- Associated Press - Sunday, February 12, 2017

STERLING, Ill. (AP) - Sarah Giroux sees the world through a camera lens, and it’s not often she sees the same thing twice.

The 2009 Sterling High School graduate always had an insatiable appetite for information and culture. The digital media arts course at Sterling High School, taught through the Whiteside Area Career Center, merely whetted that appetite.

Today, as a freelance cinematographer, Giroux gets her fill of everything the world has to offer - from films, TV, and music festivals to documenting the lives of refugees in Africa.

Among her her innumerable unforgettable experiences? The first time she operated a camera in Denis Mennie’s studio at Sterling High.

“I felt alive,” the 26-year-old said. “It gave me a reason to wake up every day. I love learning, and I soak up information like a sponge. This was definitely one thing I had a hunger to learn more about.”

Mennie gave her the pamphlet for Tribeca Flashpoint College, the trade school where she took a 15-month program. She graduated with job offers waiting.

Her only stipulation: no permanent work, let alone banker’s hours.

“I was going to combat the film world as a freelance cinematographer,” Giroux said. “I wasn’t going looking for full-time jobs or internships. I needed diversity, and I’ve been working nonstop ever since graduation.

“I’ve always wanted more, needed more.”

Giroux, who lives in Chicago, has a job with Discovery Education next month. She shoots live feeds for CNN and even covers the NFL draft.

Her first gig out of Tribeca? You’re going to laugh.

The Onion, a satirical news publication/website. She joined its rotation of directors of photography, the first of many such rotations she’d work in, some of which she’s still in today.

She loved working there, and even got to create many of its first video shorts, but ultimately, the job’s simplicity bored her.

“It was cinematography 101,” she said.

Her first blush with TV was Morgan Freeman’s Academy Award-winning series “Through the Wormhole.” She gives herself a little bit of “time off” each year to produce a short film, and said hers are regulars at film festivals. Ultimately, she dreams of producing a feature film, or a cultural documentary.

About a year after her first work trip to Africa - to Rwanda, specifically - Giroux came into an opportunity to return to the continent, to neighboring Uganda.

About 2 weeks before award-winning filmmaker David Steiner took students and a crew to Uganda, Giroux learned of the trip from a colleague who put her in touch with him.

“It was an instant bond, a 24-hour decision, and within 72 hours, a plane ticket was purchased,” Giroux said.

He solidified her impression of him pretty quickly, too. Her passport needed a stamp from the embassy in Washington, D.C., and the day before departure, it still hadn’t come back. No word. Just panic.

“Being the incredible man he is, David called a congressman, the postmaster and a travel agent,” Giroux said. “That was the kind of man David was. He made moves. He called all these people. I already knew this man had a profound impact on a lot of people.”

She knew him about a week and a half when he was killed Dec. 26 in a head-on involving the bus in which she and the crew were riding.

Steiner died on impact, and the crew’s bags were immediately raided, many of their passports stolen.

“It’s a curse and a blessing that I remember everything,” Giroux said. “I happened to be looking out the front window, and I saw the car coming toward us. I braced my life, and I think that’s what ultimately saved me from getting damage, maybe saving my life in general.”

The crew plans to finish the documentary, but must rethink exactly what it will be. They’d arranged interviews with refugees in Tel Aviv, Israel, and Cairo, Egypt, but when Steiner was killed, the storyline inevitably changed.

“We want it to be known what happened, because now it’s part of our story,” she said. “This documentary will get done. It’s important to the family that it get finished, and we’re respecting that.”

A month after the tragedy, Giroux is ready to go back.

“This is who I am,” Giroux said. “I have a hunger to learn and bring what I see back to the world. Someone has to do it, and I want to be that person. I’d go back to Africa in a heartbeat.

“All in all, it was truly incredible, profound, and one of the best trips of my life.”

The world is a wide, wild place, but there’s nothing quite like home.

Giroux visits Mennie about once a year, and he always strong-arms her to speak to his students.

“When students come back and talk to other students, it’s priceless,” Mennie said.

Students like Giroux are unique.

“Staying ahead of her while she was in school was . challenging,” he said. “She was always asking, ‘What’s next? What’s next?’

“She recognized what was a good shot. Her creative and technical skills were great, but she always had a good eye. That’s something nobody can teach.”

Giroux was a 4.0 grade-point average student and studied as a foreign exchange student in Finland her junior year, and still managed to tackle all 10 of digital media arts’ dual-credit courses, earning her an associate degree in graphic design from Sauk Valley Community College.

She said her adventurous spirit comes from her estranged dad, Ed Giroux, who she recently found out traveled to Africa back in the 1980s.

But the passion, the wanderlust and hunger for knowledge? That’s mom, Robin Meiners.

“She’s a very passionate woman, who loves learning and loves culture,” Giroux said.

As for mom, she trusts that the way she raised her daughter will keep her safe.

“She’s lived in Chicago for the past 6 years, and that alone is scary for this mom to handle, so the jungles of Africa were just another challenge for her to experience,” she said.

She researches everywhere Giroux goes . and prays.

“Lots of prayer, research of the area and confidence in my amazing daughter have given me leave for whatever adventure lies ahead for Sarah. I am and always will be get biggest fan and cheerleader.”

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Source: The Sterling Daily Gazette, https://bit.ly/2k7AcUp

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Information from: The Daily Gazette, https://www.saukvalley.com

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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