American Studies Film Festival brings history to life

March means one thing to Maryville High School juniors in Dr. Penny Ferguson and Mark White’s classes - lights, camera…action.

For the fourth year, students in Ferguson and White’s classes participated in the American Studies Documentary Film Festival at the school. The students had to research and write about a topic, create newspaper articles and then put their work to video using students in acting roles or using voice-overs and including stock images and video. They also created maps and other visuals.

The Maryville Schools Foundation has provided cameras and equipment to help facilitate such projects and, while many of the students were comfortable with the software and cameras, White said each project had to be grounded in fact and research. “They had to root this in primary documentation,” he said.

Ferguson said there were six rooms showing three different films each with 18 films being shown in all. The students answered questions about their films from the audience. The parents and friends of the students packed each classroom.

“I was excited to see how their projects turned out,” Ferguson said of the projects that features subjects and issues from 1860 to the present. “I was surprised and amazed at how much they did.”

Ferguson said the students were even able to interview different historical figures using the Crazy Talk software that manipulates a still image to make it appear they’re speaking. “They interviewed Al Capone,” she said. “It was really cool.”

The students had 10 weeks to do the entire project.

“The kids have worked hard and worked in teams of four doing all the preliminary work and reports,” she said. The students had to show their research. Then they wrote the newspaper articles, and they had to do the film. “They’re all so proud,” she said.

“This is the fourth year, and every year it gets better.”

Jasmyn Jarnigan, Danielle Johns, Tucker Haynes and Matt Harp focused on the King of Rock and Roll.

“Our film was on the effect of Elvis on culture and music. We talked about the different stages in his career and how he created the teenager phenomenon,” Jarnigan said.

Johns said their film talked about the generation gap that was starting to happen when Elvis became popular because the majority of his fans were younger. Older people weren’t as kind to his music. “It was considered obscene,” Johns said. “They were hesitant to put him on the air.”

Haynes said older people didn’t like Elvis. “People didn’t like the hip gyrations,” he said. “Rock and roll changed the culture, and Elvis was the segue.”

The Clint McKelvey, Carter Sandlin, John McCord and Adam Browne film focused on the decisions that shaped World War II.

McKelvey said, “Our assignment was to study what the four major decisions were that affected the outcome of World War II. They were the Lend-Lease Act, the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Invasion of Normandy and the dropping of the atomic bomb.”

The Lend-Lease Act showed how the United States favored the allies, McKelvey said. “With Pearl Harbor, the attack created a pro-war environment in society.”

Sandlin said, “We researched information on each decision to see if these decisions had not been made, how would World War II have ended?”

Browne said they had about a month and a half to gather the information and complete the project. “It was very stressful,” he said.

Sydney Topham, Madison Heinsohn, Rachel Moore and Sydney Russ collaborated on a project that focused on the youth and civil rights struggles of the 50s and 60s.

“We dealt with the significance of children in the civil rights movement,” Topham said.

Heinsohn focused on college-aged students and Moore said they interviewed a woman from Alcoa who helped integrate the school. Heinsohn said they also researched Brown versus the Board of Education.

The students studied how African American students in other states were harassed while simply trying to attend classes. In many cases, white students’ parents refused to allow their children to go to class with the African Americans. In some cases those African American students had to have U.S. marshals escort them.

“Little things like that blew us away,” Heinsohn said. “It was just shocking.”

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