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AKTEACH/Baranov Museum Summer Film Intensive wins National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award

November 14, 2016
AKTEACH/Baranov Museum Summer Film Intensive wins National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award
By Noelle H. Lowery

The Baranov Museum has won a National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award for their Summer Film Intensive, a partnership with AKTEACH and the Kodiak Island Borough School District.
On Tuesday, Nov. 15, in a ceremony at the White House in Washington, D.C., First Lady Michelle Obama will award the AKTEACH/Baranov Museum Summer Film Intensive and 11 other programs from around the country with the honor. The Baranov Museum, KIBSD and AKTEACH will hold its own celebration on Kodiak in the Kodiak Public Library Multi-Purpose Room at 10 AM. The public is invited to witness the momentous event at the library or by visiting to watch the live stream of the awards ceremony.
Film Intensive creator and digital storytelling educator Marie Acemah and Kodiak High School student Rafael Bitanga traveled to Washington, D.C., to receive the award on behalf of the Baranov Museum, AKTEACH and the Kodiak Island Borough School District. The national distinction also comes with a $10,000 grant for the Film Intensive program and a full year of program capacity-building and communications support.
“This award acknowledges the powerful, transformative work that our young people are doing in Kodiak to bring the community to life…These kids are bringing to light untold and forgotten stories,” says Acemah, who also owns See Stories, a company that works with museums, schools and community organizations to lead youth digital storytelling film workshops.
“This is a national stage, a national recognition for the importance of the program we have been doing,” adds Tiffany Brunson, Executive Director of the Baranov Museum. “It is showcasing the outreach and awareness our kids are creating for our community in Kodiak…This program is making these kids their own historians, and this award is the acknowledgement that they can make something worthwhile, that history isn’t just something you teach but also create and make yourself.”
Last spring, the Baranov Museum learned that it was one of 50 finalists from across the country for the award, which is bestowed by the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities and its cultural partners — the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Institute of Museum and Library Services. It is the highest honor of its kind for out-of-school arts and humanities programs that celebrate the creativity of America’s young people and open new pathways to learning, self-discovery and achievement.
Acemah and Brunson worked for a week on the lengthy application which showcased the amazing work done over the last five years by KIBSD students in the annual Summer Film Intensive. The brainchild of Acemah, the program was developed in 2012 while she was the Curator of Education for the Baranov Museum. It is a two-week summer film intensive open to Kodiak middle and high school students, and it allows them to make and direct their own 3- to 5-minute documentary film. 
Students are responsible for all aspects of the film’s creation, including researching the film’s topic, conducting interviews, shooting footage, creating a storyline and editing the film.  Participating students have the opportunity to receive high school credit for their work.
Over the course of the last five years, film intensive students have produced some 45 films about Kodiak’s Filipino community, the 1964 Earthquake and Tsunami, the 25th Anniversary of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill, the impact of climate change on the island community and the fishing industry — effectively filling Baranov Museum's research gap with new historical information and personal accounts of major events and daily life on Kodiak Island.  
Interviews conducted, footage filmed and resources gathered become part of the archive collection at the Baranov Museum, which is quickly becoming “one of the richest archives in the state,” Acemah notes.
The film collection is slated to be part of the permanent exhibit at the Baranov Museum.  The exhibit will encompass the last 200 years of Kodiak’s history through the “eyes” of its oldest building — the museum’s home, Erskine House, which also is the oldest building in Alaska. 
For Acemah and Brunson, the films and archival information add something special and untouchable to Kodiak’s rich and diverse history. “Stories aren’t living until they are told and heard,” explains Acemah. “We have ample stories on Kodiak, but until they are living, they don’t transform us or have power. This program is bringing stories to life… In some cases, some stories haven’t received written and well-documented attention, and the films are providing new perspectives…Stories that haven’t gotten air are now getting air.”
“These films really speak to how unique Kodiak is,” Brunson adds. “Kodiak is a welcoming community. So many people come from so far away, and that diversity makes the fabric of our community.”
Great examples of this came out of last summer’s film intensive. The theme was Kodiak’s “Fishistory,” an in-depth look at the island’s long tradition of relying on the Pacific Ocean’s bounty for its financial and physical survival. Students spent two weeks pounding the pavement and digging for the best fish tales Kodiak had to offer. Canneries, hatcheries and harbors were the backdrop for countless hours of film, interview and research.
Students were able to get interviews from people actively working in Kodiak’s fishing industry and those with vast experience fishing the island’s waters, like one Kodiak elder who had been a subsistence and commercial fisherwoman for more than 40 years. Eighth-grader Janny Eng did a film about immigrants who ventured to Kodiak to work in the fishing industry.  While she called every cannery twice, visits to the canneries gleaned an interview with one Laotian man who slowly made his way to Kodiak after escaping treacherous conditions in his home country.  She also interviewed a group of immigrant teens who spend their summers working in the canneries. 
Films from the program can be found online at  
While due in part to the hard work and dedication of the students involved, Acemah insists the Kodiak community’s commitment to educating its youth also is a big part of the program’s success as well. “This project is so supported by the community. When kids ask for interviews, the answers is almost always, ‘yes.’ The community really rallies around our kids,” Acemah says.
According to Acemah, immediate plans for the grant funding focus on creating a sustainable model for the program — recruiting students earlier, more grant writing and generating more community interest through outreach and publicity. She also is working on a film about the process she and Brunson went through to help bring this prestigious national award home to Kodiak.
“We want to leverage this award for more awareness of the program,” Brunson acknowledges. “We really want people to know this intensive is happening, and we want people to view the films created…We want more kids to take the film intensive, and we want more community involvement as well.”