Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Teaching Justice in Class through Documentaries

When my class studies The Buffalo Creek (coal mine) Disaster in West Virginia from the 1970's, I try to bring the book to life in my Introduction to Law class with clips from a documentary on the subject.

As an extension of that book, we also follow the plight of Marsh Fork Elementary School, and how a grandfather in West Virginia took it upon himself to move a school (which sits downstream from a river of coal sludge held back by a dam) away from danger. See my March 25 post: Move Elementary School out of Harm's Way .

Now, a new documentary highlighting the efforts of that grandfather (Ed Wiley) is available, and I will be sure to add this doc to my class on teaching justice: http://www.oncoalriver.com/
Mr. Wiley's efforts took awhile, but the forces of justice, leverage, and political embarassment eventually led to funding for a new school:
Goodbye Massey Coal Dust: Welcome to the Ed Wiley Elementary School!http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jeff-biggers/goodbye-massey-coal-dust_b_559167.html

There has always been a "marriage" between Justice and Documentaries - the latter serving as a slow vehicle of change for the former. The documentary referenced above (On Coal River) was screened at the AFI/Discovery Silver Docs conference in June. The conference featured several workshops including this interesting sounding session which should be taught in every film school:


The University of Alabama–Birmingham works with students across the arts and sciences who have never picked up a camera for anything more serious than a snapshot. They use a collaborative critique process to hone their eye and encourage a community co-authorship process to help them shape their stories. This session will give participants a look at new pedagogy on student civic engagement and techniques for introducing and incorporating filmmaking in all subjects. PRESENTER Michele Forman, co-director, University of Alabama, Birmingham Digital Community Studies Program

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