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Salem Film Fest

“DISCOVERING DOCUMENTARY” AT SALEM FILM FEST

Posted March 5th, 2014 by jeffschmidt in Event, Interview

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Documentary film has the power to teach us about the unfamiliar and to help us discover new realities.  A guide can be helpful in this journey – enter Erin Trahan, Editor and Publisher of The Independent.Salem Film Fest audiences might recognize Trahan from the filmmaker forums and Q&A sessions she’s monitored in the past. She’s also involved behind the scenes as a member of multiple juries every year, helping to decide which films featured at SFF leave Salem with honors.

This year, Erin has partnered with SFF and Montserrat College of Art in creating and leading an interactive classroom/festival experience, “Discovering Documentary: Tools for Educators, Filmmakers, and Astute Viewers,” which combines a theoretical introduction to the documentary genre, from origins to the latest trends. As part of the students’ education on how to use documentary film in education or community settings as well, Trahan will be bringing her class to Salem Film Fest to see some of the premier documentaries currently being produced.

SFF Organizer Jeff Schmidt had the chance to speak with Trahan after her first class to discuss the role documentaries can play in today’s classrooms, why the class is important, and how Salem Film Fest can help support the lessons learned in the classroom.

Jeff Schmidt:  What was your goal and inspiration in designing this class and why partner with Salem Film Fest?
Erin Trahan:  The goal is to bring together people who already have an appreciation for documentary film in order to deepen their knowledge both of the form and ways to access movies, especially locally. Salem Film Fest is a great fit as it’s already a tremendous resource for documentary lovers, and it’s right next door! The thinking behind the class is to enhance what the festival offers annually with additional focused dialogue and community-building.

JS:  What is it about the documentary form that lends itself as a teaching tool for educators?
ET:  Documentary has always been interested in the actual and the factual. It’s roots are in presenting new and unseen worlds to its audiences or taking a close, sometimes academic look at a culture or political situation or conflict. Though students today might be inundated with moving image, it remains evocative and irresistible. Turn on a TV and all eyes will turn their attention to it, at least for a while. Documentary gives teachers a powerful way to engage students on a huge range of current and historical topics.

JS:  Do you think documentary film has become more accessible to general audiences over the last few years?  If so, why?
ET:  Not necessarily in terms of theatrical releases. Art house cinemas, where most documentaries screen, are doing their best to stay afloat but it’s not uncommon for an American to live a good two hours drive from an independently-owned cinema. Of course the Internet and online streaming options have opened things up a great deal. Now the challenge for viewers is to sort through the plethora of titles and find ones that are worth their time.

JS:  What films at this year’s festival will your class be viewing?
ET:  We’ll be seeing TOKYO WAKA and EVERYBODY STREET together as a class though my guess is that class members will be seeing a good five or six more films throughout the fest.

JS:  What are you hoping your students will take away from this class?
ET:  If each student discovers one new local film festival to explore or indie theater to check out plus a new friend, the class would have exceeded my goals! As much as I’d like for students to leave feeling informed, I want them leaving feeling the abundance of opportunity they have to see documentary and directly engage with filmmakers and programmers working in this region.
For more information about “Discovering Documentary: Tools for Educators, Filmmakers, and Astute Viewers,” visit http://www.montserrat.edu/continuing-ed/spring/salem-film-fest-class.php