Since early in the school year, students in Marguerite Kling's Nature Coast Technical High School global studies class have sifted through dozens of hours of film footage depicting everyday life lived in a world floating on an undercurrent of fear, sadness, but also strength.
These are not scripted Hollywood movies, but real-life footage of daily life under horrific conditions in the Darfur area of Sudan.
"It was eerie, in a way,'' said Cristina Andrade, a junior. "The people we were watching weren't actors or reading scripts. Genocide is a normal constant in their lives; when their families are killed, they wake up in the morning and face the next day in a camp.
"That's the way it is for them, and the brutal realization of this truth just shook me around,'' she said. "I can't imagine the threat of being raped while I go to my refrigerator, but that's what they face living in the displacement camps.''
Using the film and other material, the students have crafted a stunning documentary called The Missing Peace, a 30-minute film that will have its public debut on Red Carpet Night, May 22, at 7 p.m. at the school's Shark Theater.
The material comes from Take 2: The Student's Point of View, a nonprofit organization that encourages students to become good global citizens. Take 2 provided the footage and thousands of pages of translated interviews.
The footage was recorded by Karin Muller, a researcher for Take 2. Muller has produced documentary series for National Geographic and PBS and has spent three months in Chad and Sudan filming locals and hearing their stories.
"She shared with us 37 hours of raw film footage (at no cost to the school)," Kling said. "Our task was to learn about the situation in the Sudan, watch and become experts on the footage and then create a 30-minute documentary about what we learned.
"My students have been working nonstop on this project since August and the educational implications of this project, to me, are immense."
As work progressed, the students wanted their film to stand out from what other schools were producing. They saw and felt the pain of Darfur's people and they could at any time go into the Diary Room, turn on the camera and film themselves expressing their feelings, venting, saying whatever they needed to say.
These clips were reviewed by Kling and her students, who chose which ones to use in the movie.
"Some of it really did get to me," said junior Lucy Werner. "The flies are a really good example. Flies were everywhere and I mean absolutely everywhere, constantly, on their food, their beds, their faces. They were so perpetual that no one even tried to get rid of them any more. They just let them sit there on their lips and eyelids.
"It made me so thankful for the clean, or I guess you could call it, the sanitary environment we live in. The whole experience has really just made me so much more appreciative of what I have and of the people in my life. It's made me realize how fortunate I really am."
The students call themselves Team BRAVO, an acronym for Business management, Research, Audio, Visual and Outreach.
The business managers are senior P.J. Waterson and juniors C.J. Baker and Chris Fazio. The researchers are all juniors: Logan Feinberg, Samantha Rei, Cristina Andrade, Lucy Werner, Joe Fredrick and Dana Lonergan.
"In the footage, I saw the everyday life and interaction between the people of Darfur, I saw the ugly, but I also saw the inspiring,'' said Feinberg. "You see these people that are put in this horrible situation, yet there are clips of children singing and dancing."
The audio team categorized the material and the music. Its members are sophomores Jessica Grimaldi and Brittaney Mericle, juniors Justin Tewey and Danielle Martin and senior Michael Mortesani.
The videographers, who have been working on graphics, are seniors Corey Hughes, John Lain and Brandon Misener, junior Melissa Rubino and sophomore Michael Salvato.
The outreach group, senior Mark Watson, junior Christie George and sophomores Kimberly Kroll, Maggie LeDoux and Megan Paradis, study public relations and advertising.
The outreach group also raises funds. "We make bracelets (and buttons) to make money for the things we need to buy," said Paradis.
Students in teacher Pete Mazzoni's media class have been helping edit the film. The editors are seniors Kimberly Boucher and Lindsey Carper, juniors Cera Nelson and Jen Marshall and sophomore Samantha Amir.
The film crew (a branch of the editors, calls itself Nickenzie and consists of freshman Mackensie Medler and junior Nicholas Ciucci. Junior Dave MacLean and senior Brandon Misener check news sources and keep the class up-to-date with podcasts.
Nature Coast principal Tizzy Schoelles said one of the reasons the school was selected was its state-of-the-art television and media production equipment and final cut professional editing software.
She is impressed with how dedicated the students have been. "This footage is not easy to watch," she said.
"In the footage, I saw people living their lives the way they had to learn to do it, not by choice,'' said junior Samantha Rei. "People who'd become so accustomed to their horrible situation and numbed themselves so much to the loss they've experienced that they just go on however they can.
"They get food whenever they possibly can, they entertain themselves in a life of complete boredom, while still trying to cope with the fear and the rage they feel inside towards the people who are committing these crimes against humanity. But while these people are waiting for change to come, they're keeping a smile on their faces and try to stay as positive as they can."
Karin Muller's goal is to change the future by changing today's kids, Schoelles said, "By giving them a real-world problem to solve, work at and to own."
"Making the documentary made me a global citizen," junior Dana Lonergan said, "It made me aware of conflicts going on in the world, and actually seeing the raw footage made it more real to me."
Paulette Lash Ritchie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.