Celebrating Oscar night, high school filmmakers edition

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A scene from ‘The Cure,’ a seven-minute film created by McClintock High School students, which won first place in the Tempe Union High School Film Festival. Students were recognized for cinematography, screenplay and editing among other categories. – Photo courtesy Tempe Union High School District

By M.V. Moorhead

Is anybody interested in the Academy Awards this year? Plenty of people don’t care about them any year, of course, but the gold standard of award shows has had a particularly rough lead-up to this year’s extravaganza.

Between the controversies leading to the abolition of a host and the ridiculous decision to relegate essential categories like Editing and Cinematography to the commercial breaks, the 91st annual awards ceremonies really don’t sound like all that much fun.

Not so the Tempe Union High School District’s recent film festival, with the work of the winning cinematographers available on You Tube for the enjoyment of those who didn’t attend the awards ceremony held on Feb. 8.

The student-produced films, each around seven minutes (or shorter), may be viewed at tempeunion.org/film-festival, where you can also find glamorous images from the festivities that took place the night the student s’ entries were shown.

The film showings were an important acknowledgement of the students’ work, according to Jennifer Liewer, executive director of community relations for the district.

“You know, athletes have games, actors have plays, bands have performances,” she said. “Our film kids don’t really have a platform to celebrate their work, so it was really cool.”

Films in the competition may be found by searching “TUHSD Film Contest” on YouTube.

In a practice that has become common in competitive filmmaking, presumably to ensure that contestants don’t use pre-prepared material, the students had to include obligatory elements in their mini-sagas; the contest’s process required that each film had to include three lines of dialogue, a character named “Chris the Photographer” and a can of spray cheese as a prop.

The lines of dialogue were:

“Are you really going to ____ that?”

“There’s something I need to tell you.”

“Get down.”

Beyond that, the filmmakers were limited only by their imaginations. And, of course, by little time or money.

First-, second- and third-place awards were at stake, along with Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Use of Required Dialogue and Best Use of Required Prop.

Among the judges was Sarah Happel-Jackson, a Marcos de Niza High School alumnus turned Hollywood producer on such TV shows as The Amazing Race, Big Brother, Dance Moms and Seatbelt Psychic.

Not only did Happel-Jackson serve as the festival’s “Hollywood Judge,” she donated money for the cash prize and is reportedly interested in hiring one of the contestants.

The first-place winning film was The Cure, from McClintock High, an action thriller with dangerous-looking parkour-like stunt work, starring and shot by Ammon Firestone, Aidan Lohan, Wyatt Liggitt and Nathan Firestone, with a brooding musical score by Lohan.

In second place, from Corona del Sol, was The Trip, a road comedy that takes a spooky twist, written by Aaron Cohen, with a nice buddy-movie rapport between stars Cohen and Cortez Roberts.

Third Place went to The Cheez Whiz Murders, also from McClintock High, an amusingly silly police procedure parody written by Emilie Berthaume and co-directed by Berthaume and Kevin Randall.

All three showed polish and skill, and were deserving of the red carpet treatment.

But in the grand showbiz tradition, Liewen assures us we ain’t seen nuthin’ yet:

“We are going to make it huge next year,” she promises.

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