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Independent study film focuses on immigrant students

As a small boy in Somalia, Nadir witnessed his aunt being murdered while she was praying. His family moved to Willmar 10 years ago, and he loves it here. Where he came from, many police were corrupt, he said. Here, the police and people in the co...

Briana Sanchez / TribuneBrady Newcomer talks about his editing process. Newcomer says for the diversity video he made last year he planned to shoot b-roll but ran out of time. He wanted the video to be long enough to get the point across, but not too long so that people wouldn't want to watch it.
Briana Sanchez / Tribune Brady Newcomer talks about his editing process. Newcomer says for the diversity video he made last year he planned to shoot b-roll but ran out of time. He wanted the video to be long enough to get the point across, but not too long so that people wouldn't want to watch it.

As a small boy in Somalia, Nadir witnessed his aunt being murdered while she was praying. His family moved to Willmar 10 years ago, and he loves it here. Where he came from, many police were corrupt, he said. Here, the police and people in the community are friendly and helpful.

Kevin moved to Willmar from El Salvador two years ago. It's a beautiful country, he said of his home land, but very dangerous. If he and his brother had joined a gang, rival gang members would have tried to kill them, he said. If they'd refused to join a gang, the members of that gang would have tried to kill them.

Ahmed and his family came all the way from Kenya to Willmar three and a half years ago. Not long after, his mother was diagnosed with cancer, and she died a year ago. When she was ill and dying, the family had visits and help from many people, he said.

Kiana came to Willmar from a poverty-stricken area of Honduras a year and a half ago. Her dream is to be able to help improve the conditions for people in her country.

Hiep moved to Willmar from Vietnam three years ago. For a long time, he said, he didn't know where he belonged, and he felt not quite American and no longer Vietnamese.

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These Willmar Senior High School immigrant students and others are the subject of a 24-minute documentary produced by Brady Newcomer, a senior at the school this year. The documentary was filmed in spring 2016 as an independent study and is available for viewing here.


The video came about in discussions with Senior High Principal Paul Schmitz as they were discussing ideas for an independent study class.

Schmitz told Brady he could have a block of time for film study, but Schmitz wanted a say in the project. He wanted him to start with a documentary, believing it would be easier and allow him to focus on technique without being concerned with writing a script.

They discussed several ideas. "This one stood out to me, and it's something I'm definitely interested in," Brady said. "I myself didn't know a lot of the stuff the kids told me."

Many of the students seemed glad to be able to tell their stories. "It provided an avenue for them to express themselves," Brady said. "Ahmed said he had never really talked about his experiences before."

Some were hesitant to speak, but all OK'd the video before it was released to the public.

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Schmitz could hardly be happier with the finished product. He's watched it several times and sees something new each time.

"The first time I watched it, I was taken by the students' stories," he said. A second viewing allowed him to pay attention to the editing decisions Brady made.

He used different shots and varied backgrounds, and "he was able to recognize emotional moments," Schmitz said. An adult may not have been able to make the same video, he added. "This is a kid talking to other kids."

The success of the documentary made it easy for him to approve a second independent study and a new film project for Brady in his senior year, Schmitz said. He's writing a fictional script this time, "a completely different level of filmmaking."

With the student immigrants, "I didn't necessarily know what it was going to be," Brady said, and that's not his preferred way to work. "In the future, I hope I will be able to write and direct independent films," he said.

By the end of the last school year he had seven hours of recorded interviews. Over the summer, he edited it down to the 24-minute video.

He's heard from people who appreciated the video and and he's proud of it, he said.

He's now writing a script for a short film about a relationship between a mother and son. The new film will be part of his application to film schools, he said.

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His preferred school is the screenwriting program at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, and he has several others on his list, mostly in California.

It will be important to him to learn more about the business of filmmaking, he said. "You can be the greatest filmmaker, but if you don't know how to sell your story, to sell your film, you won't survive."

Film school "is an option I want to keep available," he said, but if it doesn't pan out, he may focus on a degree in English. "I think writing and story is part of film."

Brady, 17, said he started making videos about 10 years ago, beginning with stop-motion videos with LEGOs. He's participated in making two award-winning videos for student contests. He's started his own company, New Wonder Media.

The video had nearly 1,400 views on YouTube earlier this week.

Related Topics: EDUCATION
In 42 years in the newspaper industry, Linda Vanderwerf has worked at several daily newspapers in Minnesota, including the Mesabi Daily News, now called the Mesabi Tribune in Virginia. Previously, she worked for the Las Cruces Sun-News in New Mexico and the Rapid City Journal in the Black Hills of South Dakota. She has been a reporter at the West Central Tribune for nearly 27 years.

Vanderwerf can be reached at email: lvanderwerf@wctrib.com or phone 320-214-4340
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