Lights, Camera, Social Action! NB high school student documentary filmmakers celebrated

Written by Sophie M. Lavoie on May 29, 2016

Doc Fest

Award winners at the 2016 What’s Up Doc? Film Festival and Award Ceremony in Fredericton on May 26. Photo by Sophie M. Lavoie.

Fredericton – Films made by high school students were celebrated at the seventh annual “What’s up doc?” Film Festival and Award Ceremony at the University of New Brunswick on May 26. Over 150 attended the free public event to honour the work of local student documentary filmmakers.

The event featured seven films, three by Fredericton High School students from teacher Amy Bourgaize’s English classes and four by Leo Hayes High School students from teachers Dan Steeves and Rob Miller’s classes. Bourgaize is also an award-winning filmmaker honoured with the CBC/NB Joy Award at the Silver Wave Film Festival last November.

The evening’s big winner was student Jodie-Lynn Gerard, from LHHS, who won Best Direction, Best Actor/Presence and a special Jury Honour for her poem, featured in the documentary titled “Who are you? The Impact of Anonymity on the Web.” The film also won Best Screenplay to the delight of the student team.

Directed by Chantel Nicholas, FHS students’ film “Mawi” (“together” in the Maliseet language) about racism and stereotypes around Aboriginal students and the school system’s response also won three awards. It garnered Best Cinematography, Best Documentary and a special Social Insight Award, presented for a film’s “potential to start a discussion.”

Bourgaize, who mentored the FHS students for the seventh year, says the project “has a far-reaching impact on everything from relationships between students and teachers and amongst themselves” because it “allows them to explore social issues and even bring communities together,” among other benefits.

There was a thought-provoking array of timely topics tackled by the films.

“Liberalizing Marijuana” examined the Liberal Party of Canada’s stance on the legalization of marijuana and won an award for Originality. LHHS Students interviewed Matt DeCourcey and Deputy Premier Stephen Horsman on the topic for this film.

The significance of sleep and effects of sleep deprivation was the topic of “The ‘Rest’ of the Story” by FHS students, for which Nicole Robinson was awarded Best Supporting Actor. STU Sociology professor Silvia Hale was featured in this informative documentary.

“Netflix: Making School More Enjoyable,” directed by LHHS student Terrill Dunphy, analysed the use of streaming in classrooms and featured a funny cameo by teacher Rob Miller. It was the winner of Best Editing, done by students Justus Price and Alex Harris.

The documentary “Us Against the World” directed by FHS students Grant Crilley and Alex Finnegan won Best Original Sound/Music. The documentary looked at stereotypes surrounding hip hop music and featured local slam poet Andrew Titus. Lastly, the short film “Can Humans Handle Power?” by LHHS students examined police corruption and power.

Participating teachers voluntarily give of their own time outside of class to advise the students in this project. Rogers says that it requires that teachers “change the way classrooms operate,” something that is not always easy.

Students were also mentored by three Media Arts & Cultures students from UNB Fredericton: Avi Diggle, Jeremy Murray and Ashley Phinney. The university students played a central role in helping the teens and the teachers with both practical film-making aspects and acted as sounding boards for their ideas. The older mentors seemed to have developed a great rapport with the teens.

Bourgaize mentioned that some students’ attitudes changed during the project with some commenting to her that they “love coming to school” while they are involved in the project. She stated that some students even have plans to expand the length of their documentary on their own time.

The “What’s up doc?” Project Coordinator Matt Rogers, currently an Assistant Professor at Acadia University in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, started the project when he worked in Fredericton and used it as part of his PhD research.  Rogers is also an award-winning filmmaker.

Jill Davidson, the Literacy Subject Coordinator for the Anglophone School District-West, praised Rogers’ dedication to this year’s films, while “working out of province” in her opening remarks.

Rogers plans to submit some of the students’ best films to local film festivals and to curate a selection of films for Cinema Politica Fredericton, so there will be an opportunity for people to see the films in the fall.

Along with the Anglophone School District-West, the project receives in-kind and financial support from UNB’s Faculty of Education, UNB’s Media Arts and Cultures Program, Milda’s Pizza, Chess Piece Café, and Yeh Yogurt, among others.

Sophie M. Lavoie, a professor in the Department of Culture and Language Studies at the University of New Brunswick and an editorial board member of the NB Media Co-op, covers arts and culture for the co-op.

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