January Org. Member Profile: Meridian Hill Pictures

Emily Bailin (NAMLE Student Leadership Council) recently interviewed Aqiyla Thomas, the Education Manager at Meridian Hill Pictures about their documentary film production studio founded in 2010 and based in Washington D.C.. Their studio works to amplify community voices and authorship and focuses on producing independent, social impact documentary films.

When did your organization launch and why?

Our documentary film production studio, Meridian Hill Pictures, is based in Washington, DC and was founded in 2010 by two brothers and award-winning filmmakers, Lance and Brandon Kramer. Brandon — with a background in documentary film and youth media, and Lance — with a background in journalism and community organizing, sought to fuse these approaches into the documentary filmmaking process. Our mission, then and now, is to bring the art form of documentary filmmaking to new community stakeholders and use the power of documentary to raise awareness of pressing social issues and build under-represented people’s storytelling capacity. We also pride ourselves as being an accessible community-based production company with strong ties to our neighborhood and roots in our city.

 What does your organization do? What are it’s main goals? Main projects?

We produce independent, social-impact documentary films like Community Harvest, Porchfest, The Donor and The Scholar & The Sailor. Our feature films in-production include City of Trees (2015 release) and Kramer & Sons (2015 release). We produce commissioned video projects for and with our clients that amplify community voices and authorship. We’ve worked on media projects with a range of nonprofit organizations including the Kennedy Center, National Endowment for the Humanities, International Baccalaureate, and Ashoka Changemakers. We also train youth and adults in community video storytelling through our media education programs, ranging from our youth documentary film program in partnership with the Sitar Arts Center, professional development workshops in iPad video storytelling, and community residencies for students in digital storytelling at schools and community organizations.

 What makes your organization stand out? What would you say is the most unique thing about your organization?

As the Media Education Manager, I continue to be impressed and inspired by the impact our documentary films and educational residencies have on the community. For example, Doing It For Me is a documentary film short that was produced in our youth documentary film program two years ago and explores the dropout crisis from a deeply personal perspective. Just last Fall, the student filmmakers were invited to screen their film at Department of Education and participate in a panel discussion with educators and policymakers on arts education as a tool to help combat the dropout crisis. Moments like this remind me why access to arts education and community storytelling is so important and transformative.

 What are recent projects or new resources that your organization would like to share with other NAMLE members?

A more recent media education program we have been working on is a yearlong professional development training for PK-3rd grade teachers and staff at a DC bilingual public charter school in video-based media arts integration and digital storytelling using iPad technology. Last semester, the teachers and staff produced their own non-fiction digital stories using iPad applications to explore the guiding question of “What brings them into the field of education?” We provided step-by-step guides in both English and Spanish and in-workshop instruction on how to write, film, and edit a compelling personal narrative.  This semester, we will discuss and practice ways of integrating video using the iPads into their classroom lessons, school documentation practices, and project-based (expeditionary)  learning model. And, later in the semester, we will work with students in two of their classrooms to produce mini-documentaries exploring a topic within the community through interviews and fieldwork and plot those stories on a community map.

 What are the connections between the work of your organization and media literacy?

Within all our media education programs, we walk participants through the process of understanding and analyzing the impact of whose voice is being shared within non-fiction media and how they can effectively communicate their authentic voice in the media they create.

 Why is media literacy important to you?

For me, media literacy is an important ongoing practice for both youth and adults to actively engage with visual information and messaging in media. And with documentary filmmaking in particular, it’s important that everyone in our community is given the knowledge and skills to creatively express their individual voice and perspective.

Feel free to tell us anything else about your organization, your mission, your staff.

You can connect with MHP through our website, Facebook and Twitter. If you are in the Adams Morgan or Columbia Heights neighborhood, feel free to stop by our studio at the Josephine Butler Parks Center. Also be sure to check out our new forthcoming feature length doc, City of Trees.

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