“Dead Days at High School” and more from the Film Society’s education initiative

“I’ll be, like fuckin’ wow, if he spells my name right. Nobody spells my name right.”

I showed him my phone.

“Damn, son. I just can’t believe it. The first try.”

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D’Artagnan Jackson, Shamrod Lockwood and Mohammed Darden were gathered round in the small Furman Gallery, jutting-out from the Walter Reade Theater, while other youths checked out pre-fabricated poster-boards or consumed the fruit-chesse-and-cola spread that was there for their demands.

There were cookies once there, but by the time the second wave of students arrived, you wouldn’t have known.

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It was all part of the closing event for the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s after-school high-school program that it had run in conjunction with several New York City public schools.

The program had involved teaching artists and screenings, deconstructions of Rebel Without A Cause and Akira (“AH-kee-RAH,” it was pronounced for me, counter to what I had understood). Some students had gotten the opportunity to come to free screenings at the Film Society where they would just listen to a scene from Touch of Evil and describe what they thought was going on, before they got a chance to see the film in whole. Other students got to sit in classrooms twice-a-week with film-artists brought in for residencies, who would have the students storyboard a scene from Mean Streets, only to ask them how they might have shot it differently.

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Such was a conscious effort on the part of the program’s organizer, Rachel Dickstein, to get students to think about the choices behind filmmaking in addition to appreciating the films themselves.

“Lots of schools have video programs, opportunities for kids to make films.” Ms. Dickstein said. “What we try here is to get them to think about the choices made by a master director, to step inside that director’s shoes and imagine how those choices were made.  Students shoot material, write, make story boards etc. to understand how to make filmic choices and then take that understanding to expand how they can articulate their responses to some of the amazing films we show them.”

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As for D’Artagnan, Shamrod and Mohammed, they were the beneficiaries of a residency at their high school, The Heritage School, which let them look at the choices that people make in remaking a film. Having watched two versions of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” and “”Psycho”, they decided they could do better and remade a scene with Handicams in a day that they shot and cut in a rush.

Thus “Dead Days at High School” was born.

As the short movie played on a screen above the empty cookie platter, the three youths stared up and admired their handiwork. I asked them what was on their mind.

“Was a good way to recover from a wrist injury. I can’t play football this season, so you know, had to try somethin,’” D’Artagnan told me.

“Well, I had already made a documentary called In My Shoes that played at Tribeca,” Shamrod told me with no lack of pride. “So, you know, it’s cool.”

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As for Mohammed, the most reserved of the bunch, he seemed a little more down with his comments.

“Well, I directed and shot the movie.” He told me. “But it was like–frustrating. The actors kept looking into the camera and laughing and stuff.”

I told him to get used to it: In the “real world,” it’s the same way too.

-Nicholas Feitel

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