People In Education worked with the James and Grace Lee Boggs School over the 2015-2016 school year to implement media arts programming in two classrooms. We are excited to share our film “No Water, No Life,” created by artist-in-residence Bobby Colombo and Janelle Schaeffer’s 4th-6th grade students at the Boggs School, with filming support from youth researcher Ever Bussey.

Through our in-school programming, we pair classroom teachers with digital media artists to design media projects that align with and enhance the core curriculum. Through these projects, students create media that explores essential questions about their lives and their communities, empowering them to use media to shape their worlds. In PIE classrooms, media-making is not the end goal but one of the vehicles through which we develop curiosity and connection.

In connection with the 6th grade science and social studies curriculum, Janelle and Bobby worked with students to explore the root causes and ramifications of the water shut-off crisis in Detroit that accelerated in the summer of 2014. The artists-in-residence and students shared the outcomes of this research by collaboratively writing, directing and acting in the dramatic video project, “No Water, No Life”.

Boggs School Youth Learn About the Water Shutoffs

Through a brainstorm and research process led by Bobby and Janelle, the students at the Boggs School explored the practical and ethical questions surrounding water ownership and stewardship, rights and access. They studied the water cycle, Detroit’s local watershed, the ecology of our major waterway, the Detroit River, and the infrastructure of water delivery and treatment. They also studied the policies and political decisions that led to the mass water shutoffs in Detroit that began during the Summer of 2014.  

During the research phase, students watched and discussed Detroit Minds Dying, a film about the Detroit water shutoffs by local filmmaker Kate Levy, and they talked to activists and lawyers involved in the shutoffs who were invited to participate in a panel discussion with the classroom.

“No Water No Life” Video

After completing their research, Bobby led the students through a storyboarding process, where they developed 12 scenes for the film. The students formed a small group for each scene and then wrote the script for the scene, and designed props, costumes, and special effects. All of the students participated in the acting, directing, filming and editing of the final film. They also produced hand-drawn graphic elements, which were inserted into the film as animations.  

Bobby shared these thoughts about the final video: “The film, I think, is a powerful example of young people taking on an issue in their community, and amplifying their own voice regarding the issue, with humor, nuance, sophistication, and a sense of justice.”

Bobby and the students presented their work at the 2016 Allied Media Conference and a community screening at the Boggs School in December 2016.