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Classroom in the Wild: AU Students Produce Films in Alaska

Picture yourself strapped firmly to a chair, arms crossed over your chest as someone pushes you into a pool. Imagine the disorienting feeling of plunging, upside down into the water and having to make your way out to the surface. Now ask yourself: why would anyone volunteer for that?

The answer is simple—it’s a simulation. What better way to prepare for a helicopter crash than to recreate the experience? A lesson a few American University School of Communication (SOC) students learned firsthand.

Escaping a downed aircraft was just one of the survival skills students picked up this summer as part of “Extreme HD Alaska,” a Classroom in the Wild filmmaking course offered by SOC’s Center for Environmental Filmmaking. The unconventional, immersive course took a select group of students to the wilds of Alaska for a firsthand look at wildlife filmmaking.

The stunning footage most of us are used to seeing on TV is just a finished product. A lot more goes on behind the scenes. Wildlife filmmakers have to face the harsh conditions of natural environments, a no doubt thrilling but sometimes dangerous task.

During the three-week course, students experienced both sides of the spectrum. They camped beneath 20 hours of Alaskan sunlight in sight of cascading bodies of water and striking, snow-capped mountains. At the same time, they developed the skills necessary to keep themselves and their equipment safe when filming in rough weather and terrains.

Students faced icy temperatures and rain, repelled from rocks and even climbed the Byron Glacier. They learned skills in a classroom before practicing them in the wild. Throughout the course, film production, equipment care and survival tactics were taught synonymously. For a wildlife filmmaker braving the elements, these skills go hand-in-hand. After leaving Alaska, students returned to AU where they are continuing the post-production process on the footage shot throughout the week.

View more pictures from Classroom in the Wild: Alaska.
Interested in the course? Contact Prof. Larry Engel or Prof. Chris Palmer.

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