More than 150 people were treated to films made by high school students at the ninth annual What’s up doc? Showcase on May 24th at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton.
The participatory filmmaking program originates from former teacher, now University of New Brunswick Education professor, Matt Rogers and his now colleague Philip Sexsmith.
Jill Davidson, a Literacy Learning Specialist from the Anglophone School District West (one of the organizational sponsors and long-time supporters), told the public they would be “blown away” by the films. Davidson considers that the students “put their voices out into the world for a larger audience,” something that has incredible impact on their literacy.
Rogers has been the coordinator of What’s up doc? since 2009. He affirmed that this participatory filmmaking program “changes the way the classroom operates” for teachers. Four teachers participated in the program this year, two of them for the first time.
The most seasoned teacher is Amy Bourgaize, herself a lauded filmmaker, and a participant since the beginning of the program. For Bourgaize, who carries out the project in her grade 11 classroom at Fredericton High School (FHS), it is her “most favourite thing to do in the classroom.”
Bourgaize’s students prepared two exceptional films. Overloaded won Best Cinematography (for cameraperson Matt Nevers) and the Originality category. The film explored issues around the school such as the type of classes taken (not enough hands-on) and the school schedule (too early).
The second film made by Bourgaize’s students, Somewhere on the Spectrum, offered “a voice to people with autism.” It garnered numerous awards including Best Film, Best Screen Presence for student Aaron MacDonald, and the award for Student Voice. The film exposed the incredible vulnerability of the participating students who spoke very honestly about their autism.
Two other FHS teachers joined the What’s Up Doc? project for the first time. Greg Porter’s class made the film Behind the Scars, a film on bullying that was winner of Best Editing. The film gave a good overview of the resources available to students. Porter was “extremely proud” of his class and gave out three separate awards to his students.
Sara Bamford’s class made a very thoughtful and touching film titled What They Left Behind, about “the experiences of newcomers coming to FHS” during the transitional period. What They Left Behind won awards for Best Direction (Mateo Barac), Best Screenplay, as well as the Social Insight Award. The film featured testimonials by newcomer students from a variety of backgrounds.
Finally, from Nackawic High School, Stephanie McGrath’s grade 11 class made a film about “cell phone addiction and how it affects their lives.” Their film, Life Behind Cells, received the award for Best Actress (Rebecca Morehouse). The documentary included some funny scenes (including hitting a cellphone with a baseball bat) and featured some experimental post-production details.
The evening’s program was shepherded by UNB Culture and Media Studies student and award-winning filmmaker Mathew Gracie. Gracie was also a mentor to the high school students, along with some of his university classmates. Mentors play a central role in helping the high school students. UNB Culture and Media Studies students Ashley Phinney and 2018 graduate Ty Giffin hosted the award ceremony at the end of the night.
In his opening address, Rogers stated he was “looking forward to the conversations the films will bring about.” Indeed, the films touched on many different, and often contentious, subjects which will no doubt spark exchanges both amongst students and in the larger community.
Sophie M. Lavoie writes on arts and culture for the NB Media Co-op. She is also an editorial board member of the NB Media Co-op.