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View From the Director’s Chair: It’s a Wrap – Guest post by Lynette Pitrak

I previously submitted a post detailing the first few weeks of an exciting documentary film making program for teenagers that the Downers Grove Public Library was providing for the first time. Now that the program is finished, I would love to share how everything turned out!!

After learning camera, lighting, and audio techniques from our wonderful trainer Laura Zinger, of 20K Films, Inc., the students had a brainstorming session (complete with pizza and other snacks) to discuss ideas for final film topics. It was so much fun to take part in this discussion, and hear about the passions behind the teens’ desires to create movies. Potential topics ranged from very personal to the more abstract and cerebral end of the spectrum. It is great to know that while not all topics were chosen for this particular project, the students had the opportunity to discuss them and develop ideas to revisit on their own later.

In the end, four final film topics were chosen: stress levels of high school students, the world of competitive online gaming, the challenges and opportunities faced by starting a band in high school, and the tactile, precious nature of artwork. The students each chose which film they would like to work on based on personal interest.

All of the students were able to check out the necessary equipment so that they could conduct the interviews in realistic settings. While some interviews did take place in the library’s Digital Media Lab and Teen Central area, it was important for the students to record their chosen subjects in personal environments: bedrooms, afterschool work places, music recording studios, classrooms at College of DuPage, etc. Ms. Zinger felt it was especially important for students to experience the challenges involved in filming in new locations, including framing shots, adjusting to tricky lighting situations, and capturing quality audio footage amidst unwanted background noise.

One thing that film makers always say, and that definitely proved to be true, is that there is never enough time to edit. The final two classes of the program were devoted to teaching the students Final Cut Pro editing software, and then the students were given an additional month to work on editing their films on their own. During this time, Ms. Zinger and I also ran two six-hour open editing sessions, for students to drop in and work on editing with an instructor present for additional guidance. The majority of students attended both editing sessions, and also did a fantastic job editing on their own.

Their level of commitment to their projects was amazing, and during high school final exam weeks, most were camped out at the library alternating between studying for their tests and editing their films. To showcase all of the teens’ incredible work, the Downers Grove Public Library partnered with the Tivoli Theater to hold a student film festival on February 7th that was free for anyone to attend.

We screened the four student-made films:

Can’t Touch This

Less Stress

Bands After Class

and Co-Op

as well as a prequel film of two local teen musicians recording in the audio part of the library’s Media Lab

Live from the Digital Media Lab – Jack

Live from the Digital Media Lab – Jenna

Over two hundred people attended to view the films, and after the screening stayed to participate in a Q & A session with the film makers. The Q & A was a great experience for everyone, with the audience asking perceptive, thoughtful questions and the teens responding with intelligence, passion, and humor. For those who were unable to attend the Tivoli screening, but still interested in viewing the films, our library posted all of the films on our YouTube channel. We also added two Blu-Ray copies of all of the films to the library’s circulating collection.

This entire program was an amazing reminder of teens’ capacity and commitment to imagining, inventing, creating, and it was completely inspiring and humbling for me to be part of this process. In addition, the students involved in this program are already demonstrating their desire to give back to the community by acting as trainers for other tech and maker related programs held at the Downers Grove Public Library. It has been a win-win situation for all involved!!!

Thank you for giving Downers Grove Public Library the opportunity to share this program with other librarians and educators, and please feel free to get in touch with questions at any time.

Lynette Pitrak is the Teen Services Coordinator at the Downers Grove Public Library. Reach her at lpitrak (at) dglibrary.org

View from the Director’s Chair: Guest post by Lynette Pitrak

Downers Grove Public Library just finished a large redesign project, and two of the major changes were a brand new Teen Central area and a Digital Media Lab. While the Digital Media Lab is open to all ages, we thought that our teen patrons would be especially excited about this area’s advanced video, music, and photography hardware and software!!

on-camera interview practiceIn preparation of the opening of the Digital Media Lab, we developed an 8-week course for high school students to learn how to create a documentary film from start to finish. One day a week, for two hours at a time, twelve high school students meet at the library to learn about film. Each class is set up to build on the previous week’s lessons. We have completed three classes so far, and students have learned the basics of how to change out the lenses, use the white balance, and work with the different f-stops and focuses on the cameras. The students have also learned the artistry behind framing shots and balancing natural light vs. artificial light (such as LED, umbrella, and three-point lighting).

Each week at the end of class, the students practice interviewing each other in short 1-3 minute videos. We then watch all of these videos together. While watching the videos, we discuss what worked in terms of film technique, but also in their personal interviewing approach. Students have found that asking open ended questions almost always makes for a much more interesting interview than asking simple yes or no questions. They have also found that using humor and conversation helps to open up the person being interviewed. Some of the great topics of these short interview films have been “Describe your daily hair care regimen” and “If you could create the perfect sandwich, what would be on it?” All of the students have been incredibly open, good natured, and kind with one another, and while sometimes provide constructive criticism, are always careful to balance this with compliments. It is an amazing group of teens!!

At the end of the eight weeks of classes, the students will have a full month to work on editing and fine tuning their own individual documentary films. Then, on February 7th, we will be screening all twelve films in a festival at Downers Grove’s beautiful, historical Tivoli Theater. At the program’s completion, each of the participating students will also spend at least four hours assisting other patrons in the library’s Digital Media Lab. Most of the teens are very excited about the opportunity to teach what they have learned to other members of our community!!

Zinger instructs teensThe most important component to making this program a success, besides having an amazing group of students, was to bring in a professional documentary film maker. Thanks to a grant from the Best Buy Foundation, we were fortunate enough to hire Laura Zinger of 20K Films, Inc. to teach each of the classes at the library. Miss Zinger has an incredible rapport with the students. Aside from teaching the technical and artistic facets of filmmaking, she is able to give practical advice for those aspiring to work in the field, such as how to seek out project funding and how to market a final product. It is really inspiring for students to learn from an instructor who has started her own film company, and released a full-length documentary film (Proceed and Be Bold). Miss Zinger is actually currently on a road trip to interview an artist for a documentary she is currently working on, and she will relay her experiences to the students in next week’s class!!

For those who are interested, the equipment we are using for this project is listed below. Also, please feel free to follow our weekly updates on the library’s website  and under the Twitter hashtag #dgdocu.


Equipment List with quantities

2 Canon T3i (Kit)

2 Canon EFS 18-55mm Lens (Kit)

2 Canon 50mm 1/1.8 Prime Lens (Kit)

1 Rode VideoMic Pro Shotgun Mic (Kit)

1 Rode VideoMic Shotgun Mic

2 Windscreen

2 72” Tripod

1 3-point Light Set

1 Zoom H2N Audio Recorder

1 Rokinon 24mm Wide Angle Lens


Lynette Pitrak is the  Teen Services Coordinator at Downers Grove Public Library in Downers Grove, Illinois.

90-Second Newbery Film Festival

The Newbery Medal presented by ALA
Next Monday, the 27th of January, the Youth Media Awards will be presented.  These awards highlight the best literature of 2013 as chosen by various committees of librarians. Among those awards presented will be the John Newbery Medal for children’s literature.  The Newbery Medal is awarded to books that go through age 14 and can cover just about anything. I was ecstatic last year when Katherine Applegate won the Newbery for The One and Only Ivan.  Below is information about the upcoming 90-Second Newbery Film Festival.  Here, kids and teens make movies that tell the stories of Newbery winning books in – you guessed it – 90 seconds or less.  Very cool.
With Newbery season upon us, it’s also time for the 3rd annual 90-Second Newbery Film Festival. It’s a video contest in which kid filmmakers create movies that tell the stories of Newbery award-winning books in 90 seconds or less. These movies are funny, ingenious, and impressive!

(Curious? We’ve gathered 25 of some of the best entries here, from a shadow-puppet version of Grace Lin’s Where the Mountain Meets the Moon to a full-scale musical of William Pene du Bois’ The Twenty-One Balloons.)

The film festival has had sold-out shows from the start, with crowds of hundreds, including the young filmmakers themselves — who often get to meet the author whose book they filmed! These FREE screenings are in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Oakland, Portland, and Tacoma, co-hosted by festival founder and author James Kennedy (The Order of Odd-Fish) and superstar children’s authors such as Jon Scieszka, Kate DiCamillo, Rebecca Stead, Blue Balliett, and more.

This year James is honored to have as co-hosts authors Libba Bray, Katherine Applegate, Jenni Holm, Keir Graff, and others.

Below are the screening dates, co-hosts, and links to reserve your seat (since this free event is popular, it often “sells out”).

February 1, 2014 Screening in CHICAGO at the Vittum Theatre (1012 N. Noble, Chicago). With co-host Keir Graff. 3-5 pm. Reserve a seat.

February 8, 2014 Screening in OAKLAND, CA at the Rockridge branch of the Oakland Public Library (5366 College Ave, Oakland). With co-host triple Newbery Honor winner Jenni Holm. 12 pm – 1:15 pm.

February 8, 2014 Screening in SAN FRANCISCO at the San Francisco Public Library main branch (100 Larkin St.). With co-host Newbery Medal winner Katherine Applegate. 4-5:30 pm. Reserve a seat.

March 1, 2014 Screening in TACOMA, WA at the Tacoma Library Main Branch (1102 Tacoma Avenue South). 3-5 pm.

March 2, 2014 Screening in PORTLAND, OR at da Vinci Arts Middle School (2508 NE Everett Street, Portland). 3-5 pm. Reserve a seat.

March 22, 2014 Screening in NEW YORK CITY at the New York Public Library main branch (476 5th Ave, New York, NY) in the Bartos Forum. With co-host Printz Medal winner Libba Bray. 3-5 pm. Reserve a seat.

If you want to see what previous screenings have been like, here are write-ups of previous shows at the New York Public Library (with co-host Jon Scieszka and special guest Rebecca Stead), Chicago Public Library, and Multnomah County Public Library (with Laini Taylor) in Portland, OR.

It’s never too early to get started on your 90-Second Newbery for next year! All the details about the film festival, including details of the screenings, rules, and a few of the best videos I’ve received, can be found here: http://www.90secondnewbery.com

Thanks! Hope to see you at the movies!