GREAT BARRINGTON -- One learns things in high school.
There was a telling educational moment during the making of "It Can Happen Here," a student-created documentary of gun violence in the United States filmed by students at Monument Mountain Regional High School.
"We were surprised to find out that Nicole Hockley is not anti-gun," said David Richard, one of the filmmakers. "She's against people getting their hands on guns who shouldn't."
Nicole Hockley is the mother of Dylan Hockley, one of the victims of the Sandy Hook shootings. She was one of several people interviewed for the gun documentary.
"She was so nice," admitted Emily Aloisi of Hockley. "We were a little nervous about talking with her."
That film was one of two filmed by students in Holly Troiano's civics class. The other, according to Monument student Anisah Taylor, was a documentary about single mothers.
In addition to Richard, John Bianco, Leigha Pyenson, Emily Aloisi and Breighana Sladeski filmed the gun documentary. Taylor was joined by Juliana Rodriguez, Chauncia Tucker, Valeria Santos, Haley Barbieri and David Wyatt shot the single mothers documentary, "Ohana."
Ohana is a Hawaiian world for "extended family."
The class itself is the only documentary class offered during the school day in Massachusetts, said Troiano. It is funded independently, because of the expensive equipment required to shoot it and produce it.
Troiano said the class sizes are small because she has to raise about $850 per student to have the class.
"We spend a lot of time writing grants and raising money," she said.
The students are also assisted by professionals from the Civic Life Project. The Civic Life Project, originating in Appleton, Wisconsin, is a national educational program designed by two documentary filmmakers, Catherine Tatge and her husband Dominique Lasseur.
The program tries to teach high school students about civic responsibility and democracy through the creation of documentary films.
The students who shot and produced "It Could Happen Here" say they spoke to parents of victims and survivors of Sandy Hook and the 1992 shooting at Simon's Rock College.
They tried to speak with Simon's Rock shooter Wayne Lo, but he declined their request.
Taylor said she wanted to take part in the film about single mothers because her mother is a single parent. That segment of the class spoke to a number of single parents about their experiences.
"We learned there is a stigma attached to single moms," she said. "That you're somehow not a ‘good' person. Which isn't true, because my mom is a good person."
But, said Troiano, the lessons of the class were intended to go further.
"It's really about learning to work with difficult people and work under deadlines," said Troiano. "As well as learning how to be civically responsible."
All the students interviewed say they learned how to be more civically active.
"I learned what civics really means," said Pyenson. "There are a lot of things you can do to be civic-minded."
The year-long program was not easy.
"No," said Richard of filmmaking, "You don't just point the camera and go. There's a lot to making a film, and it's time-consuming."
"What I learned?" said Taylor, in all seriousness. "I learned that I don't want to go into filmmaking. It's really hard."
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