With funding from The Hive Digital Media Learning Fund in The New York Community Trust, graduates of the award winning Lab at Reel Works teamed up with science learners from the American Museum of Natural History over the Summer to collaborate on three short films. The films were produced using actual Science Bulletins footage of an AMNH paleontology expedition to Rusinga Island, Kenya. To create these films, the students mastered the art of filmmaking, while learning the scientific complexities of paleontology and evolution. In December, the youth presented the films at the museum and then watched, for the first time, the Science Bulletins video produced by the professionals.
To learn more about the program, I spoke with a youth from each program. Yoko is a senior at Brooklyn Technical High School who pursues a career in science with his ties with the American Museum of Natural History. Along with his science interests, he is also pushing his filmmaking interests as well. Makeda is a sophomore at Brooklyn Technical High School, who is interested in a career in veterinary science, so she is a member of Gateway to Medicine, the only four year major at her school. In addition to that she has been studying and becoming more adept in the field of filmmaking for a little over a year with Reel Works Teen Filmmaking. Together, they represent two groups of teen who participated in this unique collaboration.
Barry: Yoko and Makeda, Please tell us what grade you are in and how you first got involved with the project.
Yoko: I am in the 12 grade and I was first introduced to the AMNH Anthropology Filmmaking Course through my teacher, Samara Rubinstein, who highly recommended this program due to my combined interest in science and filmmaking.
Makeda: Well, I am in the 10th grade currently and I was introduced to the project through Reel Works, because at the time I was student in Reel Works’ Spring Lab 2012. I thought that the project would be interesting because it combined my long time passion, science, with my new found hobby of filmmaking.
Barry: What role or roles did you play?
Yoko: I was assisting the students at Reel Works Studios to provide them scientific information and with methods to make a documentary as the students edited the footage we have obtained.
Makeda: My role in the project was to share my knowledge of filmmaking with the teen anthropologists from the AMNH in order for us to create a science film.
Barry: What was most interesting to you about the program, and something unexpected that happened?
Yoko: One thing that I found the most interesting about being in the program was the fact that I learned that there must be a linear “storyline” in documentary films, which is something I never realized, even after watching countless documentaries in my life. It was just a fantastic thing to learn and increased my respect for those that create documentary films.
Makeda: The most interesting thing about the project was watching the footage taken by the AMNH’ crew on the excavation at Rusinga. Watching the raw footage taught me so much about what anthropologist and archeologist do in their field of work. I think the most unexpected thing to me was the similar clips used by all the groups to make their films even though all the films had different stories they wanted to tell.
Below are the three films produced by the youth:
Land of the Primates :
The Found Species :
Barry: What was it like to share this with an audience on a stage at the AMNH?
Yoko: It was very nice to see our final products on the big screen with the people who participated in the real Science Bulletin short documentary. It was just a very fulfilling experience to see their reactions/responses to our films.
Makeda: As always I find it embarrassing to showcase any film that I’ve made because I’m always my biggest critic. To add on to that, I was nervous because we were showing it to a room filled majority with people from science background and the actual people in the footage. I was a bit worried that they would not agree with how I represented the scientific facts.
Barry: What was it like to see what the professionals did with the same footage and to compare it with your own decisions?
Yoko: I found that we as students in this program had very similar ideas with that of the professionals, which gave me much hope. It was great to see that we had similar mindsets with the professional museum filmmakers.
Makeda: I was not too shocked that the actual professionals used many of the same visuals that my group and the other groups selected to use in our films but I was shocked at the fact that the story the professionals told to tell and the story my group chose to tell were very similar. I thought it was pretty cool that we were thinking along the same lines.
Science Bulletins: Expedition Rusinga—Uncovering Our Adaptive Origins
Barry: Is there anything taking part in this program has now made you more interested in learning about or doing in the future?
Yoko: Editing the footage was a process that was the most tedious for me. However, as a filmmaker and editor, this really gave me the boost I needed to produce new films this year.
Makeda: I always thought that in the end I would have to pursue a career either in science or media but this program has showed me that I can have the best of both worlds. And I think I would like to learn more about science filmmaking.
Barry: If there is one thing you could have changed at the program, what would it be?
Yoko: I would have liked to be in the AMNH a lot more for more scientific inspirations, however it was important to be in the studio to edit. I would’ve liked to watch a documentary film (unrelated to the subject matter) with the whole class and share thoughts on how it is made. Although these are just small items, the main thing I would change is the number of days of the course. It would have been much more productive if more days were put in the summer to create these films.
Makeda: I actually do not think I would change any part of the program. I learned a lot. I hope I helped the other kids in the program learn too, and I had a lot of fun. I also met very colorful personalities and learned the very important skill of collaboration, which came in handy a number of times while making our science films.