SOCIAL CHANGE THROUGH PARTICIPATORY FILMMAKING
Faculty Advisor: Dr. John JacksonInstructors: Dr. Arjun Shankar
Teaching Assistants: Andrew Hudson, Debora Lui, Melissa Skolnick
Social Change through Participatory Film SWRK798-005 is an opportunity for University of Pennsylvania students to work alongside students in West Philadelphia High School (WPH). Co-sponsored by the Netter Center for Community Partnerships and the School of Social Policy and Practice, the course challenges Penn students to think beyond the borders of the university space by engaging with school communities to learn through service. Penn students will be given the opportunity to work alongside WPH students as they create film projects that engage their experiences and perspectives as members of the West Philadelphia community. These context-relevant film products will eventually be shown to students, parents, and teachers at their school-site. The guiding question for the course will be: how can people use film to enact social change?
The course will be divided into three parts. First, students will engage with related areas of scholarship in the process of creating their media products. Students will get a “crash course” in participatory ethnographic research and unpack the types of representational dilemmas that arise in any research-community engagement. What does it mean to conduct participatory research and what are its limits? How do we produce rigorous and useful research that engages with the specific interests and issues of those who we work with? Second, students will explore the intellectual debates, ethics, techniques, and narratological strategies of “research film” through meetings with WPH students. Questions that will be explored together include: How do we make film that reflect a strong, focused research agenda while also maximizing the benefits of the audiovisual medium? What new questions might we ask “on camera” that we cannot through text? While Penn and WPH students will be joined together through central themes, they will explore these through separate course assignments such as short films and papers. Finally, Penn and WPH students will work together in groups to creating a short documentary film about a social issue of local concern (including at the school level), or about the course itself (and participatory pedagogy) as tool for social change.
Through this course, Penn students will further develop their media production skills and will looked upon to actively aid and work with the WPH students as they reflect and engage their community through audio-visual media. By the end of the course students will have gained a strong understanding of what, why, and how to create media products that are sensitive to issues of community engagement, ethics, and research as they are to those of audio/visual aesthetics.