Mr. Todd, Through a Lens

Media provided by Alejandro Izurieta ’25

“I try to meet students where they are, whoever they are.” —Colin Todd

Before ColinTodd became an inspiring teacher and upstanding member to many at Grace Church High School, he was a little kid watching David Lean movies in a small town in Louisiana.

“My grandfather, who lived in Cleveland, would mail us all of these VHS [tapes] of old movies, all his favorite films. So, when we got a new package, I would get very excited and run to watch the movies,” reminisced Mr. Todd, as he recalled what initially drew him to film.

“I remember just being in love with that film, even as a little kid,” he said, referring to the movie “Great Expectations” by David Lean.

 Mr. Todd held on to “Great Expectations” as he went on to study photography for most of college, and in graduate school he focused on transmedia, which encompassed all things video, film, photography, and computer art.

 Mr. Todd had initially applied to college to study chemical engineering at the request of his parents. They reasoned that, “it is hard for a filmmaker to make a living.” 

Admittedly, the film sector is a daunting industry to get into. Not only is it challenging to dip  one’s foot in the water, it is even harder to predict the ever-changing evolution of its technology. Nevertheless, Mr. Todd pushed past these initial discomforts and abandoned his engineering past. Instead of dipping his feet in the water, Mr. Todd dove head first into the world of cinema. 

When asked what he thinks about the future of film, Mr. Todd expressed, “As technology and culture progress, the storytelling shifts. So for a while, in the 20th century, theater was the major democratic form of storytelling. Everyone could come; it was accessible. It was part of the culture and entertainment. And now that the making of it is so accessible, people can shoot all sorts of footage on their phones, edit on their phones, and publish on their phones.”

 With the shift in technological advancements, there has been a change in the culture of experiencing cinema as a communal experience. While the COVID-19 epidemic is often conceived to be the direct cause of the downturn in movie theater attendance, concerns about the long-term sustainability of movie theaters were relevant even before the pandemic.

Mr. Todd also forecasts that “the main storytelling will probably be episodic TV, Netflix, things like that–where it’s accessible— you can watch it on your phone, or anywhere else you want.”

 Drama has served as a fundamental democratic form of storytelling throughout a considerable portion of the 20th century. It has continued to be an outlet for creative expression and culture. Thus, “the level of quality that you’re going to expect as a human to know a good story will never change,” expressed Mr. Todd. “The fidelity of experiencing film will still be there, but it’s just going to become more novel.”

 Therefore, Mr. Todd’s course “Film and Media Major” is rooted in exploring complex layers of how to tell a good story. “The storytelling will always be the core of it,” he expressed.

While the rapid growth of AI may strike fear in many aspiring film lovers, Mr.Todd argues against such tools leading to the demise of cinema. 

“To come up with an original story, to have an original reflection of an existing reality, and to channel that into film through a medium that tells the story: no computer can do that,” he said. “It’s a human thing.”

Producing and recognizing the art of film is something a film educator can teach his students, but no engineer can program. If one is lucky enough to be a student of Mr. Todd, one will experience his passion for film in its entirety. Every time he introduces a movie to his class, he proudly  expresses, “This is my favorite movie ever made.”

 During an interview with The Gazette, Mr. Todd introduced one of his favorite films: “There is this film called ‘Hale County This Morning, This Evening.’ It’s one of my favorite documentaries ever made.” 

Mr.Todd then explained how he would  show the class the 2018 film in comparison to another beloved documentary from 2018, “Minding the Gap.”  

Mr. Todd’s appreciation towards the variety of filming techniques and styles are precisely what continue to make his class so engaging.

 To share this fervor, Mr. Todd’s Film and Media Major pushes students to be in touch with their own stories as well as the art of immersing themselves in the stories of others. He equips his students with a well-versed knowledge of an assortment of narrative and documentary films, as well as, according to his course overview, “film theory and cultural media studies texts.”

Throughout the course, Mr. Todd finds himself most excited to see his students connect with a story, since that is where he believes the desire to create comes from. 

“Each student comes to my class from a different background,” he said. . “Some are better experienced with technical aspects, some are more experienced with the camera, and everyone is a different storyteller. So I try to tailor it to the student’s interest.”

When asked what sets Mr.Todd apart from most teachers, Alejandro I. ‘25, who is currently taking Mr.Todd’s Film and Media Major, shared: “Mr.Todd is always welcome to conversation. He makes his students feel heard by always opening the floor for us to create conversation.” 

Mr.Todd tries to balance a medium for teaching this rich curriculum, by splitting the course work between two semesters; the first  focuses completely on documentary-style storytelling, and the second, on narrative. 

During the first semester students get exposure to an array of documentaries, filmmakers, and styles.  “For the documentary, I’m really excited to see students land their projects on something they’re excited about and want to share, with their own take on it,” he said. “So, it becomes this response to your inquisitive approach towards your surroundings.”

Additionally for the second semester, Mr.Todd likes that the narrative is a “story coming from inside of you. It’s a story that you build from the ground up.” 

According to Alejandro: “The documentaries we watched as well as all the documentary styles we went over in class were extremely helpful in telling the story I was trying to highlight in my documentary. I also went to Mr.Todd to ask for help. Overall, I feel the semester was set up to make us students feel prepared for the challenge of making a documentary.” Mr.Todd tailors his curriculum to the needs of individuals, in order to provide proper preparation and aid in the process of making a short. 

Amid all the challenges on his plate, as the new interim dean of the class of 2024, Mr. Todd juggles being a teacher for his Film Major course, a father to Clemetina and Margie, and a husband. 

When asked to share how he strikes a balance between his commitments as a dean, father, husband, and teacher, Mr. Todd humbly expressed, “It’s a lot. I’m still working on it. I think that the film major class gives me so much joy, so that comes easy to me. It’s natural to me. And being a dean, I am focusing my energy on learning how to do that. I’m learning everyday on how to be a dean.”

Mr. Todd also utilizes his long commute back home to get as much work done as possible so he can be present at home for his family. 

“Clementina plays soccer, and Margie is two; she is like a wild animal. I just strap her to me and play with Clementina. But it is a challenge. I miss seeing them a lot.” 

Mr. Todd’s philosophy towards both the Grace community and his family is to be present for each individual, whether that’s chasing a soccer ball with a two-year-old strapped on his back or showing a student how to assemble, dismantle, and then re-assemble a camera five times over and over again. His supportive presence in people’s lives helps individuals nurture their narratives, which stem from stories. 

 Elif Caliskan ‘25 is a staff writer for The Gazette and a film and media major.