Starting in Anacostia and Ballou High Schools, DCPS launched Redesign as an innovative school transformation strategy, one grounded in equity and driven by the perspectives of students, staff, families, and other stakeholders within these school communities. Throughout this process, our team partneared with the high schools to explain the initiative and highlight their Redesign pilot programs in action. As the COVID-19 pandemic forced Anacostia and Ballou to rethink the redesign rollout, our team saw a unique opportunity to tell a story on a grand scale. Departing from our traditional docu-style promos, we proposed “verité” documentaries — actual short films — that would explore the community-led program against an unprecedented backdrop.
Redesign Short Films
LAI Video partnered with DCPS to produce two short films that followed students at Anacostia and Ballou High Schools – two schools participating in the school district’s new redesign program. Filmed throughout the 2020-2021 school year, we captured an honest look at the toll that the pandemic took on the schools’ ambitious plans, while also highlighting how the redesign ethos drove teachers and staff to connect with students in profound ways. In 2022, the short film on Anacostia won a National Capital Emmy award for Best Long-form Content in the Education category.
Planning for the Unpredictable
Embracing an authentic, documentary approach required us to let stories unfold organically and unpredictably. Unlike planning a commercial shoot, we developed a production framework that was both tailored and adaptable, proposing recurring filming sessions with a pre-identified cast of students and educators. As our lead filmmakers, Favata and Tori took on the mammoth task of orchestrating a series of filming sessions across several month, often relying on lean crews for both intimacy and safety.
Finding Comfort in the Unfamiliar
To do this story justice, we had to establish a foundation of trust with our subjects. Our team followed the lead of our DCPS educators working to build relationships with students in a virtual space. We strived to become familiar with our student subjects, calling them. Zooming them. Even texting them with regular questions. And with each contact, we encouraged them to get to know us, too.
Documenting The Heart of Human-Centered Practices
Ultimately, students opened up differently to the camera, and those differences became an important part of the Redesign story. At Ballou, Treasure was able to embrace virtual instruction - and the confidence she built through her participation in – and winning! – her school’s virtual 3DE Case Challenge competition was palpable. At Ana, Juan was initially reluctant to log in online – but his meeting with his Dream Team Lead highlights his school’s commitment to pulling resources to provide students the support they need. Filming throughout the better part of a school year allowed us to capture these stories in near real-time, inviting viewers to really experience each triumph or defeat. It’s a decidedly tangible and emotional way to describe the a human-centered program, leaving DCPS with a powerful time capsule and case study on the Redesign experiment. And as these short films become required viewing across the district’s schools, we explore other complex and untold DCPS stories to document through film.
As the Vice President of Creative at LAI Video, James offers his docu-style and motion graphics expertise to transform brands and campaigns. He’s won numerous accolades, including two Emmy® Awards as a Director, for his incredible storytelling and vision.
As Vice President of Operations and Client Experience, Tori manages all aspects of LAI Video’s production and delivery. She’s led LAI Video’s project management for over a decade, building our award-winning portfolio and team into what it is today.
Jun Young Yang
Jun is the Director of Photography for LAI Video. His sharp eye and even sharper focus have earned him a reputation as an industry-leading cinematographer. He started his career freelancing before becoming a staple on the LAI Video team.
Melinda brings more than 15 years of broadcast, digital, and production experience to her role as VP of Business Development and Creative Strategy. She builds strong, fruitful relationships and supports clients with a passion for storytelling and media strategy.