Campus: CSU Fresno -- April 05, 2002

CSU Fresno Professor Wins Telly Award for Documentary Film

California State University, Fresno professor and fledging film producer Dr. Ephraim Smith has been named a winner of a 2002 Telly Award in national competition that recognizes outstanding non-network film, video and television productions and commercials.

Smith, a history professor at Fresno State since 1966, won a bronze Telly in the "Education (for academic use)" category for his film "American Mint: A Documentary," which chronicles the history of chewing gum and mint-flavored candy.

The four-part video illustrates the transformation in the mint industry from hand work to machines, looks at the changing role of women in agriculture and examines the status of mint farmers in this country.

More than 11,000 applications were submitted in 143 categories. Entries do not compete against each other, but against a high standard of excellence. Past winners include Sony Pictures, Walt Disney Studios, Universal Studios, Pfizer, the History Channel, A&E, Kodak and Time-Life Video.

Smith, who teaches a course on historic preservation and film history at Fresno State, produced the film over a four-year period with the assistance of his wife, Donna. The Smiths are in the process of marketing the documentary through Heritage Productions.
Smith became interested in the history of the peppermint and spearmint industry after discovering the ruins of a mint still in Michigan in 1996. He learned the basics of film making at a video production workshop offered by Dr. Donald Gregory, director of School Library and Media Services for the Fresno County Office of Education, and a video production class offered by Fresno State mass communications professor Don Priest.

Last spring, Smith received a grant for innovative teaching from Fresno State, to provide release time from teaching to develop the curriculum for his new film course.

From the very beginning, Smith and his wife were convinced that "American Mint" was a story that needed to be told.

Says Donna Smith: "Even though we all brush our teeth, chew gum, enjoy candy, soothe our throats with cough drops, and swallow medications flavored with mint oils, most of us are unaware of the two-century history of the American mint industry."

Adds Ephraim Smith: "The mint farmers receive no subsidy from the government. They, like many other farmers today, are the last of the real risk-takers in this country."

The Smiths are particularly proud of those segments in "American Mint" that detail the history of the Wm. Wrigley Co., the Beech-Nut Co. and the LifeSavers Co. The Smiths also found and included in the video historical photographs, old advertisements and vintage movie film that in most cases have never been seen before by the public.

The Telly Awards was founded in 1980, to showcase and give recognition to outstanding non-network and cable TV commercials. The competition was expanded several years ago to include film and video productions as well as non-network TV programming.

Judges from a cross-section of producers, from agencies, TV stations, production houses and corporate video departments, rate each entry on a 10-point scale. Entries with a score of 9.0 or higher are "winners" receive the silver Telly. Entries with a score of 7.0 to 8.9 are "finalists" and receive the bronze Telly.

Smith said sales of "American Mint" have been modest so far, but he is hopeful interest will increase. A portion of the proceeds from the sale of the videos is being donated to a trust fund at the California State University, Fresno Foundation for researching, recording and restoring historic structures and buildings associated with the American mint industry.

More information and ordering information on "American Mint" is available at

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