Laura D’Asaro, a Harvard student and filmmaker, uses her camera to tell the story of Wema Children’s Centre in Kenya.
In the wake of the recently concluded Sundance Film Festival, the nation’s critics and movie lovers alike are still abuzz with commentary about this year’s award winners.
But beyond the potential for prizes, some college students are spending time on campus learning about the power behind the medium — and the world they can both discover and impact through their camera lenses.
Cris Magliozzi, a recent graduate of Harvard University, is one student who took his love for filmmaking into the wider world.
“I was someone who was always passionate about storytelling, technology and trying to make some kind of change or difference, and so filmmaking brought together my passions,” he said.
Although Magliozzi had been tinkering with video cameras since a young age, his interaction with a more service-oriented application of filmmaking came while sitting in a Harvard classroom.
Joanna Lipper, an award-winning filmmaker, author and lecturer at Harvard taught Magliozzi in her class entitled Using Film for Social Change.
“My class is really trying to get students to go into new environments, build relationships with their subjects and find stories that mean a lot to them,” Lipper said.
The value of the camera as a vehicle for storytelling is an idea that strikes a chord with Laura D’Asaro, a Harvard senior who has also taken Lipper’s class. When D’Asaro went to Kenya in 2011, she discovered Wema’s Children Centre, a non-profit organization that won over her heart and her talent. Since then, she has returned twice, taking her camera and fellow students with her on a mission to raise awareness and financial support for the group.
“I give a lot of credit to Professor Lipper here, because while we knew we wanted to help this organization, in this day and age, you need a website and you need a video,” D’Asaro explained.
Similar to the class at Harvard, Tufts University also has a Producing Film for Social Change class that has drawn students in consistent numbers for the past eight years. Julie Dobrow, director of the Communications and Media Studies program at Tufts came up with the idea for the class and reflects on the way it has inspired students and, in some cases, changed their career paths.
She remembers one student in particular, Kirit Radia, as someone who was certain for the first three and a half years of his undergraduate career that he would go into banking after college.
“And then on a lark, he decided to take the class,” Dobrow said.
After discovering a love for filmmaking and media, Radia went on to intern at ABC and now works as ABC’s digital correspondent in Moscow.
“It’s been a really powerful class,” Dobrow said, “and if there were one word that students consistently use to describe it, it would be ‘transformational.’”
No matter your level of experience with filmmaking, these professors and students all have the same message for those who want to get more involved: You can learn best by doing.
“The thing that really gets me excited about filmmaking is the ability to reach a large amount of people through one medium … and with film, there’s nothing like actually going out and doing it,” said Margot Leger, a Harvard senior who will be using her filmmaking skills to contribute to the fight against tuberculosis as she works with the Voices Project in Swaziland this summer.
Even as the study of film as a vehicle for social change carves out a more prominent presence on college campuses across the nation, students like Magliozzi, Radia, D’Asaro, and Leger demonstrate that filmmaking skills can be applied to a wide range of fields even after graduation. From Swaziland to Ghana to the White House Office of Digital Strategy, students are making their mark not just on tape, but in the wider world that sees the product of their efforts and their passion for telling a story.
“I started to see filmmaking as a passport of sorts. … It gives me the opportunity to get into a lot of different environments and understand them in a way that wouldn’t be possible otherwise,” Magliozzi said.
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