Ecker Hill students test filmmaking skills |

Ecker Hill students test filmmaking skills

The Sundance Film Festival received some competition Wednesday, when 145 Ecker Hill seventh-grade students collaborated, produced, directed, edited and starred in film clips highlighting novels. The 37 films debuted on Jan. 17 at the "Academy awards for books ceremony," in the Ecker Hill auditorium. Winners in seven categories were chosen by ballot, and several hundred people attended the gala.

While it may seem like Ecker Hill instructor Liz Thompson teaches filmmaking classes more than English classes, the students may have delved into English and literature more than they realized. "The process is more important to me than the product," Thompson said. She wanted students to focus on characterization, theme and tone as they explored what makes a good novel.

"We had to get them reading, writing, listening, speaking and viewing," Thompson said. First, groups of three to five students select a novel that peaked their interest and motivated them to bring the book to life, in a two-to-five-minute film trailer. But that didn’t always work.

After reading the novel he and his cohorts chose, Garratt Schlag said, "Our group had a boring book. It looked like it was a really good book, but it wasn’t. The last 10 pages were good. We put in good music and made it more exciting than it was."

And that is exactly what Thompson hoped the young filmmakers would accomplish analyzing what it would take to make people want to read the book as a result of their film promotion.

Student Katja Lund and her group made a film highlighting the book "Missing Abby." "It was kind of a good book," she said. "We did the most dramatic parts and added sound effects to make it more mysterious."

The films showed one after another. The screen writers, producers directors and actors showed promise and creativity.

Thompson timed the films to premier just as Sundance Film Festival rolled into town. Several teachers connected their subjects with film. In one such class, science teacher Susie Preston taught students "Inventions in Film," and the science of sound and light. Other teachers also had themes that related to filmmaking.

Most students filmed on school grounds, with whatever props and costuming they could muster. Thompson said that after each movie was filmed, students then had to edit their creations on computers. Editing played a major part in the resulting films with additions of music, transitions from one scene to another, sound effects and whatever else came to mind that could be created on computers.

The day after the audience voted on the best films in each category, the winners were announced in the classes, and the winning films shown.

To top off the production and awards extravaganza, all students in the classes were going to attend the Sundance Film Festival entry, "Everything’s Cool," in Salt Lake City, with tickets donated to schools by Sundance.

Thompson looked back over the two-month project. "We need to collaborate with new technology what kids will need for the 21 century. Every year there is something new."

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