Kids today are still making Super 8 shorts. The urge to remake "Raiders of the Lost Ark" continues to be irresistible to young men. And pencil drawings have not yet lost the battle to Flash in the realm of teenage-produced animation. A two-part screening of high school shorts at the Los Angeles Film Festival confirms that the output, hearts, and minds of teen filmmakers remain reassuringly familiar. If these are the standard bearers for the future of filmmaking, their rallying cry seems to be back to basics.
Thirty-three shorts by 52 teenage directors were screened at the Los Angeles Film Festival on Saturday, June 18 with an encore screening scheduled for June 25th. At the post-screening Q&A sessions moderated by LAFF programmer Hebe Tabachnik and the rooftop luncheon/mixer held between screenings, the teens talked about their inspiration, influences, and experiences. Most made their films in either their regular high school film classes, summer film camps, or under the wings of community arts organizations. "These young filmmakers from all over the U.S. and one from Brazil prove once again that the next generation of storytellers is vibrant, creative, and ready to be called filmmakers of the present," proclaimed Tabachnik in her welcome remarks.
Based on a sampling of the 33 shorts screened at LAFF, which were themselves culled from 300 submissions, below are five hallmarks of teenage filmmaking, plus links to view select films online.
Film is not dead.
Mason Shefa shot his 6-minute black and white experimental short "Psalm 51" on Super 8 while on vacation. When he announced during the post screening Q&A that he plans to make his next short on 16MM, the audiences gave him a round of applause. "Psalm 51" can be viewed in its entirely on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fYPifai3vik
Hand-drawn, claymation, and stop-motion animation techniques are still alive and kicking.
A preponderance of the films shown at LAFF were animated the old fashioned way. However, Reid Hildebrand, who hand-drew "The Balloonist," which was much discussed during the post-screening Q&A and privately praised by a rival high school teacher during the luncheon/mixer, is toying with doing his next film in Flash. "The Balloonist" is online: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z65Us6A-MRM
Chaplin still inspires.
Bell High School students Vincent Reyna and Estefania Reveles were first exposed to the Little Tramp's silent film work in their school's film class. Although Reyna went on to make an effective PSA about teenage suicide entitled "Say Something" and Reveles bravely followed an abusive relationship to its darkest conclusion in "He Brought Me Flowers" (neither films could be described as Chaplinesque), both students raved extensively during the LAFF luncheon about what they learned from studying Charlie Chaplin.
Equally inspiring: "Raiders of the Los Ark," "Titanic," and "Pulp Fiction."
"If Cell Phones Ruled the World," an anthology of iconic movie scenes faithfully recreated but with ringtones humorously interrupting at crucial moments, was a real crowd pleaser at the LAFF screening. Directed by schoolmates Alex Siegel, Daniel Kim, Nick Lieberman, Gabe Benjamin, and Lorenz Kim, the anthology neatly illustrates the easy filmmaking literacy of today's teens. Check out their take on Spielberg's, Cameron's, and Tarantino's masterpieces: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ef5W1f9xSa0
A cardboard box, scissors, and a sharpie are all you need.
Homemade scenic design was the thing that many of the student filmmakers said they found most challenging, especially the live action-stop motion artists like 13-year-old Miranda Kasher, who flew in from New Jersey to screen "See" at LAFF. "See": http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kkodr4ALPyI.
But Sam Gorman, making a stylish black and white music video entitled "Downlow," schooled us all on how simple cardboard can be manipulated to create everything from Kanye-style shutter shades to old fashioned crooner microphones. "Downlow": http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pVVamyA2T5Y
Whether these high schoolers graduate into the filmmaking big leagues or not, they can be proud of achieving much already. These kids are more than all right.