On Sunday, July 31, seven teen filmmakers, all female, showed off their video poems in front of an appreciative audience. This year, our second running the Media Poetry Studio camp, students ranged in age from 12 to 16 years old. Each student gave a short introduction, talking about inspiration, writing poems, learning videography, filming, and editing.
Our students’ videos this year displayed a diverse range of themes. Almah Galan’s “What I See” focuses on social justice and includes an interview with her great-grandfather, while Caila Bigelman’s “A Game of Chess” features her own, fanciful drawings. Rachel Schultz’s impressionistic, untitled video deals with the passage of time, while Carol Liou’s video (also untitled) questions the value of sacrifice. Emilia Rossmann’s video is a touching reflection on the loss of loved ones, while Dasha Dedkovskaya’s depicts one person’s struggle with insomnia. Finally, Shachi Prasad takes a philosophical look at the price of being gifted.
Lessons began each morning in our outdoor classroom at San Jose’s History Park. Students spent the mornings writing, listening, reading and critiquing each other’s work. Our goal for the first day was for each student to write a haiku, which she turned into a short video that afternoon. MPS co-founder and former Santa Clara County Poet Laureate David Perez, along with special effects and videography teacher Jennifer Gigantino, introduced them to film techniques, and worked with the students throughout the two weeks. For the rest of the two weeks, we coached the students in writing and filming their videos.
For inspiration, I brought art and photography books for the students to browse. The books range from the classic, 1955 collection The Family of Man, edited by Edward Steichen, to pocket editions of Magritte and Chagall’s paintings. The students marked pages that stood out for them with Post-It notes. Going over the books after camp was over, I could see where many of their ideas began. For example, a drawing of a building reminded Caila of a chess piece; Almah was struck by Dorothea Lange’s famous “Migrant Mother.” Magritte’s eerie “The Musings of a Solitary Walker” inspired Dasha.
Students created a community of artists and writers on the first day. The supportive spirit continued throughout the camp. It was a pleasure to see how the girls jumped in to help each other, from acting in each other’s videos to holding the camera still in order to get an extreme close-up (of each other’s eyes – eyes were a theme this year!) to offering help with setting up scenes.
Our curriculum this year included some wonderful teachers new to Media Poetry Studio: the fabulous Mighty Mike McGee, a well-know spoken-word poet who performs around the world, and the talented Freya Seeburger, a cellist who runs JAMS (Juxtapositions Avant Music Symphony). Mike gave a presentation on using spoken word techniques in voicing video poems, and Freya composed original music for each student’s poem. Freya also gave us a mini-concert, playing the music she created and offering commentary about her creative process. Much of that beautiful, haunting music is heard on the students’ videos.
We are also grateful for Elaine Levia, whose skills went far beyond her job description as “aide” – Elaine helped with writing, recording, filming and editing. Videography expert Jennifer Gigantino ushered the students into the mysteries of Adobe Premiere and After Effects. Students were particularly intrigued with masking, a technique that allows one layer of video to show through another. You can see how the students used masking in their videos.
Co-founder and poetry teacher Jennifer Swanton Brown gave us a wonderful ekphrastic lesson using art postcards; this lesson resulted in the seeds for quite a few of the students’ final poems. And last but certainly not least, I give huge thanks to my partner in this endeavor: David Perez, one of the hardest-working people I know, for his intelligence, creativity, energy, and artistic excellence.
One of the best things about Media Poetry Studio is its location: History Park in San Jose. We use the Edwin Markham House, an old-fashioned two-story house that Edwin Markham once lived in. We all agreed that the spirit of Markham, a well-known poet who died in 1940, gave the house a special quality.
We could not be more proud of our talented students. Once again, we are grateful for the support of the video poetry community and our funders, including major support from the City of San Jose’s Office of Cultural Affairs, Macy’s, and our fiscal sponsor, California Poets in the Schools. Thanks to Poetry Center San Jose for the use of Markham House. We could not have done this without you.