Civic Life Project

The Civic Life Project is a unique educational collaberation and initiative that challenges students to learn about civics and democracy in an innovative and exciting way. The program starts in the classroom, where students study the structure of our democracy, and ends in the theater, where students showcase a short documentary of their own creation about a civic issue in their community.

To encourage young people to become active citizens, to collaborate, deliberate, and work to improve their communities and their democracy.

The Civic Life Project has been making documentary films with students from across Connecticut for over six years. Students select a topic that they feel a personal connection to; or one that is affecting their community. They then spend the school year working with their teachers and Civic Life staff to develop their topic into a documentary film.

Students conduct interviews with people at the center of their issue including activists, and community leaders. Throughout the process Civic Life Project mentors work closely with students to help them to produce professional quality work.

The Project was created by award winning filmmakers Catherine Tatge and Dominique Lasseur. These two civic-minded documentarians created this project as a way to bring civics education to life, and to encourage students to become more engaged citizens. Over the past few years the project has continued to collaborate with teachers and schools to improve it's methods. This level of collaboration has allowed the quality of student films to improve with each year. With student films recently being recognized at the White House Film Festival, and invited to multiple film festivals in Connecticut and New York.


2017: The Magic of the Atom

The 2017 documentary, The Magic of the Atom, looks at the pros and cons of nuclear energy and features interviews with two Marvelwood faculty members- one current and one past- on decidedly different sides of the nuclear energy debate. Read more.

2016: Selective Equality

Marvelwood's 2016 project, Selective Equality, explores the issue of gender equality through the eyes of Dawn Ennis, who has worked at the same company as both a man, Don, and now as a woman, Dawn, giving her unique insights into gender bias, and LGBT equality.
The film was selected to be shown at the first annual Youth Film Challenge in May at the Bushnell in Hartford.

2015: To Protect and Profile

In 2012, the FBI arrested four East Haven police officers for discrimination. Since that time, Connecticut law enforcement branches have been under public scrutiny and are under pressure to change the way the officers interact with non-white communities around the state.

Marvelwood’s 2015 Civic Life Project group set out to discover if any procedural changes had been implemented since 2012, and what impact, if any, these changes have had within the police culture and the communities they serve. Specifically, the student filmmakers looked into the alleged persistent issue of police discrimination and treatment of Hispanic citizens in Connecticut. To highlight factual and historical information, the students spoke with police chiefs and human rights advocates; to research and support their topic, they gathered stories from residents.

To Protect and Profile, made its debut on May 18th, 2015 in the Marvelwood Performing Arts Center. The film was also shown in June at the Millerton Moviehouse as part of the Salisbury Forum’s screening of Civic Life Projects from around the state, and at the Connecticut State House. In addition, To Protect and Profile, was selected for the All American High School Film Festival in New York City. With over 1000 entries from all over the world, Marvelwood's documentary was one of just 100 films and 15 documentaries screened at the festival.

2014: Eye of the Eagle

The 2014 project, Eye of the Eagle, looks at the issues of personal privacy.

2013: Guns Under Our Noses

Marvelwood's first CLP project, Guns Under Our Noses examines the prevalence of guns in our society.

Project advisors

Tina Babarovic is a former network news producer; she worked on ABC World New Tonight, Nightline and Good Morning America, and was based overseas in ABC’s London bureau for 13 years.

Valentin Dumistracu P'19 is Chair of the History Department and advisor to the School's UConn Model United Nations delegation. He is the head coach of Boys JV soccer and basketball teams, as well as an avid soccer player himself. Valentin recently earned a Fulbright Distinguish Award in Teaching to study for four months in India, starting January 2017. During the summers, Valentin teaches at the Leysin American School in Switzerland. Valentin joined the faculty at Marvelwood after earning his law degree from Romania, having discovered that he was drawn to teaching rather than practicing law. He currently teaches AP Comparative Politics, Honors World History, International Relations, and U.S. History.

Ben Willis serves as the Production Coordinator at the Civic Life Project, assisting students and teachers throughout the production process. Prior to joining the Civic Life Project, Ben worked as an Associate-Producer on the award-winning documentary Best Worst Movie, and more recently for NBC on the documentary The American Scream. Ben has also worked as an Assistant Director on various independent feature films, web series, and short films. Ben began working on documentaries in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he worked with National Endowment of the Arts Fellow Michael Pettit on his documentary Living Traditions: Folk Art of New Mexico. Ben is a graduate of Connecticut’s Film Industry Training Program, and holds a BA in Moving Image Arts from The College of Santa Fe. BeN joined the Marvelwood faculty in 2016, teaching photography and film studies.