Please fill out the form below to schedule your tour of Essex County College. We look forward to seeing you on campus!
A year ago in September, Essex County College’s Dr. William J. Tooma and historian Tony Calandrillo were talking about “all the political drama” underway in Washington, DC. “We then started wondering what George Washington and the other founding fathers would say about today’s political scene,” said Dr. Tooma, who makes documentaries under the more informal “Billy Tooma.”
That discussion ultimately led the popular English professor and Mr. Calandrillo to produce George Washington: The Farewell Address, a 95-minute film released in early November. Like all of his other documentaries, Dr. Tooma has made this new one available, for free, online.
The film can be viewed here: https://youtu.be/RjWlFWVBImI
Dr. Tooma said that prior to our modern era, the major documents of the country’s early years were seen to be the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and Washington’s Farewell Address, but the latter has nearly fallen out of the general public’s consciousness despite the fact that it does receive some coverage in select academic settings and receives a full recitation every February within the chambers of the U.S. Senate. “But it’s not really being looked at anymore as part of the greater conversation in regards to where our country started, where it’s been, and where it could or should be going.”
While CNN’s John Avlon recently published a book on the subject, Dr. Tooma still asks “how do you teach this to students? Well, start with the document itself, move on to Avlon’s book, then use the film to enhance the study.”
The new documentary, with illustrations by Essex County College alumnus Najee R. Smith, allow viewers to hear the entire address, with David Hunscher providing the voice over. The address is interspersed with discussion by five scholars. Mr. Smith has collaborated with Dr. Tooma on previous projects. Mr. Hunscher also provided his vocal talents in Dr. Tooma’s The Black Eagle of Harlem and will again be contributing to the still-in-production Washington Irving: An American Original (written by Andrew J. Clapham and based on the work of Brian Jay Jones).
The historians appearing in the film are Dr. Mark Edward Lender, Professor Emeritus at Kean University; Dr. Maxine N. Lurie, Professor Emerita at Seton Hall University; Dr. Jonathan Mercantini, Dean of the College of Liberal Arts at Kean; Dr. William B. Rogers, retired Associate Dean of the Caspersen School of Graduate Studies at Drew University; and John T. Shaw, author of JFK in the Senate and Rising Star, Setting Sun.
“I’m very happy with how the film came out,” Dr. Tooma said of the documentary that took a little over a year to complete. “I truly believe we have both a teaching tool and a piece of entertainment which focuses on an important chapter of American history.”
Students taking Dr. Tooma’s American Literature I (ENG 221) course next semester will be viewing the documentary with a class discussion to follow.
The address, said Dr. Tooma, provides a warning on the dangers of political parties, while also giving advice on how to build the right type of alliances with other nations. “We all know who George Washington was; but his many contributions are not as widely known.”
Interestingly, the Farewell Address does play a key part in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s widely popular Hamilton with the song “One Last Time.” That is something Dr. Tooma can build on with his students.
Dr. Tooma launched his filmmaking career back in 2006. He was talking to local filmmaker Karl Petry who introduced him to Philip Chamberlin, the son of early aviator Clarence Chamberlin. That conversation piqued an interest in Dr. Tooma, which he followed up on three years later for his first documentary, Clarence Chamberlin: Fly First & Fight Afterward (2011).
Since then, he produced Poetry of Witness (2015), which sheds light upon those who have chosen poetry to preserve the memories of war, torture, exile, and repression. That was followed up by The Black Eagle of Harlem, which is on Hubert Julian, one of the first persons of color to ever fly in an airplane.
In addition to completing the Washington Irving documentary, Dr. Tooma is also working on a film covering the life of Ken Forsse, creator of the incredible World of Teddy Ruxpin. “Alongside Josh Isaacson, Vincent Conroy, the Forsse family, and the wonderfully talented people Ken called his ‘alchemists,’ it’s going to be the most personal film ever for me, because Teddy Ruxpin was a pillar of my childhood and I’ve never forgotten the valuable life lessons Ken’s creation taught me.