Making Curriculum Pop

Media That Matters: Tools for Change

Media That Matters: Tools for Change

The Media That Matters film resources illustrate the use of short films on community transformation projects and as vehicles of self-determination. The presentation we received in class was one of the more powerful sessions we had (for me), as it showed how a) the accessibility of new media technology, b) grant resources for traveling and filming, and c) short films that explicitly expose details on community development, contribute to d) media as an anti-meta-narrative tool for community empowerment. Topics on Media that Matters vary from films on Ugandan hip-hop artists, community gardening projects in Oakland, apiaries as a resource in green cities, conditions in youth centers for HIV affected youth, to youth consciousness of politics and political leadership. This broad spectrum of issues has a common denominator: highlighting life movements that are often invisible or left out of popular media resources such as news and entertainment channels.

I was first introduced to Media That Matters at the Facing Race conference in Oakland last November, held by ARC and Colorlines magazine. There were a variety of workshops and presentations given during the summit, yet the Media That Matters smattering of films spurred a real buzz amongst educators. Many of the participants in the conference were activists and community development practitioners, and we were exposed to a variety of CONTENT that we could use in our practice. What were absent for teachers attending the conference were more examples of the VEHICLES we can use to share this content with our students. The short films freely accessible on line from Media That Matters were an actual tool that we could take to our students as examples of content that use various means of communicating the issues relevant to the film-maker.

Media That Matters shows three strong assets that possible for teachers and students engaging in classroom projects on community voice and development:

Voices within the community can tell their own story:
In the shorts we viewed, the filmmakers may come from outside the community; nevertheless it is the site-specific community that creates the narrative. Viewpoints that we may not be privy to in other outlets have a vehicle for telling the story of bees in the city or country, the effects of gardening and sustainability cooperatives in inner-city neighborhoods, or how being Muslim impacts the rap lyrics an artist writes about.

Media tools are available for making such video shorts with little financial investment:
With the advent of affordable computer technology, freeware and shareware, and video-making programs that come with the operating system, there are now basic tools available for students and teachers. Anyone at a school that can access an IBM with QuickTime, a Mac with iMovie, and a $200 video camera can have students create a film on a topic addressed in class. It is important to have the time to teach some basics on filming perspectives and shot-choice, storyboarding a narrative, and especially for editing. At our schoolteachers have used a semester or two bridging years to assist students in producing films on environmental concerns, the history of our school, and summaries of art seminar projects at our school.

Youth voice has power and influence beyond the domain of popular media:
Media that Matters is the exemplar model for students to see grassroots videos of high quality that represent community voice and particularly youth voice. We can use these films as a training ground for short films, and use choice films that were made by young filmmakers to give students a strong sense of process and final products. After the Facing Race conference, four of our teachers chose films that they used in class to relating to different topics. Students’ first responses were, “Can we make one of those?” The content is dynamic, vibrant, and relates to how young people see their own communities…from the ground up and from the inside out.

Our presenter, Ambika Samarthya, shared a film that showed all three of the above. The children at the center and the workers at the center told the central narrative. With the assistance of grant resources for travel, camera materials, and time for editing, she created a telling story about children’s lives at the facility. Because the topic was the children and their surrogate parents at the center, it showed how family is created for children with little contact with immediate family.

TEACHER FAVORITES (post Facing Race):
African Underground: Hip-Hop in Senegal
America for Dummies
How To Watch a Film
(Hate) Machine
No Child
Esmeraldas: Petroleum and Poverty

How are these films anti-meta-narrative?
If there is an overall storyline for our lives that is informed by surface news reviews, popular entertainment, and advertising, we need alternative resources for giving depth and specificity to life stories lived in communities. With the introduction of new information resources through the web, prevalently influential newspapers and broadcaster are facing challenges in communicating community issues with conscientious description and in-depth analysis. As teachers we can give students exposure to alternative resources such as Media That Matters, to show that many voices exist and do matter in informing the complex quilts that makes up our societies. This allows various forms of discussing community issues based on the content and the vehicle for communicating diverse perspectives.

Teacher funding source:
A resource that I would recommend for teachers who may want to make their own films on community issues in other countries is Fund for Teachers. One of the teachers at our school is using a $5000 grant from FFT and will be traveling to Kilimanjaro doing artwork with local communities, and filming her experiences there. She will then return and work with a filmmaker from the Art Institute of Chicago to create a brief documentary about the trip. She was able to include all the related costs in her proposal and received full funding for the trip. Teachers can also apply as teams for larger funding amounts.

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