Tuning the Student Mind

Filmmaker Q&A with Director Chelsea Richer

Is there a particular documentary film or filmmaker that had a major influence on your career?

Albert and David Maysles are my biggest filmmaking influences. They helped to pioneer a style of documentary film known as cinema verite. In a nutshell, Albert and David intended to capture real life as naturally as possible and without having a major influence over what was happening in front of the camera. While Tuning the Student Mind is based on an issue that I feel strongly about – the role of consciousness in the classroom – it is not an obvious qualifier for a verite film. That said, I tried to incorporate their style by shooting Molly’s classes in the most verite way that I could.
In film school, I had the opportunity to meet the late Albert Maysles in his office in New York City. I asked him what would be his single most important advice to a young filmmaker like me. His answer was to “love your subjects”. If nothing else, I aspired to be like Albert and unconditionally love my subjects during the making of this film.


What do you want audiences to take away from your film?

I want students to feel empowered to pursue a more enriching educational experience. Hopefully they walk away from my film looking to seek out a more fulfilling journey that is not confined to textbooks and proficiency testing. The questions that we want students to ask themselves are “Who am I?”, “What do I want to be?”, and “What do I have to offer?”. If a student is compelled to ask those questions, look outside the box, and seek a more consciousness-enhanced educational experience, then I would consider the film to have done its job.


Please list key points that should be covered in a post-screening discussion:

At the beginning of the film, Professor Molly Beauregard poses the question: “What happened to meaning? What happened to people being interested in who I am? And, how is it that the educational process became so devoid of curiosity?”
As a follow up to that part of the film, these questions should be asked and covered: Do you identify with this assessment of the educational process? What factors do you feel have contributed to this reality? Is it important that college professors be interested in individual students?
On a more general level, these questions should be asked and covered: Do you think the typical college schedule allows the time and space for reflection? What factors get in the way of the search for meaning?
And in relation to the characters and class that we follow in the film, these questions should be asked and covered: How did Taylor, Brandon and Natasha’s sense-of-self change throughout the film? What aspects of the class sparked their transformations the most?
(For more key discussion points, please refer to the discussion guide.) 


Please provide information on any recent developments regarding the issue or subjects of the film. How have things changed or not changed?

Molly still teaches her “Consciousness, Creativity and Identity” course at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit. Due to high demand from students at the college, Molly was asked prior to the fall semester of 2015 to teach her course twice per semester instead of once as she had in the past. At this point 300 students have learned to meditate via her curriculum. The meditation program has also been picked up at the Boggs School in Detroit, where 20 sixth graders learned how to meditate. We are in the process of starting a program at the University of Colorado in Boulder and are in the early stages of starting a program at the University of Michigan.
Natasha moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in graphic design and film. She started a new job at a marketing firm in January 2016 and is thrilled with her new life. Brandon works for Adidas in Portland as a t-shirt illustrator and has a new girlfriend. And Taylor moved to Atlanta with a classmate from Molly’s class where she is apprenticing under a tattoo artist. All three are pursuing artistic careers in new cities and are utilizing the tools they learned in Molly’s class to help them cope with and skillfully manage the ups and downs of being a young professional.


What opportunities are available for those interested in getting further involved?

An outgrowth of the college course, the Tuning the Student Mind Foundation supports colleges and universities as they pilot consciousness-based educational experiences for students and faculty. Offering both consultation and seed grants, the Tuning the Student Mind Foundation helps educators develop curricula that focus on connection over separation, collaboration over competition, and academic inquiry as a complement to deepening consciousness and self-awareness.
Those interested in getting further involved are encouraged to host a screening at their college or university: http://www.tuningthestudentmind.com/host-a-visit/


What motivated you to make this film?

I learned to meditate in college which served as a turning point in my life. It was the start of greater confidence and a much improved experience for the remainder of college. Before long I found myself fighting for more students to receive a fair introduction to meditation. In life beyond school I still wanted to help students gain access to what I was able to experience. So I turned to the medium I studied and liked best – documentary film. By pointing my camera on my former sociology professor Molly Beauregard and her students I felt like I could continue the fight to destigmatize meditation and consciousness studies in the classroom.


Please tell us about any special styles or techniques that you used during the production of your film to help tell your story.

The fluorescent lit and windowless classrooms did not make for the most appealing “set” but that is where the magic of Molly’s teaching happens and that is where a lot of the story took place. My cinematographers and I had to get a little creative when it came to shooting Molly’s lectures. I often used an image stabilized 24-105mm f4 lens and quietly moved around the room, getting up close and personal. I’d hold on students’ faces as they listened to Molly and then rack focus between the varying expressions throughout the room. I also chose to shoot Molly handheld to create a more dynamic visual of her than if I were to have simply locked off shots on a tripod. When it came to shooting our subjects outside of the classroom, my camera crew and I often used a “Varizoom DV Traveler” rig to help us stabilize our DSLRs while shooting “handheld”. The look as such is more stable than if we were shooting truly handheld and this rig allowed us the freedom to follow our subjects on foot while still capturing unwavering shots with a nice depth of field.


Please share a personal story about your experience making this film.

In a lot of ways, Tuning the Student Mind is a love story. It is Molly’s deepest desire to bring the wisdom she cherishes to the students she loves. Molly and I both believe that learning is a relational process. The spark that is ignited in the classroom serves as the inspiration for both the teacher and the student.
Molly and I continue to have a very close relationship. I consider her a mentor. She considers me akin to her fourth child. In the past, we have lovingly referred to the Tuning the Student Mind project as a baby we had to push out into the world and let grow on its own. Aware of my own desire to have a baby, Molly would often tell me that I needed to finish this project before a family would transpire. The irony of finding out I was pregnant two weeks after I finished the film is not lost on me. I now have a beautiful 14 week old baby boy named Owen.


Please tell us what camera(s) you shot with primarily – and any other special equipment that you used and why you used it.

Canon Rebel T2i, Panasonic HMC150


How did your story evolve from day one, to the very last day in post? Is your story what you thought it would be?

The story evolved from a 5 minute video, to an intended feature-length documentary, and finally became a 27 minute short film. When I initially resolved to return to India, I hoped that I would be able to follow Mukesh’s journey over many years, but that became unfeasible for a number of reasons.  I believe that the finished film does justice to Mukesh and the importance of his work, but it would have been nice to feature the additional strides he has made as an activist since I finished shooting.


Please describe the most rewarding experience you had while making this film.

Watching Mukesh grow as a social activist and a young man over the course of making the film was definitely the most rewarding aspect of the process for me.  Each time I returned to India, his English language abilities had improved remarkably, as had his discipline, skill, and focus in his activism, all while retaining the youthful passion for his work that he had when I first met him.


What advice can you give to other impact filmmakers?

No one else will believe in the value and importance of your project as much as you do.  Keep the faith and maintain the self-discipline to see it through to the end.


What’s your favorite part about the filmmaking process and why?

Shooting video is undoubtedly my favorite part of filmmaking.  The challenge of vérité-style shooting, in which you only have one chance to get the shots that you need and the excitement that comes when you manage to capture just the right shot or scene to tell your story is incredibly rewarding.


What’s the one item you always take with you when working out in the field and why? 

I have a camera strap made by a company called Black Rapid that I never go without on a shoot.  It has lots of pockets for batteries and SD Cards and I’ve found that pulling the strap taught and bracing it against my back makes it a fantastic camera stabilizer for run-and-gun shooting.


Please provide any additional resources (websites, links to additional videos, forms, articles, etc.):


Trailer: https://vimeo.com/122433980

Tuning the Student Mind Deleted Scenes Video:
URL: https://vimeo.com/138325847
PW: deletedscenes

Discussion Guide Download: https://www.dropbox.com/s/y2ikv04hvrgc2zq/TTSM_Discussion%20Guide.pdf?dl=0



© SIMA Academy