Judging & Learning

Recently I had the honor of being part of a judging panel of student films from around the country. As a member of the Broadcast Education Association, I was able to participate in the “documentary” division of this year’s submissions.

As a first-time judge, I was a bit nervous. I was being asked to grade on a scale, rate each piece’s "broadcastability,"  and leave comments for feedback. I’ve struggled with similar structure in grading my student’s work throughout each semester. Despite the parameters my students are given, despite the rubric I provide, sometimes I still wonder, am I being too harsh a critic? Too easy on their errors? I reached out to the volunteer coordinator at the BEA with my concerns. She noted that she too has had this problem, and that is part of the reason the BEA, and most organizations which judge by panel, has this solution built in. Ideally, most judges will rate pieces approximately the same way. I was asked to watch everything once, take notes, and then go back a day or so later and watch again. If my feelings on the second viewing were still the same as during the first, it is unlikely my critiques would be wildly unlike the other judges. Frankly just the discussion with the volunteer coordinator made me feel more confident to judge the films, and I’m keeping in mind her advice as I begin teaching for the semester.

Overall, the student films I watched were very well done, some I would even call exceptional. I have various questions about resources that some groups had versus others, but most of these students, even without the ability to access Hollywood level equipment, and in some cases with the inability to properly interview their subjects due to Covid protocols, made it work and told a well-focused story. Covid impacted these students harshly, it was clear that some set out with big plans, and then were forced into quarantine and had to completely revamp their ideas, but their ability to adapt may have been what was most impressive. No one was expecting a yearlong shut down from real life, I certainly didn’t. So maybe, one of the most important things we’ve learned about ourselves during Covid, is that we can “make it work.” And in this industry, plan A almost never works out, adaptability is a key selling point for projects both at home and professional.

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