In the 2016-17 school year, the Pickford Film Center invited every middle school student in Bellingham Public Schools to experience a documentary film free of charge through the Doc-ED program.
All four middle schools participated, with more than 2,400 students coming to the Pickford. School teaching staff and principals were able to choose from three different documentaries for their students. Each film had a professionally prepared study guide for additional classroom use. The documentaries in 2016-17 were What Tomorrow Brings, the story of the first school for girls in a small city near Kabul, Afghanistan; Elder in the Making, a Chinese Canadian learns about the culture and history of the Blackfoot Nation in Canada; and Breaking a Monster, about a trio of African American pre-teen New Yorkers forms a heavy metal band and their lives are changed when a major label wants to sign them.
The funds for the Doc-ED program are raised annually by the Pickford Film Center and come from community members and local foundations. According to Susie Purves, executive director of the Pickford Film Center, approximately $20,000 needs to be raised annually to transport and host all middle school students in the district, with the film center absorbing most administrative overhead costs.
Pickford Film Center programmers travel to festivals all over North America looking for the best titles that will engage middle school students, as well as fit within curriculum needs.
Purves explains it this way: “We choose from the titles that are brand new and in the festival circuit for that year. This requires a lot of sleuthing on our part. Our intention is to introduce kids to people living inspiring lives, thinking inspiring thoughts, breaking barriers, and pondering the unknown. We seek out films about science and math, but don’t always find what we are looking for.”
“From our repeated surveys of kids who come to Doc-ED, the opportunity to view, in-depth, other children their age who live in vastly different cultures, can be stunning,” she continues.
“One girl commented that she had walked into a Doc-ED film angry with her mother because she refused to buy her an IPhone. After watching a film about a girl who might not be able to continue school for economic and cultural reasons, the student reassessed her own attitudes. ‘I’m lucky’ tends to pop up on our student surveys.”
The program has grown over its first three years. “The program was able to invite 1,100 students in 2014, and all BPS middle school students in 2015 and 2016,” Purves says. “We have reached our goal for 2017 and the invitation has been extended to all four district middle school principals for next school year.”
The 2017-18 school year documentaries will be AlphaGo, Purple Dreams, and Spirit Game: Pride of a Nation. Information on these three films follows:
AlphaGo, (available for screenings Nov. 15 – Dec. 15 only) directed by Greg Kohs, 90 minutes. The ancient Chinese board game Go has long been considered the holy grail for artificial intelligence. Its simple rules but near-infinite number of outcomes make it exponentially more complex than chess. Mastery of the game by computers was considered by expert players and the AI community alike to be out of reach for at least another decade. Yet in 2016, Google’s DeepMind team announced that they would be taking on Lee Sedol: the world’s most elite Go champion. The match was set for a weeklong tournament in Seoul in early 2016, and there was more at stake than the million dollar prize.
Purple Dreams, directed by Joanne Hock, 73 minutes. Northwest School of the Arts in Charlotte, NC is granted permission to be the first high school in the country to perform The Color Purple. Director Joanne Hock follows the students through auditions, rehearsals, setbacks and successes. Four students in particular are profiled, and Purple Dreams uses their stories to illustrate the importance of arts education, particularly for “at risk” students.
Spirit Game: Pride of a Nation, directed by Peter Baxter, Peter Spirer, 102 minutes. Lacrosse originated with the Iroquois, which they call their “medicine game,” and is the lifeblood of their Nation. The Iroquois Nationals Lacrosse Team is not only among the world’s best, but ambassadors for their Nation’s sovereignty and recognition. In 2015, the Iroquois hosted the World Championships on Native soil for the first time ever, in which history, politics and culture all collided on the playing field before the eyes of the world. New this year, teachers will be able to request an in-school media literacy workshop tied to this Doc-ED film Spirit Game. Funded by Humanities Washington, the workshops will link to the new Media Arts standards adopted by the OSPI in the summer of 2017.
For more information about the Pickford Film Center, visit their website.