BY CRYSTAL HARRELL
With the recent development of a film curriculum and AS degree program at College of the Desert (COD), students are now able to hone their skills as filmmakers to take on new, creative projects. One of the recent endeavors was a collaboration between the college radio station, KCOD CoachellaFM, and film production students to create a five-part short documentary series on different female musicians based in the Coachella Valley.
The documentary series acted as the final project for the Film Production I class, after learning the process and storytelling elements of making documentary films throughout the course. A wrap party to signify the end of the semester was held on May 28 at the KCOD radio station, formerly KEZN studios. In attendance were the student filmmakers and the songstresses spotlighted in the series: Giselle Woo, Courtney Chambers, Morgan James, Symara Stone, and 5th Town leading ladies Linda Lemke Heinz and Chelsea Sugarbritches.
The skillset of the Film Production I class ranged from first-time filmmakers to students who had taken other film courses at the college. Adjunct professor and one of the KCOD faculty advisors, Toni Bakal, designed the curriculum as a way for students of all experience levels to get a better understanding of how to produce a documentary.
“We gave them all the tools to go out and make a professional documentary for KCOD and these women musicians, and they turned out phenomenal. I also love every single artist that was interviewed, and it warms my heart in so many ways to create a platform that showcases the students’ talents while introducing the musicians to new audiences,” said Bakal.
The course started with learning the basics of production in the first unit, such as set protocol, equipment management, release forms, and editing. In the second unit, the students had to make a documentary about themselves using everything they had learned from the first unit. They then used all of that knowledge for their third unit project, which involved making a documentary about someone in their class. The culminating final project involved the collaboration between KCOD CoachellaFM and the CV women artists.
Students worked in pairs to finish each short documentary, taking about a month and a half to complete from the pre-production stage to the final distribution at the COD student film festival held at the Palm Springs Cultural Center on May 19.
“When I watched all five documentaries in one sitting, I was so proud of the students. It’s one thing to not only collaborate with your crew to work on your own project, but to have an entire class create five different documentaries that have a similar feeling of unity is something else. They didn’t do it intentionally; it just happened organically because they worked so well together,” stated Bakal.
This spring marked the first time that ‘Film’ had its own section in the COD course catalogue—a milestone since the introduction of film classes at the community college in 2001. Bakal sees the growth of the film program as a way to give students a means of reaching their desired career goals—citing professors Laurilie Jackson and Vincent Sassone, and Dean of Arts & Social Sciences Dr. Kelly Hall as main players in the program’s development.
“All of these incredible students can be huge directors someday. They have amazing talent, and seeing them progress through the curriculum only enforces my belief that they will make wonderful things in the future,” said Bakal.
The local music scene also benefitted from this documentary series, highlighting six local female musicians and providing an inside look at their creative processes and what inspires them as artists.
“Each student I worked with was professional and I really felt they contributed some very artistic ideas to the project. There are so many incredible women in music out here in the desert, so I was very honored to be chosen for this series,” stated singer-songwriter Morgan James of The Sieve and The Saddle.
The documentary series enabled the student filmmakers to test their skills and discover their new passions for cinematic production. This was the case with Edgar Barajas, who collaborated with fellow student Michael Valdez to create Courtney Chamber’s documentary.
“I’ve never really done a documentary before, but it was a cool experience. It definitely helped me create a different kind of story and formulate what kind of questions I wanted to ask. It also let me see that I have the potential to become a director with a set vision of what I want to create,” explained Barajas.
All five of the artist documentaries can be viewed at kcodcoachellafm.com and the radio station’s YouTube channel.