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Washington County middle-school students share 'vodcast' experience

Series of minifilms About Civil War were screened at Weinberg Center for the Arts in Frederick

May 23, 2012|By ANDREW SCHOTZ | andrews@herald-mail.com
  • Washington County students who worked on mini-movies about Antietam National Battlefield and C&O Canal National Historical Park gathered at Weinberg Center for the Arts in Frederick, Md., on Wednesday for a screening and a question-and-answer session. From left: Natalie Stevens, Abby Giancola, Miguel DeCastro and Emmanuel Teferi, all from E. Russell Hicks Middle School; Edward Cunningham, Alexis Lewis, Nicholas Green and Emily Gross, all from Springfield Middle School.
By Andrew Schotz, Staff Writer

Washington County middle-school students captured slices of local history in a series of minifilms that were screened Wednesday at the Weinberg Center for the Arts in Frederick, Md.

Their films explored aspects of Antietam National Battlefield and the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park.

One film team looked at Civil War photography; another told a story of C&O Canal lockkeepers.

And one showed what happened to a bell associated with the capture of abolitionist John Brown.

Each of the 12 minifilms was only a few minutes long. Students referred to them as “vodcasts,” a term for short video clips.

The young filmmakers used re-enactments, closeups of historical photographs and a variety of camera angles, background music and editing techniques in their creations.

Students worked on their projects several months ago, as part of an educational program called “Of the Student, By the Student, For the Student” through the Journey Through Hallowed Ground Partnership, a nonprofit group that promotes regional history.

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The films were shown to a crowd of more than 100 people as part of a JTHG “History Through the Arts & Humanities” conference in Frederick that included speeches and discussions at various sites.

Afterward, the student filmmakers from E. Russell Hicks and Springfield middle schools took to the stage for a question-and-answer session.

All eight students answered every question from moderator Robin Meyers, JTHG’s director of education, and from the audience.

Some samples:
Q: Why did you choose the film you made?
A: Edward Cunningham, who directed, edited and acted in “The Freedom Seekers,” said he wanted to learn more about African-Americans on the C&O Canal.

Q: How can you share the information you turned into a film?
A: “I’d show it on Facebook,” said Miguel DeCastro, the director and videographer of a minifilm on photography.

Q: What advice would you give to the next crop of student filmmakers?
A: “It’s really, really hard work, but it will pay off in the long run,” said Natalie Stevens, a videographer and editor for a film about the Emancipation Proclamation.

Q: What was it like using source documents to gather information?
A: It’s a lot different than using Google, which doesn’t always produce reliable results, said Abby Giancola, who worked on a film about the homefront and women. She was an editor and actor.

Q: How does a project like this help students stay in school?
A: Kids drop out of school if it “doesn’t capture their interest,” said Emmanuel Teferi, a director, actor and editor for “The Big Picture.”

Q: Are you now interested in helping to preserve the national parks you studied?
A: Nicholas Green, an editor, script writer and actor on a film about C&O Canal locks, said his crew saw firsthand how important preservation is. They had to reshoot scenes near Lock 44 because of the operation of the nearby electric power station, he said.

Q: Does it matter what age students try this project?
A: While most panelists said no, Emily Gross suggested that it’s an appropriate project for students to take on as they get older, possibly changing the minds of some who consider dropping out. Emily was a script writer, actor and editor for the film about the John Brown bell.

Q: What lasting effects will your project have?
A: Younger kids might look up to us and be inspired to learn more about history, said Alexis Lewis, a videographer, script writer and editor for a film about women on the canal.

The students received enthusiastic reviews from the crowd. One audience member thanked them for bringing historical stories to life.

Dennis E. Frye, the chief historian at Harpers Ferry National Historical Park, congratulated each panelist for his or her work.

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