DIGICOM Symposium Digs Deep Into Documentaries

PALM SPRINGS, CA — On Feb. 27, about 450 area high school students from across the valley viewed short documentaries and discussed the films with their directors during a daylong symposium hosted by DIGICOM Learning. Moreover, the symposium — held at the Palm Springs Cultural — screened student documentaries alongside professionally produced ones to inspire more students to experiment with this form of digital storytelling.

“DIGICOM’s core mission is to provide teachers and students with the digital literacy skills they need to improve the educational experience and to prosper in the 21st century,” says David Vogel, founder and CEO of DIGICOM Learning. “Learning how documentaries are made is a great way for students to better understand digital storytelling and witness firsthand how well-crafted, nonfiction stories have the power to change minds, change communities, and change the world.”

This is the third consecutive year that DIGICOM has produced a filmmaking symposium for students. Produced in partnership with Film Independent Artist Development, the symposium — called “Fresh Takes” — exposed students to a wide range of emerging talent in documentary filmmaking.

The films, which covered a range of socially relevant themes, were followed by conversations between filmmakers and students that explored the variety of storytelling techniques used in documentary filmmaking, as well as the directorial challenges and strategies filmmakers embrace in the documentary production process.

The symposium was led by Max Finneran, senior producer and instructional specialist with DIGICOM Learning, and Ruth Atkinson, a Los Angeles-based script consultant and story editor who works with Film Independent.

Students participated from these high schools: Palm Springs, Cathedral City, Rancho Mirage, Desert Hot Springs, Palm Desert, Indio, Shadowhills, La Quinta, Coachella Valley, and Desert Mirage.

“It’s a great experience to expose a new generation to filmmaking and a way they can express themselves in a documentary format,” says attendee Russell Ryan, a senior from Palm Springs High School.

Chloe Howard, the subject of Erin Li’s film “Chloe Howard: I Am Not Invisible,” recorded a special message for the students.

“My life was changed because of a documentary,” says Howard, a college freshman who was 14 when she was assaulted on her high-school campus because of her severe foot deformity. Li’s documentary recalls that experience and the movement that was borne from it.

“We all, as people, have these stories that exist within us. And you film students are going to school learning about what it means to unlock that story. And you’re telling it, which is so cool and so brave and so bold. Thank you for making yourselves physically, emotionally, and spiritually available to unlock that story …. Don’t run from this calling.”


The following films were screened during the showcase and are available for online viewing by following the links:

The Battle of the Jazz Guitarist (2013)

A son makes a tribute documentary about his father, a once famous jazz guitarist from the Fiji Islands who gave up his career to move to America. When the son sheds light on some dark areas of their past, the documentary takes humorous and emotional turns, giving insight into the father-son relationship and the crash of the American dream.

Filmmaker: Mark Columbus


Home/Town (2017)

HOME/TOWN is an essay film about two places: Kashiwa, Japan, and Los Angeles, California — two different hometowns for the director and his son. Learn how these cities shape their lives, the decisions they make, and the future they hold.

Filmmaker: Susumu Kimura


Real Boy (2018)

A transgender high school student expresses the struggle he feels to live an authentic life.

Student Filmmaker: Jay Delgado


We’ve Been Around (2016)

This series of five short films tells the previously untold histories of transgender pioneers. Trans people have always been here, throughout time, often hidden in plain sight. Two of the five episodes — “Star” and “Little Axe” — will be shown.

Filmmaker: Rhys Ernst


Dear Mr. President (2018)

The filmmaker writes an open letter to president Trump expressing how her family deserves to live in America just as much as everyone else.

Student Filmmaker: Samantha Rodriguez


An Uncertain Future (2018)

In Austin, Texas, two expectant mothers — one undocumented and one a U.S. citizen — must contend with increased ICE raids and mounting hostility toward immigrants under President Trump.

Filmmaker: Iliana Sosa


Sister Hearts (2018)

Maryam Henderson Uloho spent 13 years in prison, six of which were in solitary confinement. After being released in 2013, she lived as a squatter on the streets of New Orleans and sold found items on street corners to get by. That’s when the lightbulb went off and Maryam’s journey to help other ex-offenders — especially women like her — started.

Filmmakers: Mohammad Gorjestani and Malcolm Pullinger


Anxious for Graduation (2018)

The filmmaker describes her personal journey growing up with constriction band syndrome. After 13 surgeries and a prosthetic leg in the making, she is ready to walk at graduation with the rest of her peers.

Student Filmmaker: Nora Duenas


Chloe Howard: I Am Not Invisible (2016)

Born with a foot deformity, Chloe experienced a lot of bullying. This film tells her story and the transformative experience she had with one of her heroes.

Filmmaker: Erin Li

Bonus video: A special message from Chloe Howard


A Town Called Victoria

(Working title for case study of an episodic documentary in development)

When their local mosque is burned to the ground after the signing of the first travel ban, the people of Victoria, Texas, defy expectations by rallying around their Muslim neighbors while confronting the bigotry in their midst.

Filmmaker: Li Lu


About DIGICOM Learning:

Founded in 2008 by David Vogel, retired president of the Walt Disney Motion Picture Group, DIGICOM Learning is a private/public partnership (501(c)3) that inspires children’s passion to learn by teaching them how to make short films about their school work, lives, and the world around them. DIGICOM Learning has been using its unique methodology and curriculum to engage students by working one-on-one with students, presenting in classrooms, and training more than 500 teachers in the Palm Springs Unified School District and 50 teachers in Desert Sands Unified School District. As partners of the University of California, both at Irvine and Riverside, DIGICOM is a certificated and researched program that proves that its teaching has already improved the lives of more than 50,000 students. For more information, please visit https://www.digicomlearning.org.


About Film Independent:

Film Independent is a nonprofit arts organization that champions independent visual storytelling and supports a community of artists who embody diversity, innovation, and uniqueness of vision. Film Independent helps filmmakers make their movies, builds an audience for their projects, and works to diversify the film industry. In addition to producing the Spirit Awards, Film Independent produces the LA Film Festival and Film Independent at LACMA Film Series. Film Independent’s Artist Development program offers free labs for selected writers, directors, producers, and documentary filmmakers and presents year-round networking opportunities. Project Involve is Film Independent’s signature program dedicated to fostering the careers of talented filmmakers from communities traditionally underrepresented in the film industry. For more information, please visit http://www.filmindependent.org.