Waves of Change: Kodiak Stories of the 1964 Earthquake and Tsunami

Waves of Change: Kodiak Stories of the 1964 Earthquake and Tsunami was a two-week long history and film course in which Kodiak middle school and high school students researched the under-documented stories that relate to the 1964 earthquake and tsunami in the Kodiak Archipelago and created documentary films on the topics. Students conducted interviews with elders and scientists, engaged in archival and secondary source research, and shot, directed and edited their own films.

The project was designed to connect Kodiak kids to their own history, to encourage them to seek out interviews with elders in our community who experienced the 1964 disaster and its aftermath in order to record that history as well as teach the students the basics of film-making and ethnography.

For the course, students created 10 short documentary films on the 1964 earthquake and tsunami. Among other less concrete results were the formation of relationships between community elders and young people, the confidence building experienced by students as they were pushed to independently set up interviews, shoot their own footage, do their own historical research and edit their films, the education of the wider community through the premiere of the films at the Kodiak Teen Center and their online publication and the validation and attention paid to elders, acknowledging and recording their important personal experiences of the 1964 disaster.

The history and film course was planned and operated by the Kodiak Historical Society/Baranov Museum and Media Action through a grant from the Alaska State Council on the Arts. The Baranov Museum provided educational planning and guidance as well as access to its extensive archives and connections to local community members for interviews. Media Action provided an artist and film maker associated with the organization to teach students ethnographic film techniques based upon their effective and award-winning Alaskan film workshop model.

Support was also provided by the Kodiak Island Borough School District (KIBSD) and the Engaging Native Learners In Virtual Education Now program (ENLIVEN). KIBSD provided classroom space, cameras and Macbooks for the students. ENLIVEN provided a stipend for Anthony White, an ENLIVEN employee, to teach the technical aspects of film making.

The film intensive occurred from June 3rd through June 14th, 2013. Ten students participated, ranging in age from 12 year olds entering 7th grade in the fall to 17 years olds entering 12th grade in the fall. Class met Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. at the Kodiak Middle School Library.

Students were required to write daily blogs on the class’ website; every morning they read each other’s posts and responded with comments. They then discussed the assigned readings in pairs then in groups, watched and critiqued a short film, received a film lesson ranging from basic camera operating skills to interviewing and were assigned homework which always consisted of a reading assignment, a blog post, and research, and during the 2nd week of class also included film editing. After class, students were expected to conduct research in the various archives available in town, to schedule and conduct interviews as well as finish their homework assignments.

The history and film intensive was an outstanding success, teaching ten students the basics of film making and ethnography, making connections between elders and children in Kodiak’s community, and recording the stories and experiences of 29 Kodiak residents of the 1964 disaster.

A premiere of the students’ films was held June 15th at the Kodiak Teen Center. Over 50 people attended to view the films and ask questions of the students.

An example of one of the student films: