Thoughts on the Media for Change Workshop

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Joanna Hearne is an Assistant Professor of English and Film Studies at the University of Missouri.

Thoughts on the Media for Change Workshop

Date Posted: 
2011-09-09 00:00

Blog Series:

Many thanks to the visionaries at Vision Maker Media and their partners for organizing the “Media for Change” workshop. It was a rare (and fun!) opportunity for filmmakers and educators to meet one another and talk extensively about their shared priorities. I wish we could do this more often! Here are some of my thoughts from the meeting. 

I’m writing as an educator in film studies at the university level and a devoted student of Native film and its history. I think Native films should be integrated into film studies courses and across other university curricula; students should learn about these films in their introductory courses, their American film history courses, their world cinema courses, etc. A big roadblock for getting films in front of the students is access. Given recent budget cuts, our library (at a major state university) can’t afford to purchase multiple films each semester at institutional prices (e.g. over $100). They can only purchase a few at those prices, and usually only upon faculty request for specific courses (not automatic purchasing for a general research collection). If a DVD is lost or stolen, it isn’t always replaced. Right now, it’s especially difficult for educators to get short films. Shorts are excluded from many of the feature-film oriented distribution systems, and libraries are more reluctant to pay high “institutional” prices for short films than for features. And yet short films are ideal for classroom use, even in K-12, because they can be shown and discussed in one class period and can be flexibly integrated into a wide range of course units and plans.

It would be fantastic to have a specially curated DVD/streaming series that consists of short films collected according subject matter, or genre (animated, experimental, documentary, narrative). The short films from the ImagiNative festival shown at the Native Cinema Showcase in Santa Fe during the workshop is a great example of a terrific collection of shorts that I would love to show my students. As things are now, though, it is difficult to get copies of these films. Sometimes I can contact filmmakers directly to request a viewing copy for research only—but I can’t show these films to my students. Residence Life programs for students on many university campuses are still relatively well-funded and often in search of good programming that emphasizes educational priorities such as media literacy, diversity, etc. Organizations such as student multicultural centers also have programming initiatives. Film screenings and mini-film-festivals directed towards these campus entities would be effective ways to foreground Native issues and start productive conversations on campuses.

For my students, streaming video is the format of the moment and the immediate future—if Netflix and YouTube are any indication. Our library at MU and our Residence Life program have both begun exploring streaming video possibilities for our film needs on campus. My students and I rely more and more heavily on YouTube as a flexible and easy-access film archive for class discussions. Isuma.tv is an incredible resource. If Vision Maker Media partnered with other organizations (such as the NMAI) to offer a comprehensive streaming video subscription to universities, this could open up access to films dramatically.

At the workshop, we discussed the idea of providing supplemental materials for educators. But rather than generating text for educators to use (which is very time-consuming and which might place burdens on filmmakers to provide these additional materials), Vision Maker Media might instead consider curating a list of internet resources in order to direct educators to the truly valuable (and most accurate and relevant) online sources for historical, cultural, or other information pertinent to the film topic, production, etc.

In addition to curated weblinks for educators, students and interested general viewers, Vision Maker Media (possibly in partnership with the NMAI’s “Native Networks” site) could create a large database of interviews with filmmakers, producers, performers, etc. Director and cast/crew interviews are a wonderful reading assignment for students because they foreground the voices and conceptual frameworks of the Native filmmakers themselves.

Thanks again to everyone at Vision Maker Media for making the Media for Change workshop happen! Thanks to all the educators and filmmakers—I loved meeting you all, and I learned so much.