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Lights, Cameras, Document

High school students take part in 'Document Arlington Project.'

A team of five high school students from Arlington County learned that the toughest part of working in film is not the taping, or the interviewing or writing scripts — it is the editing process.

From July 10 through Aug. 10, the students participated in the "Document Arlington Project," a program established by the Humanities Project of Arlington Public Schools in conjunction with Arlington Independent Media. Funded by the Arlington Community Foundation and Arlington Cultural Affairs, the five-week program offered production training, a public screening of the documentary in the fall, and a $750 stipend upon completion of the project.

THE YEAR 2006 marked the launching year for the project, which is the brainchild of Mary Eckstein, the humanities project coordinator for Arlington Public Schools.

With a background in folklore and oral history, Eckstein took part in a program where high school students produced a booklet based on their documentation of Arlington's Nauck community.

"I always aspired to create a summer program for high school students ... I was put in touch with Jackie, who does a lot of community documentaries, and I thought it would be a good match," said Eckstein.

Jackie Steven, the operations manager at Arlington Independent Media, with 21 years of experience, agreed to mentor the students. "We thought it was a perfect fit for us … Arlington Independent Media is a community station," said Steven.

Flyers were handed out to English and film teachers and guidance counselors at public high schools throughout Arlington. More than 30 students applied.

A committee met to review the applications, paying close attention to the student’s proposal for the documentary’s topic. "It had to be community-based, interesting … and also something that showed an awareness of what it would take to accomplish … it had to be doable," Eckstein said.

Chris Oxenford, Karina Zannat, Matthew Doyle, Alexander Matta, and Michael Dosik were accepted in the apprenticeship. They met at Arlington Independent Media’s headquarters in Clarendon on Monday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

In five weeks, the teens learned what goes into making a documentary. While digitizing the tapes during their final official work day on Aug. 10, they were discussing editing decisions like pros — "You can always tell when it’s a still frame," "See, this is what’s important."

The result of the "Document Arlington Project" will be two 15-minute pieces, one on Fire Station #8, the first paid African American fire station in Arlington, and the other on redevelopment in Arlington.

For the most part, the students came with a film class or two as background. Zannat, 16, who attends Washington-Lee, had no experience whatsoever. She saw the program as "a way to get me into the arts." Others, like Dosik, a sophomore at HB Woodlawn, and Doyle, a junior at Yorktown, had taken film production classes.

Oxenford, 17, who attends HB Woodlawn, had also taken an introductory film course, but plans to retake it this year, now that he is a more proficient filmmaker and has access to Arlington Independent Media’s facilities and equipment (the students will be granted temporary membership at the end of the project).

Doyle and Matta, 15, who also attends Yorktown, had some experience with filmmaking.

"My counselor recommended [the program] … I had talked to her about wanting to do stuff with film over the summer," Dosik said. "The only other documentary I had done was for my church…They liked it a lot and used it for advertising mission trips."

Matta, who has been making short films for four years, heard about the program from an English teacher after he made a video for a class project.

HOWEVER, there was more to the project than acquiring filmmaking expertise. According to Zannat, who wants to major in journalism, "It was not just work on technical stuff … it helped a lot with people skills, planning and directing skills." Zannat plans to return during her spring break to work on a film about "how socioeconomic factors affect teens’ hopes and wishes of going to college."

As he and Zannat look through the tapes for sound bites, Oxenford, who worked on the redevelopment piece, said, "We’re going to show both sides of the issue … We’re using the recent controversy in Buckingham as a microcosm for what’s going on in the rest of the county."

Not all these teens aim to be the next Michael Moore or Steven Spielberg. As Matta said, "Becoming a director seems so glamorous … but there are so many filmmakers, and only like three Spielbergs."

Dosik, on the other hand, does not let that deter him. He has been interested in film for the last year and a half, and though he had done mostly animated films, Dosik found this project to be "very enjoyable" and wants to pursue a career in film. "Personally, I don’t want to go to an office every day to be doing something repetitive … I want to do something I enjoy," Dosik said.

Working with Steven at Arlington Independent Media was the only formal training the students had.

During the first week of the program, they learned about media literacy topics and the technical aspect of film production. By the end of the second week, topics were chosen for the documentary, and the students had several solid hours of editing practice under their belts.

Steven echoes Zannat in maintaining the project provided more than filmmaking skills. "They developed a lot of good cooperation skills," Steven said. "None of these kids knew each other when the program started five weeks ago. It’s impressive how they’ve bonded."

In addition to the five weeks already devoted to piecing together interviews and shots, Oxenford, Zannat, Doyle, Matta, and Dosik plan to continue working into the following weeks, putting on the final touches. The documentary is set to air on Channel 69 late September. For updated information, visit www.humanitiesproject.org.

"As hard as it can be … when you watch your movie, it’s very inspiring. I love doing it," said Dosik.