MODESTO — Cameras flashed as filmmakers and movie stars entered. Programs featured their names and speakers praised their art. Gold statuettes awaited the lucky few.
The Reel Life Film Festival wasn't in Hollywood, however, and those awarded aren't household names yet. This was for kids in after-school programs across five counties who turned their talents to capturing civility on video.
About 100 students and 200 fans filled The State Theatre for the big-screen première of 34 short films submitted from 22 schools. Many dealt with bullying, others with welcoming a new kid or sticking up for others.
The theme resonated with students, who said they had fun making the films, and with Stanislaus County Superintendent Tom Changnon, who hailed their efforts to show kindness in uncivil times. "It's up to our youth, the future of our country, to do that," he told them.
But tucked within the project, like vegetables hiding in spaghetti sauce, were lessons straight from an English textbook, said Region 6 after-school regional lead Julie Sesser.
They're all very tech-savvy. But they don't understand concepts like beginning, middle and end; or how to lay out a plot or develop characters. This year, they had to pitch their story to "producers," the after-school staff," Sesser said. Story boarding, learning antagonists and protagonists, chronology, sequencing, and much more became part of the process of having fun.
"We just pulled together some ideas," said filmmaker Devin Rodrigues, a senior at Orestimba High in Newman. Classmate Elijah McConnell said the team liked to flip ideas, and in one film highlighted the bully as a victim. Another was a parody.
"We captured a normal high school," senior Gerardo Lopez said, the bullies and the good guys. "That's what a high school is," he said.
The Orestimba contingent swept the high school documentary awards. The students arrived dressed in solid black, from bow tie to pants hem, complete with tux-style jackets, all borrowed from the school's music department.
Orestimba Principal Jesse Ceja said he enjoyed watching the students work. "I think it got some kids involved who don't normally get involved," he said, smiling as he watched the row of black-suited teens chatter before the event.
Patty Halvorson, president of The State Theatre board of directors, applauded the young filmmakers.
"Hats off to all of you, to persevere and see it through with all the details. You are helping us dream for the future," she said, suggesting that one day they may be all be back as professionals. "George Lucas used to come here," she said. "It worked out pretty well for him."
THE WINNERS ARE ...
JUNIOR HIGH DIVISION
First place: Prescott Senior Elementary, Modesto
Honorable mention: Hanshaw Middle School, Modesto
First place: Beard Elementary, Modesto
Honorable mention: Prescott
First place: Franklin Elementary, Modesto
Honorable mention: La Loma Junior High, Modesto
HIGH SCHOOL DIVISION
First place: Edison High, Stockton
Honorable mention: Waterford High, Waterford
First place: Orestimba High, Newman
Honorable mention: Orestimba