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Not all electronics go to techno heaven

I rather enjoy comparing my workload to my friends' workloads at other colleges. They're always telling me about the papers they have to write or the research they're doing.

Then I get rather nasty looks when I mention I don't have any eight-page papers on character development in a Jane Austen novel to write. Instead, I am just reading whatever I'm interested in at the moment.

I then tell them that my work consists of coming up with story ideas, finding locations, filming scenes and editing them together. Which, to them, probably sounds pretty exciting and easy. In truth, it's a lot a work. But it's way more fun than sitting at your keyboard all day fretting about what your next sentence is going to be.

Most recently, a group of friends and I made a documentary for one of our classes. We went through a number of ideas of what we should do - one of the first ones was to profile an erotic bakery, but lack of any such bakeries nearby killed the idea.

Besides, I wanted to do a documentary about something that really interested me, something I would be eager to explore and share.

Around the corner from one of my school's buildings, I found a small company called GreenCitizen. GreenCitizen is a recycling company that takes all sorts of electronics and recycles them properly here in California - which is great since many so-called U.S. recyclers ship the old electronic products overseas where they end up barely being recycled and often pollute rivers and streams.

Inspired, I walked in and asked if they'd be willing to let us make a short documentary about them. They said yes, and I went home and began thinking about the film we could do.

The difficulty with making a documentary, especially one with a six-minute time limit, is knowing how deep to dive and what information you want to focus on. Of course, the beauty of film editing is that you can shoot all the interviews you want and construct a smooth progression out of it later.

In the editing room, the film slowly came together. It's hard to know what to put first. Do you start with the CEO talking about the founding of the company? Or why their mission is so important? After that, it would be simply a process of following what each person says with a clip that would logically follow it. But would that be interesting?

One of the obstacles in our film was figuring out how to show the damage e-waste was causing to the planet. In the United States, the effects of e-waste are not very evident because it's conveniently out of sight, out of mind. Without the budget to fly over to China, I went online looking for overseas e-waste footage.

Lo and behold, up on YouTube was a short Greenpeace documentary about the effects of e-waste. I shot them an e-mail asking for permission to use the footage, and they sent me a high-quality DVD. It ended up pulling the documentary together and giving us the beginning we needed.

In the end, I was really happy to be challenged to make a documentary. In most of the films we create in school, we have full control over what the people say and what is shown on screen, but when you make a documentary, you're restricted by what you're able to film and what the people say.

It's more difficult, yet at the same time it's very refreshing to be put together something that's real, that has a message and that, in this case, captures something a company is doing that's positive in this world. I hope to make more documentaries in the future. I could imagine making a career out of it.

So, next time you recycle a TV or computer, ask what is going to happen to it.

Check It Out!

To see Leland's documentary go to youtube.com and search for 'Not All Electronics Go To Heaven.'

According to GreenCitizen, they particularly receive a lot of computers for recycling. This struck a chord with me as a lot of my high school community service hours came from recycling computers at Portland's FreeGeek.