The red carpet might have been construction paper, but the films were certainly Oscar-worthy as eighth-graders at the Pemetic Elementary School in Southwest Harbor last week showed and discussed the documentaries they made for a class project.
The topics the 10 students in teacher Kelli Rich’s class took on in their short films went far beyond what one might expect of students their age. There were no films of students grousing about the food in the cafeteria or fawning interviews with a favorite teacher. Instead, the group tackled such weighty themes as climate change, bullying, LGBT discrimination and the shrinking pool of skilled workers on Mount Desert Island.
“They were asked to come up with something they thought was socially significant,” Rich said. “They all were very passionate about their topics.”
After a crash course in basic journalism and narrative nonfiction writing, the students each wrote a news story on their topic. Using that information, they developed a story board for their film project. That, Rich and her students agreed, proved to be the most unpopular step in the process.
The filmmaking was overseen by Peter Logue, whose work includes “The Fire of ’47,” a historical look at the devastating fire that swept Mount Desert Island, and “The Search for the White Rose,” which brought to light a little-known resistance movement in Nazi Germany led by university students. This is the second year Logue, a Pemetic alum himself, has worked with Rich and her students. His work this year was made possible by an enrichment fund grant from the Mount Desert Island Regional School System.
Logue said he got involved about six weeks ago, meeting with the students five times, talking about documentary techniques, the stages of production and showing clips of his own films. But when it came to the actual work, he remained hands off.
“They shot and edited the films on their own,” Logue said.
In contrast to doing the storyboards, they responded enthusiastically to this task.
“They were all very self-motivated and excited about making their own film and sharing it,” Logue said.
No expensive equipment was used. Footage was shot using laptops, tablets and the like. Editing was done on iMovie software.
“I had the kids shoot on what they had available,” Logue said, noting that he was in college before he had the equipment available to make his first film. “They have access to everything they need to make a film,” he said of the Pemetic students.
The students said they shot between 30 and 60 minutes of video, which then was edited to make a film about five minutes in length. The school’s technology coordinator, Michael Brzezowski, helped the students navigate the software and fix glitches.
Getting to the finished product required some flexibility on the students’ part. Their initial thoughts about a topic changed as the film came together.
“They had to rethink what they were doing and adapt,” Rich said.
A filmmaker must remain flexible, Logue said.
“There is no one way to go about making a film,” he told the class. “Never feel that you’re tied down to decisions you made two months ago.”
Attending the screenings Friday were a group of parents and the seventh-grade class that will be making documentaries in Rich’s class next year.
The films are to be posted on YouTube soon.