Vermont Commons Interview Allenwood Residents

For the second year in a row, Kris Mohlman at Vermont Commons school has been bringing his students to meet and interview residents of Allenwood, a retirement community close to the school. Having learned a few lessons from last year's project, Kris decided to schedule more visits to Allenwood this year and offer students training from the Vermont Folklife's Discovering Community media educators. Both Mary and I have visited class several times. During our first visit, we introduced the VFC's central concept and method of ethnography - understanding experience from the perspective of those to whom the experience belongs. Our later visits were workshops on interviewing skills, audio recording, and visual storytelling -- what it is, how we use it, where we see it in our everyday lives. This brought up a great discussion on what it means to represent reality, and I shared with the students an exercise that demonstrates how to create a visual sentence with just five shots: an establishing or wide shot establishes the setting, a medium shot directs the viewer's attention to the characters, a reverse shot allows the viewer to see where the conflict exists, and the close-up helps drive home and direct the conflict and resolution. This exercise was coupled with a quick look at the web-based video-editing platform WeVideo, to be followed up in a later visit with a WeVideo tutorial.

Mary and Myles' visits incorporated a model interview and an introduction to "logging" an interview. During a model interview, students have the opportunity to observe an interview, to see firsthand how to conduct an in-depth and formal interview, to participate in the interview themselves by asking the interviewee followup questions, and to ask questions about the process to both the interviewer and interviewee. When we introduce students to the concept of logging interviews (breaking down the interview recording into timed sections and making organized notes about the content), we show examples and explain that it's about listening, summarizing, analyzing, and planning for the editing of a final piece. Logging is a tool that addresses what can be a very intimidating process for students: how to create a compelling and clear two- or three-minute piece out of many minutes or hours of interviewing. We stress the importance of listening to an interview multiple times, making brief notes (not a word-for-word transcription), and finding the themes or storyline that emerges from the conversation. I think partly because students rightly want to honor what the interviewee is saying, it becomes difficult to select specifically what drives the story forward. It helps students to understand if they can see an example of the entire process, from interview to final piece.

I had an older interview with my 92-year-old grandfather around the 2016 Presidential Election. See the first recording, below ,for the full interview, and then see the second audio piece for the edited version.

Students were able to identify what the through lines were, what other sounds were added, how environment and setting were created through b-roll or background sounds, and how voice-over narration was added to contextualize the piece. This reinforced points I had made to the students earlier, about form and content: once you have your content, the formats you choose and formal techniques you use can make a story come alive.

I was also able to attend one of the class's initial visits to Allenwood. It was quite touching to see the young people interact and listen to the stories of the elderly. See below for a brief look at the students interviewing the Allenwood residents: