Hometown Treasure: New Kensington's Dennis Woytek
When Dennis Woytek was approached in March 2006 about doing a documentary on a small village in Europe, he couldn't have anticipated the effect it would have on him.
Woytek, an assistant journalism professor at Duquesne University, and one of his students joined a group of 29 Pittsburgh residents in taking a pilgrimage to the village of Medjugorje in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
"Channel 4 wanted me to go and do a story on it, and they came to us at Duquesne," Woytek said.
He had two weeks notice, and got a passport in five days. It was his first trip to Europe.
In 1981, six children in Medjugorje claimed to have seen visions of the Virgin Mary. Now, 25 years later, the children are adults and still claim to see the visions on a regular basis.
Throughout the nine-day pilgrimage to Medjugorje, Woytek conducted interviews with locals and one of those children, now an adult, as well as shot footage inside St. James, the church where some of the visions are said to have occurred.
He compiled the experience into 13 hours of raw video that was cut down into a 26-minute documentary titled, "A Journey of Faith."
Woytek's documentary won him his second Telly Award for cinematography. The international awards, founded in 1979, honor outstanding cable TV commercials and programs, video and film productions. This year, there were more than 14,000 entries from all 50 states and five continents.
Woytek won his first Telly Award in 1991 for a travel program titled "Pennsylvania Adventures," which ran on all major cable stations statewide.
"A Journey of Faith" ran regularly on Faith Television in Europe, and also Channel 19 in Uniontown. In addition, Woytek has presented it to many parish groups in the Greensburg and Pittsburgh dioceses.
"It's getting out to small groups and then spreading out, and it's affected a lot of people so far," Woytek said. "It's given them a sense of hope, and many times given people a sense of peace."
Woytek, who is originally from Erie, got his start in media at age 16, when he became a disc jockey at a local radio station. He was also the photographer for his high school yearbook.
During the Vietnam War, Woytek joined the Navy and served as a combat photographer and radio announcer.
"I went as a photojournalist in a lot of combat missions," he said. "That's where I started to get more and more into film-making and TV."
Woytek said his many years of experience helps him now when he teaches his classes at Duquesne, where he has worked for 14 years.
He said he'll never forget his experiences during the pilgrimage to Bosnia-Herzegovina.
"I feel lucky to have had that opportunity to go over there and experience something that very few people get a chance to do," he said. "It does my heart and soul a lot of good to go back and remember that.
"To me, experiencing people and their lives is just incredibly rewarding."