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The Art of Storytelling: 7th-Graders Make Docu-Style Films About Eagle Creek Fire

Sean O’Connor admires the progress being made in his new studio space in the basement of the old Springhouse Cellars Winery in Hood River. O’Connor, founder, and CEO of Bingen-based Story Gorge, needed a second, larger studio for his film production company.

Photo by Ken Park
Sean O’Connor admires the progress being made in his new studio space in the basement of the old Springhouse Cellars Winery in Hood River. O’Connor, founder, and CEO of Bingen-based Story Gorge, needed a second, larger studio for his film production company.



“Until one looks back on one’s own past, one fails to realize what an extraordinary view of the world a child has.”- Agatha Christie.

On Aug. 30, as part of an event at the Columbia Center for the Arts in Hood River, eight documentary-style films about last summer’s Eagle Creek Fire will be screened. What is unique about the films is that they were edited and scored by local seventh graders.

Sean O’Connor is the founder and CEO of Story Gorge, a filmmaking studio and learning space in Bingen. O’Connor and his wife Katie started Story Gorge two years ago and have grown so much in that span of time that they are opening a second and larger studio location in Hood River in the basement of what used to be Springhouse Cellars and will be working in partnership with Wildwood Academy who is now located in the same space.

O’Connor has been making films for over 17 years, mainly doing wild adventure documentaries. He is also an accredited photographer and has had some of his photography published in the Smithsonian. Story Gorge is his fifth iteration of a film production company, with a specific focus on educating through storytelling.

“I believe that stories and storytelling, whether through film, photo, or voice, can evoke empathy from an audience which can create and impact change in the world,” said O’Connor in an interview at his Bingen studio.

The U.S. Forest Service reached out to O’Connor and Story Gorge to produce a film about the Eagle Creek Fire, using footage captured by firefighters, Forest Service employees, and folks being evacuated. Rather than make the film himself, he challenged seventh-graders from White Salmon, to take the footage and make their own documentary-style films about the fire.

“We had 80 seventh-graders make 21 documentary films. We pre-screened the films in our little studio here and, from those films chose eight to show at the arts center,” said O’Connor.

“It’s really incredible to see what these kids have made and how they perceived the fire themselves,” he added.

O’Connor has been working with the White Salmon Valley School District to put together a program that teaches filmmaking and storytelling to middle school and high school students.

“I started making videos with John Hadley, the shop teacher at Columbia [High School], to show some of the cool stuff that gets made in the woodshop and that sort of triggered my interest in media education as part of STEM or STEAM education,” said O’Connor.

STEAM is Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math education, a variation of the growing trend of STEM education.

From that initial experience, O’Connor has built a media program that can be built into school curriculums. Through a partnership from the Arts in Education of the Gorge (501c3), O’Connor put together a kit to bring into schools to train teachers and teach students how to integrate filmmaking into the classroom. The kit comes with iPads loaded up with video shooting and editing software that is easy to learn.

“We first did this in a workshop with middle school teachers from White Salmon and Hood River, who implemented it in their language arts classes, which is where these Eagle Creek documentaries came from. I came into the class one day and helped by teaching the kids how to tell a story, how to conduct an interview, how to collect B-Roll, score their work and edit alongside the teacher,” said O’Connor.

This year O’Connor has teamed up with two teachers from Columbia High, one from Henkle Middle School, the theme for the projects this year will focus on search and rescue stories.

Regarding the distribution of the student films of the Eagle Creek Fire: They can be viewed at the Aug. 30 event in Hood River or they can be seen on the Story Gorge website after the event.



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