Students Create Films and Build Communities in Engaged Media Course

Is an independent filmmaker only a filmmaker?  Students from Sultan Sharrief’s Contemporary Media Production and Movement Building class (SAC 404.101) wrestled with this and other key questions throughout the Spring 2014 term while learning film production and distribution. To explore answers, students packed their camcorders and traveled from their lower-level North Quad classroom to high-school hallways and red-carpet galas in Detroit.  According to Sharrief, the connection between filmmaking and engaged learning is strongly intertwined. An alum of Michigan’s Screen Arts and Cultures Department, he directed the Sundance film Bilal’s Stand through a collaboration with students from both U-M and metropolitan Detroit high schools. He has since developed Moviement, a community engagement model that combines service-learning, digital storytelling, and social entrepreneurship.

True to the Moviement approach, SAC 404 became a cross-disciplinary, experiential course in partnership between U-M and Detroit-area high-school students to learn and practice filmmaking, intercultural dialogue, teamwork and professional communication while co-creating socially conscious videos through online and offline media outlets.

Screen Arts and Cultures junior Jill Borowski was compelled to enroll in SAC 404 because “my curiosity got the best of me…I left feeling really happy that I took a chance on the class and ended up getting so much out of it.”  

“I knew right away that Sultan's class was the perfect opportunity to test the waters of the professional world,” said SAC senior Jenny Larson. “This class provided a unique experience that has taught me how to market myself and navigate through networking, which is a huge component of the film business.”

As part of the course, Larson and her classmates provided behind-the-scenes coverage at the Cinetopia Detroit Film Festival and conducted live interviews with acclaimed filmmakers and actors. One of her most memorable learning experiences in SAC 404 was having the opportunity to pitch her documentary, The Cooley Reuse Project, to renowned director Spike Lee during the event.

Due to popular demand, Sharrief’s innovative section of SAC 404 will again be offered Fall 2014. Students will continue the efforts of their spring session counterparts, applying theory to practice while learning various filmmaking models and working on the production of an independent feature film, Destined, in Detroit. (Previous film production experience is not required but encouraged; the class is open to non-SAC majors.) In preparation for the new section, Sharrief is currently collaborating with the Center for Engaged Academic Learning to further develop the course’s structure and assessment rubrics.

For more information on the fall iteration of SAC 404, click HERE.