As research for a larger story on Virginia’s film industry, I took a trip to Richmond’s Byrd Theater in February to check out the Virginia Independent Film Festival. As I sat through a series of short films that were both good and bad—and all presumably made by adults—I was surprised to see that the festival’s winners included a great animation team from Charlottesville, whose names were unknown to me: Chris Yeaton and Jared Carlisle. Their film, “Paperwise,” features a sophisticated animation sequence involving a hand-drawn stick figure, who crumples the piece of paper he’s drawn on, and slips off onto other surfaces until he’s made his way to the other side of the room, where a lonely stick-figure dog is weeping.
Two screen stills from “Teddy,” a psychological thriller by Aiden Keith-Hynes, Caroline Bruce and Marco Duran, made under mentorship at Light House.
But made by teens, it was, under mentorship at Light House, the local nonprofit that provides media instruction to area youths. Light House will hold its largest annual fundraiser on September 10 at the Ix Building, a film festival and cocktail party—with popcorn for the youngsters—where the year’s best work will be showcased.
In addition to the team behind “Paperwise,” many of these pint-sized filmmakers have been showered in gallons of acclaim for their work. Films made at Light House have been screened at festivals in Chicago and Los Angeles, as well as on PBS, CNN and the Independent Film Channel. What makes the films produced at Light House so entertaining is, first, the organization’s “emphasis on personal expression and local stories,” but also its credo to provide “uncensored” mentorship. Of course, says Light House Executive Director Deanna Gould, “uncensored” can only go so far: “If they’re starting to go down a path that’s a little tricky, one of the things we say to students is, ‘We’re not going to be able to show your work,’” she says. “We are open to students’ ideas and allowing them to express themselves.”
Nonetheless, the films exhibit a “kids rule” ethos, and tend to follow a refreshing, youthful logic. Our only indication that “Paperwise” was made by teenagers was that, in the end, the man and dog walk off happily into a hand drawn sunset. (Who knows what a grown-up like Werner Herzog would’ve done to a man and his dog?) The (very) short film “Guido Pizza,” for example, stars a mohawked, claymation punk named Guido Manicotti who walks out of a pub, drunk as a skunk, and gets flattened by a taxi cab. And that’s it. In “Short Ninja Buys A Carrot,” a—you guessed it—short ninja destroys a countertop that he can’t see over, and throws money at the shop’s keeper.
Light House began in 1999, when a number of local artists, including Shannon Worrell, Will Kerner and Paul Wagner, got together and saw a need for a media-based after school program. Gould says that, at first, the organization consisted of one workshop, “Video Diaries,” and six students, who worked out of the basement of The Jefferson Theater. Its programs grew through 2003, when it moved into the City Center for Contemporary Arts, on Second Street, along with Live Arts and Second Street Gallery. The programs continue to grow as social media allows the organization to reach more students. “Around 330 students came through last year,” says Gould. “But this year, we’ve reached more students in other ways, through things like film screenings, and the Web and YouTube.”
Almost 50 percent of students attend Light House programs on scholarship, says Gould. A “Keep it Reel” program that dates back to 2002 visits local public housing areas on a weekly basis, “working with the kids, letting them learn about the equipment and, hopefully, making films.”
Find out more about Light House’s Youth Film Festival at www.lighthousestudio.org.
A new Swing era
Feedback recently caught up with Wes Swing at his gorgeous practice space on a local farm, where the local cello wiz kid said he’s in the final stages of recording a new full-length record. Never one to be caught off guard, Swing, drummer Brian Caputo and singer Sophia Brunner were ready to sample a few tracks on camera. If you’ve ever seen Swing perform, you’ll know you’re in for a treat: hummable, evocative melodies plucked out on a cello, drizzled with outside-the-box percussion, and served over a rich set of loops. Click here for an exclusive look in a Feedback Session.