After traveling across the country during the summer to work on his documentary, “Listen,” freshman Ankur Singh premiered the film in the Arts and Science Building on Oct. 7.
Singh took the spring semester off last school year to make a film on America’s education system, sharing different stories of students across the country. Singh said the documentary questions standardized testing and its effect on students, as well as school closures, modern-day expectations of students and the battle teachers face regarding curriculum.
Singh said the documentary explored what is actually in the best interest of the students.
“Students don’t really have a voice in our own education,” Singh said. “It’s always a bunch of grown-ups talking; they never talk to students even though we’re the ones most directly affected, and so I wanted to try to show a few different perspectives on the educational system.”
“Listen” includes Singh’s perception of his own experiences in America’s education system, in addition to the viewpoints of his interviewees.
Singh said he thought about making “Listen” for a few weeks before starting to work on it. Upon arriving at MU last fall, Singh decided he should “start now instead of waiting.”
Singh began by reading books and articles to learn more about the issue; he also started posting in interest groups and contacting different organizations for interviews. After using a Kickstarter campaign, which allows interested parties to donate money to different creative projects, Singh was ready to start traveling.
Singh’s interviewed sources in Colorado, Minnesota, Texas, Florida and New York, all of which he visited alone.
One of Singh’s more prevalent interviews was with special education teacher Darciann Samples from Pueblo, Colo. Singh said she provided an ambivalent perspective; she sees the issue from the eyes of an educator, as well as a parent with two sons immersed in the education system.
“The stress on students is so high,” Samples said. “They’re discouraged, and they’re frustrated because every day it’s being drilled into them that ‘you’ve got to learn this, you have to pass this test.’ It’s just not healthy for anyone.”
Samples said the education system needs an overhaul.
“We need to reevaluate what we’re doing with education in general,” Samples said. “(We need) new forms of assessment. We’re not fighting against assessment; we’re fighting against the shallow assessment that doesn’t look at the student as a whole. We need to stop putting this horrendous pressure on everyone.”
The interviewing process for the documentary lasted roughly four months, Singh said. He started filming in May and spent the rest of the summer editing.
When Singh debuted “Listen” on Oct. 7, junior Kelsey Wingo presented for a nervous Singh. Wingo is a friend of Singh’s who helped out with postproduction.
“Ankur left the room before the film started; I presented it for him,” Wingo said. “He was very anxious to see how people reacted the first time he showed it in public because these were people that didn’t know anything about him, or the film. He didn’t stay for any of it, but it went over really well for the people who attended, and we had really good feedback.”
The premiere brought a sense of relief to Singh.
“It’s really nice to be able to move on with my life because, after some time, I just started getting so sick of it, and I hated it,” Singh said. “It’s nice to never have to watch it again…. It’s a big weight off my shoulders.”
Despite Singh’s relief, Wingo said the premiere was hopefully just the beginning of the documentary’s journey.
“Just recently, we’ve had a lot of press come our way, and so we have been using that to try and spark screenings,” Wingo said. “Ankur has had people emailing him almost every day, talking about doing screenings here and there, and so we’d really like to just kind of get those going and generate those in different places.”
Singh said his goal is to see the film screened across the country, on top of entering it into film festivals and eventually putting the film online.
“I finished the documentary, but there’s still a lot of work to do in terms of getting it out there,” Singh said. “I’d like to make more, though. I want to do one on Teach For America, the nonprofit organization. But that’ll probably just be a short film I put on the Internet; it won’t be this ambitious.”
Although he’s relieved after finishing “Listen,” Singh said he has no intentions of giving up his passion for making films.
“I think it’s something I’ll always do for the rest of my life,” Singh said. “In fact, it doesn’t matter to me if I get paid for it or not.”