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Fifteen minutes of fame

Environmental scientists, social scientists and now, filmmakers – Eagle Harbor High School students have stretched the notion of multidiscplinary learning to the limits in their study of the Elwha Dam.

For five days in April, 16 members of Marie Marrs’ and Mary Kay Dolejsi’s hands-on, project-based science and social studies class spent every waking hour sampling water, examining the Elwha’s ecosystems, hiking the surrounding trails and through all of it, turning a camera on themselves.

“We were on superdrive,” freshman Goody Gibbins said.

EHHS students have made the trek to the Olympic Peninsula’s Elwha River since 2005 as part of a state-wide program through which students and scientists gather environmental data on the river ecosystem before and after the removal of the Elwha Dam, projected for 2008.

This year, in collaboration with Bainbridge Island Television, they filmed. “Shifting Currents,” their resulting 15-minute documentary, will make a big-screen Bainbridge debut on Monday at the Lynwood Theatre.

Early in the school year, BITV, which had for years extended its film and television education program through a collaboration with Bainbridge High School, suddenly found itself without a school to work with when according to BITV executive director Scott Schmidt, staffing fell through on the BHS end.

Marrs spoke to Schmidt about their Elwha Dam project, and the two immediately recognized the potential for a film partnership. Schmidt approached the Bainbridge Island Arts and Humanities Council, BITV’s ongoing education outreach sponsor, made the pitch, and got the green light.

“What was almost a disastrous situation last September ended up being so wonderful for these kids,” Schmidt said.

BITV production manager Cory Kelley, who signed on as a project mentor, began by helping the students conceptualize and refine their story. He also offered guidance in documentary project management, interviewing techniques, cinematography and editing.

Then the students headed to the Olympic Park Institute, the education center that the serves as home base for the dam study.

“Before we knew it, we were filming,” Kelley said.

Over a working screening earlier this week, the students – nearly all of whom worked on the dam project last year – ate popcorn, proofread the credits on the near-final digital print and weighed in on their week at the Elwha. The one-word chorus that summed up the experience was “intense.”

They said that while the added layer of filming cut all potential for slack, it also generated a much closer connection to the dam project.

“I feel like I absorbed a lot more information this year,” sophomore Chelsea Mahnke said. “You had to take in all the information you could for the film.”

The project also generated a shift in students’ perception of the larger significance of the dam project and the need for increased general awareness of environmental issues.

“We learned a lot about the science,” junior Eli Jacobsen said. “It kind of got me thinking environmentally (about) my effect on the world.”

“These are kids whose love for the outdoors comes out strong,” Marrs said. “The sanctity of the environment comes through.” She said many of her students will build on what they’ve learned with the Elwha project by enrolling in an advanced placement environmental studies class.

Students have also gained awareness of the dam’s cultural, economic and social impact on the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe, in particular what has happened to the tribe since the dam caused a near cessation of a once abundant salmon run.

“The issues of the Klallam, particularly the Lower Klallam, were startling to them,” Marrs said.

Marrs said that some people who weren’t familiar with the project and saw previews of the film assumed the adults had done all the camera work. She enjoyed correcting them.

BITV plans to continue its affiliation with the EHHS project as well as continue its educational outreach efforts with Bainbridge schools. Schmidt says that with its technical infrastructure, BITV is in a strong position to augment the schools’ existing video and film education programs and hopes to go back to BHS next year as well.

“Our participation with schools is a major part of our mission here,” Schmidt said. “(The EHHS project) is a good example of making that work. It shows what can be done. It’s remarkable.”

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Current affairs

“Shifting Currents,” a documentary by students from Eagle Harbor High School in conjunction with BITV, will be screened at 7:30 p.m. June 18 at the Lynwood Theatre along with the film “Gimme Green.” Student filmmakers will host a Q&A session after the show. The $10 admission price goes toward the Eagle Harbor Elwha fund and the BITV student scholarship fund. Contact BITV at 780-2980.

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