13 April 2011

Featuring public service

This shot wasn't specifically captured in the film, but was part of the testing process in which
our Khmer friends took a hands on role in the experimentation.
The latest documentary short for the MIT 150 celebration features the role of public service in the Institute's history - and includes footage about my D-Lab Schools class from last semester and trip to Cambodia over IAP.  ?!  I'm still trying to get my head wrapped around that one...

For some background:

Last semester, science filmmaker Michael Barnes came into our D-Lab Schools classroom and asked if he could film our class for a documentary about public service at MIT.  I only knew this after I saw this British guy hovering in the corners with a camera at subsequent classes, since I admittedly came late that one day for his introduction.  He not only followed our class in general - coming to sit in on our discussions and our final review - but also took an extra interest in the materials group's experimentation with rice husk ash (maybe since we were the only group getting dirty before rolling into Cambodia?) and tagged along as we mixed our first batches of concrete in the basement of Building 1.

I initially felt odd - even fake - being asked to speak in a candid way with my classmates as a camera was rolling, but then curiosity got the better of me.  After my stint at making a mini "documentary" of sorts last year (which I should probably revive at some point... more on that later), I wanted to know more about his methods and just generally where he was coming from.  Although I've never seen any of his films, I know one of them in particular about the Incan civilization had inspired my own professor (John O.) and was interested to see what would come about from this curious project he was making.

Before heading to Cambodia, Michael asked me and Albert (of the radio group Stories to Share) to be point people in our respective projects to take video footage.  The task?  Alongside Libby and Dorothy, my fellow RHA-ers, to record critical moments in the building and experimentation process with rice husk ash, and record mini "diary entries" about our experience.  With mini video recorder in hand, I tried to do just that when I could get my hands out of the concrete.  I didn't really know what would come out of these random pieces of filming, but hoped that they at least would convey an idea of not only what our project was about (discovering through experimentation whether using RHA as a replacement for cement in concrete is feasible and creates better concrete in rural Cambodia) but also give a glimpse of how impactful the experience really was.

Once back, it wasn't clear how the documentary would be released - online?  in a screening?  on MIT Cable? - but now we know.  I might be biased, but it's an interesting 13 minutes from a film perspective, the weaving together of all these seemingly disparate pieces of narrative and historic footage to create a cohesive message about MIT and public service.  It's also surreal to watch and realize, "Oh, so that's why he was filming that" and "Hey... I took that sequence!  Cool!"  To be fair, I was credited with the videography at the end but Libby and Dorothy both had a share in the filming and should also be noted.

Will this have a lasting impact?  I don't know who will be watching it, but only time will tell.  At least, there's the knowledge that this isn't just about us and a single project but about a larger movement that I'm sincerely glad to be a part of.