On Feb. 9, two Newhouse students attended the premiere of “The Tuskegee Airmen: Return to Ramitelli” at the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. This past summer, television, radio and film (TRF) senior David Barbier Jr. and alumna Rowan Ide ’22 worked on the film in Italy with TRF assistant professor Shaina Holmes—who also attended the premiere—in partnership with the World War II Foundation.
The team spent 10 days traveling across Rome, Naples and the Amalfi Coast documenting the stories of the Tuskegee Airmen. “We really got hands-on experience because we were working with such a small, intimate team,” Barbier says. “I don’t think you get experiences like that when you’re on a bigger set.”
As production assistants on the film, the students shadowed the cinematographers, traveled to air fields and army bases, held the cameras, shot b-roll footage and were interview subjects in the film. Additionally, the students shot their own projects while abroad including a behind-the-scenes documentary, a sitcom, an instagram takeover and a documentary on Pompeii.
This documentary tells the story of the first all-Black unit of military fighter pilots and airmen and how their heroic success in the United States Air Force helped pave the way for desegregation in the military. The film, narrated by musician Darius Rucker, features interviews with Tuskegee veterans and showcases more of a “contemporary look of Italy today,” says Tim Gray, documentarian filmmaker and president of the World War II Foundation.
The theater at the museum was filled to the brim, with an initial audience of hundreds and a waitlist of 100 more hoping for seats to watch the film. “We were originally limited to 350 people but everybody was able to get in,” Gray says.
Audience members were military corps, congressional members and more. “It was nice to see a mix of philanthropists, military veterans, soldiers and military students,” Holmes says.
One notable guest was 98-year-old Tuskegee Airman and retired U.S. Army Air Force officer Lt. Col. Harry T. Stewart Jr., who received the 2023 Senator Bob Dole Leadership Award that night. Stewart is featured in the film and shared his story at the premiere.
“He was sharing some of his memories, which was really inspiring,” Ide says of his speech. “A lot of people loved hearing his stories because he has lived such an amazing life.”
The opportunity to participate in this powerful documentary and see their work premiere for a large audience was unlike anything else for Barbier and Ide. Their names are listed in the credits as production assistants, and Barbier was also interviewed in the documentary.
“The premiere was amazing. There were so many people there, and it was an incredible venue,” Ide says. “It still hasn’t hit me.”
Gray shares how rewarding it has been to work with Newhouse faculty and students. “Every Syracuse student on that trip was talented and dedicated,” he says. “They learned a lot about filming internationally, about the international community, and about World War II. If you’re a film major at Syracuse, this is an experience that you’ll never forget.”
“The Tuskegee Airmen: Return To Ramitelli,” will air on public television and PBS stations nationwide in May. This upcoming summer, Newhouse students are again invited to join another World War II documentary—about the French Resistance—shooting in France and Geneva with the WWII Foundation.
Julia Virnelli is a junior magazine, news and digital journalism major at the Newhouse School.