When a Project Partner Passes

Last night, Richard Horak died, he was the subject of a student film project at Iowa BIG. What follows is me coming to terms with realness in school.

Richard Horak in front of his house in Johnson County, Iowa. 2017 Ambivalence Studios

I’m a project mentor for one of the greatest student projects in Iowa BIG history; I wish I could take credit for its greatness, but that lies squarely on the shoulders of Kyle Kazimour and his team.

The team has been making a film for the entire year dedicated to telling the story of the Horak family and their 88 acres in Johnson County Iowa. The story winds through 40+ years of hard decisions, wily real estate developers, and the deep human urge to commune with instead of command nature.

I watched a team of plucky teenagers, figure out pre-production, shooting, re-shooting, audio mixing, composition, and every other post-production task under the sun. They asked all of the right questions to all of the right people, only some of the time that person was me.

They explored concepts in geoscience, biology, marketing, english, and many others, to a depth I’ve seen rarely achieved in the classroom. What’s more, it’s 6 months since some of this learning took place, and they still retain it and use it in service of making a great film.

Even the least engaged team member was still a part of a year-long adventure that is culminating in a now conscripted memorial. In our rush to make sure students read all the right books and practice essay writing just so—before college tells them to stop writing essays like that—I’ve never students so engaged, so learned.

Richard Horak died yesterday, and my students have hours in the can of him talking. Talking about the birds he’s made homes for, describing the places that nature created that he simply provided names for. Remembering going to France with his wife, and then buying land to start a nursery. Elegizing about 100 year oak trees and not selling out.

I’m so proud of what the Horaks have done to keep imminently developable land wild, and what my students have done to honor that. I’m also proud of my school for having the guts to let students do real work.

Please come see the film on May 18th, and help us remember Richard.