Organizing adolescent chaos into art
Lights, camera, adolescence! That’s how I spent the first weekend in March. I was an instructor for the 10th annual Sonoma International Film Festival Middle School Video Workshop conducted at the Intel Computer Club at the Sonoma Valley Boys & Girls Club.
Now, you know me well enough to conclude that I’m not the kind of writer who would claim a hardship as a “privilege” to have endured. Nor do I get misty when young people overcome expectations and find their “voices.”
This is because I don’t live in the second act of some precious indie flick. I live in reality, and in reality, 12- to 14-year-olds are noisy, aggravating,
disruptive and by any legal measure, likely insane. Perhaps even criminally so.
They’re also brilliant, and when they direct their estimable energies, the chaos that surrounds them organizes into art.
Under the direction of program producer and film society board member Kimberly Hughes, and with assistance from Sonoma Valley High School students Kerrick Martin and Sean Callahan, the five instructors (Gary Felder, Howard Egger-Bovet, Chris Donnelley, Lee Armstrong and me) we were charged with shepherding a dozen or more young talents through the conception, production and completion of a public service announcement. The results are scheduled to screen at the Sebastiani Theatre during the Sonoma International Film Festival this April. Though the filmmakers in the group overseen by Donnelley and me were to complete a single video, our team proved so proficient that, in the end, we shot four and completed three.
Some students were so enraptured with the process of filmmaking that they had to be pried from the editing bays when their caretakers arrived to take them home Sunday evening (it was a school night for Altimira, Adele Harrison, Presentation School, Hanna Boys Center and Woodland Star after all).
One of our PSAs admonished about adult-onset diabetes (apparently, one in five kids born in 2000 are due to develop the disease unless their diet’s improve). This included tight-shots of fast food hamburgers scrolling by on a factory conveyor belt and head shots of the kids laying down the new laws of lunch. Its message is effective, it’s visually-striking and puts a serious dent in my latent desire for a McBurger. “Buildings Are Tombs” similarly advocates for improved health with a carpe diem-inspired message that goads office drones to exalt in the great outdoors.
Both these videos were created under strict adult supervision, which likely accounts for their pious positioning. When the young adults were set loose in Maxwell Farms Regional Park with a video camera and their apparent cultural knowledge of horror film visual tropes, they returned with two films in the can.
One had something to do with a forest-borne stalker whose hands were replaced with dinosaur puppets (thanks to Armstrong’s loan of a legion of hand puppets). The other, more successful endeavor, if I may say, was cryptically-titled “The Survival Film,” and plays like a movie trailer for the “found footage” species of a horror film.
But scarier. Especially when their instructor inadvertently cameos by walking into the shot. I had no idea how creepy I look outside the cultural conceits of Gen X.
I studied media in college just at the advent of digital cinema. I was a lazier writer then and would pad my term papers by quoting artist Jean Cocteau at the top of every essay: “Film will only became an art when its materials are as inexpensive as pencil and paper.” The technology has certainly lived up to Cocteau’s notion – the tools are now cheap (which reminds me – the workshop itself was free to the kids thanks to generous contributions from film society members).
But Cocteau forgot to mention part of the equation – the talent necessary to wield film’s newly inexpensive “materials.” If the young filmmakers in the middle school workshop are any indication, he’d be pleased to know that the art of filmmaking is alive and well in Sonoma Valley. And that is a privilege to witness.
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Daedalus Howell makes little movies at YouTube.com/DaedalusHowell.