September 05, 2013

ENVS Blog: Student’s Experience in the Summer Documentary Filmmaking Program

Laura Houlberg spent her summer creating a short film “Shopdrop+Roll” through the Summer Documentary Filmmaking Program provided by the Media Institute for Social Change.  Read about the experience and see her video!

Laura Houlberg (current student)

Hello all!

This summer I had the pleasure of participating in the Summer Documentary Filmmaking Program ( through the media Institute for Social Change (, here in Portland. The Media Institute focuses on local, independent media that uses personal, captivating storytelling to encourage social change. After hearing the program mentioned in Prof. Podobnik’s Environmental Sociology class, I realized it was exactly the type of praxis I’d been hoping to be involved in these past three years.

Over the course of the summer, my documentary partner Nicole (a 2013 Reed College graduate) and I created a short film about Portland’s Independent Publishing Resource Center ( You can watch the film, “Shopdrop + Roll”, on our Vimeo (!

A theme that emerged in each interview was the relationship that we have with objects that we invest our own time, energy, and emotion into. Echoing sentiments of the local and organic food movements, our respondents emphasized community building through handcrafted materials, sharing, accessibility, and accountability. Like a meal prepared among friends with food from the local garden, the zines and art books that we featured in our film have a similar emotional and physical connection to the people who created them. They are valued because of this investment, not unlike a loaf of artisanal bread baked with organic wheat.  

After our first screening, a friend and I talked a bit about the phenomenon that the film is titled after; shopdropping. Shopdropping is the random placement of a zine or book in a space. Examples include buses, magazine racks, benches, coffee shops… anywhere, really. The goal is to disrupt what is expected of the space. Zines have a history of being very political and/or personal, voicing messages you wouldn’t normally hear in mainstream media or expect to encounter on your bus ride home from work. My friend asked me this: what is the online equivalence of shopdropping?

The way we use the space of the internet doesn’t allow for much random interference by anything other than advertisements. Your facebook timeline or tumblr dashboard may seem like a randomized flurry of information, but in reality we are choosing who and what we receive updates from. We intentionally visit the websites we love, hate, or are curious about. What types of relationships develop from such an intentional use of space? Are we losing something crucial as we are increasingly more often occupying an ethereal space that does not allow benevolent disruptions by other strangers?

Overall, I am really lucky to have spent the summer learning how to turn my ideas into actions!  My friend and I were so inspired by the program and the IPRC that we started our own little production duo, Child Face (, and will continue to make independent, engaging video and audio documentaries. I’m excited to use this medium to develop how we conceptualize environmental issues and relationships!