North Branch School

Over a fourteen month period, Vermont Folklife Center ethnographer and filmmaker, Ned Castle, conducted a film-based ethnographic documentary project in collaboration with the students, teachers, and staff of the North Branch School in Ripton, Vermont.  The project was undertaken with the hope of creating a documentary film that “captured the spirit” of the school--the culture, the people, and the collective experience of the community around it. Wren Colwell, a student at the school, describes the trajectory of the research process, film production, and ultimately the response from the students–from an insider's perspective:

In Our New Film, Life is the School
By Wren Colwell
On a day near the middle of last school year, we were joined in morning meeting by a stranger who sat in the corner and listened to us have a conference.  This isn't as creepy as it sounds, however, because the "stranger" was a filmmaker named Ned Castle, and we had been awaiting his arrival for a while...
He caught us on film in the play, the ninth grade hike, morning meeting, reading stories, and graduation, as well as days no special event was happening at all and we were just doing math.  I didn't really mind the camera, though I often wondered what interesting footage anyone could possibly get from a bunch of teenagers trying to tune homemade instruments.
In the new year we began to see Ned around more and more, as he shot some footage of the new seventh graders and got our opinions on the format of the video.  One weekend we went home instructed to write lines of poetry to use in the video, and a few weeks later we all read the best lines in front of a microphone...
I think all around there was a lot of excitement to see what Ned had made.  As soon as he hit play, it was like we knew something amazing was being shown.  A scene that stood out to me was graduation, because I have so many vivid memories of that day, but it was great to see the graduation from another perspective...
After it ended there was a bit of silence that was overflowing with emotion.  Then people began to talk.  Someone said that they had never been able to truly tell people about our school, but now they have found the way to do that.