During the upcoming April school break, some 150 students from more than 20 New York middle schools will come together for a week of writing, directing, shooting, and editing under the guidance of 14 professional filmmaking instructors from a broad range of backgrounds. By the end of the five-day course, the teams will have produced a dozen short, professional-caliber movies that will be exhibited to friends and family.
The Film Intensive program is offered free of charge by Manhattan Youth.
“We want to give kids and parents something of infinite value, at zero cost,” observes Theseus Roche, the organization’s director of after-school programs. The April student film course will be a reprise of a similar program that the organization hosted during the February break, and part of a larger, ongoing initiative that began in 2014. It is produced under the auspices of School’s Out New York City (SONYC), a free after-school program for sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders, funded by the city’s Department of Youth and Community Development.
The first day of the week-long program, Mr. Roche says, “starts with an intensive introduction and a quick assignment in video. By the end of day one, the children have begun to formulate a story.” On the second day, Mr. Roche says, “the team finalizes the story and begins shooting. The third day is devoted to finishing shooting, and beginning to edit and add music.” On day four, the students continue post-production work, and on the fifth day, “they add the finishing touches, and we screen the films.”
Director of after-school programs
In February, the students produced films that ranged from a reflection on verbal and physical abuse by other kids (“Bullied Bullies”), to a moody, genre piece about crime solving (“How to Be a Detective”), to a touching meditation on putting away the tokens of childhood while becoming a teenager (“Let It Go”). All ten films from the February sessions can be viewed online at vimeo.com/album/4442992
“‘Let It Go,’ was especially captivating,” says Mr. Roche. “It’s a sweet story of middle-school kid hanging onto his childhood, symbolized by attachment to a stuffed animal. He feels likes he’s faced with a binary choice between the next level of social acceptance, versus remaining who he was. But the teddy bear brings ridicule from other students. And that causes the main character to turn his back on the toy in an extreme and surprising way. When we showed the film at the end of the week, and more than 100 middle school students were seeing it for the first time, they all shouted a horrified ‘no’ at once, because they were rooting for him to hang onto this childhood, rather than let it go.”
The Film Intensive program not only imparts technical skills related to moviemaking, but also a broader aptitude, “for thinking the way directors think — not only about how to tell a story, but how to do it visually and thematically,” says Mr. Roche. There is also an emphasis on collaboration, team work, and leadership, with each member of every team treated as an equal and respected partner in the project.
The Film Intensive program hosted 120 students in February, and is being expanded to 150 spaces for the upcoming session, which runs from Monday, April 10, through Friday, April 14. But those seats may vanish quickly. “About 115 are already taken,” Mr. Roche says, “and the rest will probably fill up by the middle of this month.”
In 2016, the results of Manhattan Youth’s Film Intensive program were shown at the Tribeca Film Festival. The previous year, one of the films produced by the program won the 2015 Peacemaker Champion Award from the PLURAL+ youth video festival, which is operated by the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations (UNAOC). PLURAL+ selected 25 videos, out of more than 240 submissions from 59 countries worldwide, to receive the Peacemaker Champion Award. The Manhattan Youth entry marked the first time a film produced in the United States won.
Manhattan Youth’s Filmmaking Intensive program has undergone dramatic growth in the three years since a weeklong workshop was launched. In 2014, there were a total of 12 students and only three teachers in the program. By February, 2015, Mr. Roche (assisted by Leyna Madison, Manhattan Youth’s education director for Downtown middle school programs, and Brian Rivera, assistant director of the after-school program at I.S. 276) had grown the Intensives program to ten times that many students, with eight professional faculty.
For more information about enrolling your child in the free, Film Intensive program during the April school break (or a similar, upcoming program during the summer), please email firstname.lastname@example.org, or browse: www.manhattanyouth.org/after-school/my-movies.aspx.