Lights, camera, social action

When you think MTV and spring break, images of bikini-clad drunken blondes on a Florida beach most readily come to mind.

mtv jnf image 88 298 (photo credit: Courtesy)
mtv jnf image 88 298
(photo credit: Courtesy)
When you think MTV and spring break, images of bikini-clad drunken blondes on a Florida beach most readily come to mind. Last year, however, the trend-setting television station decided to break the mold and began an annual documentary series, The Amazing Break, which focuses on a very different sort of working holiday and shows students volunteering in a variety of locations. The program, which will air in America on March 24, includes four segments filmed at separate locations, three in the US and one abroad. Last year MTV went to Costa Rica for its international segment; this year it chose Israel's northern border. A three-man crew went to four locations to film students participating in alternative spring breaks. The other three were Hurricane Katrina relief efforts in New Orleans, an anti-death penalty march in Austin, Texas, and a camp for underprivileged kids in northern California. The crew that's been sent here to film students planting trees and painting bomb shelters, has two Jewish members with connections to the region. But it was cameraman Andrew Millard, who while researching options for the documentary, came across a press release on the Jewish National Fund's Web site. "Every year we have one international component, and we felt that Israel would be an effective destination because it's been in the news a lot. It was also a great follow-up opportunity. The situation is relevant because viewers are aware of what happened last summer in the region, but they are not always up to date on the aftermath," says Jonathan Mussman, director of production management for MTV. He is a former director at a Jewish camp in Chicago, United Synagogue Youth leader and Jewish United Fund participant. Mussman's been to Israel a number of times and Adam Hootnick, a freelancer who's made documentaries on the Middle East conflict, lived here for a year. "This is a news piece and so all biases are removed when making it. I would love to utilize my cultural familiarity but because of the nature of the piece, it's really only our logistical familiarities that we can utilize. We weren't chosen because we were Jewish but it's easier for us to get around than another crew," Mussman says. "The half-hour documentary is part of MTV's Think Campaign, in which we are trying to show the different things that students can do with their spring break. It doesn't mean that we are abandoning coverage of the traditional spring breaks, but MTV has a very strong pro-social response, and we want to display to our viewers that there are alternatives," the crew tells me in their rental car as we hide from Israel's winter rain. The students are excited to speak to the crew. As the Chicagoans tell me they go to the same summer camp Mussman went to, they begin to play Jewish geography with their new favorite MTV director. "Thanks for the memories," he tells them as he gets back to work, overseeing a piece that had it been made 15 years earlier, might easily have been made about him and his friends.- D.M.