Call Out: Looking for Young Documentary Filmmakers

With a grant from Calgary 2012 (Calgary’s cultural capital bid), I am now a project looking for ideas and youth who want to participate. All I know at this point is that it will involve documentary filmmaking, that it will start around September, and that the project should connect youth with significant issues and their own sense of power in affecting those issues.


How are we going to do this? Well I haven’t figured that out yet. Maybe you can help me tackle some of these questions.

What themes would be worthwhile exploring?

This is the year for Calgary 2012 so why not explore the urban design of the city? Most students and I would say most adults don’t have a good sense of how the city works (or doesn’t work). What if we had students learn about their cityscape Jane Jacobs style exploring and observing transportation, water sanitation, building construction, usage of public space? Would the city allow us in?

Or perhaps the youth can seek out exceptional Calgarians who lead by speaking the difficult truths and standing up for fairness and justice. These types of leaders are not necessarily the ones celebrated by the mainstream, but they’re the ones that actually shift the way the mainstream think. But where would I find such Calgarians?

Or can the projects by Calgary 2012 artists become the source for youth to investigate? What will the link be between art projects and community?

What format should the project take?

I could re-run Reel World Youth Documentaries at a school as Kate and I piloted at the end of last year. See for some of the details. I loved the engagement by the class and its integration with the curriculum. However, the time constraints were tight and we couldn’t dedicate enough time needed for field trips and research. If I were to do it again, I’d be looking for a school willing to dedicate weeks worth of time to it.

Or rather than running it on top of school curriculum, perhaps it could be a month long intensive program that takes the place of a segment of a course permitting me daily contact. The challenge here is that interviews would be more difficult to arrange in that short amount of time unless more prep was done.

Which school or class would be right for this?

Do you know of a school or a teacher or a group of youth or even a single youth that would have the flexibility to run an intensive yet engaging program such as this? Then let me know and propose your idea to me. I’m open for suggestions!

There you have it. It’s a project waiting for the right creative constraint. Please spread the word.


Reel World Youth Filmfest

After wrapping up Reel World Youth and doing a final debrief with the teens at Alice Jamieson, I’ve come to the conclusion that life really is far more interesting than the comfortable illusions we are fed by daytime TV and cultural norms. Here’s a short video giving some of the highlights of this fun project.

What is next? Hard to say as this was a pilot project in education enhancement. Over the years I’ve come to realize that schooling is not the same as education and sometimes even runs counter to it. Because if education is everything society does to prepare people for life, then school in terms of influence plays only a small part. Yet at the time, it seemed like everything.

As someone who excelled in the school system, it’s a big shock to look back now and realize how the pursuit of marks, the segregation of subject areas, the standardized tests, need to conform to rules, and the need to always reference the authority… actually took away from my ability to learn adaptively. And by adaptively I mean learning how to do those thing where there was no external direction or routine to follow. Which in this day and age is pretty much what life is and will be.

So this experiment was one where we tried to break down the barriers between subject areas (English, technology, art, and history all blended together), to connect students to authorities beyond the classroom, to provide meaningful motivation beyond marks, and to give them a real life challenge. For the most part we were successful in making those connections. But there were tough lessons on time management, juggling the demands of curriculum, on technical glitches, and on frustration and relationships.

Nevertheless, I can see it is possible break the boundaries of conventional learning. It just takes a bit of thought and care.

Youth Interviewing the Real World

We are six weeks into our Reel World Youth project where we are teaching kids how to create mini video documentaries as a way to learn about the world around them. And what a learning it has been to try to coordinate twenty teams of grade eight girls to research their story, come up with a story line, book interviews, and edit it all together. Once completed (or not), these films will be showcased at a film festival on December 1st for friends and family to share in the students’ learning.

It’s important to note that this course is not a separate after school program. Rather Reel World Youth is meant to be integrated (and encourage integration) with curriculum across subject areas. Too often school subjects are separated into silos of meaning that aren’t connected with each other or the real world.

My aspiration is not to run a movie-making course, but to use movie-making as a conduit for learning. Researching a topic and coming up with a hypothesis for the story, learning about story structures, approaching adults and asking questions, making meaning of the answers are all relevant life skills… if they can be connected to life. And I do hope that the students feel they can look at real issues of the world and do something about them.

You can track our progress via my other blog on Hidden Story Productions. Here are a few recent posts:

I want to give a special thanks to to Awesome Calgary and the Calgary Foundation for providing some seed funding for the equipment. And many, many thanks and accolades to my partner in the classroom, Kate MacKenzie from the Alice Jamieson Girls’ Academy, who has been absolutely astounding at taking care of the nightmarish logistical details of institutional proportions, managing classrooms full of young teenagers, and constantly finding teachable moments in everything we do.

Meet the Human Race

This is quite possibly the most important video I have cut together to date. Not because I shot it. In fact, I’ve taken liberally from HOME, Journey of Man, and Short History of Progress.

It’s important not because the ideas are original. They are drawn from Leadership Calgary and from the work of the Action Studies Institute.

It’s important because it’s a vivid reminder to me every day that I am part of the human race whose history is my history, and whose journey is also my adventure.

I use to think my history was tied to who my grandparents were or where I was born. As it turns out, that is only a tiny part of my ancestry.

I used to just assume I was a global citizen perhaps because I’m part of that “new generation”. In reality, scientifically, historically, pragmatically we must learn to become global citizens.

And so this video is in a way an introduction to the human race and the situation we find ourselves in and the need to move forward.

I’d much enjoy hearing your response to it.


Teaching Kids How to Read

What do you need to know to help children learn to read in their first 2000 days on Earth? In this exclusive presentation hosted by Calgary Reads, child development expert Maryanne Wolf breaks down the genetic and cognitive aspects of reading for those crucial first years of a child’s life.

This is a long presentation clocking in at almost two hours, but well worth it if you’d like to see the leading research in this area.

Some really interesting points:

  • Reading is not a natural ability like speaking. It is a cultural invention that requires multiple features of the brain working together. A breakdown in any one of those areas may lead to problems in reading later in life.
  • Not surprisingly reading to your kids is important, but what is surprising is how early you should start (i.e. – from birth). This early experience creates in the child an association of love with reading as well as developing connections between sounds and print on a page.
  • Socrates was illiterate. He refused to learn how to read because he thought that reading would ruin memory and critical thought. He was right in some ways, but he also didn’t anticipate all the benefits.
  • Exposing kids to as many words as possible through talking, singing, and rhyming in the early years will go a long way to helping them be prepared for school.
  • Digital tools like Google, YouTube, Facebook are radically transforming how kids are thinking and learning in both good and bad ways. The jury is out on which one will outweigh the other.

If you’re interested in more, check out her book Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain. Keep in mind that she focuses primarily on the genetic and brain aspects of reading, and thus doesn’t say much about what one does with that reading ability or the fact that most of us stop reading critically or deeply after schooling beats it out of us.