Oberlin Blogs

Bright Lights, Bright Futures

July 7, 2010

Marsha Lynn Bragg

Summertime and living is easy.... at least the pace is a bit slower here, but that's to be expected on an undergraduate campus in the summer. With the slower pace comes the challenge to remain motivated and task-oriented. But that's my worry, not yours.

This is my second summer in Oberlin. It's quiet. Calm. Let's say, the campus wears a different face in the summer.

That face is not completely void of student life. It's just that they're a lot younger than the ones I'm used to seeing during the academic year. These summer students mill about in small and large groups. I might see them on the Wilder Bowl chilling out like the college students do, sitting on the lawn enjoying the sunshine while talking or eating a snack.

Like a lot of colleges and universities, Oberlin's doors open wide in the summer to several programs for area children and youth. Some programs are music-based, some involve sports or academics, and some are rather unconventional... like the Apollo Outreach Initiative.

I caught the tail end of this summer camp program, also known as AOI. It's an extension of a spring course in the Cinema Studies Program that allows college students who took the course to serve as mentors. The end result is to help students make a short film. Participants chronicled their work in a blog earlier this year.

The dozen or so middle and high school students spent two weeks learning filmmaking. They developed and wrote their own scripts, made props, used high-definition digital cameras, and learned how to record audio and write voiceover.

They used techniques in stop-motion animation, green-screen compositing, and camera, lighting, and sound design to shoot and edit their films. I observed them in action one afternoon as they situated and added finishing touches to props and scenery, and rehearsed their lines. They were immersed in what they were doing--quite focused and task oriented--yet laughter abounded.

They collaborated on every aspect of the process. At this stage in the session, the students were clearly in charge. I was impressed by the pace and seeming ease in which they worked. If they didn't know what they were doing, it didn't show or rattle them. Mistakes were part of the learning process.

Oberlin faculty members Rian Brown-Orso and Geoff Pingree, and coordinator Claudio Orso put together the first-ever program for students interested in filmmaking. Encouraged by the reopening of the Apollo Theater and the owners' plans to have an educational component, they received an anonymous gift to develop the course and camp, buy equipment, and engage with the community.

In teams of four, the students took the cameras and staked out places on campus to shoot their films: the Science Center, Wilder Bowl, Rice Hall, Mudd Center. The result: The Apollo screened the four student films on June 30 to an appreciative crowd of parents, peers, and college and community members.

How cool is that? To be 15 and have your film projected on a big screen with surround sound in a local movie theater?

My summers as a kid in the inner city involved swimming, bike riding, or roller skating, playing with jacks or dolls on the front porch, going to the school playground or local library (mostly to cool off and read comic books). We played outdoor games like kickball, marbles, tag, and hide and seek, in my backyard with the other neighborhood kids. Summer camp? On a college campus? Unheard of for city kids.

Thankfully times have changed. And while it's great to have an unscheduled, carefree summer, it's also good for kids to have unique, nontraditional summer experiences and to try things they would not ordinarily do in school. For these 16 or so students, the AOI has provided just that: one memorable, and perhaps life-changing, experience. Lights. Camera. Action.

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