Imagination Celebration

Visiting Instructor of Art Danny Kim's documentaryThe Stories They Tell,” Visiting Instructor of Art Danny Kim’s documentary film about the Co-Authorship Project of Woodward Elementary School and Kalamazoo College, is an official selection of the Made in Michigan Film Festival (Frankenmuth, Michigan). It will screen on Sunday, February 5, at 4:25 p.m.

The film is no stranger to awards. It won the Kalamazoo Film Society’s “Palm d’Mitten” Award for best local film. And the documentary took second place for best feature film at the North-by-Midwest Film Festival in Kalamazoo! It also has screened at the Lake Erie Arts and Film Festival in Sandusky, Ohio, the East Lansing Film Festival in Michigan, and Reading FilmFEST in Reading, Pennsylvania.

“The Stories They Tell” chronicles remarkable collaborations, like “Tacos for Dragons,” one of the many books featured in the film.

The saga of that unlikely pair (dragons and tacos) is the product of the imaginations and work of two seemingly unlikely co-authors, one a Kalamazoo College student and the other a third grader at Woodward Elementary.

Visiting Instructor of Art Danny Kim's documentarySuch collaborations are unlikely no more, thanks to the Co-authorship Project, the subject of Kim’s 80-minute film and the heart of Professor of Psychology Siu-Lan Tan’s developmental psychology class for the last 15 years. The Co-authorship Project gives K students the opportunity to create an original storybook with an elementary student in order to gain a deeper insight into child development. Tan’s developmental psychology class is one of many academic service-learning courses that are designed in collaboration with the College’s Center for Civic Engagement.

The documentary showcases the project from beginning to end, starting with the picking of partners and culminating in the various unique completed works. The film spans almost a decade and a half of story making, to which Kim had unique access. He and Tan are husband and wife.

Animation infuses both the class and the film. “The project has made the developmental psychology class come to life,” said Tan,”awakening ideas with real world experience. The collaborations give my students something more than what they could get in books alone.” Likewise, Kim’s animation of the creativity in each story makes the film leap to life.

“The documentary is really about relationships, learning, connecting, and, at its core, imagination,” said Tan. “One skill that children naturally possess is imagination and creativity.”

The film highlights how much each interaction with a child can help augment what a college student knows about child development. The interactions also can affect a career path.

The life’s work of at least two of Tan’s former students offers proof. After viewing a sneak preview of the film in April of 2015, both women confirmed that the project directly influenced their decisions to pursue careers in education.

Rachelle (Tomac) Busman ’05 is a school psychologist in the Byron Center (Michigan) School District and Sally (Warner) Read ’08 is the head of the Kazoo School, an independent school in Kalamazoo.

“I remember everything about the little girl I worked with,” said Busman.

Kim thinks the contact with colleges students could help inspire their elementary school aged partners to consider college as part of their futures, and he said he hopes the documentary inspires similar projects elsewhere.

“It would be wonderful if somebody saw it and said maybe we could start something like this,” said Kim.

At K The project’s concept has been expanded and continued through a partnership with the Center for Civic Engagement. As the students (college and primary school) create these whimsical, amusing and surprising stories, the connections they make with each other have a lasting impact, not only in literacy and learning, but in understanding their pasts and futures.

Photo by Danny Kim
Art by Pennilane Mara
Matt Munoz ’14 contributed to this story.