THIS IS US is a film project in Senegal, Africa that empowers students who live in villages without electricity to write, film, and narrate stories about their daily lives, hopes, and challenges. These are young voices that have never been heard before - voices that represent some of the 85% of the world's population living in the developing world.
Listen to them speak to you directly -- offering intimate glimpses into their daily lives, sharing their thoughts
and their dreams for the future. You can see them as people just like you.
Selections from these digital stories were made into a documentary short film — nominated for the 2011 Student Academy Awards. This, in turn, inspired the internationally-acclaimed feature film TALL AS THE BAOBAB TREE (Grande comme le Baobab). The movie comes with free materials correlated directly to the CCSS curricula standards for Gr 8-12, plus guided discussions for community groups and universities.
THIS IS US Project Team
Jeremy Teicher: Director, Editor, Project manager.
Jeremy is a Student Academy Award-nominated director whose first feature film, TALL AS THE BAOBAB TREE (2012), is garnering acclaim from festivals around the world.
TALL AS THE BAOBAB TREE is inspired by Jeremy’s ground breaking documentary THIS IS US (2011), which was awarded a prestigious Lombard Public Service Fellowship, supported by Kodak, and earned Jeremy a nomination for a Student Academy Award.
Jeremy graduated cum laude from Dartmouth College where he studied Film, English, and Theater.
Mounirous Cissé: School coordinator.
Hailing from the village of Tanor Dieng, Mounirou is a fantastic and dynamic teacher at Ecole Sinthiou Mbadane 1.
Sarah Nehrling : Project advisor.
Sarah directs CyberSmart Africa's operations in Senegal. She oversees the development and implementation of all in-country activities and manages the local project team.
Ben graduated as the valedictorian of Dartmouth College in the class of 2010 where he studied Philosophy. Not speaking a word of French but hungry for adventure, Ben braved the formidable language barrier and joined Jeremy in Senegal in the summer of 2010.
Issa Sow: Field support (2008).
Issa is a graduate of the Centre Africain d'Etudes Superieures en Gestion, Dakar, Senegal, where he studied business administration. Issa worked closely to support Jeremy on every aspect of project implementation in 2008.
Frequently Asked Questions
Ben Gifford: Field support (2010).
- How did this start?
The project began as part of CyberSmart Africa’s three-week digital storytelling initiatives, where digital storytelling is used to gain the initial confidence and support of parents and community leaders. Extending traditional storytelling customs through the process of digital storytelling is a way of introducing 21st century learning to them.
- Haven't there been other films where local people are given cameras? What makes this project different?
- What sets This Is Us apart from other "just-give-locals-the-camera-and-collect-footage" documentaries is that this film empowers people to tell their own stores from script to screen. Whereas other documentary films have given cameras to local people before, This Is Us utilizes a carefully developed process specifically designed to empower others to poignantly express messages of their choosing. We do not simply collect footage from cameras that we hand out, only to edit it into a story later--we work closely with people we give our cameras to, enabling them to craft their own stories so that they not only do the filming but are also prepared to write and narrate.
- What is the director's role in a documentary like this?
- Briefly, the director's role in a project like this is the same as any project: to keep everyone on track and working towards the same final goal. It is important that each student fully understands the goals of the project and that the students work as a group to pick a variety of topics that will mesh well together. It's the directors job to get each student excited to make his or her film and to make sure that each kid knows how the individual pieces will fit in with the whole. Tangentially, the students need to be taught how to properly use the cameras and how to effectively combine multiple images with a narration to tell a story. Once shooting begins the director functions as a guide, watching what each student filmed the day before and then encouraging him or her one way or another. The director is also responsible for editing the students' narration with their video clips to form the final stories.
- Why don't the students edit their own films?
- To answer this, we'll refer back to the original goal of the project: to enable storytelling. Working in an area without electricity--and on a project operating with a limited budget--it is not feasible to provide editing computers for the kids, teach them the programs, and troubleshoot for days on end as they learn to edit. The goal is to get their stories made, not to train them as professional filmmakers. Remember: the student writes and records the script (narration) that ultimately determines the shape of the final story--which is built completely from footage that they shot.