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True/False education coordinator brings documentary film to Columbia students

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Polina Malikin has been the educational outreach coordinator for the True/False Film Festival for the past three years. 

The educational programs sponsored by True/False and Ragtag Cinema, which include T/F Academy and T/F Boot Camp, help expose students in Columbia to documentary film and filmmaking both during the festival and throughout the year.

Malikin was at the Missouri Theatre on Friday for the T.G.I.T/F event, which gave students their own space at the film fest to enjoy a free screening and ice cream. In this interview, Malikin discusses how documentary film can benefit students and how she works to develop the next generation of filmmakers and informed citizens.

What are the main goals of your programs, and how do those goals fit into the overall goals of True/False?

Malikin: I think the really larger goal is to inspire young people and to show them alternative ways of thinking and alternative ways of being. And introduce them to people who are taking their creative ideas and taking their dreams and realizing them. The filmmakers and the artists and the musicians who come here are doing that. They’re taking these huge risks, and they’re following their dreams and creating work despite all the odds. So I think that fits into the larger goals of True/False in terms of bringing new, fresh and inspiring art and film and music to town. And reminding people about what’s really important and what’s beautiful and what’s possible.

And there are a lot of other goals. We do want to train the next generation of filmmakers and engaged, informed citizens. We want students to have exposure to more than what’s available in a small Midwestern town. We want them to see what a community effort looks like. True/False would be nothing without every single small business, and every single volunteer, and all these people coming together locally. So a lot of what we do is show students the wealth of their own community and the power of working together and cooperating. So those are sort of the lofty goals. The specific goals are we want students to make films and learn how to do that and tell their own stories. And we want students to be able to ask good questions and look at media critically and engage with adults in an interesting way, and not just be used to the teacher-student model.

With the programs you’re running, and with the new documentary program at the Missouri School of Journalism, would you say that adding documentary filmmaking to more mainstream education is a larger trend?

Malikin: I definitely think there’s been a huge trend to try to incorporate media and media-making. It’s not always documentary. I mean, computers and screens are everywhere, and I think we don’t really know how to incorporate them into mainstream education yet. So I think documentary is one way that we can use the power of media to tell stories and to help students figure out ways that they can present research and tell stories in a more engaging way. But yeah I’m not sure—it’s like a complicated moment—it’s not new, it’s not just now, but it’s been growing for the past 10 years, I’d say 10, 20 years. But right now, it seems at a critical point where we’re trying to figure out—do we want everyone on their smart phones, or do we say, "No, you can’t have that in the classroom." So yes, I think documentary is one approach to thinking about media in the classroom, but I think there are few places that have figured out a nice balance.

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