Partnership with DU Professor Gathers Valuable Knowledge for Film

How does one attract undergraduates to a documentary film focused on student activism forty years before they even stepped on a college campus? This was the exact question documentary filmmaker Sheila E. Schroeder faced this past year while working on her latest film, Woodstock West: Build Not Burn.

In an effort to find out just what DU students consider activism today, Sheila partnered with University of Denver professor, Nadia Kaneva to create a class project that would not only help her to gain important information for her film, but also give Professor Kaneva's students an opportunity to work on a relevant project, while acquiring real world experience.

Kaneva reached out to Sheila this fall after learning about Woodstock West at a Department of Journalism, Film and Media studies faculty meeting. For her Strategic Communications class, Kaneva tries to find something exciting each year that is going on in the community, whether DU or Denver, and finds a way to incorporate these projects into her class curriculum. For example, last year Kaneva focused her class assignment on Project Homeless Connect-an annual event held at DU during which homeless people in Denver receive help for social services, welfare, medical help, etc. Learning of Sheila's project sparked something in Kaneva's mind-not only was Sheila's film something that was happening within the Denver community, it also incorporated a major event in DU history: the events of May 1970.

Together, Sheila and Professor Kaneva thought up two different assignments for the fall and winter quarters of the Strategic Communications class. For both classes, the main goal was to promote an Activism Video Contest, a concept developed by Sheila, with plans to be launched around the same time as the film. This contest would give students across the nation the chance to highlight activism that is occurring on college campuses. Kaneva's fall quarter class was required to complete surveys among their peers at DU to find out what they thought about student activism, and how it differed from activism in the 1970s.  For the winter quarter, Kaneva decided to build on the previous class by incorporating a focus group discussion on the subject of activism, so that the class could collect data beyond the limited scope of a quantitative survey. After collecting primary research, students in both classes were instructed to analyze the data and then come up with ideas for slogans, as well as a press release and promotional materials.

Kaneva explained that her classes were excited about working on this project, especially in the fall quarter class where many of the students had relatives who actually participated in Woodstock West! "Working with a real project is a lot more exciting [than a hypothetical]," explains Kaneva, "it's nice when students can take the work they have done for class and then see it, or see parts of it, put into action." And see parts of their hard work they will when the film and the video contest launch in the fall of 2013.

"Working with Nadia and her students has been such a great experience!" Sheila continues, "I have gained valuable information from the hard work of these students regarding the current views of activism, in addition to usable buzz-words and great promotional ideas for when we launch the actual contest. I hope that partnerships and projects like this one, within DU and the surrounding community, continue to flourish in the coming years."

If you are interested in viewing highlights of the presentations from Professor Kaneva's Strategic Communications class, be sure to head over to the Woodstock West:Build Not Burn facebook page at