English Culture and Documentary Filmmaking in London

By Bakari Olivetti

This past May, I embarked on my first Dialogue of Civilizations program for English Culture and Documentary Filmmaking in London. Living in London for an entire month was one of the most memorable times of my life thus far. I visited tons of different neighborhoods, traveled to Scotland, and made lifelong friendships all while taking two classes. I took one class on British culture (COMM 3306: International Communication Abroad – Britain, Empire, and Culture) and one on documentary filmmaking (COMM 3307 – International Documentary Production).

Before the Dialogue began, I only knew a few people of the 30 going because we had already formed our documentary groups. That being said, I was still super nervous on the first day because I didn’t know how everything would pan out. Fast forward many months, it was completely normal to be nervous starting the trip. And, once we landed in London and got settled in, I got to know people well.

Classes were structured a little differently than I was used to at Northeastern. Going on walking tours and to museums a few times a week for class? Sounds good to me. The British culture class was never actually in a classroom, because it was designed to get us literally walking through the city and witnessing parts of history. After each site visit, I would have to write a reflection on the visit, focusing on one aspect I experienced that connected to our textbook. During the entire trip, we also had a research paper we worked on that was due at the end of the Dialogue. It could be on any aspect of British history or culture (I wrote mine on the social and economic influence tea has had on British culture).

My second class was designed to teach us the basic skills and techniques to create a documentary. Before we arrived in London, my group decided to focus ours on the influence Sherlock Holmes has had on British culture. Having almost no knowledge of Sherlock Holmes before starting this documentary was a bit daunting. Also, having barely any prior media production experience, I was a bit hesitant about having to make my own documentary in just ONE month. But it ended up that there was a wide range of experience in my documentary group, from someone with years of production experience, to people with absolute no experience. That didn’t seem to matter, because we learned from each other and would typically do the tasks that interested us (some people liked working with audio more, some liked filming more, etc.) This class was also structured very differently than classes I’ve taken. Most of the time we weren’t on site visits, we were expected to be working on our film in some way, shape or form – planning our documentary, shooting clips, preparing for our interviews, etc. At first it was overwhelming to imagine finishing our film in one month, but as the days went on, we started getting the hang of it. We ended up interviewing four people and learning about their experience with Sherlock Holmes. Not only did I get to learn about people I would never have met unless I was doing this project, but I also expanded my knowledge of the impact Holmes has had in the United Kingdom in terms of popular culture, literature and forensic science.

A real plus about filming in London is the fact that we got to see so many awesome parts of the city. Whether it was for our b-roll (various shots of iconic London locations) or while traveling to different Sherlock Holmes landmarks, I was witness more of what makes up London.

And lastly, our short trip to Edinburgh, Scotland was extremely memorable. Although we were there for just a few days, I loved it so much. We visited the Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood Palace, the Royal Mile and lots of cute shops/restaurants around the city.

I signed up for the English Culture and Documentary Filmmaking Dialogue to help fulfill two Communication Studies courses and to get a basic understanding of media production. Not only did this experience introduce me to the world of media production, but it also made me interested in pursuing video production in the future (for a co-op? to take video classes at Northeastern?) It also introduced me to a new part of the world I had never been to before, and to a bunch of new Northeastern friends I can now reminisce about London with. This Dialogue impacted me in more ways than I imagined before leaving, and I am grateful for the experience I had in the UK and what is to come in my life based on this trip.