FEATURED LESSON PLAN
"Understanding the Power of Media: Planning a Documentary Segment About Peter, a Juvenile Sentenced to Life Without Parole "
- Understand the Felony Murder Doctrine
- Examine the nature of documentary film.
- Examine the case study of Peter A., who is serving a life sentence for a crime he committed when he was a juvenile
- Develop a storyboard for a documentary sympathetic or unsympathetic to Peter A.'s case.
- Understand the power of film to shape opinion
- 10 minutes for brainstorming session: "What should a documentary be?"
- 20 minutes to discuss how documentaries can "construct" reality and to read "The Language of Film and Video" handout.
- 15 minutes to review the Felony Murder Doctrine and read the Case Study of Peter A.
- 30-45 minutes to work in groups on the storyboard.
- 15-30 minutes to discuss:
- how telling or representing a story influences understanding and opinions;
- whether Peter A. received appropriate punishment.
- Review the Felony Murder Doctrine to ensure all students understand its provisions and ramifications.
- Ask the whole class to write for two to three minutes on the following questions:
- Why do people make documentaries?
- What are the characteristics of a documentary film?
- Discuss together students' ideas about what a documentary should be or contain. Write students' ideas on the board. There may well be contradictions, but words like "informative," "real," "factual," "true," "nonfiction," and "educational" may well appear.
- Write on the board: "Documentary filmmakers could make our school look positive or negative simply through the choice of information they present."
- Create two columns on the board, one for positive images/information, the other for negative images/information. Ask students to come up and write details under the appropriate column.
- under "positive," you might include the new basketball courts filmed so you can't see the graffiti on the gym wall;
- under "negative" would be shots of the gym with graffiti in the forefront.
- After students write details in the "positive" and "negative" columns on the board, ask them which details provide the "truest" image of the school. They will, undoubtedly, disagree.
- Ask students to distinguish between "propaganda" and "documentary."
- Distribute "The Language of Film and Video" handout and review selected terms with students.
Note: The goal of this particular part of the lesson is to make students aware of the power of the filmmaker to influence the viewer and convey a particular point of view.
You might want to highlight a few terms after they have read through the handout.
- For example, #5 notes: "A character filmed from a low angle will seem strong, powerful, tall, proud, etc... whereas if a high angle is used the subject will appear weak, insignificant, vulnerable, small etc... Our impression of a structure or object can be manipulated in a similar way. A distorted angle may be used to make a scene more frightening, or to make the viewer feel anxious, or queasy (especially if fast or jerky camera movement is also used)."
- Another example is in #7: "Soft Focus: A slightly blurred shot to make the subject seem more attractive, romantic, nostalgic or dreamlike."
Students will now apply what they are learning about film documentaries to create a storyboard for their own documentaries. To proceed:
- Review the Felony Murder Doctrine http://dictionary.law.com/default2.Asp?selected=741&bold.
- Read the Case Study of Peter A. http://hrw.org/reports/2005/us1005/3.htm#_Toc114638392
- Break the class into two groups; then, depending on the size of your class, break each of the two groups into several smaller groups of four to five students each.
- Assign half the groups to create a documentary sympathetic to Peter A., while the other half plans a documentary unsympathetic to him.
- Distribute the "Storyboard Organizer" handout, and explain to students that the assignment asks them to create a plan of how to tell their story from their point of view.
- What kinds of things should they include or not include?
- Who should be interviewed?
- Who should not be interviewed?
- What is the "plot" or narrative of their story?
- After they have this discussion, each group should describe four specific camera shots for a documentary about Peter A.
- One shot should be at the beginning of the film;
- Two shots should come from the middle of the film;
- The last shot should come from the end of the film.
- After they have finished the four panels of their storyboards, ask all students in the "sympathetic" groups to come together to share what they have created. They should be prepared to present the most visually powerful, compelling and/or persuasive storyboard shots to the rest of the class. (They may choose shots from different groups to create the "best of the best.")
- At the same time, ask all students in the "unsympathetic" groups to come together to share what they have created in their storyboards. They should be prepared to present the most successful storyboard shots to the rest of the class. (They may choose shots from different groups to create the "best of the best.")
- Students should discuss as a whole class what techniques were most and least successful in conveying their points.
- To culminate the discussion, ask students the following question:
If you were told to make an "objective" documentary, what would you need to do?
- Students may write responses or respond in discussion.
Method of Assessment:
- Participation in discussion.
- Participation in creation and presentation of the storyboard.
- Written assignment: Write a two or three paragraph letter to a state legislator or a juvenile judge arguing for or against the continued imprisonment of Peter A. and/or for or against reform of juveniles sentenced as adults. You may use information from either of the storyboards in your letter.