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Five Chicago Doc Production Companies Launch The School Project

by
in Filmmaker Videos
on Oct 28, 2014

The School Project is a series of six, 10-minute documentary video pieces about the Chicago Public School system following the closure of 49 schools. It’s also an unprecedented collaboration between five of the city’s top documentary production companies. The first episode premiered today, and it can be watched above. Below is the statement from the five companies — Free Spirit Media, Media Process Group, Kartemquin Films, Kindling Group. and Siskel/Jacobs Productions — about their reasons for this collaboration.

Statement on The School Project Collaboration

The School Project is an unprecedented, collaborative, multiplatform documentary series on public education in Chicago. The five Chicago-based documentary production companies have all worked on projects in and around schools for several years. We have made films about major alternative programs, like Louder than a Bomb, produced youth-made media, documented teaching methods and Local School Councils, and produced historical projects about civil rights and public education, like ’63 Boycott.

A lot of our work over the years has helped us connect to people and communities, especially communities that care about the public schools. This gives us a very broad base of people to partner with, as well as multiple audiences for our project. Working on this series, we have inventoried our contacts and archival materials, and we have been able to contribute to one anothers’ segments in this way.

Most of us are long-form documentary filmmakers, and this is a new approach for all of us. Naturally, we are collectively tapping into our contacts and resources to make a series pegged to online engagement and live events, with the objective of stimulating dialogue about what is happening in the schools. In short, the task at hand was too ambitious for any one company to take on alone. We also gave ourselves a much shorter timeframe; most of our films typically take years to finish. This format allowed us to also bring in lots of exciting media partners, who in turn are helping us to reach multiple audiences. The Chicago Sun-Times, WTTW Channel 11, Catalyst Chicago, Ebony.com, Chicago History Museum, CANTV, Community Media Workshop, and StoryCorps all add a unique perspective to the project and diversify our reach.

Free Spirit Media is a different type of production partner, as the youth in their programs have actively gotten involved in producing, directing, and editing for the series. The youth voice is an invaluable asset to the project, and is allowing us to reach a youth-oriented audience, which is new for many of us.

When we first began the collaboration in early 2013, many people in our organizations had real trepidations about getting involved in an unwieldy project with ill-defined responsibilities. We built a system to independently produce segments, while meeting regularly to discuss style, tone, content, and relationships with our partners. We have given each other feedback and advice, throughout production and post-production. While the project is collaborative, we have also had to let go and trust one anothers’ instincts. While large decisions have generally been made consensus-style, we also make a lot of decisions independently (after all, we have a group of eleven segment co-directors). If this project was directed by just one of us, we would do things very differently, but that’s the beauty of this process; our approach is as diverse as the topic itself.

We’ve found this project to be an enriching experience, strengthening our work and broadening our reach. The series has depended on interdependence rather than hyperindividualism, reciprocity rather than dominance, and cooperation rather than hierarchy. As we launch the series, we hope to find an audience as diverse, passionate, and open-minded as we are.

Production Partners:
Free Spirit Media
Media Process Group
Kartemquin Films
Kindling Group
Siskel/Jacobs Productions
Melissa Sterne
Rachel Dickson

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