|Future filmmakers test their shot-making skills under the supervision of SOA volunteer Nelson Walker.|
Take a walk on the Morningside campus one Saturday, and there's a chance you'll encounter some unlikely camera crews. These grade-schoolers cum Fellinis, who hail from New York and New Jersey schools, are participants in the Kid Witness News program.
Elementary through high school students come to campus for a daylong session led by School of the Arts filmmakers. Morning workshops provide an intensive, hands-on exploration of the equipment, as well as lessons on storytelling, directing, camera techniques and editing. In the afternoon, students form teams and go on campus to create a short film in an amazing 90 minutes. The films are then shown on a full-size movie screen to the entire group in the Lifetime Screening Room in Dodge Hall. "This is a great way to show the students that they can have a future in film and for us to showcase the skills we have learned," says Eugene Ramos, SOA'05 and a KWN volunteer.
For many of the KWN students, it is the first time they have set foot on a college campus, and they often surprise their mentors with their level of attentiveness and the quality of their work. Volunteers feel a great sense of accomplishment seeing the younger students work together, and they share the kids' excitement of holding the camera for the first time. The younger students also gain from these less tangible benefits.
"There exists a great degree of opportunity for student creativity, individuality and self -expression," says Jon Hammer, a teacher at Theodore Roosevelt School in Weehawken, New Jersey. "As they share the story they want to tell their peer audience, the realization emerges that an excellent new video can be produced when everyone works together."
Since the program's inception in 1989, nearly 60,000 students have participated from more than 200 inner-city schools in 155 cities. Panasonic provides the schools with a digital video camera, digital editing deck, television monitors, VCR, tripods and other accessories; KWN chooses the schools.
Columbia is the only university affiliated with the program. Local participants are able to come to campus for workshops, but most KWN participants learn filmmaking techniques from their teachers, courtesy of teaching materials provided by Panasonic.
Students then submit their films for the annual KWN New Vision Awards. SOA volunteers review the films, and the top entries in each category are submitted for a final round of judging by an independent panel of professionals. The winners spend a weekend in New York and are honored at a special ceremony.
"Everyone has stories and the ability to tell them through the medium of film," says Nelson Walker, SOA'05. "No matter how old you are, something meaningful, personal and special can come from the experience."