Introducing the world’s first COVID-19 Online International Student Film Festival. And it’s based right here in Michigan!

Apr 9, 2020 by

Doug Hart

I was very glad to be introduced to Doug Hart a Michigan teacher who has literally been around the world adding value and making a difference. He is known as a creative student focused teacher who constantly seeks ways to make learning come alive for students. He is working to turn the coronavirus lemon into lemonade for students around the globe from his home school district in West Michigan.

Doug Hart is a seasoned international educator who has worked in secondary schools in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. He currently teaches at Sparta High School, and is the director of the COVID-19 Online International Student Film Festival. Mr. Hart is also known for recently facilitating two successful international film-festivals with Prague Shakespeare Company, which included over 1,000 students in 40 schools on 6 continents. Interestingly, Mr. Hart is a former Michigan state lawmaker, widely recognized for his effective advocacy of service-learning, youth voice, and authentic civic engagement. 

Ednews: This COVID-19 Online International Student Film Festival sounds interesting. Tell me about it.

Doug: Don’t mind if I do! This idea was literally hatched with the past 2 weeks and decided upon by our illustrious Superintendent Pete Bush, our middle and high school principals, and, of course, myself. Here’s the festival in a nutshell. Well, actually, the first thing you should know is that it starts NOW, meaning that students can get shooting today if they want. Alright, there’s two phases to this film festival: a local school building competition and then a global inter-school competition. It’s up to each school to organize their internal film vetting process. We, of course, are providing schools with guidelines, rules, and film categories (in this case, fiction and nonfiction). All films need to be shot on a student’s home property – respecting social distancing,  and can be no longer than 2 minutes. Lots of flexibility here for schools in how they do this. They can open it up to the entire student body or limit it to a department, a class, a teacher, or even a small network of students. Ultimately, the end goal of phase one is move the school’s top films to the international film festival. I’m referring to their top three films in fiction and nonfiction. These MUST be submitted to the international film festival no later than May 15. So, really, there’s still plenty of time for schools to introduce this, for students to produce them, and for films to be vetted. Remember, these films are 2 minutes or less, not 20 minutes or more.

The second phase consists of the final round. We will have a panel of distinguished judges from all over the world, representing the news, performing arts, and the film industry. They will have less than a week to determine the international fiction and nonfiction winners. By the way, middle and junior highers will only compete amongst themselves, and the same is true for the senior highers. Wouldn’t be fair to put the 6th graders up against the 12th graders. The graders would lose every time (smile). The international winners will be announced with great fanfare and laudation on Friday, May 22nd. And then, it’s over. Pretty quick turn around, eh?

EdNews:It sounds like a fast and furious process for all involved. Fun too. I like that you’re getting film and performing professionals involved with this. It really add credibility and stature to the effort. By the way, how are you funding this?

Doug: Ha! Funding, what’s that?? Honestly, this is a labor of love, driven by volunteers, including students and teachers. Of course, we’re receiving significant in-kind support from Sparta Public Schools; they’re operationalizing it and hosting it on their website. We’re also out there looking for prizes. Happy to say that, at least here in Sparta, our local Senator (Pete MacGregor) and local representative (Bill Huizenga) came together to underwrite 4 GoPros to go to our local middle and high school winners. Very generous contribution. More prizes on the way. Stay tuned. Remember, this is a fast-moving train.

EdNews: Alright, this certainly sounds like a very creative project for your middle and high school students. Now, I think the natural question is, why are you doing this? Lots of work to facilitate this, no? 

Doug: Oh yea, particularly when you’re in a time crunch. It’s worth the effort though. Look, we’re living through big history right now, and it needs to be recorded in our respective school communities. Social studies teachers will be talking about this a hundred years hence. These heirloom memories need to be passed down to future generations, like a time capsule. We also really believe here in Sparta that this will reinvigorate our homebound school community by creating a shared experience and focus; you know, bring us together again. We also believe that students will find pleasure in all of this, not just making films but watching them. That’s good! A common joyful activity celebrating individual stories and creativity. No reason we can’t find purpose and playfulness during a pandemic. Be gone you near-sited cynics! Much life to be lived right now, many films to shoot!

EdNews: Wow, I get it. This sounds like a potentially powerful collective experience for your student community. Tell me about your global reach. Why do you want other schools to join you in this?

Doug: Ah yes, very good question. We also think it’s important that our students get outside the bubble of our community and understand their present suffering in a much broader context. I think this pandemic is reminding us how small our planet is and how interconnected we humans are. We all need to remember – including our kids – that our individual narratives are part of a much larger one. Of course, besides all of this, it just makes the film festival so much more fun and interesting. I think students will be greatly illumined, not to mention entertained, by all the final round films produced by their peers from all over the state, country, and world. There’s joy in being part of something bigger than yourself. And, well, this is film festival is global, just like COVID-19, sadly.

EdNews: Okay, this is certainly an inspiring effort, and it’s great that you have been able to get a number of schools involved in such a short period of time. Is there still time for an interested teacher or school leader to sign up?

Doug: Absolutely! And they really don’t need to “sign up” per se. They just need to get their students to start making films (according to festival specifications) and then make sure their best productions are submitted to the international film festival by midnight, May 15. Hopefully a bit sooner of course.

EdNews: I suspect that we have some educators reading our interviewing who, while very much interested, are just a bit overwhelmed by it all and even unsure how to get started on this in their own school. What’s your advice to them?

Doug: First, YOU can do it. Second, the implementation process need not be complicated. It can be fairly simple and straightforward. Third, feel free to contact me for details on how we’re setting this up in Sparta. One of our genius tech students created two Google forms that will allow our local students to submit phase 1 films as well as to enable our entire student body to digitally review the films and score them. We’re happy to share these forms. They most certainly could be adopted and adapted in any school interested in executing this on a Google platform. Just have your readers reach out to me over email at doug.hart@spartaschools.org.

EdNews: Doug, this is an inspiring project and I think a lot of good is going to come from it. I also hope I can see some of these student videos

Doug: Thanks a lot and of course you can! All competing final round films will be publically available online on May 23. 

EdNews: Thanks for taking time to speak with me today. Stay safe and healthy.

Doug: The pleasure’s mind. I appreciate the opportunity to get out the word.

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