On the screen, Will Smith, aka Chris Gardner, sits alone on a long bench, his right arm clutching a box, his face turned to his left. The bench, the room, the entire scene is empty save for this one man.
Looking intently at the computer screen, Devanshi Ved sees more than loneliness and isolation depicted there. The character is supporting his old hopes with his arm on the box; he is looking away from his current condition, perhaps towards others.
Ved said she has watched the 2006 movie “Pursuit of Happyness” at least three or four times, drawn by its themes of family values and the importance of the work ethic.
“I think it’s very inspiring,” she said. “It’s been a favorite of my family.”
That’s why she picked it for this particular project in the Film as Literature course at Antilles School.
Teacher and English Department chairman John Riggle has been teaching the course for several years. He designed it after a group of students approached him, wanting to start a film club. He patterned it after courses taught elsewhere, but with modifications to fit Antilles. At first he taught two separate classes, filmmaking, and film as literature, but now they are combined into a yearlong, two-semester elective for seniors that presents both the idea and the mechanics of film production.
This year he has 10 students. Today they are working on analyzing a feature length movie by isolating stills, making a Power Point or Prezi presentation, a scene by scene, shot by shot study of the film’s portrayal of life.
Next to Ved, Christopher McDonald is scanning “Titanic” footage, watching for defining moments in the interaction between Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jack and Kate Winslet’s Rose as the water rushes in. Riggle asks McDonald what happened to Jack’s friend Fabrizio, reminding him of a plot detail he may want to include. McDonald says he selected “Titanic” because it’s a classic, and because no one else in the class had picked it.
The teen angst of “Breakfast Club” has held its appeal for 30 years, making it the choice for Nicholas Overbeak. He’s well into his Prezi presentation, having already posted stills and written analysis for numerous scenes.
For Jordan Morrison, it was the eternal theme of forbidden love that drew her to the zombie romp “Warm Bodies.”
“I know it’s gross,” she said with a sheepish grin. “But it’s like ‘Romeo and Juliet.’ ”
Before the end of the year, the film students will have completed several projects. Each has already made one short film and helped Riggle produce another.
In one unit of study, each student is tasked with re-imaging the trailer for a feature film, using editing, sound effects and music to change the genre; a romance may become a horror flick, a mystery may transform into a comedy. Along the way, the students learn how to create a mood and why atmosphere is important to storytelling. For another project, they “reproduce” an existing movie in as brief and as cheap a way as possible, typically using friends and classmates as actors.
In the “silent music video” project, they experiment with sound, both diegetic – that is, noise the characters are supposed to be hearing – and non-diegetic, such as mood music or narration which moves the plot along but is outside the action and not “heard” by the characters.
Each will also produce a video yearbook, an original film that, according to the course syllabus, is meant to “capture the zeitgeist” of the Antilles school community in this particular school year. It’s a project that resonates for seniors who are transitioning from child to adult and trading the nurturing warmth of a small school for, in most cases, the competitive challenges of large, stateside universities.
“When you leave high school, you take memories with you, and you leave so little behind,” Riggle said. “This gives you the opportunity to leave something behind.”
The student films are published on a private Youtube account and also can be viewed by the rest of the school at the year-end Festival de Canes, Riggle’s take on the famous international film festival at Cannes with a play on the school’s Hurricanes team.
The class also helps Riggle with an annual project, a film designed to show the spirit of the school with poetry from the Poetry Out Loud contest as backdrop. (To view a recent production, see Related Links below.)