For over a year now I've been shooting a schoolwide documentary project with the students, teachers, and staff of Dr. Roy Wilson Learning Centre in Medicine Hat, Alberta. Whether you've been following any of my 'documentary updates' on social media over the last year, whether you're being reintroduced to the project, or whether this is the very first time you're hearing about it at all - welcome. This is a great time for an update!
This week marks the end of principal photography at the school, which means that after months and months of on-location filming, this massive documentary project is finally going to start being assembled. In this post I'll do my best to explain some of what this project is, what we've accomplished so far, and where we hope to go from here. First, watch the teaser below.
As you might have guessed, the teaser is really just letting you know that this thing is finally happening. With a project this big I think some curiosity is a good thing. However, I do want to let you all in on some of what this documentary is actually about.
So, what IS this documentary about?
On the surface it's a documentary about a modern school, their culture, and their approach to project based learning. More specifically, it's about students. It's about their work, how they collaborate, what they like and dislike, and how they value their education - much of it expressed through their own words. From a purely observational standpoint, it's an exploration of what learning looks like.
Why was it filmed for over a year?
What makes this project so exciting is the scope under which it was shot. To document project based learning over an entire year allowed details to be revealed that otherwise would've been missed. It gave me the chance to see numerous projects, classrooms, students, etc. that are going to give this project a depth that would not have been possible otherwise.
From an archival perspective this is also a pretty unique project in that it's a detailed record of a modern Canadian school in 2016. That should make this even more interesting as it ages.
What is this going to look like?
The goal is to create 3 documentary episodes (a series in 3 parts) from all of the footage that I've shot. The outlines are still very rough at this point, but I think the episodes will allow me to utilize more of the material.
You can expect to see students working on a variety of projects, candid moments around the school, interviews with students and teachers, community classrooms, collaboration in action, classroom activities, etc. etc.
Was this project your idea?
Actually, no - not in the beginning anyway. The school reached out to me. I was contacted in the summer of 2015 and asked about collaborating on a schoolwide project utilizing video and photography. The definition of the project evolved several times early on, but as things really kicked off in January 2016 it became clear that I was shooting a documentary.
The school (WLC) was actively involved in facilitating shooting and keeping me in the loop, however this was about embracing the documentary approach. The school did not mandate what the message was, what I had to film, or what it should look like. I made those calls as the project unfolded based on what I observed. I went in with an open mind and over the course of 2016 simply filmed teachers and students in action. It's been a big experiment in many ways, but also a great opportunity to document learning in a way that most people don't get to see.
How has this project been funded?
None of this would have been possible without the donation from a private benefactor who made the contribution to Dr. Roy Wilson Learning Centre for something like this to be created. This happened before I was brought on board.
Production thus far has been funded from this donation, however there are still hurdles to overcome. As with any big project, especially on a tight budget, there are a lot of variables and challenges. Funding to fully complete the post-production side of this documentary is still not a sure thing. We're optimistic, on schedule, and moving ahead as planned, but there is portion of this story that is currently to be continued. We're working on it.
When will we get to see it?
Sometime in 2017? Editing will start on the first episode in January. Depending on how that goes we hope to eventually have a public screening, most likely release it online, and then like I've done with past projects, hopefully submit and promote it through a film festival or two. Frankly, there's still quite a few steps before we get to that point though.
So, that's where we're at right now.
I have a ton of work ahead of me but I'm so excited for what's to come. This has honestly been one of the most incredible projects that I've ever had the opportunity to be a part of, and certainly one of the most ambitious that I've tackled since film school. I hope you all continue to show your support as this unfolds. More updates are sure to follow in the weeks ahead!