Students Learn about the Community, Themselves through Documentary Film Project


By Andrea Johnson

The second Civic Life Project, which connects students at Lawrence University to the Fox Valley community through documentary filmmaking, will culminate Tuesday, October 28 with a screening of five short films at the Fox Valley Technical College.

The Civic Life Project was created by Lawrence alumnae and Artist in Residence Catherine Tatge, and her husband, Dominique Lasseur, as a way to encourage active citizenship among young people.

“We really wanted to engage students in seeing the world around them, their communities and how they work. We wanted to help them find their own voices and empower them to be able to speak up and express their ideas,” Tatge said.

The project began with a meeting between students and Appleton residents and community leaders, including Mayor Hanna and Diversity and Inclusion Coordinator of Appleton Kathy Flores, to discuss issues in the community. Then students chose a topic they felt “most connected with and began the [filmmaking] process from there,” Tatge said.

CLP-2This year’s subjects are: the disproportionate imprisonment of minorities, the challenges faced by caregivers and sufferers of dementia, the struggle for former sex offenders to reintegrate into the community, the achievement gap in Appleton-area schools, and the effect of domestic violence on children’s performance in school.

After the topics were chosen last winter the students, in three-person teams, began making the 8.5-10 minute films. Between them the students shared the roles of writer, editor, producer, videographer and director, something that senior Ariela Rosa found deeply rewarding.

In addition to learning the technical aspects of making a film, Rosa “gained a lot of soft skills, such as how to manage the expectations of others, how to compromise with a group of people who have very different ways of looking at things, how to effectively engage with members of a community, and how and when to be assertive and stand up for what I believe.”

This opinion reflects Tatge’s own, that film is an ideal medium to teach these and other skills. In part this is because “this generation is such a visual generation. A lot of the aspects of making a documentary are the same qualitites you have to have as a good citizen.”

Though it has been an enlightening experience to those participating, the process was not always easy.

“Because the subjects the students picked are very, very sensitive subjects, we found difficulty in finding people who were willing to speak openly and honestly about the issues,” Tatge said.

To promote an open and honest dialogue about the films, short student-led discussions will follow each documentary, which will allow “people to reflect on what can be disturbing subject matter,” Tatge said.

Tatge’s goal for the Civic Life Project was to “help students find their voices.” According to Rosa, this goal was certainly met.

“I know the editing process has made me a better storyteller. I’m more comfortable sharing my ideas and even disagreeing with someone,” Rosa said.

The screening of the films will take place 6:30-8:30 PM at the Fox Valley Technical College and is free and open to the public with refreshment provided. For more information visit:

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