Sundance, Slamdance filmmakers make special appearances
January 23, 2009
During the Sundance Film Festival, Park City students might have to fight the traffic and the crowds to get to school on time. But once they’re there, the festival perks fall right onto their laps. Students at local schools have a chance to score private screenings and get up-close-and-personal with filmmakers all in the comfort of their own classrooms.
Filmmakers in the Classroom
The Sundance Institute partners with the Park City Performing Arts Foundation to sponsor Filmmakers in the Classroom, a program that enables Park City students to view films and engage in discussions about the art and experience of filmmaking. The films also expose students to a variety of cultural, racial and political issues. Last year, 16 filmmakers visited 24 classrooms and talked to over 450 students in the district. Short films screened at Park City High School this week included "Boutonniere," "Jerrycan" and "This Way Up," among others.
Director Topaz Adizes presented several screenings of his short film, "Trece Anos," to students in grades seven through twelve. He also held special question-and-answer sessions in Spanish with English Language Learners (ELL). "Trece Anos" was included on a list of short films deemed appropriate to screen in schools and was the most requested by teachers. It is the story of a young Cuban man who returns to his family in Havana after 13 years of living in the United States. His family reacts with mixed emotion, questioning whether his identity is Cuban or American. The screenings provoked discussions on such topics as propaganda, challenges of filmmaking, cultural differences and barriers, and how Americans are viewed in different countries.
"Trece Anos" is actually a clip that didn’t make the final cut for Adizes’ feature film, "Americana," which will premiere in Paris in March. "Americana" explores the American identity in a global context through documenting the decisions of two young men who plan to serve in the U.S. Army. Adizes says that he wanted to share "Trece Anos" and clips from "Americana" with young people because their opinions aren’t set in stone and they are open to different perspectives. "The more they see at a younger age, the more it impacts their own lives," he says. "These kids are the most valuable resource we have."
Adizes hopes that his project will help young people realize their value and stimulate conversations about their role in the world. "American youth action has an impact on the world more than youth in any other country," he says. He plans to send the film to schools around the country to promote discussions such as the ones he engaged in with Park City students.
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The Sundance Institute continues its Filmmakers in the Classroom program throughout the year in conjunction with the Sundance Film Series at the Park City Library. For more information on Adizes’ project, visit http://www.theamericanaproject.com.
Free student screenings
Another outreach program sponsored by the Sundance Institute is offering free screenings to students at available venues through the duration of the film festival. The selection of documentary and narrative films is specifically chosen to reflect issues relevant to high school students, and the filmmakers attend the screenings to engage in discussions with the audience. Screenings are currently offered at Broadway Center Cinemas in Salt Lake City and Peery’s Egyptian Theater in Ogden, but according to Virginia Pearce, associate director of artist relations and community programs, the Sundance Institute is hoping to utilize Redstone Cinemas for school screenings as soon as next year.
On Wednesday, a group of high schoolers took a field trip to Salt Lake City for a screening of "Prom Night in Mississippi," which documents the first racially integrated prom at a rural Southern high school. The seventh graders from Ecker Hill International Middle School also got a chance to attend a screening. On Thursday, the students took a field trip to watch "Dirt! The Movie." Liz Thompson, an English teacher at Ecker Hill, says that the students’ response to the film was very positive. She said that the kids felt empowered to go out and do something about the environment.
Sometimes, students who make the effort themselves have success getting their fingers in the pot. John Eckels, the founder and president of the Portuguese Club at PCHS, went through the film guide himself and found a Spanish/Portuguese language film with English subtitles. "I thought, ‘We really need to take advantage of that,’" he says. Eckels contacted the Sundance Institute and filled them in on his idea. "The people at Sundance were really helpful and easy to work with," he says. On Monday, 10 club members attended a screening of "Carmo, Hit the Road" at the Egyptian Theatre.
Slamdance in the classroom
Slamdance filmmakers have also made special visits local schools. Students at Treasure Mountain International Middle School were treated to a showing of a short film that deals with a topic relevant to Park City students. "Immersion," directed by Richard Levien and produced by Kit Fox and Zareen Levien, puts a human face on the debate about the education of English Language Learners. The film captures the experience of a 10-year-old boy who moves to the United States from Mexico and is struggling to learn English.
Over 200 students attended the screening and many actively participated in the question-and-answer session with the fimmakers and child actors, Luis Bautista and Gerardo Acevedo. "The film is meant as a conversation starter," Richard says. "I hope that it opened the eyes of English-speaking students to how difficult it can be."
The cast and crew also engaged in an intimate meeting with the Latino students in the ELL program. "They were obviously excited to be able to express themselves more freely in their native language," Richard remarked. Zareen told students that bilingualism is a great asset and will open many doors for them if they continue working at it.
The makers of "Immersion" are designing lesson plans to accompany to film and hope to make it available to as many schools as possible. For more information, go to http://www.immersionfilm.com.