This year, True/False is proud to announce the inaugural Hi-Def Academy, a program that gives Columbia public high-school students a chance to get a closer look at the makings of a film festival. Students screen films and speak with directors from the fest lineup. I sat down with True/False education and outreach coordinator Polina Malikin to get an idea of what the Hi-Def Academy students have been up to, and what they can expect during the festival.
TRUE/FALSE: Tell us about how the idea for the Hi Def Academy came about, and what the participants will get to do over the festival weekend.
POLINA MALIKIN: The idea is — we have this festival with all these amazing resources. How do we make it accessible and inspiring for young people in our community? From the start, True/False has given out free tickets and held filmmaker visits to reach out to the young people in our community and engage them in the festival, but we wanted to do something more intensive this year. So we created two new programs, and the Hi-Def Academy is one of them. We’re giving them a behind-the-scenes look at the festival. So the group gets to go together through the festival, meet filmmakers, see films together, and kind of have this inside view of how the festival works. And after the festival, they’ll talk to True/False staff to debrief and understand—not just, “OK, let’s talk about the issues in this documentary, let’s talk about documentary or art-making in general”—but talk about how a community event like this is put together.
T/F: What was the recruitment and selection process for the first year of the Academy?
PM: Because it’s our first year, we’re figuring out a lot. We have point persons in every public high school. And through them, we have an application that’s fairly simple — just asking, “Why are you interested in this? What appeals to you about True/False and documentary film and community events?” And we have those teachers distribute the applications, recruit students, and then put forward their top candidates.
T/F: What kind of students were you looking to reach with the program?
PM: We selected a group of students who are already interested in film, who are able to handle a rigorous schedule. We wanted students who have the maturity to be able to take on this big thing. Before we decided on our schedule and selected the students, we told them, “Hey, you’re going to this documentary film festival, and there are going to be films with some adult language and coarse material.” It’s pretty rigorous — we ask them to research films, do lots of independent work, and then sit down with a filmmaker and say, “Hey, tell me about your film. I want to know about these issues.”
T/F: How did you choose particular films and directors for the Hi Def Academy?
PM: Two of the filmmakers — this is their first feature film, they’re just out of school. So they’re just a few years older than some of the students, and we thought that would be really fun. The film is called Only the Young, by Elizabeth Mims and Jason Tippet. We thought it would be fun for them to have a kind of role model—to see someone in their twenties taking on this very rigorous, independent path.
T/F: What do you hope the participants take away from their experience in the Academy?
PM: I think it’s really important for people interested in the arts and filmmaking to see examples of other people doing creative things, and for them to be inspired by it. It’s always a tricky question: what creates that final push from a student saying, “I’m interested,” to having an experience and the being able to find this career path? I don’t know what that is. I’ve been an educator for many years and its still a mystery to me how to gauge that. But I can see how specific workshops and opportunities informed me and inspired and gave me the courage to be an artist and a filmmaker. Whatever it is you decide to do, have the courage to follow your vision — that’s something we hope the students take away from the program.