Learn By Doing

A Lifelong Learner Shares Thoughts About Education

Getting the Whole Picture, in and Out of Class

Arts and Entertainment

Getting the Whole Picture, in and Out of Class


Alan Zale for The New York Times

LIFE IN THE FILM LANE Michael Goldstein teaches
students in film classes at Eastchester High School. He says he covers
“all factors from pre- to postproduction.”


Published: March 2, 2008
    RESPONDING to the film classes and clubs proliferating in high schools around the county, the Westchester International Film Festival has added a Future Filmmakers Division this year. The student submissions in grades 9 through 12 will be screened at the City Center 15: Cinema de Lux in White Plains on March 9 and, through the support of the Matthew S. Hisiger Film Foundation, the student capturing first prize will win $1,000 and the student’s school will receive a professional high-definition camera package valued at $5,000.
In the Region 
Long Island, Westchester, Connecticut and New Jersey
Iris Stevens is the director of both the Westchester County Office of Film and Television and the film festival. When she and members of her staff called every high school in the county to promote their new competition, they discovered what she called a “staggering statistic.” “Of the 63 public and private high schools in Westchester,” she said, “only 12 do not have some form of film education!” At Hastings High School, the English department chairman, Michael Mahony, has been teaching two film courses — analyzing Hollywood films and creating nonfiction films — since 1994. Recent annual enrollment has been as high as 90 students. The school has had a Film Society for more than 10 years and a film festival for three. As part of a new senior alternative last spring, 15 students worked on a documentary under Dr. Mahony’s direction and several current seniors have already approached him to sponsor their individual filmmaking efforts. “Film is one medium that students seem to intrinsically value, maybe more than any other, and students from both ends of the academic spectrum thrive in the classes,” Dr. Mahony said. “Recently, I’ve had many more who are seriously considering the film industry.” A number of his former students have gone on to film school, and Benh Zeitlin, a 2000 Hastings High School graduate, won the award for Best Animated Short at the 2005 Slamdance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. Byram Hills High School offered only one film media class when David McMichael began teaching in its art department 10 years ago. Now, he and another teacher work with about 150 students each year in Film I, Film II and Advanced Film Workshop. The school has two film clubs — one for watching and one for making movies — and a yearly screening of the best student films. “Kids are watching a ton more films these days in so many different ways — on iPods, computers, pay-per-view, DVDs — and it has become technically much easier to make a film because extremely sophisticated tools are less expensive and easier to acquire,” Mr. McMichael said. “And since students are able to make movies in school and be involved in so many aspects of filmmaking — operating the camera, directing, acting and editing — they can get a better idea of the whole picture.” Six years ago, Eastchester High School’s director of technology, Anita Better, recognized the need for a full-time person to take charge of the school’s TV studio and Michael Goldstein was hired as a teaching media specialist. After converting the simple studio to a media production center, he began teaching two levels of film courses in which, he said, he covers “all factors from pre- to postproduction, including concept ideas, screenplay writing and formatting, storyboard design, filming, lighting, sound and computer-based editing.” Mr. Goldstein anticipates that the Eastchester Film Festival, complete with its own version of the Academy Awards, will screen close to three hours of student films this spring. “I don’t think this increased interest in film is a blip or an aberration,” Ms. Stevens said. “It’s something that’s very real within the teen and young adult community. Education is changing in response to the kinds of careers young people want to go into and filmmaking is becoming a major player.”