film Club. (July 5, 2012) Credit: Erin Geismar

Thomas Spackman crouches down in the water at Goldsmith’s Inlet, in Southold, and reaches beneath the surface with an underwater camera.

But the 13-year-old isn’t satisfied that he got the shot he was looking for - a school of minnows swimming past a zebra mussel - so he grabs a snorkel mask, dips his head into the water and lays out flat.

“I think I got that,” he says, satisfied, upon emerging.

In the North Fork Audubon Society’s Environmental Film Club, students gain not just a knowledge of filmmaking, but an education and appreciation of the outdoors.

Paul Stoutenburgh, 23, of Mattituck, took a stint teaching in Costa Rica after he graduated college and upon returning knew he was meant to work with kids. He reached out to the North Fork Audubon Society, and they embraced his idea of an environmental film club.

Throughout the summer, Stoutenburgh spends two days a week with kids ages 10-16 documenting the environment around them.

In June, they produced a 4-minute film about the importance of protecting piping plovers; in July, they are working on a film about water quality and its effect on plant and animal life; and in August, they’ll tackle the hazards of plastic bags.

Stoutenburgh said he hopes the film will help get plastic bags banned at local supermarkets.

Diana Van Buren, president and program chair of the North Fork Audubon Society, said she was happy to give Stoutenburgh a summer home for the club based on his experience and his passion for the subject matter. She said his grandfather, also named Paul, was a renowned environmentalist on the East End and wrote a nature column in the local paper for decades.

But, she said, Stoutenburgh has already proven himself in his own right. She said his videos have the power to stimulate the kids and spread an important message.

“The stuff that Paul is doing is terrific,” she said. “The kids get very excited, and let’s face it, that is a contemporary medium for reaching a lot of people.”

Stoutenburgh said that while growing up in Cutchogue, his grandfather was a great influence on the path he decided to take.

“My grandparents and my parents always threw me in the marshes, the wetlands and the water,” he said. “So I kind of just developed a love for nature and for being outside.”

Stoutenburgh studied environmental conservation at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, and married his education with his passion for filmmaking. Now, he’s passing both on to the local kids.

On Thursday morning at Goldsmith’s Inlet, he taught the students how to use a haul-seine net to catch fish and crabs, then transferred them to a tank to film them. He identified each species, taught them how best to handle the creatures while also helping them establish shots for the film.

After a few sessions of shooting outdoors, he helps the kids find local experts to interview and then edit the final film.

Spackman, of Greenport, said he’s had a great experience.

“I learned a lot from Paul,” he said, such as  “how to get nature shots without disturbing them.”

Stoutenburgh said the experience is a perfect fit for him, and a dual education for the kids.

“It’s definitely not just about the process of filmmaking,” he said. “It’s a lot about telling stories about environmental injustice.”

The club is still open for registration, which costs $200 a month. For more information, go to the North Fork Audubon Society's website.

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