In a season suited to swimming and picnicking, some local youngsters will spend hours indoors focusing on cinematic projects. Two new Chittenden County programs offer ways to explore the intricacies of film: Vermont Public Television's one-week Video Camp, at its Colchester headquarters in mid-July, targets high-school students. The University of Vermont recently launched the Summer Integrated Media Studies Institute, a month-long session aimed at the undergraduate crowd.
The VPT activity has slots for 12 area adolescents. The UVM course is already in progress and at capacity with 30 college-age kids. Both opportunities reflect a growing interest in the art form fostered by the accessible nature of digital video.
"We're looking for people who are familiar with handling a camera and editing," suggests Rob Michalak, a VPT production manager who will be one of three instructors. "Many students are savvy about technology these days. There's a lot of talent out there."
After soup-to-nuts training, the campers will join forces to create a half-hour broadcast that combines footage shot in the field with studio stagecraft. "The goal is to have each of them experience every aspect of putting together a show," Michalak says. "This matches our mission of presenting educational fare and community involvement."
The UVM classroom work is devoted to critical film studies. Teams of students will also make five- to eight-minute documentaries on social and environmental issues. "We'll help hone their ideas," explains Andrea Grayson, an adjunct professor who is among the program's five instructors. "We tell them: 'You can tackle global warming, but what does it mean on the local level?'"
Three nights a week, the institute hosts screenings followed by chats with guest filmmakers. Thursdays, those 6:30 p.m. events are open to the public in Room 427 at the Waterman Building. Last week, the 1970 Rolling Stones concert classic Gimme Shelter preceded a discussion in-person with producer Ron Schneider and via phone with director Albert Maysles.
The remaining schedule includes Creating Another World: A People's Agenda for Labor, Land and Water by Robin Lloyd on June 9; Howard Zinn: You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train by Deb Ellis on June 16; and The Year That Trembled by Jay Craven on June 23. The June 30 gathering, at 5 p.m., will premiere the students' shorts.
When Yohanna Briscoe discovered that Madeleine Kunin is fond of The Beatles, the Burlington High School senior added "Across the Universe" and "Revolution" to the soundtrack of her short documentary profiling the former Vermont governor. Like the Liverpool Lads, "We all want to change the world." Unlike Kunin, most of us have barely made a dent.
"She's amazing and so inspirational," says the 18-year-old Briscoe. Her seven-minute piece, "Madeleine," earned second prize in her age group and a top honor from the Vermont Women's History Project at April's Vermont History Day in Barre. The latter accolade comes with a check for $250.
Not bad for a teenager who had never worked a digital video camera before. "I didn't really know what I was doing," Briscoe acknowledges. "The first time, I left the night vision turned on and it made half the footage all greenish."
That took place in early March, when she was shooting a speech Kunin delivered in Montpelier. Luckily, Briscoe had a second opportunity.
"She came to my women's history class at school for a group discussion and I got to ask her a lot of questions," recalls Briscoe, who was just a toddler in 1991 when Kunin left state office before becoming deputy education secretary in the Clinton administration.
Only a few clips from the two live appearances made it into the final production, which Briscoe narrates. But she scanned in photos from Kunin's 1994 memoir, Living a Political Life, and other sources. Friends helped with the editing process. "It really opened my eyes to how much work goes into making a film," Briscoe points out.
"Madeleine" will screen at the Vermont History Expo in Tunbridge on June 25 and 26. By then, Briscoe might be elbow-deep in containers of One Sweet Whirled or Cherry Garcia. She's got a summer job at the downtown Burlington Ben & Jerry's scoop shop. Come fall, she heads to Amherst College in Massachusetts to major in international affairs.