Unearthing Silenced Histories: Documentary

Activity Steps:

You will create a film synopsis that describes how you would tell a silenced history.

1. Discuss:
In small groups or as a class, discuss what a silenced history is. How is this kind of history different from other histories? Why do you think these voices are not a part of mainstream history? Does learning about a silenced history make you think differently about the particular community it comes out of? Why or why not?
2. Look:
Review the works of the artists at right. Look carefully to find the stories that the artists are portraying. Where, and what, is the silenced history? Who are the artists speaking for (slaves, women, or other oppressed groups)? Whom are they speaking to?
3. Choose and brainstorm:
Select one important event from contemporary history, and brainstorm in small groups about an alternative, or silenced, version of this history. What information is missing from the standard version of the story? Whose points of view are not represented?
4. Research:
Find out more about your subject through the Web, biographies, newspapers and magazines, and documentary films. Is the same story sometimes told in different ways, depending on who is doing the telling?
5. Produce:
Create a treatment (a detailed proposal) for a documentary film about your alternative history.
  1. Who will you interview for the film, and what questions will you ask them?
  2. Besides filming your interviews, where will you shoot additional footage?
  3. What do you hope to show, both through your story and through images? Describe the point of view that the film will take, and how your images will support that point of view.
  4. Make a list of the challenges you may face in making your documentary. If you'll be presenting a point of view that goes against the mainstream, are there particular people or groups who might try to stand in your way?
6. Present:
Present your film treatment to the class. Discuss as a group the strengths and weaknesses of each treatment. Make notes on the suggestions and constructive criticism that will improve your film proposal.
7. Reflect:
In your journal, write about how this exercise impacted your understanding of written and oral histories. Why do you think some histories become hidden, or silenced?