The Apollo Outreach Initiative (AOI) is not the typical summer camp. In two weeks, participants learn nearly every facet of filmmaking under the tutelage of current students and recent graduates of Oberlin’s cinema studies program. Each day, students and volunteers create and screen a handful of films in Oberlin’s historic Apollo Theatre. The program is open to all ages, from junior high students to adult community members who demonstrate a desire to learn media literacy.
Now in its fifth year, AOI is completely donor supported. Since its founding, the program has held true to its mission to attract public school students in Lorain County and northeast Ohio, offering full scholarships to cover the $300 tuition. This year was the biggest turnout yet, with 28 students, including two adult interns whose participation was funded with a grant from Giving Women of Oberlin. The students come from Oberlin, Lorain, Akron, Huron, and Berea. More than one-third of this summer’s participants received scholarships.
“This was the first year we had to turn away applicants,” says Rian Brown-Orso, AOI codirector and associate professor of cinema studies. “We’re proud of the fact that we serve people who otherwise would never have this opportunity.”
AOI runs throughout the academic year, offering workshops in Oberlin City Scools. Some of this summer’s workshop members had previous exposure to AOI during the school year, like Lucy Cipinko, a rising eighth-grader from Oberlin, who created a stop-motion video to illustrate a poem she wrote. That poetry was developed in Visiting Assistant Professor Lynn Powell’s Teaching Imaginative Writing Workshop, another outreach effort in which Oberlin College students teach poetry in weeklong residencies in the local schools.
For the first time this summer, AOI is using its new home on the second floor of the newly renovated Apollo Theatre. The Danny DeVito & Rhea Perlman Cinema Studies Center for Media Education and Production includes a post-production lab, a sound recording studio and isolation booth, a multipurpose space that can function as a shooting studio with green screen, a color correction suite, and a simple animation room.
The AOI summer workshop is intensive. For eight hours each day, students and mentors break into groups, where they learn shooting, green screen compositing, special effects, lighting, sound, editing, storyboarding, and so on. And each day, they create and screen a film. After two weeks, that amounts to about 20 films.
“The experience is very empowering,” says Brown-Orso. “The students learn the tools, but they also learn media literacy, so they’re no longer just consumers. And we’re doing this is in a century-old building where you can see Hollywood films and make films. From now on when these kids see movies, they will think about it much differently.”
The need for media literacy instruction is particularly important for younger generations who have grown up in the digital age with multiplex theaters, says Geoff Pingree, associate professor and director of cinema studies and co-director of AOI. “It challenges young people to think, ‘What is a movie theater?’ And, how can you reinvent that idea in small communities?”
Oberlin’s cinema studies program is one of the first established at a liberal arts school, and one of the few programs where students don’t just study films and filmmaking—they produce them. The program has three core components: critical study, production, and teaching and sharing. With AOI, “there’s a full circle happening,” says Brown-Orso.
One week into the summer workshop, Oberlin resident Tyree Wilson said the program has motivated him to keep working on a screenplay that he’s been writing. “I’m just taking everything in,” says Wilson, who works at the Oberlin Public Library and graduated from Oberlin High School. “I have a higher respect for everything that goes into filmmaking.”
Wilson is a writer, but AOI offers something for every talent and skill set, says Claudio Orso, a visual artist who serves as outreach coordinator. “It’s a collective experience,” he says. “Students are finding what they’re good at, that their contributions are relevant. The old-school way of looking at learning is being overturned by the speed of access to information. We bring a lot of hands-on learning.
“It is truly a workshop, not a camp,” Orso adds. “There’s not much else in town or Lorain County that’s cooler than this.”
Final projects from the 2013 summer workshop can be viewed on the Apollo Outreach Initiative YouTube channel.
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