Young director Bianca Giaever finished the Scared is Scared a few weeks before she graduated from Middlebury College. The film’s direction and main narrative comes from a conversation Bianca had with a six-year-old named Asa Baker-Rouse, who walked Bianca through a storyline ostensibly “about” a mouse and a bear. Bianca took that conversation, meshed it with her own feelings as she prepared to leave school, and got together with her peers to make the meaningful film you see here:
Early childhood educator and thinker Vivian Gussin Paley writes that “play and story take us where we want to go.” Where we want to go is not always clear, and that’s kind of the point. To be able to get into a mindset of play– or a true openness to where a story might lead– requires a quiet courage and resiliency. It’s kind of ballsy. It requires trust that things are going to turn out okay, and that trust has probably been built on multiple other moments in which it did turn out okay. Giaever’s film seems to simultaneously be about that delicious openness that can come from taking an emotional risk– and it seems that she did that by opening herself up to where a child’s story might go. Process and product are intertwined, and that’s why the film works.
I imagine that Paley would be pleased with Giaever’s film. Paley’s storytelling technique, which she developed while at the University of Chicago’s Lab School, involves a process of dictation and dramatization. Trisha Lee of Make Believe Arts adapted Paley’s work to develop the Helicopter Technique. Its title comes from Paley’s book The Boy WhoWould Be a Helicopter:The Uses of Storytelling in the Classroom (Paley, 1990). Make Believe Arts describes the Paley-based technique this way:
The teacher or workshop leader sits down with the child, listens to his / her story, and writes it down word for word. At the end of the story, the child decides which character he / she wants to play and the teacher moves on to the next child on the list. Towards the end of the session, the whole class gathers to act out the stories of their peers.
(Trisha Lee visited with early childhood educators last month at a Boston Listens seminar. You can watch portions of the session here.)
Though the Helicopter Technique is certainly a teacher-led process, the children in the classroom do truly work out the story together and devise ways of telling it as a group. By doing this, they probably get closer to what Vygotsky truly meant by the “zone of proximal development.” Yes, Vygotsky says that the gap between actual development level and potential development level decreases when a child is supported by “adult guidance”; however, in the same breath, he equally emphasizes the role of “more capable peers.” (Vygotsky 1978: 86) In this way, as seen in the Helicopter Technique, the teacher and students collaborate to create an enjoyable, playful experience together.
In the credits of Giaever’s film, she features images of the actors, cinematographers, costume designers, and other young artists who participated in making of the film. When Giaever credits Daniel Sauermilch as “Production/Friend,” you half-expect to see a prologue line like you see in a John Hughes movie– e.g., “Daniel went on to become the most powerful producer in Hollywood.” There’s a poignant sense of potential and transition.
Though six-year-old Asa “wrote” the story, Giaever and her friends– all poised just before graduating to the “real world”– got together to figure out how to make it work. I imagine that some of the creativity and playfulness early childhood educators might see when employing the Helicopter Technique might mirror the feelings you get from watching Giaever’s film. In any case, as educators or filmmakers or just as people, it seems that play and story truly take us where we want to go, as long as we are comfortable that the destination may be far different than we expect. That’s kind of what resiliency is about– being open to change and recognizing that we may not be in control. In an instant, the cookie might be shaped like a piano, or I mean a keyboard, or it might become something totally different.
As Asa says in the film, “If, like, something feels like you’re closing, you should just say, ‘OK, I’m fine.'” And then you’re okay.