Over the past two weekends, the East Lansing Public Library hosted an "Introduction to Documentary Filmmaking" workshop for high school students aged 15-18. The workshop was run through Pop Up Docs, an organization that provides workshops for aspiring visual journalists from underrepresented groups.
Michigan State University artist-in-residence, 4-time Emmy winner and Pop Up Docs Founder Jarrad Henderson hosted the event alongside Community and Urban Journalism Professor Danielle K. Brown, as well as students in the MSU College of Communication Arts and Sciences.
The workshop was a pilot project in collaboration with Brown’s project, LIFT X VOICES, which looks at how trusted messengers provide information to Black communities. Brown's research also focuses on how to mitigate harm caused by “dishonest, misinformed and incomplete narratives.”
“This particular workshop's goal is to (help students) film an interview, a really technically sound interview,” Henderson said. “And really understand the ethical differences between fictional filmmaking and nonfictional filmmaking.”
Over the course of the four day workshop, students learned how to use visual equipment, like video cameras and microphones, and conduct interviews. The event also featured sit down-interview sessions with Detroit Free Press Columnist Darren Nichols and Brown herself.
Henderson said including their voices in the workshop was essential because it allowed students to be inspired by esteemed professionals from underrepresented populations.
“For me, it’s very important that students get access to journalists who have different backgrounds, diverse stories and different experiences to share,” Henderson said.
Throughout the event, students could interview Nichols and Brown about their careers and learn how to work a camera by adjusting lighting, monitoring audio and shooting b-roll.
For Henderson, getting a hands-on experience goes beyond simply learning how to use equipment.
“There’s something magical about putting your hands on a piece of technology that opens up the possibility of your creativity,” he said.
The implementation of hands-on learning is tied to the main goal of Pop Up Docs, which Henderson founded during his time as a Knight-Wallace Fellow at the University of Michigan. Their goal is to provide this technology and technical ability to students who would otherwise not have access to it, he said.
“The hands-on part of it is really coming from a want and a desire to democratize access to technology and technology literacy,” Henderson said.
When Henderson was in school, he didn’t have access to opportunities that introduced him to journalism or the importance of storytelling. By providing students with these workshops, he said, he can give them insight into a path they might not have otherwise known.
“Students like being hands on and understanding how things relate to them,” Henderson said. “By putting the tools and techniques in their hands to say, ‘Here’s how you can document your reality, your story,'... that’s a very powerful mission.”
In addition to equipping students with these skills, Henderson hopes to provide them with lessons that "go deeper." During the workshop, MSU students also passed on their knowledge to their high school audience.
“For me, I get rejuvenated every time I see a student's spark come into their eye, even if it’s just for a moment (or) has nothing to do with what we’re doing,” Henderson said. “I’m still a student…I’m learning from them just as much as they’re learning from me.”
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