Ball State professor uses film to reach students

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MUNCIE, Ind. (AP) — That Chris Flook is open to learning new things became apparent when he excitedly talked about the drone, one he plans to equip with a camera, that he recently bought.

The lesson?

"I learned last night not to fly it in my apartment," he said, laughing.

Good point. But the high level of learning that happens in Flook's presence usually goes the other way, with him imparting knowledge to his Ball State University telecommunications students, or even more to the point, preparing them to soak it up themselves.

The latest result of his vision and their work is a 36-minute documentary, "A Legacy Etched in Glass: The Ball Brothers in Muncie."

"Really, it's a documentary of the five brothers, from upstate New York to here," the BSU instructor told The Star Press ( ).

As he spoke, the Yorktown High School graduate was sitting in a booth at The Fickle Peach, nursing a beer. At 34, he has an open, direct gaze and closely cropped hair that is often covered by a baseball cap. Holder of two degrees from BSU — a bachelor's in telecommunications and a master's in digital storytelling — he acknowledged you can call him a filmmaker. Flook was also named by M Magazine as a "20 Under 40," or rising leader in the community.

A two-time Emmy winner, Flook's previous efforts include "Historic Muncie" and "Lenape on the Wapahani River." Still, above all, he considers himself an educator, a commitment in which he is all about immersive learning, which is learning by doing.

"It's an educational process that I really believe in," Flook emphasized, discussing how, in guiding his students through every step of the production process, he turns them into filmmakers. "It's really all their work. ... Most of the people that come through end up working (professionally)."

What became "A Legacy Etched in Glass" started when the Ball Brothers Foundation approached Flook, wondering whether he and his students could make a series of short videos about nonprofits in Muncie, a thousand of which exist here. The scope was then expanded to include one on "primacy of place," meaning the quality of life hereabouts, and finally the Ball brothers' story.

Ben Redar was that film's student director.

"Overall, it was pretty great," he said, noting he is presently putting together a production company in Indianapolis. "I really had creative control over the whole thing. We had a decent budget and they let me use it like I wanted to use it."

Working with Flook?

"Flook's a great guy," Redar said. "He's not the type of teacher who will come at you like he's superior in any way."

With that project finished, the first two are also nearing completion, and will be done by May.

In beginning work on "A Legacy Etched in Glass," Flook and BSU history professor Ron Morris initiated the research, culling information from sources including the legendary "Middletown" studies, books written by Ed and Frank Ball and the late Earl Conn's tome on the Ball family. Trips were also made to the Balls' vacation homes in Leland, Michigan, and to significant sites back East, though a trip to the Buffalo (New York) Historical Society proved fruitless.

"They asked, 'Why are you here? Minnetrista already has everything,'" Flook recalled with a smile, adding BSU's Bracken Library and John Straw also contributed greatly to the effort.

As the project continued, Flook settled into a well-established role, securing the money to fund it, setting the parameters of its scope and then overseeing the work of his students. Along the way, Flook's respect for the five Ball brothers, who had an immeasurable impact on our city, grew exponentially.

"They created a genuine culture of beneficence in Muncie," he said. "They made ethical choices on beneficence. They were really committed to making Muncie grow. ... The foundations of their legacy are here."

One thing he was particularly impressed by was their tenacity in overcoming several professional setbacks to pursue their dream. Indeed, he noted, it was Muncie's good fortune that our Gas Boom hit about the time their Buffalo factory went up in flames.

Another piece of good fortune: About that same time, the patent on Mason jars expired.

Things couldn't have worked out better for the Ball brothers, or our city.

Interestingly, while Flook has come to know them all in a way, his favorite brother is Lucius, the oldest and the one who basically hung behind working odd jobs while his brothers took their fledgling steps toward becoming successful industrialists.

"He facilitated what came after," the filmmaker/educator said, adding it wasn't until age 37 that Lucius finally headed off to pursue his own dream, enrolling in medical school and eventually becoming a physician in his brothers' factory. "I always thought that was neat."

As he tells that tale, you can see the spark flare in Flook's eyes when the person he is addressing takes it in, mulls it and adds to his knowledge of a unique individual who had a real impact here, an example to follow. Observing this, you begin to understand what drives him.

"I think I'm making a difference within the students' lives," he said, before draining the last of his beer. "I don't want them just to be button pushers. I want them to be storytellers."


Information from: The Star Press,

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