Over a year ago Working Films launched the Reel Engagement initiative, a series of residential trainings aimed at securing strategic partnerships between social issue media makers, nonprofit organizations, and other key stakeholders leading change on the crucial issues of our time.
The selected films for the residency were Our School by Mona Nicoara, Speaking in Tongues represented by Marcia Jarmel, American Promise represented by Michele Stephenson, To Be Heard represented by Roland Legiardi-Laura, Brooklyn Castle represented by Katie Dellamaggiore, Shakespeare High represented by Brad Kopenick and Alex Rotaru, and Mariachi High represented by Carol DeVoe and Kelly Sheehan. Judith Helfand, Anna Lee and Robert West from Working Films led the retreat, with funders Judith Helfand (wearing her "second hat" as a funder) and Natalie Difford from Chicken and Egg Pictures and Sheila Leddy from the Fledgling Fund. (Watch the trailers here.)
We spent four highly collaborative (and snowy) days just outside New York City developing initial strategies for the films. Filmmakers hammered out audience and community engagement goals, looked at timelines, drafted key messages and identified target audiences. Watch as the filmmakers' discuss goals for the week:
Joining us for the week were education experts Dr. Hope Jensen Leichter from Columbia University's Teachers College and Roberta Furger, education director of PICO California. Hope also led the filmmakers in a storytelling exercise that helped participants connect with their purpose.
Roberta helped filmmakers understand how their films fit into the big picture of the current education reform movement. Watch part of her exchange with the filmmakers:
On the final day, we headed to the 52nd Street Project in NYC for the Reel Education convening. The filmmaking teams introduced their projects to a select group of education leaders and activists, including organizations such as the Alliance for Educational Justice, Americans for the Arts, Annenberg Institute for School Reform, ASCD Whole Child Initiative, Community Media Services, Harlem Children's Zone, the Herbert and Nell Singer Foundation, The MacArthur Foundation, National Education Association, Native American Public Telecommunications, Teaching Tolerance and others.
At the convening, filmmakers pitched their engagement plans and screened short clips and trailers. Then they met with attendees in small round-table discussions. Participating organizations responded with extraordinary generosity, offering concrete commitments to use the films for dialogue and action in classrooms and communities nationwide.
Watch participants' initial responses to the collective body of work:
Both filmmakers' and participating organizations' responses were a testament to the success of Reel Education and the Reel Engagement model. Here's what some participants had to say:
"Can't quite tell you how amazing the whole experience has been. I still don't believe the substantive meatiness of the retreat, as well as your collegiality and support. Reel Education is the perfect combination of community and commonality of purpose. I believe that, if we stick to the strategic pragmatism of our discussions, we can really get some solid, perhaps even measurable, impact."
"The opportunity to meet people across the nonprofit spectrum who are committed to good education reform was GREAT. I see it as a model for developing strategic outreach."
"The roundtables were great, providing a real opportunity to talk constructively and strategically."
"The variety of films is exciting and uplifting."
Moving forward, Working Films will capitalize on the relationships among filmmakers and NGOs that were initiated at Reel Education. We anticipate new and exciting, progressive efforts that will help transform education policy and practice.
Here's a brief sampling of just some of the ways the Reel Education films are being put to work:
Screenings of Speaking in Tongues by groups of parents and concerned citizens have supported the creation of new dual language programs and inspired a school board to protect a language program that was on the chopping block because of budget cuts. Check out this short video of filmmaker Marcia Jarmel talking about the impact of the film.
Shakespeare High was used to lobby congressional representatives to protect arts education funding at the national level.
A Community Concern has been used by community organizers to get more people involved in their education organizing campaigns and to generate critical dialogue about organizing tactics and approaches. Click here (and then scroll down) for details on some of these screening events.
Our School recently scored a giant win in their effort to achieve educational justice for Roma children. After a recent special screening at the Romanian Ministry of Education, “the Ministry committed to making Our School part of the teacher training curricula by the start of the new school year. The National Council for Combating Discrimination asked for DVDs that they could start using in training programs the following week.” Read a great overview here of how filmmaker Mona Nicoara, her team and their allies working on Roma education have made this – and more – happen over the last year.
Clips from many of these films, used even before they are completely finished, have been inspiring youth to tell their own stories about their educational experiences, stories that have the power to influence policy and practice at their schools.
Other groups have used screenings of many Reel Ed films for professional development in settings as diverse as universities, national conferences, and elementary schools.
Find out more about our current efforts with Reel Education.