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Accolades and Academics at Center of High School Film Festival

5-30-14

By Maddie Orton
Arts Correspondent

The students of Morristown High School are “technology natives,” born in the digital age. Take that natural prowess and add lessons in storytelling, a touch of creativity and you get the stuff Sundance, Cannes and now the Morristown High School Film Festival are made of.

“We have this art and design show and we were trying to come up with a way to highlight work from my students, and I was talking to the photography teacher…and we both said, ‘How about a film festival?’” explained Morristown High School broadcasting teacher Michael Butler. “I think it’s an event that kids that really like this, they can finally show their wares.”

Entries are judged by leaders in the field and prizes include cameras and film festival tickets. But for Butler, the takeaway is not so much about filmmaking as telling a good story.

“All of this equipment will be obsolete one day,” says Butler. “I want them to understand what makes good television, what makes a good story, because you can never take that away — the storytelling aspect of it. The equipment, they have to be flexible… They really have to think it out, and storyboard it, and plan it right from start, middle and then end with a bang — some kind of conclusion.”

It’s a skill applicable to many classes, and teachers and students alike are pleased with the cross-curricular benefits.

“What we’re trying to do is give students an approach to education that, even if they don’t find an interest in the book that we’re reading, there’s something in that book that they can latch onto, like a social issue, and they approach that issue through broadcasting,” explains Morristown High School English Teacher Danielle Firavanti. “A lot of times, kids struggle with chronology, and order, and sequencing, and I think for kids that struggle with the written word, seeing it really helps them.”

Time will tell whether these students go on to work in the industry, but Butler says the film festival experience will help students in any career they choose.

Sophomore Kirsten Traudt is student chair of the film festival. “I have written all of the press releases and the judging materials. I have also been working to organize all the entries and tally up the scores,” she says.

“Whatever job I go into — hopefully film — I now know to plan everything to the ‘T,’ otherwise being unprepared is really bad,” says sophomore RJ Meyer.

“It’s committing to a project and seeing it start to finish, and being proud of what they accomplished,” Butler says.

“For all the work and time we put into this, I’m glad we’re being able to see it up on the big screen,” sophomore Matt Prusso shares.

Now in its second year, the festival looks like it will only grow. Butler hopes to expand next year’s film festival to include other high school broadcasting programs. In the meantime, Morristown High School students will gather here on June 6 to see who takes home a prize.