The Buena Vista University student-produced documentary, "Notes: A Noteworthy Story of Music" has won second place at the 2007 Cedar Rapids Independent Film Festival.
Under the instruction of Assistant Professor of Media Studies Jerry Johnson, student producers Adam Thompson and Matt Clark accepted the award at the festival in Cedar Rapids on April 14. One of 42 films included in the festival, the documentary received a Silver Eddy Award in the Student Documentary category.
"Notes: A Noteworthy Story of Music" chronicles the Storm Lake High School Music Department as they prepare for a national competition while getting ready for a year's worth of concerts and contests. The documentary's journey began in August 2005 and ended in May 2006.
Johnson, along with student producers Thompson and Clark filmed at the high school twice-a-week, attended all special events and conducted interviews with music professors Frank Hoskins, Jeff Tollefson, Carol Peterson and Lee Thorson and several students in band, orchestra and vocal music.
The idea of chronicling the Storm Lake High School music program was based on several factors, including notable success of the program through the years. Johnson also recalled hearing from various community members (as well as his son, Darren, who was recently in the music program) of the intense attitude of some of the music professors in their relentless persistence of excellence, and of students' sadness of leaving the program upon graduation.
"I've always wanted to make a documentary and I thought this was a very interesting story," says Johnson. "If some of the music teachers are known for being strict, why do they always have so many students participate? And why is there so much emotion from students and teachers alike when the school year ends? I felt this warranted further exploring."
Johnson says roughly one quarter (about 270 people) of the student population of Storm Lake High School is involved in the music program, with over 200 participating in the choir.
The documentary was a dynamic learning tool for the students in Johnson's electronic and advanced electronic media production classes, teaching how to shoot better film and applying what they learned in the classroom to the outside world in order to bring a film to life.
"The students did a great job shooting and putting this together," says Johnson. "I hope their love and appreciation of documentaries has grown and they've learned to shoot better video."
At a running time of 105 minutes, Johnson said "Notes" could've easily been a five-hour documentary. Despite the countless hours of work, Johnson's appreciation for documentaries has rubbed off.