See Stories offers filmmaking workshop for educators

See Stories, an Alaska nonprofit with the mission to build inclusive communities with story and film, offered a one-week filmmaking retreat last week for Alaska teachers who work with middle and high school students. The goal of the workshop was to create two- to four-minute films to help share Alaska history from the perspective of community members where they work.

The retreat took place at the Ageya Wilderness Center in Homer. The teachers presented their work at a First Friday event at Ageya last week .

Megan McBride, coordinator for the event, said 28 educators participated from 16 communities in Alaska, including Gamball on St. Lawrence Island, Kotzebue, Shismaref, Golovin, Unalakleet, Stebbins, Chevak, Akiak, Palmer, Anchorage, Chikaloon, Kodiak, Skagway, Sitka, Juneau and Whale Pass.

Most of the attendees are classroom teachers in the state and a few coordinate or teach after-school enrichment programs, McBride said.

The goal of See Stories is to connect people through stories and empower students to make films or podcasts using technology to record oral histories and preserve stories from their own communities.

This retreat, however, was a professional development course for educators, to help them learn how to share the tool of making films with students in their own classrooms. “

We hope that by gathering the stories and preserving the stories of their communities, it will empower both students and teachers to contribute to the official record of Alaska history,” McBride said.

McBride is a former high school teacher in Anchorage, and many of her students had never been to rural Alaska. She found that this project provides a valuable opportunity to share what is important about remote components of Alaska history and culture throughout the state.

The participants homework, before coming to the Homer workshop, was to interview people, to gather historical primary sources such as photos of objects in their community that have historical or cultural significance.

“They all worked with a team of archivists at the University of Alaska to do online research in the official government and university archives to find primary data for images, prerecorded audio files or video files. And then, they did a lot of work recording interviews,” McBride said.

The Homer component of the course was filmmaking intensive.

“This is the videography part. Participants are editing their material and turning it into a film (that) will be finished on the final day of the retreat and will be shown in a presentation,” McBride said.

Teachers will then bring those filmmaking skills to their classrooms, where they will teach students how to engage with primary sources and take a “decolonizing approach” to the materials. “I think a lot of institutions are doing work to rectify and improve how that process happened in the past,” she said. “It was often a very extractive and one sided by taking from communities and then holding material in official archives, and, it also means a lot of stories were left out. Or they were told from an outsider’s perspective. So this is an opportunity to rethink about what we mean by primary sources.”

Workshop participants share films

Several workshop participants shared the content of their films and how they chose to make them with the Homer News.

Kristine King is an art teacher from Kodiak, who came to Alaska in the 1990s to work in the fishing canneries on Kodiak in the summer. The cannery she found was in Larsen Bay and at that time it employed about 125 people.

“My interest was in looking at the history of the workforce in the cannery and how it’s changed over time. Of course, the more you look at things, the more your topic changes. Because I’m an art teacher, I decided to focus on the creative output of the crew that happened when we weren’t processing fish.

“In the canneries you were working these long hours and you have a bunch of like young, creative people together. I wanted to look at what people do for fun during the closures when there weren’t any fish coming in,” she said.

In her research, she had a lot of fun things pop up with memories provided by old friends and through sharing old photos. And in that personal version of research, she encountered many components of summer cannery life that is rarely documented.

“My favorite memory is when they would close the fish house down and sorting was over. We cleaned out the fish bins really well and put soap on the sorting belts and used it as a ‘slip and slide’.”

She also recalls fish printing or going out sport fishing or finding a beach somewhere remote. She also included other forms of entertainment.

“We had drive-in movies; we’d race pallet on forklift. We created theater seating. We’d pull sofas, which were the bench seats out of old vans and we’d just make a big circle and watch the television on the dock because that was the best technology at the time,” she said.

Betty Richter is an English language middle school and high school educator who has been in Sitka for about 20 years.

“The primary population that I work with is the Filipino population. We get these immigrants that join our community and I’m one of their first stops in the school district, to welcome them, and I work with them in teaching them English language,” she said.

“It’s one of my goals to represent Filipinos in the media in general, but also so that the students can see that they’re represented. We love to see representation of all cultures. The Filipino culture in Sitka is the one that I’ve chosen to feature in my documentary.”

Before coming to the workshop, Richter interviewed seven of her students and asked them various questions about their Filipino culture. The students shared things from dance to food to pageants and regalia that they use in their gatherings. She also them questions about their immigration experience.

“I asked them what they remembered from entering into the thick of schools, and what their first impressions of school in the United States was like, what kinds of things were helpful that we school assisted with and what kinds of things were really challenging when they moved into the school district? And they just gave me a variety of answers.”

Her goal is to pare down information collected to make a short documentary, starring the students. The goal is to share it at the Sitka annual Salo Salo potluck event.

Stephanie Hall’s project is about the journey of a friend from Savoonga on St. Lawrence Island in the Bering Sea. The project follows her friend, whose name she didn’t provide, and how the Savoonga woman made the transition from her home community to Seward, where she attended AVTECH to study medical billing, after which she moved with her partner to Montana.

“What is really unique about my friend that I’m interviewing is that she’s the first person in her family to leave the village, leave the state, and move to a different state. That’s what she’s sharing with me in the film, the things that are hard for her and how she’s worked through them, how she’s been able to instill cultural values and traditions from a home so far away to her own daughter,” Hall said.

“She talks about how her husband learned how to speak her native language. He learned how to speak it and how to read it, but he doesn’t really understand it. But because of him learning, he’s reteaching her, because she’s lost some of her language with that transition.”

The friend’s husband has several videos that he filmed during his time in Savoong and so she’s using those videos as a tool to heal and to teach her children some of their native customs that they don’t have access to now.