Lights, Action, Revenge


by Eileen Coristine

Over five hundred regional students viewed films at the Reel Shorts Film Festival 2010. Some of the films they saw had been produced that week by kids from St. Joseph’s Catholic High School in Grande Prairie, Hines Creek Composite School, Hythe Regional School, Beaverlodge High School and Valleyview.

Hines Creek’s Justin Knoepfli, star of Ninja Revenge has been to two Reel Shorts Youth Filmmaking Challenges and is hoping to attend again. His role in the 2010 film has also inspired him to consider attending a stunt school in Washington next year. The funny thing is that Justin captured the lead role in the movie because he was the guy who fit into the costume.

For the past six years his teacher, Sherri MacDowall has been bringing groups of students to the Youth Filmmaking Challenge to introduce them to the “most collaborative art form in the world,” as Reel Shorts is described.

“Sherri has been bringing her students to the festival since 2007,” says festival founder, Terry Scerbak, “She’s also been a key factor in developing the Youth Filmmaking Challenge workshops. Sherri always wanted more hands-on opportunities for her students.”

To help provide them with those kinds of opportunities during the rest of the school year, the Hines Creek students have a high school credit course dedicated to filmmaking and state of the art camera, sound and editing equipment. This year Sherri has eight students in her class, and will be able to bring up to eight more along to enter the challenge.

Last year, in order to finance their trip to the festival, the kids produced a commercial and presented it to the County of Clear Hills Council. Council members were so impressed that they provided the necessary funds.

The Youth Filmmaking Challenge workshops are led by Vancouver filmmaker Scott Belyea (formerly of Grande Prairie), Scooter Corckle from Vancouver and Michael Bouree from Grande Prairie. These film professionals guide the production and provide the students with on location training.

Australian actress and filmmaker Alyssa McClelland visited six classes following last year’s festival to provide more support for student films. Not only was she impressed by the students’ films, she was also surprised by the level of discussions about what a life in the arts might be like. “If you pursue a life in the art you may not be rich in money,” she told the students, “but you will be rich in experiences.”

Through their filmmaking class the Hines Creek students have some technical experience, but once they are at the workshop they have an intense and consuming task to complete in a very short time. After a three hour orientation with the workshop leaders production begins.

“The students have to pitch their ideas to the producers and then once the subject is chosen they spend the next two and a half days filming,” Sherri explains.

“First we looked at all the places and costumes and props available for us at Muskoseepi Park,’ Justin says. “Then we came up with ideas about what we could do there.” Since there is no formal script and the scenes are filmed out of sequence, the film evolves as it is shot.

Ninja Revenge, at eight minutes, is the Hines Creek students’ longest (and according to Sherri, their best) film to date. Although there is a brief synopsis: a young man must learn the ancient ways of combat to avenge his fallen sister, the title really tells it all.

After two days of intensive filming the students returned home. Ninja Revenge was edited and sent on to them later. Although the Challenge films are shown at the end of the Reel Shorts Festival, the Hines Creek kids have never stayed for that viewing. Instead, Sherri holds a “Premier” and invites the school community. There is a red carpet and “champagne” and the stars, directors and film and sound crews get to see what they’ve collectively created.

“Attending the festival blew my expectations,” Justin says. “It’s given me a great respect for all the people who make films.” Ninja Revenge can be viewed online at YouTube. The fifth Grande Prairie Live Theatre Reel Shorts Film Festival will be held May 4-8, 2011. “The festival celebrates short films and the filmmakers who make them by screening gems of storytelling brilliance from around the world, across Canada, and here in the Peace Region,” says Terry Scerbak. “We entertain audiences, and inspire, teach, and showcase Peace Region filmmakers, thus helping to develop a filmmaking community in the Peace Region.”

For more information on the festival see

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