A recent Temple University graduate is riding high, thanks to an award from the Television Academy Foundation for a video project he made while studying in Nicaragua.
Eli LaBan, 22, of Wyncote, took home a national College Emmy on Wednesday in the 2017 College Television Awards’ “Series -- Unscripted” category for his project Learn to Count in an Endangered Language. Produced during LaBan's trip to Nicaragua with SIT Study Abroad in the fall, the series uses short social-media-oriented videos to promote endangered languages such as Miskito and Garifuna.
“Being selected is incredible, because it is validation for these creative risks I’m taking and spreading this message from Nicaragua,” said LaBan, who graduated this spring from Temple's Klein College of Media and Communication with a focus in media studies and production. “It’s resonating with people, and I’m going to continue doing it.”
Organized in a nontraditional format, the Cheltenham High School graduate’s videos consist of two- to three-minute clips showcasing indigenous Nicaraguan culture and languages. One clip teaches viewers how to count in Garifuna; another showcases coffee farming in Nicaragua.
LaBan, whose project was up against more traditional reality-television-style pursuits, said he decided to do his project on Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast because of the area’s uniqueness, which he hoped to highlight with the video as a sort of cultural preservation.
“It’s like a different country than the rest of Nicaragua,” said LaBan, son of cartoonists Terry LaBan and Patty Rich, who coauthored the nationally syndicated Edge City comic strip, which ran in the Inquirer for 15 years. He also is the nephew of Inquirer restaurant critic Craig LaBan. “It’s home to all these Afro-indigenous ethnic communities, and where people usually speak an indigenous language before they speak Spanish. I was instantly struck by it, and I knew I wanted to do my project there.”
LaBan says he settled on the short, social media-oriented videos because of his time as an intern at NBC10, where he worked as a video editor on the web series “Generation Addicted.” He earned a professional Mid-Atlantic Emmy for that project.
“This one is really special because it’s national,” LaBan said of his latest win. “I came out to L.A., and they had the awards show and the whole deal, so this is really an incredible thing.”
LaBan will be sticking with the project, thanks to funding provided by SIT’s Alice Rowan Swanson Fellowship. He was selected for that fellowship this year, and he plans to return to Nicaragua to continue the project in August for several more months.
As he makes more language videos, LaBan plans to expand their scope to include elements such as sustainable farming methods and indigenous plant knowledge. He hopes to begin releasing those videos this year.
“The cultural preservation is really needed badly down there,” LaBan said. “Nobody’s really out there making multimedia content about these things. I’m really excited to go back and run with this and see how far it can go.”
Check out some of LaBan’s videos from Nicaragua below. (More clips are available on his website.)