By Leah Ferentinos
Was the first text message sent in Binghamton?
Harpur College junior Patrick Schechter is working on a documentary project to answer that very question. The cinema and psychology double major from Scarsdale, N.Y., is a recipient of this year's Summer Scholars and Artists Award, an award offered through the university's Undergraduate Research Center to support student scholarship, research, and creative projects outside the classroom.
Schechter, a SUNY Albany transfer, plans to work with Harpur College faculty mentor and cinema professor Tomonari Nishikawa and a local non-profit, the Center for Technology and Innovation, in the course of his project.
"This is going to be my first time producing a [larger-scale] fully-funded project," says Schechter. "As a student filmmaker, getting funding is an amazing, yet rare opportunity."
The documentary's focus is the Binghamton Marconi Tower, the last remaining of three Marconi Company wireless transmission stations commissioned along the Lackawanna Railroad system in 1913. The Binghamton landmark is the site of the first successful transmission of telegraphic signals between two moving trains. This breakthrough generated a direct line of mobile communication between two moving vehicles and cut out the intermediary step of contacting tower stations prior to relaying responses.
"This is the beginning of mobile communication as we know it," says Susan Sherwood, Director of the Center for Technology and Innovation.
It all originated in the Southern Tier. This local historical significance is what attracted Schechter to the project. He plans to use the Marconi Tower as a starting point to cinematically trace innovations in modern communications technology.
"This is a pretty big undertaking," says Schechter of the task to chronicle such extensive technological history on film. But he's looking forward to the challenge.
Nishikawa also believes his student will succeed, citing Schechter's previous work.
"He is a diligent and hard-working student," says Nishikawa. "I am confident he will have a promising future [in cinema] ahead of him."
Prior to the Summer Scholars and Artists Award, Schechter made films for class as well as the campus television station, BTV6, where he is the Downtime Director and co-founder of the student-produced sketch comedy show, "Binghamton Bro Code."
Schechter sees this as a chance to get his feet wet in the field of documentary cinema, and is looking forward to the experience this project will afford him in producing independent projects.
"I have been interested in film and television for as long as I can remember," he says. "This project will really help me branch out and grow as an artist."
The film is expected to premiere in November 2013 at the Center for Technology and Innovation in Binghamton for the centennial celebration of the Marconi Tower.
In its time the Marconi Tower experiments were hailed as the beginning of a new technological era. Improvements in the transmission and reception of wireless signals that resulted from these experiments have even gone on to save lives.
"Had the Titanic been able to communicate with other nearby moving ships like this directly, they'd have known in time that rescue was possible," explains Sherwood.
Documenting that historical impact is exciting for Schechter.
"It's the ultimate experiential learning opportunity," he says. "I'm really glad there are programs like this here at Binghamton."
Last Updated: 12/10/14