February, for us, has been focused on the art of storytelling. We focus on this as each of them grapples with their ideas and how to express them with details that one who listens can imagine and feel as if they are right there with them. Layered with this is envisioning how to tell the story in a visual format. In Chirijox, much of storytelling has been based in an oral tradition. Their exposure to multimodal media is not quite the same as those of us growing up in a media rich culture. In this small village, youth do not start their days with computers and iPhones. When they wake at 5 AM, their mornings start with whatever needs to be done in the home (washing clothes, doing dishes, shopping in the market, preparing for meals, etc.).
After a morning of work, they might work on homework before they go off to school. In this group, school begins at 1 PM and ends at 6 PM. Some of them have jobs outside of school and others do more to help at home. Media, movies, TV, etc., don’t find their way into a significant chunk of their day.
This is not to say of course that there is not exposure to media. Of course there is. Yet like many of us, we consume media without thinking about the meaning that the author is attempting to convey. So today, our focus was on critical analysis of media – from the perspective of the audience. We watched the introductions of “Beasts of the Southern Wild”. I like this as an example for many reasons. The film is beautifully shot and the introduction is a good way for us to revisit the shots that they have learned (close, medium, and long). In addition, the storyboarding of this introduction acts as a great tool for discussing the purpose of each shot and how each shot slowly tells an unfolding story.
After we watch the intro, I ask them to write a reflection on it. What do you know about the setting and the main character from this introduction How is the director bringing you into the story?
The kids vacillated between writing and thinking. Sometimes they looked into the air as to catch their thoughts. I thought that this would be a 10 minute exercise, but they asked for more time to write. When we finished I asked them to share what they wrote. Instead of writing a reflection of the introduction, they wrote their ideas about what their introductions might look like. Is this a case of language barrier? I’m not sure, but probably. Their ideas were great, yet, I was also interested in what they drew from the movie to give them ideas for their own introductions. I wanted to know what, if any, connections they were making. But when asked about the introduction, they mostly would respond with, “It was good” or “I liked it.” Some responses were a little more detailed, but I knew that we had to go deeper.
Julio joined us right as each of them shared what they wrote. He arrived just in time to help me with my Spanish as I tried to break down the introduction scene by scene. I was trying to model what I was asking them to think about as they watched the opening scenes.
First scene: What kind of shot is this? Plano General. Why would the director start with this? Then we went further: What do you hear? What do you see? What do we know right now about this place? What feeling do you have?
Scene 2: What kind of shot is this? Cerca. Where has the director taken us now? Inside the house. Who is he introducing? The main character. What do we know about her so far? What do you hear? What do you see? What do we know right now about this place? What feeling does it evoke?
Scene by scene, we deconstruct the introduction. As we go on, I talk less, and they interpret more. My hope was to show another example of how telling a story comes in different forms. Right now, each of them is holding sternly to starting their story with: Hi, my name is… come with me to learn about… While we are fine with this if it is the way they would like to proceed; we would also like to illustrate that there are multiple ways to tell a story. We want to remind them also to draw on their storytelling practices that they know within their community. We want to emphasize, that in this artistic process, remember their experiences and know… you are limited only to your imagination!