Online Classroom Teacher Connects with Students through Filmmaking

Rimsha Syed
January 16, 2020
“Teachers do in fact make a lasting impact on those we teach.”

Nominated for the My Hero International Film Festival and Colorful Colorado Film Festival for Youth, Proximity Learning teacher Daniel Marcus is a beacon of hope in the eyes of young students and film critics.

Marcus has been a dedicated educator for over 40 years and to no one’s surprise, he’s won the hearts of hundreds of students who appreciate his passion and gift of teaching. Being a source of effective instruction, however, isn’t Marcus’ only form of inspiration. He regularly engages his students in the art of filmmaking.

In fact, one of his and his student's projects, “You Are Beautiful,” an informative piece on eating disorders, won nods from the University of Southern California Cinematic Arts Center in 2013. Beyond recognition and awards for Marcus himself, his students were invited to come speak on NBC’s “The Today Show” as a result of the film’s international impact. Here’s what else Marcus had to say about his journey as an educator and about the acclaimed film.

Proximity Learning: Can you tell us a little about your background? What do you teach? How long have you been teaching at PLI?

Daniel Marcus: I have been teaching and mentoring students for the past forty-two years in mass communications, digital media & literacy, career & technical education, elementary education and secondary math. I retired from public school teaching in Colorado in May 2018 and have been teaching at PLI since that time.

Proximity Learning: Can you describe the plot of your film? Where may viewers find it?

Daniel Marcus: A public service reenactment on eating disorders, from the point of view of middle school girls.

Proximity Learning: Is film making something you’ve always been passionate about?

Daniel Marcus: I have always strived to challenge my students to tackle some of the more challenging and controversial issues of their time, through the art and discipline of filmmaking.   Teaching is a lifetime passion of mine, which is why I can’t seem to remain retired!

Proximity Learning: Can you talk about the process of brainstorming, editing, producing etc?

Daniel Marcus: The process of brainstorming, editing, producing, etc provides our students with excellent and diverse learning opportunities that inspire a passion for learning, develops individual potential and prepares them for a successful future. This process meets the following national standards for the Visual Arts:

Standard 1: Development (brainstorming): Students will assemble and create storylines for the premise of a movie.

Standard 2: Pre-Production (planning): Students will organize and script out all the needs of the storyline.

Standard 3: Production (filming): Students will orchestrate all teams, equipment, and sequences of the shoot.

Standard 4: Post-Production (editing): Students will enhance the recorded footage by arranging and cutting scenes to enhance the telling of the story.

Proximity Learning: Were your students involved in the film in any way?

Daniel Marcus: Absolutely, in every way. The students that brainstormed the idea for “You are Beautiful” and also produced, directed, and edited the film, and were members of my film club at Aspen Academy.

Proximity Learning: What message would you like people who watch your film to receive? Do you think your film did justice to that vision?

Daniel Marcus: The message I hope people receive is how serious and widespread eating disorders are, especially in our youth today. I believe our film did justice to this vision as depicted by this comment posted about the film by a professional counselor:

“So brilliant, moving and accurate. I've been working in the eating disorder recovery field for over 30 years and still, this little film brings tears to my eyes. What wise and talented children to bring this gift to their peers and to the world.”

Proximity Learning: Would you consider making another film in the future?

Daniel Marcus: Yes. I continue to teach in Colorado at a film camp for grades 5 through 8 every summer. My students are constantly being challenged to tackle these kinds of issues with their culminating camp film projects.

Proximity Learning: I read that you and some of your students were guests on NBC’s “The Today Show,” can you tell me about how that happened? How that made you feel? What the experience was like?

Daniel Marcus: “You are Beautiful,” a student film about the effects of eating disorders, won the Viewer’s Choice Award at the Colorful Colorado Film Festival for Youth in May 2013. It went on to win the My Hero International Film Festival for the best middle school film in the world (USC Cinematic Arts Center, Los Angeles, June 2013). My students and I were subsequently invited to be guests on the NBC Today Show (December 17, 2013) as a result of this film and the impact it had worldwide.

This experience was life changing for me and my students because it showed us how everyone, no matter how small they think their voice is, can multiply their voice and have it heard by millions through the medium of film. We have received over a quarter of a million hits on the film.

Edit: This segment from the Today Show walks us through the inspiration behind the film and the emotional connection to Marcus’ personal life.

Proximity Learning: What other awards or recognition have you received?

Daniel Marcus:

  • 2017 and 2018 finalist for the Lifetime Teaching Excellence Award (NCA, Washington D.C.
  • 2017 and 2018 voted “Best of the Best” teacher/ Elbert County/ Colorado community media
  • Named the 2010 Colorado Big Brother of the Year
  • Letter of commendation from Colorado Congressman Ed Perlmutter

My most lasting and memorable communications legacy is the recognition I received by Colorado Congressman Ed Perlmutter for the submission of student documented filmed recordings of the first-hand recollections of over a hundred veterans of the U.S. military branches of service, now archived at the American Folklife Center of the Library of Congress, ensuring that the legacy of these veterans will not be forgotten. This project was done at multiple schools throughout my career and encompassed the cognitive, motivational and skill development of my students. It also helped develop their intellectual independence through their tasks of locating their veteran and communicating with their veteran in completing numerous forms required in the Veterans History Project field-kit, as well as through the filming, editing, production and submission of a 30 plus minute interview. (Search Veteran Collections: Dan Marcus

about the author
Rimsha Syed

Rimsha Syed

Rimsha Syed is an Austin-based Pakistani Muslim daughter of fierce immigrants. In Urdu, her name means a bouquet of flowers. Rimsha is a freelance journalist, community organizer, and creative who hopes to disrupt imperial influenced media and re-write history from the perspective of all those oppressed by systems of power meant to exploit working-class people of color globally. She graduated from the University of Texas at Austin in 2019 where she studied journalism and women and gender studies.

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