Yesterday, a few of my colleagues and I took a trip to Effingham, Illinois to see the 6th Annual AHA Film Festival. This festival has grown over the years from 150 to around 1500 attendees and incorporates two different school districts. Essentially, two English teachers, Joe Fatheree and Craig Lindvahl, have collaborated on a multimedia class and decided to recognize their student’s work in a public forum. As Joe described his classroom, it reminded me of the project based classroom that I had a few years ago. Just as in Joe’s class, my students created films and told their story. We talked about and studied cinematic techniques and tried to create an avenue in which students who weren’t strong writers could still tell their stories. They wrote, rewrote, filmed, refilmed, edited and reedited before they came away with a product that they could be proud of.
We went so that we could get some pointers and ideas on how to run our own festival happening in about one month. While our scope is different (ours is grades K-12 and district wide, while AHA encompasses two high school classes) and we are not awarding prizes for our festival, the meaning is still the same, we want to celebrate student work through video. I learned a lot yesterday and, as I was driving home (and laying in bed awake thinking about the day) I began to think about the quality of the films that the students in Effingham had created. To be frank… they were outstanding. They were still student films and they are definitely still learning, but as I thought about many of the student films that I’ve seen in my years teaching, I think these are among the best. Not because of the equipment that they used, nor because of the fact that Joe and Craig are both film makers. No, these students understood that film making is really storytelling. They were telling a story and that was the focus of the entire class.
The technical capacity to make films is getting significantly lower. With cell phones capable of capturing video to Flip cameras to more traditional video cameras, the equipment is getting cheaper. Nearly every computer out there has a video editing application built into the operating system and now there are even online video creation tools that can be used. The rules have changed when it comes to the tools. However, the methods of storytelling remains very much unchanged. So that makes me wonder (yet again) do the tools really matter? There will always be technical obstacles that must be addressed, but does learning what to click on in Movie Maker, iMovie, Premiere or Final Cut Pro really what we should be teaching, or should we be more focused on the process of storytelling? Yes, learning the program has it’s place, but when you’re telling a story, what do you focus on, the tool or the process? For me it’s always been process. Technical details can be worked out and many times, I’m not the one to figure it out. If I can teach the process, regardless of what tool is chosen, the story can be told. It just makes me wonder, how many districts are teaching the tool rather than the process when it comes to digital storytelling? And for those that are, how can that mindset be changed?
Additional information about the AHA Film Festival can be found here: