We often think of film as entertainment on the weekends or a late night past time, but it can also serve as a very effective methodology in the classroom. While the art of story-telling has been around for ages, telling a story through film is relatively new and the opportunities for film projects in the classroom are boundless. Many teachers have already delved into this art form and have used film to video tape student projects, theatre performances, art shows, poetry festivals, and sports events.

A few years ago, I found myself teaching on an Indian reservation in the middle of nowhere – no buses, no theatres, no shopping malls, no Starbucks. But it was the perfect setting and situation for documentary filmmaking. I was teaching at St. Labre Indian Mission School in Ashland, Montana and with the support of my principal and the collaboration of my students, I set out to produce and direct a film about the school’s mission statement.

Overcoming Budgetary and Resource Odds

Student Documentary Filmmaking

The students highlighted the school’s traditions with special appearances from Miss Northern Cheyenne and Miss St. Labre, who were students at St. Labre. They wore their beautifully adorned regalia and discussed the importance of maintaining customs and culture at the school. With the cooperation of the faculty, students filmed various classes that emphasized different teaching methods being utilized in the classroom. Students engaged in a lively conversation with the founder of the Beadwork Institute who explained the art of beadwork, an integral part of St. Labre’s curriculum. Students also interviewed teachers of the Crow and Cheyenne languages.

Because basketball is huge on the reservation, the students interviewed the school’s star basketball player. He spoke of the importance of sportsmanship and teamwork, but also the integrity of the sports program. The students filmed the afterschool program, which was an excellent example of stewardship.

Students from the upper school supervised, coached, and assisted with events for the elementary school. The academic counselor described the efforts being made as high school students transitioned from the reservation to college life as part of the on-going social justice program at the school. The students also filmed one of the many Native American masses that were held on campus that demonstrated both Catholic tradition and Native American spirituality.

The School’s Mission Statement

The outcomes:
  • Students had a clear understanding of the school’s mission statement.
  • Students worked collaboratively on various aspects of film production.
  • Students wrote the narration for the film.
  • Students wrote interview questions for faculty, staff, and students.
  • Students conducted on-camera interviews.
  • Students learned various camera angles and lighting techniques.
  • Students edited the footage down to a 26-minute film.
  • Students selected the music for the video.

Want more teaching strategies? Explore similar posts on our blog!

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