Students making street films.
-BY JANE COLLINGS-
"The aim of the artists-in-schools film
program is not to inspire these kids to be
filmmakers, but to show them that something interesting is going on in their neighborhood," says Tina Brawner. With
funding from the Texas Commission on
the Arts and the Cultural Arts Council of
Houston, Brawner teaches groups of
kids 10- to 14-years-old the basics of
The program took roots in the early
70's. Helen Foley, a high school English
teacher, introduced film to a class of students, all of whom had failed English. If
they couldn't communicate in words,
perhaps they could in images. They did,
and some of the films had heavy social
comment. Foley recalls one film made by
some black high school students: "They
had a black heroine tied to a railroad
track, and they simulated a train coming
at her. A rescue attempt is launched, but
at the crucial moment the screen goes entirely black. On the soundtrack someone
says: That's the way the cookie crumbles.' The implication was that there is
no rescue for the black in our society."
The idea took hold, funding came
along and the program became a traveling
"film school." Brawner became involved
in 1978 and has taught in west Texas
(Alpine and Marfa) and at several Houston high schools.
"Media literacy is regarded as a frill,"
says Brawner. "It isn't. It is basic to understanding this society. Media dictate
the cultural norms and what politicians
are in office."
As well as demonstrating to the kids
that they can have input into the society
via a fairly sophisticated medium, the
classes also get the kids into contact with
their own surroundings.
"The initial response of the students
is: There's nothing happening here.' Or
'We don't know anyone interesting,' "
But that changes. The next big step is
to let the students find out that they can
talk to strangers. "It is up to them to
make initial contact with their chosen
film subjects," she says.
Tina Brawner teaches film to 10-14 year olds.
"I never knew how they got from one
place to another so fast! Now I know
they put two pieces of film together,"
exclaimed one fifth grader enrolled in the
program. Brawner needs to introduce all
the basics to the kids. While they are deciding on a topic, they are also watching
documentaries in class and discussing
Initially, she observes, "A lot of young
girls are very intimidated by the camera,
while the young boys are always more
aggressive about using the equipment."
Brawner goes on location with the kids
as they begin the actual shooting to see
that everyone gets a chance to use the
equipment; to see that mikes are turned
on and cameras focused.
One film made by Brawner's class centered around an interview with Donald
Judd, an important contemporary artist.
Judd moved to Marfa, Texas from New
York to get away from the commercial
art world. "If I had gone in as a professional filmmaker, I would not have had
the same response that these kids had,"
In fact, she thought she would probably have been refused. "However, the
eighth grade kids were classmates of
Judd's own kids and he agreed to do the
The film opens panning along walls to
the ceiling, out the window—like a daydreaming student. It cuts to the interview.
The questions which the kids ask Judd
are naive and spontaneous. "Why do you
call this art?" Judd found himself confronting the basic issues in the nature of
"The kinds of film the 10-14 year-
olds can make are quite different from
the ones an adult would make. They
haven't yet made a series of conscious decisions about what they are seeing," she
Another class at Wheatley High School
filmed their visit to a funeral home. The
conversations of the students inside the
parlor sounded like a group of teenagers
browsing around a department store.
"Oh, what a cute little coffin," one
young girl says as she looks at a baby-
sized pine box.
"Ooh, I wish my bed was this soft,"
another says as she touches the satin
upholstery of another casket.
"What colors do they come in?" they
ask of the funeral director.
"Could I bring a body already in a coffin, and have it buried by you?" one
young girl wonders.
In another scene two girls are sitting in
front of an open coffin, discussing how
"nicely laid-out the body is." "They do
such a nice job," says the first girl. "Yes,"
agrees the second: "If I die, I'd like to be
prepared here, but I wouldn't want to
"As you can see," Brawner says dryly
after the film's showing, "Kids say things
that an adult would be too inhibited to
"Houston could be an open city."
-BY DEBI MARTIN-
It is a naive and romantic notion that art
can be appreciated by everyone. Art audiences are not born, they are educated.
For dance to be appreciated it must cultivate and educate an audience. The fever
contracted in recent years by the popularity of the movies All That Jazz, The
Turning Point, and Fame enlarged that
Jazz is easily popularized because it is
entertainment-oriented and has a smooth
sexy look. It is not surprising that a lot of
disco dancers look like jazz dancers and
In ballet, an audience can follow a
story-line or fairy tale as well as marvel at
a spectacular execution of fouettes and
leaps. Just as athletes set new records,
ballet dancers exceed their predecessors
in technical feats.
But this is not the case with modern
dance. Its lines are often ugly or not sexy
at all, sometimes it intends to shock, not
simply entertain, and significantly, most
modern dance works are presented in abstract and esoteric form. This keeps the
concert audiences small.
Modern dance has not received the
attention or popularity the other arts
have. This is Texas and there are vast,
wide open spaces artistically. As Farrel
Debi Martin was a former dance critic for
the UT Daily Texan.
Dyde, a modern choreographer who has
made Houston his home, puts it, "There
are dances [performed here] that just
can't be done in New York—open-ended,
experimental works. There just isn't room
for them in New York."
In order for modern dance's possibilities to be realized in Houston there must
be more than vision, there must be action.
And the Modern Dance Council (MDC) is
a group intent on acting as an umbrella
for Houston contemporary dance artists.
Roberta Stokes, one of the founders, said
the MDC has a two-fold purpose: "to
bring local dance artists together to
cultivate and educate an audience."
Although MDC has as yet no financial
backing, it does have a well-balanced
council representative of Houston's dance
community: Roberta Stokes, Barry
Moore, Janis Simonds, Mary Wolff,
Barbara Day, Leslie Schlumberger, Julie
Louis, Clare Duncan, Jack Carter, and
Mary Martha Lappe.
The MDC was formed in November
1979, and grew out of the Contemporary
Arts Museum choreographers project
which Roberta Stokes, an instigator of
MDC, formerly headed. Under Stokes,
CAM brought dance artists Bella Lewisky,
Deborah Hay, and Austin's Invisible Inc.
to Houston. Dance concerts were often
performed in the museum.
Some may remember that it was the
Choreographer Farrel Dyde sees more open-ended, experimental works performed here