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Becoming a film maker?


I always arrive at school early. I arrive with purpose. I have given myself the job of corralling the other early students and going up to a classroom waiting for the bell that signals it is time to enter our classrooms. It is a job I take very seriously but to my astonishment it does not improve my standing.


One day, fate deals me a new set of cards. They are 3 x 5 cards with different activities called “occupations”. In the spirit of John Dewey I will chose what “occupation” I want to pursue on Wednesday afternoons.


There is a card for library, another for science, music and others I can’t remember, but one stands out: AV. I have no idea what AV is, but I know it is the easiest to spell and it is this fact determines my path.


There is a small number of us that are being introduced to four machines in the basement activity room of the Ethical Culture School. There is a large reel to reel tape recorder, am opaque projector, a filmstrip projector and a 16mm movie projector. I look at each with awe. I am already an experimental mechanic. I have taken my parents Victrola apart and except for one or two screws put it back together successfully. When it came to machines I am fearless, and these four machines present excitement, the anticipation of mastery, and proof to others of my abilities.


The most magical is the tape recorder. There is a small orange bulb on the top panel which had three stages: all orange, half orange and nothing. When the teacher speaks into the microphone I can control the stages of light with a volume control knob. If the bulb is unlit, I turn the volume up. If the whole bulb is shining the sound is too loud and I must adjust the volume control so only half the bulb illuminated. I get it, and to my astonishment many of the other students do not. It pushes my ego to the head of the class, a position I’ve coveted far too long. I practice working with the volume control. I have an edge and I’m going to maintain it.


The opaque and film strip projector are simple for me – with one it is the idea of putting a picture or a book on the platform upside down in order to project properly on the wall. With the filmstrip projector it is a matter of threading it correctly, and since it only has a manual advance, the consequences of a miss-thread are minimal.


It was the 16mm projector that is really changing my life. This is one complicated machine. You have to place the film reel on the proper arm with the film hanging down toward the screen. Then it’s was a matter of pulling a flap up that covers a roller that has sprockets, little raised pieces of metal, that engage the sprocket holes in the film. Next I open the film gate, a flat piece of metal between the projector lamp and the lens, blow the dust out and run the film down before carefully closing the gate leaving enough of a sufficient loop above so that when the film mechanism jerks the film into place and holds it for a fraction of a second there’s enough film loop so it wont pull the film on the top sprocket. The person leading the class only has to show me once; I get it – I am at the top of my game – proud, confident.


Of course there’s more to threading a 16 mm projector and you can read about it in the manual – BUT the teachers don’t read the manual, they don’t take this course on AV, they are scared of the equipment and rely on me, Henry the Projector Man to show movies to their classes.


Now think what this means to me. I am important; necessary to the pedagogical goals of the school. No longer will my self image rely on the caretaking of early arriving students, I am a projectionist, the projectionist. And I’m not one of the 6th graders, I’m a 4th grader, and I’m the one showing marvelous movies to the others. And there’s more: I can be called out of class to do so. Reading, writing a book review, learning multiplication or fractions, they are all dispensable, I am the movie man.

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