Student filmmakers hit mark at festival

What other medium allows 200+ people to sit in a darkened room and have a dream simultaneously streamed into their collective consciousness? Film, as the most dynamic of storytelling mediums, can move the masses, to be certain. Whether it’s for global goodness or not, depends on the filmmaker and their subject/theme. — Author unknown

In the Historic Artcraft Theatre, originally built in 1922 as a silent movie theater and vaudeville house, I sat with my date along with 400 fellow theater-goers and the Johnson County students who produced, directed and shot the eight short films.

Steve and I went on a “spur-of-the-moment” date last Friday, not knowing any of the student filmmakers, but walked out shaking our heads in awe at the conscientious and talented students that live in our community.

Neither of us is Jean-Luc Godard or any other noted film critic by any means — just film-lovers who for more than 10 years took our three daughters out of school every year to experience the art of cinematography at the Heartland Film Festival. But as we watched the eight selected films this is what we experienced:

After the film “Casa Del Toro” from Whiteland students Jessica Hord and Michal Feasel, I overheard one lady behind emphatically state: “I am so going to adopt a pit bull — I had no idea how sweet they can be.”

A few films later, we viewed “Jonah’s Journey” about Jonas’ adoption from Lithuania into the Douglas and Angie Harris family in 2002. The film highlighted the effervescent personality of Jonah, who has spina bifida, and how he fits perfectly into the Johnson County family of eight.

Another lady seated behind us responded to her friend: “Great (sniff, sniff) … now I want to make arrangements to fly to Lithuania to adopt a special needs child.”

“The moment we cry in a film is not when things are sad but when they turn out to be more beautiful than we expected them to be.” — Alain de Botton

After the showing “For the Small Schools,” my film aficionado–husband looked at me wide-eyed and gasped “the cinematography in this film was extraordinary.”

“What did you like” I asked.

“The actual camera work was intriguing. They dealt with a sensitive issue — it’s not easy to tell the story of Kent Poole’s suicide and for high school students to interview Hollywood producers and to reach out to the family members and discuss and make a film of this quality — it was brave. I also liked that they shared the story without sensationalism.”

Poole played Merle in the film “Hoosiers.”

Bravo to Whiteland Community High School students Landry Long, Jared Canary and Spencer Johnson.

The following Monday evening at the Johnson County Gardening Club, I asked President Gary Kiesel, who also volunteers at the Artcraft, which films stood out to him.

“You can never go wrong with animals and youth. They certainly have an emotional factor. I liked the pit bull film, as it did result in what they intended — a newfound admiration for pit bulls. I also liked ‘The Power of Choice’ that featured the Center Grove teen (Sam Motsay) and the Nbomb drug. It was a tear-jerker and focused on family and emotions while also being a teaching tool and representative of the dangers of drugs. Really all of the films were excellent, and I was impressed with the skills of our local high school students.”

There is no reason why challenging themes and engaging stories have to be mutually exclusive — in fact, each can fuel the other. As a filmmaker, I want to entertain people first and foremost. If out of that comes a greater awareness and understanding of a time or a circumstance, then the hope is that change can happen. — Edward Zwick

Thank you to all our Johnson County student filmmakers. Your community continues to contemplate the films you gifted us with, and we celebrate your talent and hard work.

On the Web

You can now view the student documentary films from the Whiteland students here: