Amy Schatz has been making documentaries aimed at children for over 20 years. Through all that time, she has always found that there are immense benefits to listening to their perspectives. “I think we benefit when we listen to kids, we benefit from their openness, from their questions, from their way of explaining the world. I find it to be very rich and deep talking to kids,” she tells us in our recent webchat (watch the exclusive video above). But there’s another compelling reason about why she has continued to chronicle difficult subjects through the point-of-view of a child. “There’s also some hope. There’s hope that we can do something about this world and kids are the embodiment of that hope. They are the future. Their ideas are going to influence our world.”
Schatz has two documentaries on HBO that are in the running for Emmys this year as children’s programming. “We Are the Dream: The Kids of the Oakland MLK Oratorical Fest” shows kids in Oakland competing in a speech competition, performing original pieces and reciting famous speeches, inspired by the work Dr. King. “What Happened on September 11” examines how young kids understand the events of 9/11 and explain the events of that fateful day. Schatz is also no stranger to receiving accolades for her work. Since 1995, she has won seven Emmys in the category of Best Children’s Program. She’s also collected six DGA Awards for Best Directing in a Children’s Program including earlier this year for “Song of Parkland.”
With “We Are the Dream,” trying to follow the journeys of so many different children competing in this oratorical festival proved to be a difficult task, but it lead Schatz to a realization about how the film should be framed. “What we discovered along the way is that it really wasn’t about the competition, it was really about the material that the kids were presenting and…we really just tried to film as much as we could,” she says. Approaching the film in this manner allowed the personal stories of the kids and the importance of their performance pieces to really shine through. “It really was a competition with many winners and it didn’t matter if they made it to the finals…that really what was important was creating a safe space for the content and what it was they wanted to talk about.”
Her other film, “What Happened on September 11,” came about after the 9/11 Tribute Museum saw that there were no resources for educators to help young kids understand the terrorist attacks of that day. “They knew there something called ‘September 11th’ but they’re not learning about it in schools and there was a hope that we could create something that would fill the gap,” she explains. It was also a tough subject to try to teach kids because they are a part of the first generation that doesn’t have an emotional connection to the tragedy. “The hope was that we could create something that would be history for kids. It’s not something they have an emotional connection to necessarily. We set out to try and create something that could make the event understandable for kids based on their questions.”
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