Native Documentary Making

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Find out about Native Documentaries for Social Change, a curriculum taught at Mesa Community College to allow American Indian students to use filmmaking to communicate their heritage and history. Eddie Webb, who teaches the course, will talk about his program.

Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to Arizona Horizon. I'm Ted Simons. Native documentaries for social change is a curriculum taught at Mesa community college that helps American Indian students use film-making to communicate their heritage and history. Eddie Webb developed a curriculum. He joins us now to talk about the program. Good to see you. Thanks for joining us here.

Eddie Webb: Thank you for having me.

Ted Simons: The native documentaries for social change, what are we talking about?

Eddie Webb: Well, it's a progression of our written curriculum that we have had, our competencies from English 101 and 102. I had gone back to film school in Scottsdale community college as a teacher, myself. I was exposed to documentary film-making there. So, I just started building this curriculum for our Native students of how to make the language come alive. So in the past, I was seeing these great research papers by individual students, but I am the only one seeing them. So, by using this technology that we can reach a larger base and also the skill set that comes along with film-making.

Ted Simons: So basically, these films communicate heritage and communicate history, correct?

Eddie Webb: Yeah. We -- the students, actually, pick a theme. We have a process, Ted, that's, you know, that follows our competency and rhetoric, so we have to have an objective thesis. We have to have case studies. We have to integrate all of that research into a solution or a conclusion, right, so answer all those, premise, and so we workshop with the students, and they pick the topic. That's what's been cool about this, is our first one that we did was about assimilation through boarding schools. That was the theme. The one that we're working on is native language preservation because as the country knows, as the language goes, the culture goes.

Ted Simons: Indeed, and I noticed in looking over this that you want these films, these documentaries, these projects to promote social consciousness. What does that mean?

Eddie Webb: For hundreds of years, you know, it has been really the colonial story of America, the land, the environment, as well as the people. So, with these, you know, with this technology of film-making, tribes can actually exercise self-determination, sovereignty, and not for the first time, but we're at the beginning of an era where young people can take multimedia technologies and tell their stories. Just by doing that, is the shift in the culture and in society where you are not having other people tell you about your culture.

Ted Simons: Indeed. We've been talking about that a number of times on this program, the idea of the history is whoever is telling it, and right now we're getting the history and heritage from these American Indian students. It's interesting because I know that there is a very strong oral tradition in Native American culture that comes through strongly in these documentaries, I would imagine?

Eddie Webb: Oh, yes. I mean, you know, I think the people that -- they bridge the gap between traditional people and more progressives, the population, right, but the idea is that they are still bridging the communication through story-telling. It's the stories. I don't know -- Leslee silco had written in her book "ceremonies" that stories are all we have. It's what heals us, keeps us healthy, the way we interpret. So, our young people, you know, they are free to explore their own stories.

Ted Simons: From what you have seen, and again, this is part of English 101 and 102. This is part of the curriculum there at Mesa community college. How do you see the difference between the student who writes x, y, and z, and now, can show and tell x, y, and z?

Eddie Webb: Well, I think it's my responsibility as an instructor, right, to stay current on a lot of these technologies because this is the language that our young people using Facebook, you know, all of these multi-media technologies are just common tools for this. So, I've been very encouraged by, you know, the students when they get into the classroom and they see the curriculum, they come alive. The last one that we did, we filmed them, actually, writing the traditional paper, right, and cut away to us being out on the reservation interviewing elders, interviewing, you know, people that preserve the language, the culture, so instead of it just being a thesis statement, you know, in the text, we do that part, but then we cut away to bring it alive.

Ted Simons: Are you reading -- again, you are reading this story, but when that story gets onto the videotape or digital or whatever they are using these days, you are seeing a different story?

Eddie Webb: No, I don't think so. I mean, I think that the impact of the story is better for the audience, right, and isn't that what we -- we teach that, right, and that's the first question, who is your audience, right? And then we ask them, in writing, to show more than tell, right. So, here we do that. We, you know, all of those principles line up perfect.

Ted Simons: What kind of reaction are you getting from the students?

Eddie Webb: Positive. All positive. It's also a great team-building exercise. So, I put, you know, we just make -- we name our own Production company. We called it rad film productions. We make our own T-shirts, so there is a business aspect to the writing, as well. So, they form their own company. We just break them into production teams. We wait a couple of weeks while we are doing the writing so that people can get a feel for the equipment. We are shooting our cameras, using zoom recorders and led lighting, so we have all of the tools to play with, and people just come to find their way to whatever group. So, it brings the community together. The students are working together. We work on the big screen through google documents, so we're writing collaboratively. It's amazing.

Ted Simons: What kind of reaction are you getting from other instructors?

Eddie Webb: Positive, you know. I think that it's -- I think at the beginning, it's a lot, right, it's a lot to comprehend in terms of how do you make a sentence come alive. We were -- we were ok with static images, power points, but now, all I'm doing is introducing motion and audio, which has to be edited, so there is another component to the curriculum, too, right, we're using all of the premiere, I don't know, can I say products?

Ted Simons: Oh, sure.

Eddie Webb: We're using all these other technologies, as well, to get the final product. So, I think instructors are -- at least in my department, extremely supportive.

Ted Simons: The last question on this, we talked about, obviously, what kids are learning. But, there is also leadership, I would imagine, identity, family bonds, the whole nine yards, that has to be included here.

Eddie Webb: All of that. What's really exciting is to watch the progression of the classroom. So students just -- they find their way. In a week, five, six days, I know who is going to be the producer, who is going to be the director. Who wants to get behind the camera. People just -- they find their way, you know. I had two students that were best buddies but fascinated by lighting the scene, Rembrandt, I showed them Rembrandt, and that's all that they wanted to do. It was amazing. We have our producer. We have -- so they find their way into it.

Ted Simons: Congratulations on this. It sounds really interesting. It sounds like you are getting good work done. It must be very satisfying. Thank you very much for joining us. We appreciate it.

Eddie Webb: Thank you, Ted.

Eddie Webb:Professor, Native Documentaries for Social Change at Mesa Community College;

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