July 6, 2023 -- Heights middle school students are cinematographers, screenwriters, and movie directors. They’re audio-visual technicians, production assistants, and movie stars. Thanks to the three-week mixed media arts summer camp, Heights Middle School Shorts, they gained experience in all facets of filmmaking.
In its third year, the camp is held at Heights High and is open to students from Monticello and Roxboro Middle School free of charge. The brainchild of parents and community members Jennifer Holland, Lance Godard, India Jordan-Meesig, and Cliff Sweeney, HMSS has evolved to include expert assistance including Heights High video production teacher Cynthia Booker, Heights alum and founder of West 10G Productions Antonio Harper, as well as professionals in the movie industry. The recent film screening in the high school auditorium welcomed audience members from the Cleveland Film Commission, Greater Cleveland Urban Film Festival (GCUFF) and Hemlock Films, a local production company, many of whom offered their expertise to the campers.
Campers worked with staff from Lake Erie Ink to hone their ideas and write their screenplays. They convened teams of two to three, each of which produced five to six minute “shorts.” They starred in each other’s productions, completing table reads of their scripts and receiving feedback from Mike Wendt of the Cleveland Film Commission. “I was really impressed with the creativity of the scripts,” he said after the screening. “And I can just imagine what fun they had making their movies.”
The students certainly seemed to enjoy themselves, working alongside five high school “production assistants,” some of whom had attended the camp as middle schoolers themselves. The films focused on everything from your typical school issues to the ethical dilemma confronting a group of scientists who discover a very valuable stone. Students made use of special effects in the film short “For the Love of Science,” which featured a trip back in time with disastrous consequences.
Perhaps the most unique of the six film shorts was Evelyn Jamieson’s stop motion feature, “Mary’s Adventure 2: Defending the Bakery,” a sequel to the film she created last summer at camp. Creating 199 separate illustrations, Evelyn worked with P.A. Coleman James to film the pictures and add music and text features.
Campers even used Canva to create movie posters which lined the hallway leading to the auditorium the day of the screening, adding another layer to their instruction in the business of movie making. As Donna Dabbs of GCUFF said afterward, “It’s important that young people learn this as early as possible because making films is hard.”
Following the screening, which was also attended by family, friends, and donors, Principal Instructor Mr. Sweeney handed out awards to the individual campers, including Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography, and Best Acting. “Every day I came to work was amazing,” he said. “The art of storytelling is really cool, especially from the perspective of a middle schooler.”
HMSS is committed to welcoming campers free of charge each year and relies on the generosity of donors, as well as the granting of space by the school district for instruction and local businesses and venues as filming locations, including Dewey’s Pizza and St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. Parent Kamron Ahmad-Khan lent her expertise as a photographer, helping create a program for the screening as well as managing the camp’s social media.
As the founders said in the program, HMSS campers “… learn how to tell stories. They learn how to make movies … And most importantly, they learn how to believe in themselves, how to harness their creative potential, and how to work with others to make something they’re all proud of.”