This semester Ithaca College, I worked with fourth graders at the Greater Ithaca Activities Center. In
their media program , we created short documentaries of the students’ choice. My professor had
done this in the past and paired IC students with GIAC students and the projects seemed to be a
lot of fun. But at first I was a little skeptical of how we would accomplish this huge task in just a
a month with only a handful of meeting times. How would we teach these kids to use the
equipment and come up with an interesting idea for a three to five-minute documentary? But by
the end of the month, I realized everything the students had accomplished and how driven they
were to create their documentary.
We walked in the first day to a room full of energetic kids bouncing off the walls and whispering
to each other. It brought back memories of when I was their age. I remember how I would look up
to the big kids. Now that I was a big kid, I knew that I had to be their role model. For this program,
the kids worked with actual cameras, which is something I never had the opportunity to do. Working
with them for the past month, I really started to see their passion and interest in working with the
equipment and capturing the interview.
My group and I worked with a handful of students to create what ultimately became a
documentary on breakdancing. Ideas bounced around from sports to cooking and by just
handing the camera to the students they took off on their own creative story by interviewing G-
Quan, someone who is a professional dancer breaking into the business. We did a lot of planning
and talking, which actually was thrown out the window. Our original idea was to interview Jay
who cooks with teens at GIAC. We wrote down questions for particular individuals and were
completely prepared to come in and film. We brought in steps we used in our own documentary
with pre-production, but with scheduling and the need to start shooting, Jay wasn’t cooking with
the teens and somehow by some amazing miracle we came up G-Quan, who was more than
willing to be interviewed, talking about the history of break dancing and also what he did as a
dancer. The students really took to what he was saying and they were so focused on their jobs.
On another day, he taught the kids how to dance, giving them a step-by- step tutorial and he did a
bit of his own moves to some music. Through this, the students were able to be both crew and
The cast, making an appearance on the screen.
This project and experience has opened up my knowledge to documentary because we had to
teach the kids to use the camera and the audio equipment while also making sure they didn’t trip
over wires and didn’t damage the equipment. I’ve worked with kids before, but never to make a
film, so it was a new experience. So it was a lot to handle, plus all their energy combined, but it
was worth it. Also, I’ve come to understand that your documentary might completely change
from pre-production to production, which my team and mine actually did (but not as drastically
as cooking to dancing). It’s kind of just going with the flow, trying to stay on schedule, shooting
everything you can, and letting the creativity expand to find what is interesting and what draws
But overall it was a good experience. I think they had a lot of passion to film and capture the
material. They not only filmed footage of dancing but also interviewed people during a museum
exhibition in their gym for Women’s History Month and footage of double-dutch and anything
they could get their hands on. They filmed in the playground; they filmed each other and even
tried to interview my team and me. They traded of the camera, headphones, and microphones
and some were better at certain aspects than others. Some had a steadier hand and some were
able to hold the boom pole better. They each found their strengths and weaknesses and balanced
one another out, like any film crew should.
The difficult part was only being able to visit them two times a week for about an hour. By the
time we got them settled and organized we had about forty-five minutes to actually talk and film.
It was hard to be the adults and be stern, but also want to have fun and be creative with them. For
us, IC students, it was about working together to strike a balance of creativity and safety. But we
somehow managed to get all the footage and then some to create a documentary about break
dancing. All the kids had their own personality and all of them wanted to do everything. They
really worked as a collaborative team. They were literally attached together between the camera,
headphones and microphone. I’m proud of what my team and I accomplished with the students at
Thinking back at my own project about my adoption story, we had a lot of ups and downs just
like the documentary with GIAC. There were technical errors and all you can do is just roll with
it and try your best to fix it, but also to check and double check that camera is recording, that
audio can be heard, that the lighting is not too shadowy. But overall the work was finished, the
footage and interview were captured and a story was told. This semester I’ve worked on different
projects with my team and with the fourth graders and I’ve learned a lot from each one of them.
It all starts with a camera and a story. I hope the final cut of their documentary is something they
are proud of and can remember later down the road.
-Post written by Brenna Williams