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John Simkin

Student Videos

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As part of the E-HELP project I have just completed my first video documentary. I am convinced it would make a really good classroom activity. What I did was to make a 20 minute video on the life of my mother. The first half of the video is made up of my mother talking about her life (she was born in 1914). Her voice appears over photographs of her and her family. I have also used photographs of where she lived (Hackney, London) and of important events she witnessed such as the Blitz. The final part of the video is film of her reflecting on her life today.

I used a Sony Handycam. I edited the movie using Windows Movie Maker. A great peice of software that is both powerful and easy to use. I am sure the activity will work really well with students. It raises all the important issues concerning interpretations of the past. I found out a great deal about my mother that I did not know before. In fact it was a very emotional experience. Especially when my mother talked about the death of my father and her own impending death (she is 91 and in poor health). Making a video like this involves a dialogue between the subject and the creator. A kind of negotiated interpretation of the past. This does not only concern the way that the subject responds to questions but about the selection of the photographs, which in themselves also trigger particularly memories. It raises important issues about what actually happened in the past. Especially about how people interpret these events, both then and now.

I believe that this would make a fantastic activity for students. Especially if they make the film about their grandparents or great grandparents. There is even an argument that they should make a video about their parents as part of developing communication skills.

Planning, filming and editing the video takes a great deal of time. It works out at several hours for every one minute of completed video. Even so, I know that it would have been much better if I doubled the time I spent on the project. In fact, if I had the energy, I would like to do it all over again. As Paul Valery once said: “A poem is never finished, only abandoned.”

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