Dec Retreat: This is Where It Gets Exciting

What I love about What’s The Story is that I never quite know where it’s going. It’s like the Labyrinth of Ancient Greek mythology: a maze that changes as you travel its paths. Except instead of a minotaur hidden somewhere inside, What’s the Story is home to learning and friendships and positive change around every bend. It’s a maze that Tim and Bill create for the entire group, but you create your own individual path. And as you travel it, the path creates you.

Going into the weekend, I was just taking the first steps, and I vaguely knew what was at the end, but had no idea how to get there. Everything was abstract. I had learned much about my topic and my team since November, and we had even started contacting people to interview. But it all seemed like such a long way off that our goal was still “making change”. Now that is still our end goal, but we made so many smaller goals that will help us reach the final one, that it has just started to feel real.

The media kits helped with this. It speaks to my cloudy vision of the future that I had barely even thought about them before Tim told us to get up and get one. As we were unpacking them, Clara and I just kept smiling at each other, eager to dive in to a new pool. Here was our tool for change, one that we could touch, unlike our minds, and one that we could learn how to use right away! It brought up an aspect of the program that I had started to forget about since I applied: digital storytelling. With a purpose. But it was refreshing to take a step back from that purpose, if even just for a moment, and learn how to use some fun new technology.

I got even more excited about the media kits when my dad, Jason Mittell, gave his presentation about conducting a documentary interview. This was something I hadn’t thought about beforehand, but couldn’t stop thinking about afterwards. I loved learning to go into interviews with the purpose of not only learning information for myself, but also for gathering it to present to an audience. And I learned that interviews aren’t only for getting information; they’re an art form. A new art form for me. Watching the presentation, I began to think about my documentary not only as an informative video or a method for social change, but as an artistic work. I began to think about how I was going to frame different interviews, of which B-roll shots I would need, of the characters I was going to create. I began analyzing the different documentaries I had watched in school—and planning how to make mine better. All the pieces were coming together, and I was forming an idea of our final product: the cause that would result in the change.

Yet so many pieces would have to go into that product. The next morning I was shocked into that reality when I opened the document entitled “Rhythm of the Year”. At the same time I read them in big bold letters, Tim casually threw out a couple of words: “All filming should be complete by—what did we say—February 10.” Wow. February 10 may sound far off, but I’ve been in high school long enough that two months can flash by faster than shooting a single photo. And we were supposed to finish shooting enough material for an entire documentary in those two months? No wonder I went into our group planning session a bit freaked out, and also because I felt too exhausted from a long night of Anomia and an early morning to do any planning. I thought wrong, apparently, because after almost 2 hours, my team ended with a document full of a comprehensive plan for the future. All accomplished by five teenage girls, no mentor in sight. While it still is scary when it’s written down, at least it’s somewhere we can see it, like a monster that’s sitting on the rug of your room in plain sight instead of lurking in the closet. And a monster that I’m actually looking forward to befriending. (Somehow I just turned What’s the Story into Monsters, Inc. — I apologize.)

Our plan for the next month+ is much more concrete than our plan for the past one. We have a list of all the people we have contacted, all the people we plan on contacting, the B-roll shots we’ll need, and a single-sentence mission statement. Over the next month+, I will be planning and conducting and filming interviews with at least two people, hopefully more. I will be visiting Winooski with my entire group to conduct interviews and collect B-roll. I will be creating conversation and art and change, and it will be creating me. This is real, and this is now. And this is where it gets exciting.

Greta Hardy-Mittell

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