Thoughts on documentary

Today we got some very helpful feedback from our classmates after we showed our assembly cut in class. I think that based off of our classmates’ feedback, it would be beneficial for us to sit down as a group and discuss what parts of Brian’s story we want to include in our final documentary. Obviously, there is a lot of background information about him that we could include, and I was happy to hear Marley say that our SOT of Brian talking about deciding to go to space camp showed her a lot about his background. I was glad to hear that we already have some SOTs that can connect Brian’s background with the school closings for our audience. Since Brian has a very compelling story and life beyond just his work with the Chicago Students Organizing to Save Our Schools, I think that today’s responses from our classmates showed us that we need to make sure that we are always (or nearly always) telling his story as it connects to the schools that are closing, otherwise we risk straying away from the central theme of the film.

Our biggest challenge at this point is getting our viewers to care about the schools that are closing. Right now, we haven’t been able to film at all inside of a school since CPS has denied us entry into any school for filming purposes. I think that in our rough cut, I’d like to include some footage from the protests much earlier on, almost so that we introduce Brian and the issue of school closings much earlier on in the piece and do not end focusing too much on Brian’s story that we don’t tell the story of the school closings. I think we could make the reality of school closings hit home if we use protest footage early on, and perhaps began the film by having a few students from the protests say why they are there, so as to introduce our audience to the fact that schools are closing in Chicago and students are fighting to save them. From there, I think we could focus in on Brian, and it would be great to ask him in our master interview to explain how Banneker is representative of all of the schools that are closing for him. We still need some way to show, not tell, what Brian is saying about the schools being a resource to the community, and I think Alisa’s idea of trying to film students at an extracurricular activity might be a great way around the problem of CPS not letting us into classrooms. Another SOT that I think will be important to include in the film is one from Seth Lavin (who is in our assembly cut), when he explains that CPS’s top administrators have frequently changed over the past several years, and that the current administration has only been there for about six months. When they have been at CPS for such a short amount of time, Lavin says, how can they know enough to make the decision to conduct the largest mass school closing in Chicago’s history? For me this was a powerful SOT that drew me into the issue and made me question CPS’s tactics. 

Pandora’s Promise critique

Although the documentary “Pandora’s Promise” has little to do with our film about school closings in Chicago, for me there was one large parallel. Pandora’s Promise has the immensely difficult task of changing people’s mindsets about nuclear energy—a task that became extraordinarily more difficult after the nuclear explosions at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan. Knowing that the film was in favor of nuclear energy, I was surprised that during the beginning of the documentary, arguments against nuclear energy were explained—I almost thought that I was wrong and that the film might be anti-nuclear energy. But in my opinion, this was one of the strongest points of the film. I thought that by clearly laying out reasons why people would be against nuclear energy ultimately made the film’s pro-nuclear stance stronger, as I understood arguments on both sides of the debate by the time the film finished.

Pandora’s Promise was clearly a film with a certain agenda—a pro-nuclear energy one—but it still managed to present both sides of a complex argument in a way that left me as the viewer feeling more educated about the issue. Regardless of any preconceptions that I had about nuclear power, and regardless of whether or not I left the film “pro-nuclear”, I thought that by the end of the film, I could understand the perspective of the filmmakers and why they chose to make a film advocating in favor of nuclear power. I thought the film was an excellent example of representing the many facets of a debate and still making a clear point.

As we progress in our film, I think that it is worth remembering that explaining the “other side” (in our case, CPS’s point of view) is important for our viewers. Ideally, it would be great to have someone from CPS explaining why they are going forth with school closings and what they will gain from them (aside from the fiscal reasons they have already given). If we can’t get that, I’d like to keep working with Seth Lavin (who we have already interviewed), as he said he has many connections within the teaching community in Chicago and would be happy to put us in contact with people. This might be the best way to show the “CPS side” if we can’t get a response from CPS themselves.

Another strength of Pandora’s Promise was the evidentiary support used to explain why nuclear power was a positive thing, overcoming the stereotypes of nuclear energy as dangerous and hazardous. Something that I took away from this part of the documentary in relation to our own is that research and presenting factual information is critical to overcoming the preconceived notions about the South Side or Chicago’s school system that people will come into the film with. I think Brian and the passion of other students that we can interview at protests will be a good way of showing that students on the South Side are extremely passionate about their education and hopefully Brian’s story as it relates to Banneker can show us that the students and families impacted by these school closings do not meet the traditional, negative stereotypes about the “south side”.