You may have seen a gaggle of adolescents last summer on a Burlington International Airport runway, at the Champlain Valley Fair or in the Fletcher Allen Health Care emergency room. These seventh- and eighth-graders from Williston Central School probably looked like any other kids their age, except for the camera and sound gear they were lugging around. Dozens of teens spent 25 days in various locations shooting The After, an original picture premiering at the school's Mountainview Film Festival from Monday, May 8 through May 12. The script-free drama, about a girl with family troubles who moves to a new town, will be screened daily.
Language arts teacher Nick Brooks, who directed The After, came up with the idea nine months ago to introduce his students -- many of them savvy about live theater -- to a new creative endeavor. He also established a festival to showcase the finished film and, through a statewide competition, works by their peers as well.
Brooks reached out to other middle schools, which inspired some 30 cinematic submissions. "It's very grassroots," he suggests. "We have about 750 kids coming from places like Shelburne, Charlotte and Jericho."
Five films will be honored, among them "Materialism." This Thetford Academy documentary about consumer priorities contrasts America with India and Pakistan. "Almost Paradise," an 8-minute winner from Williston, follows a boy and girl who run away to Montréal.
The topics range from snowboarding to superhero adventures. "Cinderella Sideways," which provides the stepmother's perspective on a familiar fairytale, is one of two short narratives by Williston students. "We have a lot of comedies," Brooks notes. "They're satirical, at the 13-year-old level."
In addition to coordinating the complex event, he jumped headfirst into fashioning The After with 45 students who volunteered to work on the film. The school district loaned him professional-quality digital video equipment. Although the cast had acting experience in plays, the crew encountered a steep learning curve.
"I'd never picked up a camera before," Brooks acknowledges.
The project, which secured limited rights to songs by Beck and Wilco for the soundtrack, was thoroughly collaborative. "The kids designed the characters, came up with little plot twists, and improvised the dialogue," Brooks says. "We did more scenes in January. By the time we got to the editing room, we could have made Lawrence of Arabia. We had 65 hours of footage that was pared down to a 1-hour production."
The first four days of Mountainview are reserved for youngsters. The general public can attend the evening segment on May 12. Visit http://mountainviewfilmfestival.wsdvt.org for $5 tickets and more information.
Jay Craven's Disappearances will open the revived Lake Placid Film Forum, which skipped 2005 due to financial constraints. It returns to the picturesque Adirondack hamlet on June 23 and 24. But the scale is going to be much smaller, and fewer luminaries will be on hand than in previous years. Once a four-day extravaganza with more than 100 selections, the latest edition is envisioned as a brief weekend shindig that may present only a handful.
"We're putting this together in bits and pieces," says Tim Baker, technical coordinator and fundraiser. "Hopefully, we can still have guest speakers and a panel discussion."
Venerable New York City critic Kathleen Carroll, a Lake Placid native resuming her responsibilities as artistic director, speculates that less could be more. "This gives us a chance to really focus on each film," she theorizes. "It had gotten so big, things were almost out of control. We'll feel less pressure now."
Carroll is still looking for festival fare, but here are the five other movies beside Disappearances she has booked so far:
-- Erykah Badu, Eric Clapton, Branford Marselis and Bonnie Raitt appear in Before the Music Dies, a doc that laments cultural homogenization.
-- Secret Courage: The Walter Susskind Story, also nonfiction, concerns a German Jew in Holocaust-era Amsterdam who helped save 1000 children from deportation and extermination.
-- So Much So Fast observes a protagonist obsessed with finding a cure for his brother's ALS.
-- Man Push Cart is about a Pakistani rock singer in midtown Manhattan reduced to selling coffee and donuts -- with bootleg DVD porn on the side.
-- Stephen Colbert stars in Strangers With Candy, the tale of an ex-con (Amy Sedaris) who goes back to high school and tries to earn the top prize in a science fair.
Keep an eye on http://www.lakeplacidfilmfestival.com for updates.