Saturday, December 07, 2013 12:00 PM
Photo by Wanda Jackson. At the American Film Institute Silver Theatre, from left, teacher Kathleen McGlew, whose Eleanor Roosevelt High School film team took grand winner place; teacher Andre Lee, whose Northwestern High School film team won first and third place honors in the documentary category; and, festival founder, Anita Lambert, coordinating supervisor of creative arts programs at Prince George’s County Public Schools.
Published on: Wednesday, May 08, 2013
By Wanda Jackson
Around the room, future filmmakers like Steven Spielberg, Quentin Tarantino and Spike Lee were unmistakable.
The filmmakers are Prince George’s County Public Schools students who were showcasing their works in the First Annual PGCPS Digital Film Festival at the American Film Institute Silver Theatre in downtown Silver Spring.
“We’ve anticipated this event for a long time,” said Anita Lambert, the festival founder and coordinating supervisor of creative arts programs for PGCPS.
Lambert said the audience would be impressed to see what students are doing with cameras these days. The festival provided “teachers an opportunity to showcase their students’ work for their peers, community, administrators, and the Prince George’s County public school system.”
A total of 56 entries representing 175 students from 16 elementary, middle and high schools participated in the film festival.
Student teams and a teacher from each school submitted a film in one or more categories: one-minute challenge, documentary or five-minute feature.
The one-minute category challenged students to produce a film that “in exactly one minute addressed a logical and purposeful topic that made sense as a stand-alone video.”
The documentary or non-fiction story category challenged students “to produce a five-minute or less short video that presented a factual report on a chosen subject or idea.”
The five-minute feature challenged students to produce a “dramatic work in which the central motif was the triumph over adverse circumstance, resulting in a successful or happy conclusion — the greatest story ever told.”
Students were encouraged to pick and explore topics that they were interested in. Their completed film could be a
stand-alone segment or part of a series.
The top five videos in each category were determined through crowd sourcing, or public viewing and online voting April 22 through April 30.
More than 5,654 votes were cast, Lambert said. The online film site was translated into Spanish and Vietnamese, and viewed by visitors from eight countries. The high school page received the most visits.
Once nominees were determined, three film and media professionals picked first, second and third place winners in each category by school level, and an overall winner that represented “the goals and ideals of PGCPS’ creative arts program.”
The three judges were Gina Bartee, programming and training director for Prince George’s Community Television in Largo; Matthew Boratenski, program administrator for education at the AFI Silver Theatre in Silver Spring; and Rich Daniel, executive producer for Concussion TV and consulting producer for WUSA TV 9.
At the film festival, winning films were announced and screened, then given live feedback by each judge.
Winning teams received custom certificates, and a framed custom certificate was awarded to the school with the best overall film.
In the “one-minute” category among elementary schools, Heather Mills took first place; among middle schools, Benjamin Tasker took first place and Thomas G. Pullen took second place; and, among high schools, Charles H. Flowers took first, second and third place.
In the documentary category, among middle schools, William Hall Academy took first place and Ernest Everett Just took second place; and among high schools, Northwestern took first and second place, and DuVal took third place.
In the five-minute feature category, among middle schools, Ernest Everett Just took first place and Thomas G. Pullen took second place; and, among high schools, DuVal took first place, Frederick Douglass took second place, and Laurel took third place.
The grand winner was Eleanor Roosevelt High School with its feature film titled “Survivor.”
Similar perhaps to “Independence Day” starring Will Smith and the docudrama “Thirteen Days” about the Cuban missile crisis faced by actor Kevin Costner as then-President Kennedy, “Survivor” is about a missile attack on the U.S. by North Korea. The narrative focuses on two people who are thrown into confusion and along with the rest of the human population become part of what they believe is the end of the United States.
According to Bartee, “Survivor” had all the elements of a good film. “You could see that there was pre-production” and scriptwriting, she said.
“They were really acting. The voice-over, the music and the special effects were great for what the students had to work with,” said Bartee, who viewed the film several times.
Overall, the judges applauded every team that submitted a film for the competition.
“I’ve met so many people in my career who’ve always said, ‘I want to make a movie.’ They never do. They may have done a lot of newscasts. They may have produced some other things. Well, guess what, many in this room already have. It’s not your first one and it won’t be your last one,” Daniel said.
“The desire that you have now matches the capabilities that are there in the school system. You’ve got the equipment. You’ve got the teachers. You’ve got the support. And, boy would I have loved to be in AFI watching a movie that I made when I was in your position,” Daniel said. “I encourage you to continue to have the vision, the desire and the drive, because you have the help around you to make great movies.”
Northwestern High School teacher Andre Lee said his students have access to the latest broadcast and film technology.
“Not only do I teach from a technical perspective,” said Lee, but also, “we study the great directors like Spielberg and Spike Lee” to name a few.
Lee and his students also produce the school’s morning news program.
In the fall, several of Lee’s students are headed to Northwestern University nearly expense free, and one student, Jhonahan Umanzor will study broadcast journalism at the University of Maryland.
Umanzor, who already has his own cinematography business, welcomes opportunities like the PGCPS film festival.
“This is a motivational experience,” he said. “It inspires us to keep going forward and that we can do the kind of films that we see in the theater and on TV.”
Bartee encouraged the aspiring filmmakers to take advantage of other departments in their high schools.
“You have great drama departments. Instead of just using people in your class, cast for some of the characters who’re really interested in acting,” Bartee said.
“The idea of storytelling is what we’re all about here at AFI,” Boratenski said. “When you’re doing a film, ask yourself, ‘Why am I doing this? What’s its purpose?’ If you cannot really think of an answer other than ‘I can,’ then maybe you should rethink what’s going to have the best effect on your audience.”
For PGCPS students, the film festival presented an opportunity to explore their film interest and get professional feedback.
“This is just a preview of what’s to come,” Lambert said.