Student Filmmakers Get Hands-On Education : Sundance: Pacoima Middle School students travel to famed film festival to line up mentors and donations for the movie they want to make.


As they left one premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, a producer and screenwriter critiqued the film, intent on avoiding its flaws in a movie they hope to make.


“For one thing,” screenwriter Brendan Wolfe said, “there was no continuity.” And sub-themes were brought up, producer Josh Gray-Emmer noted, but never addressed again.

Here at America’s premiere independent film festival and Hollywood schmooze-a-thon, Wolfe, Gray-Emmer and the rest of their San Fernando Valley crew sound like thousands of others, but the similarity ends with their obvious interest in filmmaking.


Ages 12 to 16, the group sold thousands of candy bars to finance their trip this past week to the fest, where they caught as many of the 156 screenings as they could, gaped at the shows with sexually explicit themes, staged the only snowball fight on the mountain and met Robert Redford and other screen idols.

They came to Sundance--with chaperons, of course--as members of an exotic and extended field trip under the auspices of a magnet school program in filmmaking at Pacoima Middle School.

For the 12 students, the week was a blur of activity in which they saw as many as four movies a day. On Friday, they were interviewed on the new Sundance cable network, created to promote independent filmmakers. An “Entertainment Tonight” camera crew followed them around all week.

Perhaps their favorite activity was hanging with their favorite actors, some of whom were not much older than they.



This is the third year that James Gleason, 46, has taken his movie production class to Sundance for some hands-on education. Many came to learn about the business. Others, like Gray-Emmer, 16--who has attended twice before--wanted to line up mentors, gifts of equipment and donations for the movie they want to make.

Titled “Getting Away With It,” the story line is about teen-agers and senior citizens in a nursing home who band together to help each other overcome a common enemy. They hope to begin filming this summer, and their flyers seeking support are everywhere at the festival, emblazoned with their new logo, Next Generation Productions.

This week, officials of the Sundance festival and related Sundance Institute went out of their way to help the youths, doing more than providing tickets to screenings, parties and other events.

‘They are so cute,” said festival organizer Nicole Guillemet, who waited in the cold for an hour with the group so they could buttonhole Redford, the founder of Sundance. “As soon as I introduced them, they made their pitch right away,” she said, “and they knew when to stop. They will go far in this business.”

On another afternoon, Gray-Emmer sidled up to Apple computer representative Nancy Eaton and began the same pitch he used on Redford. “I’m with a totally teen-age production company and we’re producing a movie,” he pressed. “It’s never been done before, really, and . . .”

Such requests from struggling artists often fall on deaf ears. But this time, Eaton pledged an interview on an Apple teen chat line on the Internet and the loan of two laptops for budgeting and production work on their movie.

Gleason says his students are precisely whom Redford had in mind when he started his Sundance Institute more than 16 years ago as a way to educate and promote independent filmmakers. “Who is more independent than us?” Gleason asked.


For the budding filmmakers, Tuesday was typical. The students clapped and cheered as director Sergio Castilla introduced his coming of age film about a teen-age girl by saying: “You do whatever you feel like you want to do. That is the richness of independent movie making.”

“These movies show us what is possible in independent film-making,” said Gray-Emmer. “We see things here we never would have thought possible,” such as professional-looking movies done for a pittance.

Daryl Moore, 13, of Sylmar, said he watched the movies “not for the words, but for the images. I’ve really learned a lot about all kinds of camera shots and techniques.”