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Camera action: Festival features student films

Posted: Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Filmmaker Steven Spielberg once said, "Failure is in-evitable. Success is elusive."

Students in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District accomplished quite a feat then, as 22 films shown at the Student Film Festival last Friday were met with cheers and approval from a crowd of nearly 100 people.

The film festival was sponsored by Quest, the district's talented and gifted program, but was open to all students in the district. Jim Bennett, a Quest teacher based out of Skyview High School, explained that students began making films about eight years ago. Usually, one or two would be produced each year. With the advent of expanded technology, however, the numbers have been growing exponentially.

"I think it's a perfect blend of creativity and technology," he said, noting the educational value of student filmmaking. "They have a change to let their imaginations go, play around with technology and match that with imagination."

And did the imaginations ever soar. Of the 22 films presented Friday night, a handful were developed as class assignments. Even more, however, were made in students' free time out of a pure passion to create a movie.

"All the high school films were made after school for the love of art," Bennett said. "I don't even know how they did all the effects. I like that."

There were a handful of slideshow-style films, comedies, art pieces and dramas.

"They ranged from the interesting to bizarre to documentaries to wacked comedies," Bennett said.

The Quest program offered prizes for a winning entry in each of three categories: elementary, middle school and high school.

In the elementary category, student filmmaker Jesse Ellison of Kalifornsky Beach Elementary received the judges' choice award for his piece, "The Flights of Greb D. Nil." Ellison starred as the title character, a youth who grew up obsessed with flying. Featuring both slapstick and wry humor, the movie cut between classic film footage of the Wright brothers' first flight and original shots of local student actors. An example of the film's creativity: Greb D. Nil is Lindberg spelled backwards."

In the middle school category, director-producer Andrew Malone of Soldotna Middle School were honored for their music video-style film, "eBay." Set to Weird Al Yankovic's "eBay song," which lists all sorts of crazy purchases possible from the auction Web site set to the tune of the Backstreet Boys' "I want it that way." ("A used ... pink bathrobe/A rare ... mint snowglobe/A Smurf ... TV tray/I bought on eBay/My house ... is filled with this crap/Shows up in bubble wrap/Most every day/What I bought on eBay ...".)

At the high school level, Kenai Central High School's David Brown won for his arty film, "Frail Dream," which presents an abstract nightmare montage. Brown also won "best of show" at the district's student art show early this spring for the piece.

But just because a handful of students won awards for their films doesn't mean the others weren't worthy. The film festival kept the audience alternating between stitches of laughter and somber silence for nearly three hours.

Some other highlights included:

"Math Apprehension," by Clancy Skipwith of Kalifornsky Beach Elementary. The comedic film anthropomorphizes math as a person who beats up on the unsuspecting student but is eventually overcome by knowledge.

"The Life of a Rocker," by Wes Stephl of Soldotna Middle School. Preceded by a warning from festival organizers, the dialogue-free piece follows a rocker from garage practices to apathetic drug use. The film ends, however, with the rocker washing his hands literally and figuratively of the habits and returning to a music-focused life.

"Stealing Euclid" by Homer High School students Nate Spence, Gavin Browne, Chris Ellington, Claire Thornington and Lydia Kleine. In reality, the school has a tradition of "stealing" busts of famous mathematicians from the math teacher's classroom. The film dramatically depicts the thefts in a Mission Impossible-style. Browne, a senior, admitted that while the film was designed to mimic real life, the opposite ended up happening: "The irony is, all the busts were stolen once the filming was over."

"Amalon" by Seward High School student Heather LaVerne presented a satirical look at commercials for antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs. Starting out in black and white the film follows a "depressed" character who takes the miracle drug, Amalon, and becomes happy, though laden with a few extreme side-effects. Playing on real commercials' lists of warnings and potential side effects, Amalon was not recommended for people with certain diseases and health conditions, as well as those living in California or sporting red hair. Potential side effects ranged from headaches and nausea to loss of neck control.

"Pacific Nightmare" by Bryan Stocks of KCHS. The poignant short film followed a man from a happy beachwalk with his girlfriend to the trauma of war and back home. The war has changed the character, though, and he suffers nightmares and uncontrollable reflexes, even waking up to pull a gun on his girlfriend. At the end, the man returns to the beach, this time alone.

Bennett said the festival hopefully will become an annual event, giving more students the opportunity to explore the medium of film and present their work in a public venue.

Likewise, special guest Bob Curtis Johnson, who was in town from Anchorage presenting "Bob's Shorts," encouraged students to continue practicing their art.

"I'm glad to see this taking off," Johnson said. "(Film equipment) is becoming like the pencil. Not everybody is going to be daVinci, but everyone can pick one up; everyone out there has a great idea.

"Everyone (here) is a superstar for going to the level to put a movie together. Do it again."



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