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Film shorts make the silver screen

Student filmmakers premiere their work in Hollywood-style screening

Posted: September 24, 2013 3:29 p.m.
Updated: September 24, 2013 3:29 p.m.

Student filmmaker Rachel Greenleaf, 11, right, poses for the cameras on the red carpet as she enters the Bijou Theater for the premiere of the film she worked on, "Quenched," at California Institute of the Arts in Valencia on Saturday. Photo by Dan Watson

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“Are we gonna do this?” teenage Zakariah O’Mara-Mezzano asked, glancing sidelong at has his two friends, with a moment’s apprehension.

The three student filmmakers draped their arms across each other’s shoulders and stood at one end of a hallway, looking down at the foot of a red carpet.

“We’re gonna do this,” Zakariah said.

For the boys’ movie premiere, Zakariah wore a faded cowboy hat. Next to him, Sean Arison wore a purple, velvet vest and a royal blue bow tie. Last in line, Cole Pitner wore a button-up shirt, his blond hair long since tousled from its earlier combing.

In step, each boy planted a foot on the red carpet, and together, they took off in stride toward the entrance of CalArt’s Bijou Theater, nearly skipping as parents’ cameras flashed and supporters cheered.

Along with about 25 of their peers, these three friends were gathering for a film screening event that represented the culmination of a summer’s work.

The CalArts Community Arts Partnership program gathers kindergarten through 12th grade students throughout Los Angeles County for free arts education from CalArts faculty and students. The film premiere event marked the end of CAP’s summer filmmaking course, and the kids wanted to go out in style.

In years past, the end-of-summer film screening was held in Hart Hall at the William S. Hart Park and Museum. This year, the kids walked a red carpet leading to the theater entrance, posed for paparazzi-style photos and watched their completed films for the first time with family, friends and leaders from the community.

“We wanted to give the kids the real VIP treatment,” said Glenna Avila, artistic director of CAP.

 

The CAP program

“This is our 24th year of bringing tuition-free arts education to thousands of youth throughout Los Angeles County.”

CAP classes are led by CalArts faculty, alumni and current students, who are trained in youth arts education practices, Avila said.

The CAP program uses a decentralized model, bringing classes to 50 different campuses, classrooms, community centers and social service agencies throughout L.A. County.

“We bring programs to youth during school hours, after school, on weekends and in the summer months. It’s ongoing throughout the entire year,” Avila said. “During the summer, it creates a substantial activity for kids in the SCV area.”

Through this model, the program is able to reach up to 8,000 students each year, assembling a teaching team of about 60 faculty members and nearly 300 CalArts students.

 

The summer course

The summer filmmaking program is an intensive, five-week course that gathers about 30 students ages 10-17 each Saturday for an all-day session on various aspects of the filmmaking process. This is the third year it has been offered at Hart Park in Newhall.

The goal of the program is to teach each student how to create a film from start to finish.

Students brainstorm the narrative, write scripts, assemble story boards, learn the equipment, shoot video, explore camera angles, act, direct, edit and learn aspects of post-production.

“They play each role that occurs within filmmaking,” Avila said. “They pick it up immediately — it’s like they’re naturals. They just eat it up.”

Divided into four age groups, each group made a short film, shot on-location at Vasquez Rocks Natural Area Park and Hart Park.

“We wanted to inspire them with the history of William S. Hart and the parks’ history,” Avila said.

Because of the local history, the student filmmakers produce silent films, which present specific challenges.

“The kids learned acting techniques from the Canyon Theater Guild, so they could pull off a silent film in its tradition, using the exaggerated facial expressions,” she said.

Additionally, the films’ plots are generated by the kids and centralized on the Santa Clarita Valley, Avila said. The four films all had desert themes and thirst-inspired motifs.

“I could see how the heat of the area really influenced the films,” Avila said.

 

Focusing on the kids

Avila cites the two primary goals of the program.

“Everything we do is educational. We teach hope to inspire them to go on as filmmakers,” she said. “But they also have to have a great time.”

Hanging back in the theater after the screening finished, student filmmaker Amir Malekpour, 14, was doing just that.

The lights had dimmed, and he sat in one of the plushy theater chairs in the front row. The stage was quiet.
Raising a hand to cup his chin, Amir says he enjoys working as a team with peers, as he gets to try various aspects of filmmaking.

“It’s always a group effort,” he said, furrowing his brow and straightening out the black vest over his white button-up.

“It’s like a puzzle you have to piece together, and everyone is a piece,” he said. “I hope to take the things I’ve learned this year into my next film.”

Leaving the darkened theater, Amir walked back down the red carpet, joining his brother and his friends in celebration of their film, newly energized by voicing his future aspirations aloud and seeing his work flash across the screen.

“We definitely have some future directors and actors, some really talented camera people,” Avila said.

 

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