89.1 WEMU

creative:impact-Navigating The Film And Video Business In Washtenaw County

May 8, 2018

Donald Harrison, lead producer, director and founder of 7 Cylinders Studio
Credit 7 Cylinders Studio / https://7cylinders.com/

There are film and video careers to be had and a living to be made in Washtenaw County.  But, you will have to hustle for it.  Donald Harrison of Ypsilanti has been doing exactly that with his 7 Cylinders Studio.  The former executive director of the Ann Arbor Film Festival shares his expertise on making an impact in the film and video world in Washtenaw County in this week's edition of 'creative:impact!' 


Deb Polich, president and CEO of The Arts Alliance

Deb Polich is President and CEO of The Arts Alliance and WEMU's lead content partner on this project. 

creative:impact airs at 7:50am and 9:50am each Tuesday as part of Morning Edition. 

The following information was provided by 7 Cylinders Studio

7 Cylinders Studio is your creative engine.  We create customized video projects for clients to share their stories, strengthen their outreach strategies and communicate more effectively.  7CS also produces independent documentaries.

Donald Harrison – Lead Producer | Director | Founder Donald launched 7 Cylinders Studio in 2012 and serves as lead producer, working on projects in all aspects of production, strategy and outreach.  He’s taught film & video courses at the University of Michigan, Eastern Michigan University, and The Neutral Zone in Ann Arbor.

Donald served as Executive Director of the Ann Arbor Film Festival from 2008 – 2012, expanding the organization’s audience, outreach, donors, sponsors and staff through its historic 50th season.  He worked and studied at Film Arts Foundation in San Francisco (2001-2006) and received a bachelor of arts in social psychology from the University of Michigan (1995).

Donald has served on the board of directors for the Michigan Theater and Arts Alliance of Ann Arbor and currently serves on the Cultural Economic Development Committee for the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation. 

Welcome to Commie High: The Film-7 Cylinders Studio is producing an independent documentary about one of the longest-running alternative public schools in America – Community High School in Ann Arbor. 

THE STORY - Community High School was started in 1972 with some radical ideas, enthusiastic teachers, and a reclaimed elementary school building in downtown Ann Arbor, Michigan.  The concept was based on a “school without walls” approach where the city could serve as the classroom.

Students were encouraged to design their own courses and take responsibility for their education.  There was no cafeteria, no traditional sports teams, no annual prom and an anti-zebra anti-mascot. Students called teachers by their first names. 

Through the 70s and 80s, enrollment was an ongoing challenge and recruiting students was critical to sustain Community High.  By the early 90s, however, it became cool to go to Commie High school and demand to attend increased beyond its capacity.  A waiting list led to a partial lottery and line-ups that grew longer each year, culminating in 1996 with a 2-week camp out by students (and their parents, siblings, friends, etc.) saving a place in line with the hope of gaining admission.  This was the last line for Commie High, as the school system shifted to a complete lottery the following year. 

THE PROJECT - The full-length documentary film will focus on the first 30 years, the factors that led hundreds of people to camp out for weeks with the hope of enrolling, and where Community High stands today in the pantheon of public education.  We will share significant cultural finds by mining myriad Commie High archives.  Distribution outlets will focus on film festivals, public television, online platforms and educational organizations. 

WHY IT MATTERS - Public education reform is a hot button issue in America.  It’s a complicated, polarizing topic that affects the lives of millions.  What can we learn by looking at alternative approaches? What conditions allowed for the creation and success of the Commie High experiment in public education? And what would motivate students to camp out in the cold for two weeks to attend a public school in a system with other excellent options? 

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— David Fair is the WEMU News Director and host of Morning Edition on WEMU.  You can contact David at 734.487.3363, on twitter @DavidFairWEMU, or email him at dfair@emich.edu