Picture the Hearst Castle Theater filled with an eager audience. Picture your production showing on the Imax screen with the full impact of surround sound. Imagine you just finished the sixth grade and the film on the screen is the result of a great summer of fun, er, intensive effort, applied over six weeks.
Yes, the 48 producers, directors, writers, editors and actors who presented their work at the YMCA Youth Institute Film Festival on Aug. 10 are all middle school and high school students who attended the Y summer program at Santa Lucia Middle School this summer.
A couple of weeks before the festival, as I walked into the middle school computer lab, Hannah Goldstein popped up from her chair next to the door, held out her hand, introduced herself and asked if I’d like to see what she, Eli Kepins and Monir Boutros were working on — a poster for the film festival. Before I could move on, they sold me tickets to the festival.
Then Ashley Martinez, a staff-in-training participant, led me to her computer, where she was working on the program magazine. Next, Logan Kepins and Arturo Gonzales, also staff-in-training, took me to another room where they showed me a documentary they had made of a software training camp that attracted classroom teachers and students. Kepins and Gonzales were paid to produce this documentary that will be used to promote future camps.
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Almost before the documentary was over, Braedon Riley and Julian Mercado grabbed me to see their stop-motion movie. They had been given a one-day assignment to come up with a story, prepare a set and produce a short animation with more than 250 shots.
The classroom was a kaleidoscope of motion. Students left for and returned from location shoots; excited groups were assembled around computers editing; there were calls for “quiet on the set,” as footage was shot in front of a green screen, ready to add graphics later. Behind this seeming chaos is Dan Hartzell.
Hartzell, who has worked for the Y since he was 17, replicated this program three years ago from one that was started at the Long Beach YMCA Youth Institute.
This summer’s program started with a no-technology wilderness retreat at Mammoth Springs. After a long bus ride, the kids carried their luggage to the camping area, where they erected lean-tos before they could have dinner. They were organized into teams, generally with kids they didn’t know well. During their five days in the wilderness, the teams cooked, cleaned and solved problems. The problem-solving gave them a chance to fail, ultimately succeed and then reflect on how they might have approached problems differently. The whole process was aimed at teaching leadership, collaborative skills and team building, qualities necessary for successful lives after school.
The day I visited, I saw more than would-be filmmakers. I saw kids with mature self-confidence. These same young people speak at conferences. They train others in filmmaking and the use of technology. They produce videos for hire. They raise funds to perpetuate their program. And they win awards at film festivals, including this year’s San Luis Obispo film festival.
This special summer program makes an enormous, positive, permanent impact. To start, the kids will have great stories to tell in their “what I did last summer” essays.