It’s been a half-hour since classes let out for the day at Lewis and Clark High School and the halls have fallen silent. But rounding a corner on the first floor of the historic building, the sound grows louder, until at the door of Joseph Comine’s film and photography classroom you’re hit with a boom of laughter, ukulele music, passionate conversation and the general hustle and bustle of eager teenage students.
Some are hunched over computers. Two of them play the ukuleles producing the tunes that fill the room and others are gathered around a notepad, sketching out plans for the film that this club, an after-school program called The Director’s Chair, is in the process of making. It’s a half-hour production about a man who inadvertently travels into the future, and the students plan to begin shooting in the days that follow, hopefully screening the final product sometime during the next school year. In a way, the club functions as a production company, each student assigned a different role.
Several of the club’s students also have been working on submissions for the first-ever 4th Avenue Film Festival, a short film contest for Spokane County students between the ages of 13 and 18. In all, 10 films from around the area are set to hit the screen on Friday night, with the top three winners earning the chance to have their work shown before a film at the Bing Crosby Theater on Tuesday night.
Comine, who worked in the film industry for 10 years before coming to teach at Lewis and Clark, says that filmmaking is much more of a commonplace activity for high school students than it was even a decade ago.
“With the accessibility of the programs and the products, they’re easier and cheaper — you can even do it on your phone now,” he says, “It can be really silly videos or serious documentaries, but whatever it is, kids have all this energy and it made sense to give them their own venue.”
Filmmaking contests aimed at young people are now commonplace at independent film festivals across the country. Filmmaking was restricted to a few dedicated students in the past, but the medium is now much more widespread with — as Comine says — many kids opting to make a documentary for their senior projects.
Along a far wall in the classroom, junior Wyatt Stone and Cody Yoder, a senior heading to Eastern Washington University in the fall, look over a near-final cut of their three-minute video “Evil Bread.” It’s a goofy tale of a guy who drops a piece of bread in a bucket of plutonium and is subsequently attacked by said bread. It’s about what you’d expect from a couple of teenage boys, but the titling and edits suggest a level of skill that you wouldn’t have seen from filmmakers this age a few decades ago.
Other entries to the festival take a more serious tone. Riley Richardson, inspired by a watching snowboarding and skating videos growing up, shot and directed a documentary about a pair of young skateboarders’ journey through the sport and life. Senior Taylor Wright filmed a documentary about his church youth group’s trip to Los Angeles. Like most young filmmakers these days, Wright began making films on his own, tailoring his skills as classes like the one Comine teaches became available.
“When I was about 10 years old, my friends and I would just use this cheap camcorder and free movie editing software to put together awful videos. It interested me because I could make a video about anything,” says Wright.
With YouTube and other video sharing services, it might feel as if something like a film festival would become increasingly unnecessary. But Comine says this is the reason that a festival like 4th Avenue is necessary.
“Watching these films together is different than turning on the television,” he says. “It’s a live group of people and they’re really paying attention. The feeling you get when you see your project up on the screen is something else. They know they’ve accomplished something.”
4th Avenue Film Festival • Fri, May 3 at 6 pm • Lewis and Clark High School • 521 W. 4th Ave. • Top three films screen before Ferris Bueller’s Day Off at the Bing Crosby Theater on Tue, May 7 at 7 pm