JAMES CITY- Isaac Davis was in the middle of an interview when he paused to give some orders into a hand-held radio. The Williamsburg Christian Academy senior was about to win an award from the cable network C-SPAN, and he wanted to make sure the lights, sound and music were just right as the high school students filed into the assembly.
Davis, along with his classmates Carter Bruck and Anah Taylor, won honorable mention in C-SPAN’s StudentCam 2016 documentary competition. On Thursday a C-SPAN representative presented them with their certificates at the high school assembly.
The C-SPAN competition attracted nearly 3,000 entries. Students could work in teams of one, two or three and had to make a 7-minute documentary answering the question, “What’s the issue you most want candidates to discuss during the 2016 presidential campaign?”
The students from WCA decided they wanted candidates to address physician-assisted suicide.
Davis said the group selected physician-assisted suicide because they wanted something “controversial but not cliché.”
Davis said they knew topics like immigration would be done by other groups, and, more importantly, those topics were already dominating the political conversation.
Their decision was validated during a Feb. 3 CNN Town Hall when Hillary Clinton was asked about physician-assisted suicide. She said it was the first time during her campaign she had heard the question and said she needed to examine what the outcome has been in other countries that have legalized the practice.
Sara Zou, 27, is the marketing representative for the C-SPAN who came to recognize the students’ efforts.
She said the winning videos were judged more on the content of their message than the technical expertise demonstrated.
“For C-SPAN, the way we present our topic is we just set up a camera and roll, so we look for students to show their critical thinking,” she said.
And she said the best entries stayed objective and presented both sides of an issue.
Even if C-SPAN focused more on content than technical wizadry, the WCA students wanted their submission to stand out. So the team built a 500-square foot green screen and a camera with a “jib arm” that can capture steady shots while slowly moving up and down.
Those two innovations allowed the students to create a professional-looking documentary. The narrators in their film walked in front of the green screen as the camera slowly panned up towards them. Behind them, images related to the topic flashed on the green screen.
“The point is to make you wonder how they did that,” Davis said.
“We don’t have all the resources other schools do,” said Head of High School Dianna M. Lindsay. “All we have is student equipment. What is more important to us is the research done on the front end.”
Davis, Bruck and Taylor said they spent hundreds of hours working on the 7-minute video. Bruck described stressful technical difficulties associated with housing hours of footage on his home computer server, and Taylor put it simply: “While we were doing this we were able to learn as well.”
The students’ film defines physician-assisted suicide and offers different perspectives on the issue, from Hospice nurses, doctors and pastors. One of the pastors in the film is Davis’ father, Rev. Reginald Davis, the pastor at First Baptist Church in Williamsburg.
The students said one of the most eye-opening parts of their research was hearing stories of people whose loved ones had died from chronic illnesses.
And Davis said his views on the topic shifted as he and his classmates worked on the project.
“Before, I was against it. My father’s a Baptist preacher, but digging more into the subject, it does change your mind, and you say wait a minute, maybe that’s not the most humane thing,” he said.