The stage lit up on Saturday at the Reichhold Center for the Arts when 11 beaming graduates of Reichhold’s 2013 Youth Moviemaking Workshop proudly unveiled the product of seven weeks of hard work.
A responsive audience of approximately 200 laughed, gasped, and guffawed during the premiere viewing of a series of short films and animations written, shot, directed and edited by the young filmmakers. The topics ranged from healthy living to bullying to building self-esteem.
By the end of the two-hour premiere, the student filmmakers, aged 12 to 16, earned enthusiastic praise and positive reviews.
“I’m just floored,” exclaimed Reichhold Foundation board member Felipe Ayala, Jr. “This shows how much talent there is. It’s like a sleeping giant; you just have to awaken it. These are the kinds of artistic endeavors that we want to support more often.
Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone, who sat in the audience, went backstage and sought out Tevin Williams, a workshop graduate and student at Charlotte Amalie High School, to personally compliment him on his performance in the short films.
Reichhold co-director Denise Humphrey, who was also the program’s main instructor, proudly shared her experience teaching the young film students.
“I like to see the proverbial lightbulb go off when they get an idea in their heads,” said Humphrey. “This program opens their analytical thinking and engages them to work together to accomplish a common goal.”
The Youth Moviemaking Workshop began in 2001 under local playwright and filmmaker David Edgecombe, who was then director of Reichhold Center. Lack of funding and an eventual lull forced the program to a temporary halt that lasted until early 2013, when Reichhold directors began pushing for its revival.
“Technology has changed. A lot kids are now into YouTube and making their own videos, so here’s one way for us to streamline their content and make their messages more worthwhile,” explained Humphrey.
Thanks in part to a grant from the Brabson Family Foundation, and the support of the University of the Virgin Islands, Reichhold not only resurrected the program, but also provided scholarships for the student participants, as well as purchased the necessary equipment and editing software.
The 11 student participants were selected through a rigorous application process, which included a face-to-face interview and an essay explaining why the students wanted in on the workshop.
“A lot of the times, they think all you have to do is pick up a camera and shoot,” said Humphrey. “But this is more than just a summer camp and I wanted them to be prepared mentally for it. We want them to be fully aware of what’s expected of them.”
During the course of four weeks, the student filmmakers zipped through crash courses in character development, scripting, locations, filming and editing. At different points in the workshop, each participant had to produce stop-motion animations, public service announcements, music video collages, and short stories, in increasing degrees of difficulty.
“By going through this process, they learned that there’s a lot more involved. You can’t just go out there and create just whatever movies you want,” explained Humphrey.
The final product was a short film called “The Chase,” a 30-minute short that revolved around Chris, a young teen who inherited from his grandfather a necklace that supposedly pointed to the location of hidden treasure.
At the helm was V.I. Montessori School student Leah Trotman, who admitted to having no strong initial interest in filming and editing.
“In the classes we had to do, sometimes we had to edit to put things together, but never as intensive as this,” Trotman said.
The film’s plot required elaborate props, out-of-the-way locations including a secluded Fortuna beach, and scenes that required students to hike through bush, climb beach boulders, and jump in the water.
“When I was designated to be the director, I thought it would be a breeze. Boy, was I wrong,” Trotman admitted, describing the ordeal as an “exhausting, painstaking, and rigorous,” but nonetheless inspiring experience.
“There were many time when I thought that we were not going to complete this movie because of derailing circumstances, including having to replace our main character twice due to lack of commitment,” shared Trotman. “But with dedication, hard work, and lots and lots of patience, we were able to persevere.”
The 2013 Youth Moviemaking Workshop officially ended with the Saturday premiere, but not without sending the kids home with some valuable lessons.
“Everybody in the production is important, no matter what you are,” said Trotman. “Without the sound, you can’t hear. Without the subcharacters, we couldn’t have a good plot. Every single compartment of this production is very important.”
Humphrey adds, “I enjoyed working with these kids every day, and trust me, from what I’ve seen, they have it in them to go far.”