Jun 29, 2016

Progress on the Schoolwide Documentary

For the last 6 months I've been shooting a documentary and capturing countless hours worth of raw material at Dr. Roy Wilson Learning Centre in Medicine Hat, Alberta. At the beginning of the year I expressed my initial thoughts towards the ambitious project that we were all embarking on together. Now, on the last day of school, it seems fitting to share a few updates. 

First things first, this is not the end. Admittedly, certain aspects of this undertaking are just as open ended as they were at the start. Documenting the evolution of a school, the process of learning, etc. is no small feat, and we knew this going in. A big part of this experiment is rooted in the experience of creating it to begin with. But, we've come a long way!

dr roy wilson learning centre editing luke medicine hatSeeing the enthusiasm of students, how they collaborate with one another, and their eagerness to share (especially when the camera is pointed in their direction) has been an absolute blast. You'd be amazed at the impact a camera makes. In the beginning it was a novelty, but as they warmed up to it it provided an opportunity. It gave students an informal excuse to express themselves and to share their candid thoughts directly from the classroom. 

The story for this documentary may not be complete, but I've captured some amazing moments so far. A lot of them have been subtle, but as a collection they paint a layered picture that I don't think most people actually get to see. That's been incredibly exciting. 

My entire perspective on kindergarten to grade 8 has been refreshed over this last year. It's also made me realize that there's not only value in the story we choose to tell, but as an archival project this material will only become more insightful with age. How many other documentaries like this are being shot over months and months at a single school, spanning multiple classrooms? That alone makes this noteworthy.

On a personal level this has been so much fun to be a part of. The teachers and staff have been so friendly and welcoming from the very start. The students have been amazing and have overwhelming embraced the camera and open concept of the project. The youngest grades, especially, have made me feel like a celebrity every time I visited one of their classrooms. I can also thank the well timed release of the latest Star Wars movie for keeping Luke Skywalker on everyone's mind, as the nickname stuck after my first week - that's been a lot fun too!  

school documentary project editing luke medicine hat wlcIn June alone I interviewed over 50 individuals, and after capturing so much random material around the school it was nice to have a few formal discussions. It wasn't that the interviews were that heavy, it was just the candid nature of the discussions that made them unique. Time clearly moves differently when you're a student, and their retelling of the school year seemed just as random and disjointed as it was for me. If I hadn't been documenting it as I went, you'd have thought that everything was a lot more straightforward than it was in reality. 

More than anything, it was all of the positivity from the students that stood out. There's something thrilling about documenting them as they're just starting to figure out who they want to be, what they like, and where they want to go. And if the project has proved anything, it's that they just appreciated someone bluntly asking them to talk about themselves. Sometimes everyone gets so caught up in what they're doing day to day that they're not able to see the big picture. That's where I came in. 

If this first half of 2016 was about getting our feet wet, I think the fall will be about sculpting and refining our approach even further. Whether it's a single video, episodes, or part of some other elaborate plan, I think there is still a lot of material to come out of this experience. I don't want to hype it too much, but I'm still as excited as ever to see how this journey continues. But, more on that later. School's out!


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