If you've ever wondered what the role of "Media Specialist" at a traveling high school consists of, join the club. I am constantly scratching my head and looking around this ever-flexing job description to make sure I am fulfilling my real purpose. What began with a need to create video and photo content for marketing purposes expanded within the interview process to also include the creation of educational media, followed by a teaching role, archival responsibilities, and curriculum building. It gets a little bigger but a little more focused every year.
I like to think that, on top of my five established responsibilities, I am still experimenting within my role at this experimental high school.
Last month, I finished a long project that required me to expand my skill set and the previous definition of TGS media; I completed a feature-length documentary film. Equipped with guidance from other TGS teachers and many community members, it came together throughout a long and sometimes bumpy process of collaboration that thickened my skin and refined my understanding of storytelling.
In January 2013, I traveled to Bhutan with 30 international students, only to come home with mass amounts of footage that couldn't be condensed into a little web video. Fifteen months later, I screened a feature-length film from that trip to the students who lived it. (I was even able to share it with the Prime Minister of Bhutan and receive feedback!)
I haven't been so nervous to share my work as I was throughout those 56 minutes. Thankfully, they responded nicely to so many parts of the film and told me their thoughts afterward, surprisingly and thankfully all of which were positive. The screening sparked a discussion about Bhutan's concept of Gross National Happiness and how we approach facilitating happiness at TGS.
I was inspired by their comments and so aware of how far we've come in our pursuits at this nomadic high school.
The following weekend, I screened the film again for the staff, including our new Head of School, in order to facilitate a discussion on travel + education. We are always passionately airing our thoughts to each other in small groups about this topic but never have we brought these pockets of thought together in one room. The discussion took a sidestep from the central question, but I was happy to hear what ideas and opinions the film sparked.
I didn't walk away with a sense of universal positivity as I did from the student screening, and in fact some didn't really get what I was trying to accomplish with a long film and a Sunday night screening/discussion. It felt important to understand those perspectives along with the perspectives of those who were on board with my goal of production and sharing. Again, my skin now requires a little more "lotion" than it used to, but I imagine that's the rite of passage of all expressionists with each new venture.
I have since opened the film to the larger TGS community for individual viewing and commentary. Some of the parents provided their feedback, all of which was constructive and encouraging of further documentary exploration. Since many of them cannot visit the school to see it in action, this film actually provided them a window into their kids' lives that they aren't otherwise afforded.
With the limited attention span of media consumers on the Internet, I had a feeling the intended audience for this film would be those closer to the school, rather than the general public. I'm really not sure, though, if this is the case; at this point, I can barely see past my own nose with a project in which I was so immersed. Regardless, the next step is to open "Why weXplore?" up to a wider audience: everyone else. My hope is that the film's relevance extends to anyone who wonders about issues of happiness, school, and travel.
In August, I plan to visit Los Angeles during a long layover and consult with some people who might be able to exhance my perspective in this arena. Is my audience for this film really limited? What could its potential distribution look like? Are there any ideal film festivals to submit this to? How can I improve my storytelling efforts at TGS, and should I attempt another feature length anything? I'm excited to learn, expand my capabilities, and model for my students the joys of lifelong learning.
If you are a documentary filmmaker or a curious traveler/educator, I'd be happy to share this work and even more overjoyed to receive any feedback you could provide! Simply comment below or contact me.