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Classroom in the Wild Students Brave Mud, Floods for Filmmaking

SOC CEF CITW Chesapeake Bay 2013

A student takes photos during Classroom in the Wild: Chesapeake Bay 2013. Photo by Lauren Demko

Despite weather-related setbacks, students filming in Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge as part of Classroom in the Wild: Chesapeake Bay remained in high spirits and had great wildlife encounters. 14 students participated in the Alternative Spring Break course put on by the Center for Environmental Filmmaking.

Center Director Chris Palmer described the program: "This week-long, non-credit class is for both first-time and experienced filmmakers and photographers who have an interest in the environment, natural history and the outdoors. Students learn how to prepare for and organize a shoot, how to get the footage necessary to tell a compelling story using tapeless HD cameras and supporting sound gear, and how to edit a polished project with a strong environmental theme."

During the week, students spent one day of pre-production at SOC, then four days of cold and wet camping in the field capturing stories. They returned from the field to SOC for two days of post-production.

The students completed rough cuts of four short films centering on environmental issues on subjects ranging from non-native species introduced to the environment such as the wild Chincoteague pony, to the effect of the rising sea level on the wildlife and the nearby town. When finished, the films will be screened at SOC as part of a Center event in November 2013.

The students rose to meet several challenges, according to Palmer. "This year the conditions were extremely tough: the weather was cold, stormy, and rainy. Despite the campsite getting flooded out, the van getting stuck in the mud, and hands and limbs aching for lack of warmth, the students bravely remained cheerful, stoic, upbeat, and highly productive and creative." Palmer also expressed gratitude to REI in College Park, Maryland for the donation of all camping equipment rentals, which were invaluable, particularly given the conditions.

The program is run by two exceptionally talented SOC/Center for Environmental Filmmaking/Classroom in the Wild alums: award-winning filmmaker Danny Ledonne who was assisted by award-winning filmmaker and photographer Lauren Demko," Palmer stated. They led the pre-production, field study, and editing workshops. They helped both new and experienced students use the filming and editing equipment, with the National Geographic students praising SOC facilities. Palmer cited the benefit of having alumni running the program, saying, "The advantage of working with Danny and Lauren is that as alums of both SOC and Classroom in the Wild, they are both superbly trained, know the high standards that we strive for, and they both enjoy working with their alma mater."

Students said they'd like to see more of this type of coursework available in the future. Participant Elaina Kimes had high praise for the program. "Classroom in the Wild has been the most challenging, fun, and rewarding experience I have had at American University thus far.  I learned so much in such a short period of time.  Not only did I get to dive into filmmaking and create something that I can look back on forever, but I also became so close to such a small group of people in a very short time.  I would recommend it to any student, in Film and Media Arts or otherwise."