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“four dead in ohio:” a documentary by 14-year-old augie rice
One of the highlights of competing in Blogger Idol — other than, ahem, winning it! — was becoming friends with one of my fiercest competitors, Liesl Testwuide. And one of the highlights of meeting Liesl was being introduced to her son, Augie, a budding filmmaker whose short documentary, Four Dead in Ohio, moved me to tears. You can watch the 9 minute film in its entirety, above.
There’s no question that the subject matter will always be explosive but the fact that an eighth grader would gravitate to it and want to make sure the students who died aren’t forgotten gives me great hope for our future.
With the Oscars coming up on Sunday, it seemed an appropriate time to talk to this young filmmaker.
Your documentary, Four Dead in Ohio, is really powerful and so important. It’s a period of history that many of us remember vividly but you weren’t even born yet. Can you give us a little background about why you decided to do it? Was it for a school assignment?
My documentary was an assignment for National History Day (NHD) at my school, Lake Country Academy, which is a public charter school in Sheboygan, Wisconsin.. NHD is a national organization in which students compete to make projects relating to the annual theme. This year’s theme was Rights and Responsibilities in History, and students choose from different categories: Performance, Documentary, Exhibit, Paper, or Website. The most popular category is Exhibit, which means it’s the most competitive at Regionals. Each participating school holds its own preliminary competition, and up to five students move on to Regionals.
How did you come up with the topic? What touched you about the Kent State shootings that made you want to explore them in more detail?
Selecting my National History Day topic for this year was a challenge. I knew I wanted to do something very vital to American history. We had talked about the Kent State Massacre once in History class, and I was intrigued to research it more. After coming home and telling my mom, she was shocked I had picked this topic. Apparently, my great-grandpa’s brother taught at Kent State in the 1970’s, and he happened to be teaching there the day of the shootings. His son and wife still lived in the area, but unfortunately he had passed away. Learning this news made me even more excited for my topic!
What was it you wanted to show in your documentary? Was there a specific message you wanted to get across?
My main focus of the documentary is on the rights that the guardsmen and protesting students had, which relates to the theme of the competition. However, I also go into great detail about the events that led up to the shootings.
What surprised you most when you did your research? Did it make you look at the tragedy in a different way or change your mind about any of the feelings you went into the project with?
After I had chosen my topic and done a little research, I realized in order to get the full experience I needed to visit Kent State University in real life, and so I convinced my mom and family to drive to Ohio from Wisconsin. This was an extreme trip to take just for a school history project, but I thought it would be fun!
Really being there and standing where the students had been protesting and died was very influential on the message of the documentary, and this surprised me. It wasn’t the facts. It wasn’t the research. It was experiencing firsthand what it was like to be on the Kent State Campus.
What was the most difficult part of fulfilling your vision?
Most people who lived through that era remember the event. I guess an example nowadays would be 9/11. The most difficult part of fulfilling my vision of the documentary was sharing my viewpoint. I did not live through that era and so my stance and opinion may differ from other people’s. Because of this, I focused on the points I thought were important and worth sharing.
What was the reaction of Kent State to your documentary? Did they know you were shooting it?
Kent State University is an open campus so I walked around and filmed myself. I also visited the memorial on campus as well as the museum they have.
How did you get the professor involved?
Honestly, I was surprised when my mom said we were going to Kent. As a result, I wasn’t as prepared as I could have been. On the way, in the car, I emailed the main scholar on the event who was present at the shootings. His name was Dr. Jerry M. Lewis.
When he responded “yes” to a meeting, I was thrilled! My interview went for 20 minutes and it was super fun! I learned so much, and it was a great experience.
I love that you really focus on the four students who were killed, naming them and reminding viewers that these were individual kids who had their whole lives ahead of them. You took one of my favorite songs and proved that Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young got it wrong by simply calling it “Ohio.” Talk a little about how important the song was to what you were doing and what it meant to you. You did a beautiful job singing it, by the way.
Thank you! I chose the song mainly because it had a direct contact to the event. However, after singing it, I truly feel the lyrics set in. I understood the song better, and I realized the bigger picture.
I agree with you that they should have named the song “Four Dead in Ohio,” hence the name of my documentary. The four students killed had a huge impact on me. I enjoyed reading about their lives and I felt a real loss when it set in that they had died. It was even sadder that two of them were not even protesting, just walking between classes.
Speaking of music, you really chose songs that define a generation – like “Blowing in the Wind” and “What’s Going On?” What do you think of those protest-kind of songs? Do you think there’s an equivalent today?
I chose the songs mainly because they dealt with the Vietnam War protest and that decade. I liked using a mix of my own covers of the songs and live performances of them. The songs I chose were meant to transport you back to the late 1960’s and 1970’s.
I feel we don’t really have an equivalent of those songs today. There are really no big events affecting our music and, therefore, our music may be lacking a theme.
What would you like kids watching your documentary today to take away from your documentary?
I mainly would like kids to understand that this was a giant turning point in the Vietnam War protest. I also want students to understand the rights that everyone in the situation had, relating to the theme.
I think you have quite a future ahead of you, Augie. What’s next?
Thanks! In April, I move on to Green Bay, Wisconsin – home of the Packers! – for Regionals. If I win, I then move on to State in Madison and then Nationals!
Good luck! We’ll be rooting for you!