Filmmaking workshops with elementary-school children from minority groups and low-income families
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Numerous filmmaking workshops have demonstrated that young people can make fascinating films. The films of very young children have particular charm. But books and articles about these projects seem to indicate that if the participants are ghetto youngsters, they are teenagers who have dropped out of school, or if they are young children, they are highly-motivated products of upper-middle-class backgrounds. The question this writer asked was, "Would a cross-section of children from low-income and minority-group backgrounds, who had not been especially-motivated or selected to make films, be capable of creative expression in this medium?" While trying to find answers to this question in readings and in teaching basic film techniques to the first-grade students at Montopolis Community School, the writer talked with Fran Burst, a fellow graduate student in Radio-TV-Film, and discovered that she was interested in making a documentary film about a children's film workshop. By joining our efforts, we were able to obtain funds, equipment, and participant children to find answers to our questions. We conducted two workshops. The first, the Montopolis Community-School Workshop, was funded late in its existence by a research grant from the Graduate School of the University of Texas at Austin. The Ortega Elementary School Workshop and the resulting documentary, called “The Youngest Film-makers", were funded by a filmmaking grant from the Southwest Creative Film Center, which is funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The participants for the first workshop were the first grade students at Montopolis Community School, and for the second workshop, the summer school students at Ortega Elementary School. The first grade participants at Montopolis were six and seven years old. They were predominantly Mexican-American; there were three Black and two Anglo students. The children displayed a distribution of intelligence that was entirely within the normal range. The classroom structure used many Montessori ideas, and the curriculum used bilingual materials. The summer school participants at Ortega ranged in age from seven to thirteen. They were predominantly Black and Mexican-American and were within the normal distribution of intelligence. The summer school was a reading improvement program and an art and creativity workshop.