This documentary film was created by the 2019 senior class and covers the September Merrimack Valley Columbia Gas explosions and the natural gas industry in Massachusetts and nationally. The documentary, Under Pressure, explores the complex truth of natural gas as an energy source as well as the struggles of local families and small businesses as they attempt to rebuild their lives after a disaster. The expedition spanned all four core classes and lasted from September to the film's premiere at the Greenfield Garden Cinema in February.
We asked the teacher:
What was compelling for your students about this?
The most compelling aspects of this expedition were that the students themselves chose the topic of the film and that they were ultimately responsible for the quality of a film that they would show to a full theater here in Greenfield then distribute far and wide via the internet. They put their names and the name of the school on this product and many of them decided that they were not going to accept anything below what they thought was their best work.
What were the challenges?
Having 30 people make one movie was the biggest challenge. This was the most intense group work experience many of them had ever done. It's not easy to have a conversation with your colleague about a difference in opinion about what's best for the project or to point out when you don't think they are doing their share, especially when you're 17 years old. We build learning targets into our lessons to help address these challenges and see them as part of the learning but recognize that it's still tough.
What makes this particular piece a model for other students?
Video is a medium that saturates our lives whether we like it or not. We are constantly bombarded by it but unless students take the time to learn what is behind these images and sounds they might not know how much effort it takes to produce a quality video of any length. This documentary shows other students what is possible with a small budget and equipment available at just about any community television station. There was so much thought and effort that went into our film, I can see future senior classes here at Four Rivers using this film as a model for everything from B-roll and archival footage use, to narration and script and storytelling.
What would be your advice to a teacher that is inspired by this project?
Give yourself plenty of time. The act of making a movie is a great motivating factor, and with a compelling story, the students will be engaged and driven to get the story out there. The hard part is getting the film done on time. A few years ago our movie finished exporting while folks were already in the theater, and since then we've gotten a little better each year about the timing, but it always takes more time than you think. To quote a professional filmmaker that our students work with, "finish the film. That's the goal."
How This Project Can Be Useful
- Includes both the full video and a video on the process (See the link below)
- Excellent example of students inspired by real events
- Highlights a project that crosses multiple disciplines