In 2021, in celebration of Salem Academy and College’s 250th anniversary, a group of five alumnae walked 500 miles from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, to Winston-Salem, North Carolina. They were recreating the 1766 journey by a group of 18 Moravian women and two Moravian men that led to the establishment of the oldest educational institution for women and girls in the country.
The group was joined at points along the way by more than 400 other graduates, students, and friends. And a documentary chronicling the 29-day trip has its debut tonight on PBS North Carolina at 8:00 p.m. Wednesday night. WFDD’s Bethany Chafin spoke with Director, Producer, and Salem alumna Alex Klein about “Journey to Salem.”
On what filming on the road was like:
We should have had a little documentary crew documenting us because it was quite an adventure. We were traveling along with the group. It was me and Jennida Chase, who's a film professor at UNCG. And we were on the road basically working out of an Audi that was donated to us for the trip. It was not that big and so we packed all of our equipment into this car along with all of our luggage because we were going from hotel to hotel as we were traveling down the coast.
So basically, every night we would unload all of our gear and charge it up and dump memory cards, etc. and then pack it all in the next day. And we tried to travel pretty light when we were actually jumping out and documenting the women as they were walking. There were certain things that we could prepare for and set up in advance, but a lot of it was, you know, me with a GoPro running backwards in front of them or Jennida jumping out of the car to grab a shot really quick with one of her nicer cameras, or there's plenty of one of us hanging out of the sunroof of our vehicle trying to get a tracking moving shot. So I mean, it was, you know, it was definitely one of the more exciting production experiences that I've had, for sure.
On group dynamics and what could be seen from the filmmakers' points of view:
Yeah, it's funny. As a documentarian, you are often an observer, right? You're not an active participant, even though you are to some extent, especially on something like this, where we were traveling along with the women. We were seeing the sights, we were visiting the various landmarks, and really immersed in the story. But we were not the traveling party, right? We were there to document them.
I did feel like we were able to observe the dynamic of the group. We were able to really see how this journey was touching them personally, in a way that I found really interesting and heartwarming, and moving. All of those things. You know, these women really took time out of their lives, out of their jobs, out of their family, to spend this 30 days basically on the road, for something that meant more than themselves. You know, it was for women's education. It was for giving Salem a platform. It was for telling the story of women's personal perseverance and resilience. And it was amazing to see their transformation along the way and their persistence.
On what Klein hopes viewers take from the film:
Well, I mean, I really hope that they walk away inspired. I'm especially hoping that young women will watch the film and that some part of that film will resonate with them personally. I think that it was amazing back then that this group of women did it, that they walked almost 500 miles from Bethlehem to Salem. And it's amazing today that a group of determined women echoed their journey and recreated a way to inspire a new generation of women and to tell the tale of Salem to really underline or to point out the significance of Salem's impact on the history of female education.
*Editor's note: This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.